An Object Lesson
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An Object Lesson.
Object teaching appears to be the coming method of popular education. To see is more impressive than to hear. To feel is more impressive than to imagine sensation; at least, the memory retains the impression longer.
Of a truth the high-priced lessons of experience often remain bright in the memory, when mere hearsay and once brilliant theories have faded to vagueness.
Object teaching is very effective in reform, too. If a drunkard knocks you down, you forcibly appreciate the evils of intemperance; if you "fight the tiger" till severely bled, you do not fail to see the sin of gambling. So the evil effects of all crime and vice appear nebulous until we are injured or some one dear to us, and then they suddenly become concrete.
I have lately had an object lesson on the criminal possibilities of government, which is something the average American can hardly comprehend, because trained to be too oblivious on the subject.
Being a new settler in Florida, I knew nothing of its road laws, but took it for granted that they bore a general resemblance to the road laws of the States of my previous residence. But it is safer to bet on the weather than on the law.
In due course of time I was "warned" to work on a certain road on a specified day. This I fully intended to comply with, but the fates forbade. On the appointed day I was sick and blind with the " Florida sore eyes," and " did not care whether school kept or not." I supposed (as had been the case in all places where I had previously lived) that I could, on my recovery, see the supervisor, pay my dollar, and be "free from the law." But here again I counted an unhatched brood. I had scarcely recovered, and had crawled out to try and do a little work on my new house, when my startled eyeballs beheld the apparition of the fat thief-taker approaching, his little grey eyes peering anxiously at me through the long ears of his red-haired mule, as though he feared I would explode with sudden invective or firearms. It was truly a "sicht for sair een." This portentous functionary, having tacked within grappling distance by the aid of sundry artful questions on the orange business, laid his hirsute paw on my shoulder, and solemnly informed me that he had a warrant for my arrest as a "defaulting road worker." Nolent volent, I must go, for Law and Death know no excuses. To do this man justice, he seemed ashamed of his errand, but, having undertaken a dirty task, felt that he must perform it.
Behold me then, haled by this awful and adipose presence (with rusty pistol in breast pocket) and the sad and rufous mule before the magistrate, also somewhat shamefaced and apologetic, who, after hearing my case, decided that I was guilty. Guilty, not of attempting to evade road duty, nor of evading it in fact (for he admitted that I, being sick and helpless, was, according to the laws of Florida, exempt from road-work), but of the heinous crime of not properly excusing myself according to the method by law duly made and provided for such cases, thereby putting the law to the grievous necessity of arresting me. Wherefore, having done so wickedly, I must pay a small fine and costs, unless I chose to appeal to a trial by jury. But be furthermore informed me that, even if found innocent, this would cost me some ten or twelve dollars. Sufficiently appalled by the expensiveness of innocence under these conditions, I did not inquire what it would cost me to be declared guilty by a jury of such sapient ignoramuses, but humbly paid my score and departed, a sadder, wiser, and, it must be added, more Anarchistic man.
O brother Anarchists! has it come to this complexion at last, — that a man who never smote his fellows in anger, never stole, or defrauded, or betrayed the innocent, or knowingly conspired against any man's liberty, can be ignominiously arrested and deprived of liberty and property, simply because he is ignorant of the requirements of an arbitrary law? Had I resisted this man who arrested me (and who had no rightful authority over me, because I had never given him permission to exercise such authority, nor had justified his using it by invasion of his own or others' rights), he could have chained, clubbed, or shot me, and the law would have been on his side.
This magistrate (horribly misnamed "Justice") could have fined me ten times what he did, and imprisoned me if too poor to pay it. All this for no crime, or intention to commit crime, nor even for any evasion of law or attempt to evade law, but for failing to adequately protect myself against the invasion of the law by the special machinery it had devised for that purpose. Faith! I am not sure but it was half right after all, for a man who will not resist the invasion of the law, if able, ought to suffer; though to use the lawful machinery for that purpose is usually to add to the suffering.
But bow guilty would I have been if I hail indeed refused to work on this road? I had never been consulted iu the matter of its laying out. No one had ever asked my consent. No one had asked me if I was willing to contribute anything in work or money to its maintenance. Of course not! Why should 1 be consulted? "The word of command, sharp as the click of a trigger," that is the only argument fit for slaves. And let us never forget that the Government is Master and we are Slaves. I, at least, have had my lesson, and will not forget it.
J. Wm. Lloyd.
- J. William Lloyd, “An Object Lesson,” Liberty 3, no. 22 (February 6, 1886): 7.