Today we talk about plastic bags . . . Wait, it’s more interesting than it sounds! We use the example of a plastic bag ban that recently went into effect in Austin to talk about an important, verily an essential premise that must be understood in order for any fruitful discussion about politics to take place.

That may not be much more exciting, but I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got–I’m kidding, naturally, it’s very exciting.

In a bizarre yet increasingly common instance of “synchronicity,” John Bush took a similar, yet far more thorough tack on the plastic bag ban (around the 10 minute mark) and–believe it or not–the foundational tactic of state statute enforcement. It’s definitely worth a listen, plus he adds like, double the content. Plus, he does the Rise Up radio show every day. Plus, he runs a farm, a dozen non-profits, a whole bunch of political action groups, etc. I swear, both he and Kevin Ludlow have a series of clones


Transcript of Podcast

Jad: Today we talk about plastic bags – wait, it does get more exciting. We use the example of a plastic bag band that recently went into effect in Austin to talk about an important verily inessential premise that must be understood in order for any fruitful discussion about politics to take place. That may not be much more exciting, but I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got – I’m kidding. Naturally, it’s very exciting – the most exciting thing in the world.

We’ll get to the essential premises later. To start off with, all you need to know is that the city of Austin has made illegal the dispensing of single-use bags by businesses in the city. My co-host is Kevin Ludlow, I’m Jad Davis, and this is the JK Podcast.

Kevin: What do you want to talk about? Fuck those plastic bags.

Jad: Those plastic bags. That’s funny.

Kevin: Yeah, it was funny because I had been – I don’t remember why that came up recently –

Jad: OK wait, I guess a little more context might be helpful. Kevin was talking to a co-worker of ours at lunch.

Kevin: – and she mentioned the plastic bags and stuff like that and how she thought it was good that they banned them and I was like, “what?” I was like, “why is that?” And we had this chat and I totally launched into some micro tirade about it.

Jad: After lunch, the co-worker approached me and asked what I thought of the plastic bag ban. I said I didn’t have much of an opinion about whether or not stores gave out free plastic bags, but that it didn’t seem important enough to me to use threats of violence to control their use. That kicked off a pretty lengthy conversation.

Kevin: Yeah I was – I didn’t know that’s what you guys were talking about when I came up, but –

Jad: Yeah man, the conversation went remarkably well. They were really actually fairly, unusually open to the idea that –

The gist of our conversation is rehashed in a couple of minutes, so hang on to your seat if you’ve never considered the fact that a plastic bag ban, and all government statutes for that matter, are ultimately backed up by the state’s claim that it can legitimately kill you for disobedience. It occurred to me that this was one of Kevin Ludlow’s famous indisputable facts.

– I thought about it – to put it in Kevin Ludlow terms – that you know, there’s a fact that’s indisputable that no one will – that not many people have thought about – which is just that even something as simple as the plastic bag thing requires a threat of violence, you know?

Kevin: Right.

Jad: They both laughed. They were like, “no it doesn’t”. I was like, “sure it does”, took them through why is that the case, and they you know, were both like, “oh yeah, that’s a good point”, eventually. You’ve got to have that as a basis for discussing anything. If you’re pretending that it’s something else then you’re basically saying, “we shouldn’t be able to agree to not you know, have plastic bags”, right – which is not the argument. The argument is you shouldn’t use the threat of force to do things like end the use of plastic bags.

Kevin: I don’t know, I think planting those sorts of seeds for people that haven’t heard that perhaps, or just haven’t really thought about it as in depth, I mean, I think there’s a tremendous benefit to that personally, so –

Jad: Yeah – no, for sure. And again, I think that’s – it’s a good starting point I mean, if you’re going to argue about plastic bags – which I’m not going to do unless someone brings it up –

Kevin: Right.

Jad: – but I mean it’s just a good starting point. Like, it may be the case that you agree that this is an instance in which you know, a threat of violence is an appropriate thing. I mean, you may want to argue for the use of violence in order to stop – discourage[?] of plastic bags. But you have to start from that point, you know?

Kevin: Right.

Jad: You both have to agree that what’s happening here is that people are being threatened you know, albeit indirectly with you know, that they will obey this law or they will obey the you know, the sanctions of a fine, or they will obey the order to go to prison, or they will be killed, eventually. At some point, they’re either going to obey the state, or they’re going to die. There’s no – there’s no third option, there’s nothing else to it. We can argue – you can argue that that is appropriate, but you can’t argue that that’s not the case.

Just a quick supplemental note to placate the skeptical, it’s quietly likely of course, even if you as the plastic bag provider refused to obey and resist to your utmost that you may be taken alive, the crucial point is should you be killed while resisting police, it will be considered legitimate by the state legal system, and probably by most citizens as well.

Kevin: I agree. I mean, it takes people a while I think – well I guess per what you said, they kinda laughed when you said the whole, you know, you’ll be killed for it. But you’re right, I mean if you take it to that level, it would take a while – I don’t think you’d be likely to get killed anytime immediately – but yeah, if people – if you continued skipping out on your arraignment for the fines and eventually, they get you and yeah, exactly what you said. I mean eventually that is the outcome, so –

Jad: It’s kinda like you always say about people who – it’s just a certain mindset, you know? It’s just a real thing, it’s not something – I mean, you basically have to – you have to bring in some defense other than a reasonable defense in order to say that’s not the case.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: Like you said – and you can make an argument like, well, there’s lots of things in between you know, and that’s fair and there are lots of things in between. But you know, that’s ultimately what happens.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: That is the ultimate force behind every statute, and that kinda has to be – it just has to be the baseline from what you’re discussing. So now that that’s established, tell me why you think the threat of violence is a reasonable way to deal with plastic bags, and maybe you’re like, “well, I hate plastic bags so much that you know, I think it’s great”, which is fine – that’s alright position.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: It’s not my position, but –

Kevin: Right.

Jad: But to argue anything else again like I said, I think it’s because you don’t – I don’t want to argue against stores not using plastic bags. I think it’s fine the stores don’t use plastic bags – that’s entirely reasonable to me. I think it’s a good idea for people to floss their teeth.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: You know, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to have you know, the threat of violence be used, fines imposed, and prison sentences threatened if you don’t floss your teeth, it’s just not a sustainable way of running a society.

Kevin: I think you can also make the case to most people – and I don’t even know where you’d sit on this, I guess I’d be curious to ask once I finish it – but the flipside of that is that there actually are certain things that you probably could argue that it is worth killing somebody for those particular things, right, where a retaliation of violence actually is a good punitive measure, and I think that’s kinda the problem that I have again with the plastic bags is that you’re right, at the end of the day you’re stepping up the exact same ramp.

I mean in the most extreme cases are you know – for violent crime right, there’s a lot of those that are going to lead to death, but a lot of people I think would be very supportive of that. I’m not necessarily saying I’m one of them, in fact I’m not one of them, but if you kill somebody for example, you are going to be hunted and it doesn’t matter how long you hide, eventually you’re going to get caught and even if you arraigned, if you don’t do the whole prison thing, et cetera, et cetera, you’re going to get killed for it. So I think suggesting that there are no times, or there are no measures, or there’s no acts that you could do that if you broke those acts that violence wouldn’t be something on the table to combat that and again, I don’t believe in the violence myself, but I at least can make the case in some of those people’s favors.

Jad: I think again just a good baseline, that that’s what the discussion of politics is, probably technically that really is what the discussion of politics is is when is that use of force appropriate, right?

Kevin: Yeah.

Jad: And so you could believe that that use of force is appropriate to level the economic playing field, to take from the rich and give to the poor, you can say that use of violence is appropriate for – I mean almost everyone’s going to agree that use of violence is appropriate for defense against somebody who’s trying to kill you, right?

Kevin: Right.

Jad: I think the position that I would put forward as an ideal or as a metric, or another starting place is you can – and this is a natural law thing, too – that if there is a societal institution that has the authority to use violence to stop something from happening, or to – as retribution, or whatever, then it’s also appropriate for an individual to exercise violence in that instance, right?

So in other words, the individual can say, “because I have the right to defend myself”, say, “from theft, or assault, or murder, or whatever, then I can say that” – I’ll say you know, you as the judge or you as the sheriff or whatever – “I will assign you the right to protect me in the same way that I’m allowed to protect me.”

Kevin: Right.

Jad: Right? And so the plastic bag thing fails that because people would think it was ridiculous if you know, if I saw a guy giving another guy a plastic bag and I went up and was like, “I’m going to have to take that plastic bag and you’ve gotta give me $50 bucks”.

Kevin: Right.

Jad: Right? “And if you don’t give me $50 bucks, I’m going to hit you with a stick, or lock you in my basement”, or whatever. And there’s lots of things where that you know, where you would say, “that is appropriate”, like if you saw someone physically assaulting another person and if you grabbed them and confined them, then that would be an appropriate thing to do.

Kevin: Right, or physically subdued them for that matter, so I mean yeah that was –

Jad: Right.

Kevin: – you much more clearly articulated what I was trying to explain. But there are times where that response is appropriate, and I think you could get people to agree with that in the case of an attack, for example.

Jad: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think – but you can go from the basis of you know, you don’t have to have an institution do this for you. If anyone stops person A from physically assaulting person B, then that we would’ve considered that appropriate – I mean given you know, that’s context dependent of course but you know, just on the face of it we would say, yeah, it’s an appropriate action for any individual to take, and therefore it’s also an appropriate action for you know, a collective security, police, or whatever to do.

Kevin: Yeah, well you’ve spoken about this – you and Tom for that matter, but I think you and I have spoken about it personally – and I’m trying to – for some reason I never really remember to bring that argument up, or that example up that you just gave a second ago about the plastic bag and you’ve done this a number of times and it’s a real good example.

It’s a real good kind of illustration of that point, and for some reason I never remember to bring it up when I’m actually having these arguments with people in person, and I don’t know why because I think it’s actually a very powerful sort of metaphor to say – again, not really metaphor, but more of an example – to say you know, if you walked up to a guy in the store and you saw him using a plastic bag and you said, “hey, I’m really sorry, I’ve gotta take that from you and by the way, you owe me $50”, you know, silly as it is, I think it really – in my mind anyways – it really illustrates exactly the – how crazy that whole use of force is for arbitrary instances like that – things that completely go outside any scope of natural law and what have you, and anyways, you’ve just done it a lot and I just – I think it’s a good line or a good tactic –

Jad: Right, right.

Kevin: – for starting the argument.

Jad: That’s where we leave it this week. If you weren’t convinced by our reasoning about the nature of government and the ultimate enforcement of its statutes, we sincerely hope you’ll drop us an email at You can also come by the website at the same name, and leave your comment there. If you have additional time on your hands, swing by, or to take a peek at what else we’re up to and or to send us secret messages that the other must never of. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, take care.