The Non-Aggression Principle states that initiating force or coercion against others is inherently wrong. Everyone understands this on an intuitive level: it is wrong to hit other people (initiating force) or threaten them with a beating in order to take their lunch money (coercion); however, it is okay to hit someone if they are trying to hurt you or a loved one, since you did not initiate the use of force (self-defense). In politics, the Non-Aggression Principle is espoused by libertarians, who claim that the principle applies to governments and their agents as much as it does to everyone else in all situations.
The Non-Aggression Principle is related to the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you have others beat you up or threaten you into doing what you hate? You would not, so you generally follow the NAP. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule calls for treating everyone alike, when we are all different. When a Black person in the neighborhood calls me a “nigga,” I feel glad to be seen a human being rather than an alien “cracker”… however, if I were to call them the same thing back, they might well think I was verbally aggressing against them.
Some people feel that they are doing a productive civic duty by paying taxes, while I resent my money being used to prop up exploiters like Wal-Mart, to lock up victimless offenders and to murder people in other parts of the world. When you go out and vote for your representatives, please don’t pick people who want to do unto me as you enjoy having it done unto you.
Better than even the much-lauded Golden Rule is the short, short version of the Wiccan Rede. The Rede is a poem of counsel, which modern witches heed. The long version outlines the Wiccan holidays and other aspects of worship. The short version is basically the NAP voiced in Renaissance Fair language:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust,
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill
An’ harm ye none, Do what ye will.
I think that the Rede is sufficient, and more precise than the Golden Rule. It is much more applicable than about five of the Ten Commandments (go ahead and engrave images if you want!). The Rede does not explicitly allow for self-defense. However, if we take self-defense as a given, the Rede provides the same foundation for moral reasoning as the NAP. Like libertarians, Wiccans may not use harm, such as coercion and violence. Not to prescribe certain acceptable medicines and sex acts, nor to rear and educate children, nor to enforce their own aesthetic standards on other people’s front lawns (if my lawn offends your eyes, wait until you see how I dress!).
When I was a teenager investigating the Wiccan religion, I was suspicious because the basic Rede does not prescribe any positive actions such as giving to charity or acting modestly. It looked like a statement of selfishness. I now think that positive action has to come from one’s intrinsic goodwill, one’s internal motivations — “do what ye will.” To combine the best of the NAP and Rede, allow me to offer the following:
An’ initiate force or coercion against none, do what ye will
If we can all agree on the rather minimal moral code of the NAP/Rede, and perhaps avoid fetishizing selfishness and greed, we’ll allow cooperation and creativity to flourish naturally. I don’t see any advantage in bullying yourself or others into being “better” people.