I believe I became a kinder, gentler man when I stumbled across the Zero Aggression Principle, or ZAP, best articulated by the recently deceased L. Neil Smith:
“No one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor should anyone advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.”
That principle says what I have always believed and how I think most people live their lives. At a young age I admired the U.S. government’s rebranding of its War Department as the Department of Defense and its declaration that it would never initiate a first strike in an armed conflict. I liked the concept that violence would only be used defensively. (Part of my later disillusionment with government was when I realized both the rebranding and the declaration were dishonest, but that’s for another day.)
I always admired Smith’s writing. He was forceful, clear and effective in stating his views, which were passionately held and had the Zero Aggression Principle at its core. But I had never read any of his books, and so on hearing of his death I sought to rectify that oversight and am now in possession of and thirstily reading The Probability Broach, his first and most well-known novel, and Lever Action, a 2000 collection of his articles, speeches and letters to the editor that another person I respect recently cited as life-changing.
The latter collection was delivered Wednesday, the perfect day because I had time to read for a while and the puppy fell asleep on my foot, forcing me to do nothing but page through the first 60 or so pages.
And I realized something I always knew instinctively but never quite verbalized: The linchpin word in ZAP is “initiate.” The principle does not eschew force or violence; it eschews the initiation of force or violence. As I said, I always knew that, I just downplayed it because I so much admire those who seek and choose nonviolent solutions.
Smith was an ardent proponent of the Second Amendment — all 10 amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, in fact. The book begins with a 1994 speech he gave advocating a society where those 10 limitations on government were sacred and enforced. The Second Amendment is about the individual’s right to use violence in self-defense, nothing more, nothing less.
Such a society — with the Bill of Rights summarized in the Zero Aggression Principle — would necessarily be kinder and gentler, Smith argued, and I agree. If we all agreed never to initiate violence on one another — and tacitly agreed that violence initiated would be met in kind — then the impulse to turn to violence would be under control most of the time.
Over and over in his 1994 speech Smith repeated a pledge he said should be required of all public servants, who would be subject to arrest if they ever violated it — and of course the administration running the country at that time would be rounded up first thing: “I swear by my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor to uphold the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, popularly known as the ‘Bill of Rights.’”
What a different world we would live in, if we made our rulers adhere to that pledge. We owe it to ourselves, and to the memory of L. Neil Smith, to get started.