Government Explained

Government Explained is my most viewed video, having more views than the rest of my channel combined. It amassed over 200k views in the first week after release, and now has over 600k. It is an adaptation of a talk by Larken Rose.

I attribute the success to the humour and characters. The alien is a blank slate, clearly intelligent, but asking childlike questions. He doesn’t take any political positions, he does not argue, he is just trying to understand what the human is saying. The human character is also intelligent, educated, and eloquent. He does about as good a job as possible at trying to explain to the alien what government is. The viewer could not do a better job. And yet, viewed through the lens of the alien, the idea of government does seem utterly ridiculous and laughable.

Government Explained
Click here for Full Transcript

Transcript for “Government Explained”

  • H: Hey, an alien!
  • A: Yes, I have travelled across space to check on the progress of your species.
  • H: Cool.  Shall I take you to our leader?
  • A: Your what?
  • H: Our leader – the guy in charge.
  • A: The guy in charge of what?
  • H: Well, in charge of everything.
  • A: You have one guy in charge of everything?
  • H: No, no, he’s in charge of government.
  • A: What is government?
  • H: Well, government makes the rules for us.  It tells us what we can do and what we can’t do.
  • A: So government is really smart?  They come up with wise rules for you to follow?
  • H: Well mostly, but some of its rules are really stupid.
  • A: Do you disregard those rules?
  • H: No, we have to follow the rules, even if they are stupid, or we disagree with them.  Government punishes anyone who disobeys the rules.
  • A: So you are slaves to government?
  • H: No, no, no, it’s not like that at all.  Government works for us, the people.  It serves us.  We’re the boss.
  • A: It tells you what to do, and it punishes you with violence if you disobey it, and yet you’re its boss?
  • H: Yeah. 
  • A: But there are some things government does that you don’t like?
  • H: Well, yeah, not everything government does is popular.  Like spending on wars, for example.
  • A: What is a war?
  • H: It’s when government basically spends the peoples’ money on weapons and soldiers, and then sends them over to the other side of the world to kill a bunch of people over there and destroy their country.  I don’t like it that government does this.
  • A: Well I can see why you might not like that.  Have you humans reached the stage where you generally consider stealing, enslaving and killing each other to be bad things?
  • H: Oh yeah, we know that.  Don’t steal.  Don’t attack.  Don’t assault.
  • A: But you give money to government and they use it to kill people.
  • H: Well yeah, but government does good things with tax money as well.
  • A: Why don’t you stop paying for the things you don’t like and only pay for the good things it does?
  • H: No, we can’t do that.  You can’t just decide to stop paying taxes, because the rules say that everyone has to pay taxes.
  • A: But the rules come from government though, don’t they?
  • H: Yeah.
  • A: So government made a rule which says that everyone has to pay them money?  So everybody pays taxes because if they didn’t, government would punish them using violence?
  • H: Well yes, but most people don’t mind paying taxes; most people feel obligated to pay taxes and obey government laws, because it’s for the good of society.  Society needs government, and that means we all have to pay taxes.
  • A: So just to make sure I’ve got this straight.  Government makes the rules and you feel obligated to follow the rules, even the ones you don’t like, and it tells you what to do, and threatens to punish you if you don’t do what it says.  And it uses some of the money that it has taken from you using threats of violence to pay for things you don’t like and actually think are immoral, like mass murder.
  • H: Yeah, but we can ask it to please tell us to do smart things, and please don’t take our money and use it to kill people.  We’re allowed to ask them to tell us to do what we want them to tell us to do.
  • A: Are you guys just scared of this thing?  Is government some huge monster that can just squish you at any moment if you disobey? 
  • H: No, government isn’t a monster.
  • A: Well what is it then?  Could you draw me a picture of it? 
  • H: Government isn’t really the sort of thing you can draw a picture of.
  • A: Maybe you could take me to it.  Where is government?
  • H: You mean the building?
  • A: Government is a building?
  • H: No, but the politicians who make up the government have buildings they work from.
  • A: So government is a group of these politicians?
  • H: Yeah.
  • A: OK, so what species are these politicians?
  • H: Well they’re… human.
  • A: Like you?!
  • H: Yeah.
  • A: So politicians are humans, and they’re government.  You’re a human, but you’re not government?
  • H: No.
  • A: So it’s the politicians, they are the ones that boss the rest of you around, and make you do things you don’t want to do and take your money using threats of violence.  But even though you’re all humans – you’re not allowed to boss them around and take their money?
  • H: No, they’d put us in a cage if we did that.  But look, it’s not like the politicians can just do whatever they want.  Like, a politician can’t just come up to me on the street and make me give him money.  They can’t do that.  Politicians can only do things like that in their job, when they’re working for government. 
  • A: Oh, so politicians aren’t government.  They’re just work for government. 
  • H: Yeah.
  • A: OK, so government isn’t a monster, and it isn’t building, and its not politicians, it’s something else.  And it employs politicians who are just regular humans, who get to order everyone else around and take their money.  How does a regular human become a politician?
  • H: Well that’s the great thing about our government.  It’s a democracy, and that means that the people actually have the power, because we get to decide who among us get to be the politicians, we get to vote.  And if a politician starts doing things we don’t like, we can just replace him with someone else in the next election. 
  • A: So the people that get chosen to be politicians only get to boss people around and take their money for a short time, and then they go back to being regular humans?
  • H: Exactly.
  • A: That sounds like a powerful position to be in.  But if you get to choose who does that, I assume that politicians are always the wisest, most honest, caring and respected people among you…
  • H: Well, no, not really.  I wouldn’t say politicians are known for being honest, or wise, or caring, and they’re certainly not the most respected people among us.  Come to think of it, most politicians are lying, power-hungry crooks.
  • A: The ones you chose?
  • H: Yeah, they’re always doing things we don’t like.  They use taxpayers’ money to enrich themselves and their friends, and they never keep their promises to voters.  They’ve been caught stealing and lying and taking bribes, and they mostly do what the big corporations want.   Yeah, they’re always doing stuff like that.  They’re completely corrupt.  They’re a bunch of lying crooks.
  • A: But you said that most humans know that stealing and beating each other up and killing are wrong.  And you said that you have the power because you can change who’s in charge.  So why don’t you just replace the lying, thieving, murderous crooked politicians with some regular people?
  • H: Well we don’t try to elect lying crooks.  It just always turns out that way.  But we have to have a government, because some humans are nasty, and might kill, or enslave or steal.  Civilization just couldn’t survive without government.
  • A: Let me get this straight.  Because you’re worried about the small number of nasty people that are willing to kill, enslave and steal, you think it’s necessary for your survival to have a system where some humans among you, for a short while, get to call themselves the government, and they get to order everyone else around like slaves and, if they want, commit mass murder, using money they stole, using threats of violence.  Politicians get to kill, enslave and steal, because if they didn’t, someone else might?  And you try to elect good honest people to be politicians but what happens every time is that the people you elect turn out to be corrupt, evil, lying crooks.  That’s your system?
  • H: Yeah, that’s pretty much government.

Alternate Versions

Government Explained (faster) – I love seeing remixes of my material, especially when they are improvements! LA Liberty edited all the tiny gaps out from my Government Explained video; he reduced the runtime by a minute and a half, without cutting any content.

Das Ding namens „Regierung” – German-dubbed version created by FreiwilligFrei.

El Gobierno Explicado – Spanish-titled and subtitled version.

The original video has subtitles available in 13 different languages, thanks to volunteer translators from around the world.

Government Explained 2

I made Government Explained 2: The Magical Piece of Paper to address some thoughtful comments and questions on the original video.

Although it didn’t go viral, because the basic idea was no longer new, I still like how this video turned out. It still got a lot of views and generated some good conversation, mostly positive. To those who quite reasonably complained that in the first video the human failed to explain the difference between a democracy and a constitutional republic, this sequel is my response. Whether it’s a democracy or a republic, government still makes no sense.

Government Explained 2: The Magical Piece of Paper
Click here for Full Transcript

Transcript for “Government Explained 2”

  • Alien: So tell me more about your ‘leaders’. Who is the current leader of your species and where are they leading you?
  • Human: We don’t have just one leader for the whole world. The world is divided into countries, and each country has a leader of its own, and a government of its own.
  • Alien: You don’t have one government that rules the whole planet?
  • Human: No, this planet is really big and there are billions of people on it. The world is divided up, because people in different places want different kinds of leaders and governments.
  • Alien: How many countries are there?
  • Human: A couple of hundred, I think.
  • Alien: So there are millions of people per country?
  • Human: Yes, or hundreds of millions, in some of them.
  • Alien: And all the people in a country live under one single government?
  • Human: There can be layers of government, but there’s only one government in each country. That is how it works.
  • Alien: But you can have multiple governments on the same planet?
  • Human: Yes and its better that way. If you had single government for the whole planet and it turned tyrannical, there’d be nowhere to escape to and no one to oppose it. And I wouldn’t want to be ruled by a bunch of people living thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet. It’s better having government more local, because then it’s more accountable.
  • Alien: How far is it from here to where the rulers of this country live?
  • Human: The capital of this country is hundreds of miles from here.
  • Alien: So you don’t want to be ruled by a bunch of people living thousands of miles away, but you don’t mind being ruled by a bunch of people living hundreds of miles away?
  • Human: That’s just how it is, I guess.
  • Alien: Why don’t you and your neighbours set up your own country here, so you can keep a close eye on what the individuals acting as your government are doing?
  • Human: I don’t think our government would allow us to do that.
  • Alien: So you have these countries, some big and some small, and the individuals living in each country separately choose which people are going to be their politicians and as act as government of that country?
  • Human: Yes, although not everyone is lucky enough to live in a country where we get to choose our leaders. A lot of countries have kings or dictators or warlords running their government. People in un-democratic countries don’t get to choose their leaders.
  • Alien: So you consider yourself lucky because you live under a democratic government, where you, along with millions of other people, get to vote, and whoever gets the highest number of votes becomes leader of the government, the gang that tells you what to do and robs you.
  • Human: Yes. But there’s more to it than that. Democracy isn’t the only thing that’s great about the government of this country. In fact, democracy itself is not an ideal system at all – everyone knows that. With a pure democracy, the majority rules, because the politicians do whatever the majority of people want them to do, and this can be a problem for minorities. We know this. The real reason why we’re lucky in this country is that our government is not a pure democracy, but a republic. With a republic, minority rights are protected against the tyranny of the majority.
  • Alien: How?
  • Human: Our rights are listed in our Constitution, the document that established our government. It lays out how government is supposed to work. It says what government is allowed to do, and what it isn’t allowed to do.
  • Alien: What does it say government is allowed to do?
  • Human: Government is allowed to collect taxes for things like national defense…
  • Alien: Hold on – the Constitution says that government is allowed to collect taxes? So it says that the individuals who are acting as government are allowed to rob everyone else using threats of violence?
  • Human: Yes, but only to do good things.
  • Alien: Where did the Constitution come from?
  • Human: It was written by the Founders of this country, the people who first set up the government.
  • Alien: The first politicians of the country?
  • Human: Yes.
  • Alien: So a bunch of regular people just got together and wrote on a piece of paper that they’re allowed to rob everyone else, as long as they call themselves “government” and call their robbery “taxation”. Then because they have this special piece of paper, everyone just sits back and lets these guys rob them?
  • Human: You’re missing the point. The Founders wrote the Constitution to restrain government. They made sure there was a separation of powers, so there were checks and balances in the system. They did this to strictly limit the power, size and scope of government. They made a list of things the government can do and must do, and everything else the government can’t do. They even wrote about specific things that the government can’t do, like violating the inalienable rights of the people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Alien: OK. But I don’t see why the piece of paper is so important. I mean, hypothetically, what if the majority of the people want government to do something that the Constitution says government shouldn’t do? Couldn’t the people vote in politicians who promise to do it for them, regardless of what the Constitution says? How does having your rights listed on an old document help protect your rights today?
  • Human: Well if the politicians who get voted in want to pass unconstitutional legislation, then the third branch of government, the judicial, will step in and not let the legislation pass. The Founders recognised the problem of democracy, so they gave us a Supreme Court, and their role is check whether legislation is constitutional or not.
  • Alien: But the Supreme Court is itself part of the government?
  • Human: Yes. Politicians get voted into positions in the Executive and Legislative branches, but the Judicial branch is made up of judges. So if a majority supports the government violating the rights of a minority, the judges of the Supreme Court simply won’t let it happen.
  • Alien: Are these Supreme Court judges just regular humans?
  • Human: Yes.
  • Alien: So how does a regular human become a Supreme Court judge?
  • Human: They are appointed.
  • Alien: By who?
  • Human: The politicians.
  • Alien: But then what is to stop the democratically-elected politicians just appointing judges who will allow their popular but unconstitutional legislation to pass?
  • Human: Well, they just aren’t allowed to do that.
  • Alien: By who?
  • Human: By the constitution.
  • Alien: The piece of paper?
  • Human: Yes. I admit it’s not a perfect system. I suppose what you’re saying could happen.
  • Alien: Does the government of this country, which you consider yourself lucky to live under, ever do things its own Constitution explicitly forbids?
  • Human: Yeah, a lot of things actually. The government is a lot bigger now than it was when the Constitution was written. The politicians pay lip service to the Constitution, but they trample over our rights anyway.
  • Alien: What about the Supreme Court?!
  • Human: I guess that system hasn’t worked very well lately. Government does pass unconstitutional laws all the time. The separation of powers worked for a while though, it’s not a bad system!
  • Alien: Powers were separate? I thought you said that the powers were all in branches of the same government?
  • Human: Well yes. The branches of government are totally independent and separate from each other, except that they are all part of the same organisation and all funded by taxation.
  • Alien: So when you said the system had checks and balances in it, you meant that the government would check itself, and balance itself?
  • Human: That was the idea.
  • Alien: So, let me get this straight, a long time ago a small bunch of regular humans had a meeting and created a document called a Constitution that said that they can rob everyone else – millions of people – using threats of violence to make everyone obey their rules and commands. But so that the masses of the people would let them get away with this robbery and slavery, that small bunch also promised in the same document that there were some things the government would never do, and they described a way to structure government so as to restrain it. But, over time, the promises have proven to be worthless, the restraints have proven to be useless, and government has grown significantly in size, power and scope, violating more and more of the rights of the people. It sounds to me that if the Constitution was written to constrain government, then it has been a complete failure.
  • Human: Well, the real problem is that people just don’t believe in the Constitution any more. The Constitution only works when people know what it says and why it’s important. If people just knew that, then they wouldn’t vote for politicians who violate it. An informed populace: that’s the only way to really restrain government.
  • Alien: Wait, you said you feel lucky because this country is a republic not a democracy, and a republic has these supposed “checks and balances” that prevent government from violating people’s rights, even when a majority wants to violate the rights of others. But now you’re telling me a republic can only work if people refrain from electing politicians who will violate the rights of others in the first place. That’s the same as a democracy. We’re back to where we started.
  • Human: I see your point.
  • Alien: Is there anywhere on the planet where government is, despite the imaginative labels, anything other than a gang of thieves and bullies?
  • Human: But there’d be chaos without government!
  • Alien: I’m sure that’s what they tell you…

Alternate Versions

Das spezielle Stück Papier vom Ding namens “Regierung” – German-dubbed version created by FreiwilligFrei.