Guard with a gun

Question:

Outside your house stands a guard with a gun. He tells you that any order he gives, you must obey, or he will shoot you. For all your life the guard stands there, until the day you die, and he never gives you any order, letting you do as you please. Were you free?

.

.

C

A

P

T

A

I

N

I

N

T

E

R

V

I

E

W

.

.

Solution:

The surface answer is yes. The guard never gave you an order; you were never compelled to do anything by the threat of force or violence; ergo, your liberty was not infringed.

But I think that surface reading is flawed. You’re going to be aware that there’s a guy with a gun who’s stated a willingness to do violence on you, even if he never acts on it. That’s probably going to change your behavior. It’s certainly going to change your thoughts. You’re not going to forget there’s an armed guy standing close to you who has said he’s both willing and able to kill you. You’re going to wonder what he wants from you. You’re going to live your life anticipating that day when he gives you an order, and you’re going to wonder what that order will mean for you. Even if that day when he gives you an order never comes, that anticipation is going to change you. That man has changed your life, non-consensually, by means of a declaration of force…regardless of whether he acts on that declaration.

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