Just Say 'No'

In a world in which terms like common sense too often serve as covers for coercion, the power of no is underappreciated.


No is an underrated word. When properly deployed, it has the potential to bring many extended and pointless conversations to an end. Conversations, for instance, over the merits of restrictions or policies that you would never obey in a thousand lifetimes.

But that means it must be a definitive no, not an ambiguous French non.

"Answering 'non' gives you the option to say 'oui' later," explains the comedian Olivier Giraud about his countrymen's often squishy refusals.

An ambiguous non isn't a line in the sand; it's a bargaining position for a better offer or a more generous bribe. That's not the sort of no we're discussing here. We're talking about a hard no that offers a clear border defining the limits of what you're willing to tolerate, beyond which you'll resist by every means at your disposal.

When you're invoking this sort of no, you shouldn't get bogged down in debates over terminology, or effectiveness, or constitutional interpretations.

"The definition of what you want to ban is incoherent. You need to refine…."

"What does the research show about…?"

"Your take on the amendment ignores the long history of…."

When the stakes are high and you're dealing with a non-negotiable matter of principle, what do you care about the opinions of social scientists, legal scholars, or expert nitpickers? You've already decided that compliance with this latest bit of presumptuous stupidity is out of the question. You're not going to obey it, even if it makes it through the legislative or administrative process and even if it survives judicial review. Moreover, you plan to throw sand into the gears of the machinery of enforcement. Say so!

That no can be a matter of individual resolve, committing yourself to a course of refusal and noncompliance, or it can be a collective statement, which has the potential to magnify its clout. It might be a bit of both when great minds—or at least shared values—come together.

Canadian gun owners were largely on the same page when they refused to cooperate with their government's effort starting in 1998 to register every long gun in the country. Officials spent years nagging recalcitrant citizens to fill out the required paperwork, even as the cost of the new bureaucracy—following the tradition of government expenditures worldwide—soared past original estimates of C$2 million to exceed C$1 billion by 2005, according to the government itself. In 2012, the registry was abolished amid questions as to why regulators were spending so much just to be ignored.

Joining with their Orthodox Jewish counterparts in 2018, New York Catholic leaders ordered their schools "not to participate in any review carried out by local public school officials" in response to a state scheme to give public school boards approval power over the curricula of the private schools with which they compete. As independent institutions boycotted the review process, they also battled regulators in court. This pushed the earliest possible implementation of the plan back to 2023. At which time—if they hold firm—their unified no will continue to frustrate meddling state officials.

From the New York example, we see that a line in the sand need not be an exclusive tactic. It's possible to refuse to compromise or conform while also fighting on other fronts. This not only increases the likelihood of victory in the battle of wills but demonstrates to your opponents that scoring political and legal points will do nothing more than deliver them back to your original obstinate refusal to give them what they want.

Of course, there are many times when discussion and compromise should take precedence over saying no. Not every disagreement is a matter of fundamental principle. Some debates should hold out the possibility of meeting partway and splitting the difference. As a result, there are times when terminology, research, and interpretation do matter and should be subject to rigorous examination.

But in a world in which terms like common sense too often serve as covers for coercion and in which compromise is frequently a stand-in for slow-motion surrender, the power of no is underappreciated and underused. It's a statement that not only are you unwilling to give your opponents a nibble of what they want so they can come back for more later—you're prepared to extract a price from them if they continue their efforts.

So think it through and decide when and where your principles really matter. Then lay aside the phony arguments: Just say "no."

NEXT: A Survey Finds Speech Restrictions Are Pretty Popular. That's Why We Need the First Amendment.

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  1. It’s (just saying No) a statement that not only are you unwilling to give your opponents a nibble of what they want so they can come back for more later—you’re prepared to extract a price from them if they continue their efforts.

    This is an example of ‘Washington DC Political Rules’ that POTUS Trump has yet to master. He is playing the Washington DC game by businessman’s rules (pragmatism, in order to get to ‘Yes’).

    1. Oh sweet child. Tuccille didn’t mean to suggest that Republican politicians should say ‘no’. Or that heterosexuals should say ‘no’. Or that Christians should say ‘no’. Or that Jews should say ‘no’. Or that cisgender people should say ‘no’. Or that men should say ‘no’. Principle is quite obviously the exclusive purview of the radical left.

    2. Ask Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Tank Man how well that works. Better yet, ask Kim Davis or the Little Sisters of the Poor. It’s a lot easier to make a principled stand when you are firmly on the side of the state like Tuccille and the rest of the reason staff rather than against it.

      1. This was supposed to be a comment rather than a reply.

      2. The idea that Tuccille is “firmly on the side of the state” is laughable.

        1. Haha, inorite? He smokes weed and carries a gun in a place where it’s completely legal to do that. He’s such a rebel.

          1. When it comes time to start putting the nuns who won’t pay for abortion into cattle cars Arizona’s baddest ass will surely be there to do his part.

            1. ^Rev sock^

              1. Rev is nowhere near that literate and can’t go a single comment without blathering about ‘clingers’ or how he’s one of our ‘betters’.

              2. Rev also kinda takes the opposite side of things? Either Natalya’s new or is a sock for John or LC, or someone similar.

        2. Sadly, it’s not laughable. Tuccille, like most of Reason staff, is a statist, with a bit of free drugs, free sex, and open borders thrown in.

          1. A Statist?! As opposed to a bomb-throwing, politician-shooting, banned-by-law from entry communist anarchist!? I am shocked, SHOCKED that Reason would ever give voice to someone who has actually read the libertarian party platform and noticed that it calls for throwing no bombs and shooting no unarmed politicians in the back. This Tuccille must really have a lot of courage to brave the scorn of semi-literate Antifa sockpuppets!

      3. What the fuck are you smoking, Natalya.

        1. Natalya is smoking the noxious weed of Trump-fellation, is a pretty damned good bet! And-or hidebound ultra-conservative… Trump isn’t much into being anti-gay, but I smell that in the brief snippets here of Natalya… (Also, where is Boris, anyway? And Rocky and Bullwinkle? And what does being anti-gay have to do with keeping Government Almighty on the smaller side?)

          Inflexible party affiliation is one of the most crippling of the many “ideological idiocies” on the planet!

          1. Inflexible party affiliation is one of the most crippling of the many “ideological idiocies” on the planet!

            Says Mikey Hihn the senile retard who is so hung up on the latest Democratic party hysteria that he thinks a comment about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the futility of resisting a totalitarian state has something to do with Drumpf.

            Exercise the 2nd amendment rights that you want to take away from everyone else and stick a gun in your mouth Hihn.

            1. Loon says something loony which no one understands, is mocked, responds with more loon-i-see.

              Film at 11.

              1. Hihn switches between sockpuppet accounts and thinks that his inability to perceive simple analogies as a result of his disease is shared by everyone.

                Film at 11.

                1. Oh, Natalya is just Tulpa. Should have known. My mistake. Remember, all trolling randos are Tulpa, kids.

                  1. Thankfully you’re easy to distinguish. You’re just as stupid as Hihn, but more vapid and without the distinctive writing tics. Hihn will shit up a thread with his ranting insanity, where you are too stupid to even formulate a few templates you can copy and paste like he does.

                    1. Hey, why do you keep getting banned?

          2. Inflexible party affiliation is one of the most crippling of the many “ideological idiocies” on the planet!

            And what does that have to do with Natalya’s comment? Do you even read what you respond to, or do you just pick response #147 based on a keyword you see?

        2. Smoking? That’s so boomer. We vape GMO free Tide pods now bruh.

          1. Yes, but don’t you forget… Your number ONE fave smoking-and-smirking item is smoking Trump Dick!

            1. I’ve never seen anybody more obsessed with Trump’s dick than you, Mikey. Have you ever encountered the phrase “methinks the lady doth protest too much”?

          2. Smoking? That’s so boomer. We vape GMO free Tide pods now bruh.

            That’s pretty funny.

  2. There’s the story of Jim, he needs a mule so he goes over to his neighbor’s to see about purchasing one. Not knowing much about mules, he asks for the sweetest, nicest, most gentle mule the guy has. The guy shows him a mule he guarantees is the best-trained mule he has, you never need discipline the mule, just treat it nicely and all you need do is tell the mule what you want it to do and the mule will do it without fail.

    So Jim takes the mule home, hitches it to a plow and tells the mule to plow the field. The mule just stands there. Jim tries again, he tells the mule firmly, he asks nicely, he begs and pleads and threatens and tries every magic word he can think of to get the mule to do as it’s told – all to no avail, the mule refuses to move.

    Jim goes back over to the neighbor and explains the problem, the guy says he will go see what the problem is and they go back to Jim’s. The guy tells the mule to plow the field, the mule just stands there. So the guy walks over to the woodpile and picks up a nice stout length of wood, walks over to the mule and bashes the mule over the head hard enough to buckle the mule’s knees, tells the mule again to plow the field – and the mule begins plowing the field.

    Jim is astounded by this and objects that the guy had told him the mule would respond to a simple spoken command. The guy replies, “Oh, the mule will do whatever you tell him to do – it’s just that sometimes you gotta get his attention first. ”

    I say that to say this – we told the left “no” in 2016 but they obviously refused to take “no” for an answer. We can tell them “no” again next year, but if they don’t listen then, we may have to get a nice stout length of wood.

    1. ‘Your lips said no,no,no, but your eyes said yes,yes yes.’ -DNC and every prog ever.

      1. Progressives are the rapists of politics.

  3. Nyet

  4. “In 2012, the registry was abolished amid questions as to why regulators were spending so much just to be ignored.”

    The answer can be found in C. Northcote Parkinson’s PARKINSON’S LAW. His classic study of this effect showed that, during the period when the British Empire was disassembling, the number of employees in the Colonial Office actually GREW.

  5. The article glosses over the education situation in NY – if it was just the Catholic schools objecting, there’d be no questions about telling Albany to buzz off.

    But the ultra Orthodox yeshivas? Hoo boy. Not only are they taking scads of state money, the amount of non-religious education the kids are getting is scant, and essentially nil beyond a certain grade. Cardinal Hayes they ain’t.

    1. “ When the stakes are high and you’re dealing with a non-negotiable matter of principle, what do you care about the opinions of social scientists, legal scholars, or expert nitpickers?”

      Or climate scientists.

      1. “Or climate scientists.”

        Or the ones who disagree.

      2. It’s pretty easy to tell when a scientist is doing politics and not science. Science is a method of inquiry. Scientists publish papers, welcome critical feedback, and continuously seek to find new information or increase the veracity of existing information. Politics is a method of social organization. Politicians create rules and regulations and enforce them. When someone claims to be doing science, but rather than publishing papers, soliciting critical feedback, or seeking out better information they are instead creating rules and regulations and enforcing them, you can discard their opinion because they are speaking with no more authority than anyone else.

        1. Exactly!

  6. This is interesting…

  7. But in a world in which terms like common sense too often serve as covers for coercion and in which compromise is frequently a stand-in for slow-motion surrender, the power of no is underappreciated and underused.

    This is the voice-over to a trailer for a movie I want to see.

    1. I’ll buy the popcorn. Tucille’s dad wrote a book abt pre-LP libertarianism every bit as funny as Catch-22, With a Knife and Fork Down the Amazon and The Great Explosion. It describes a vortex sooo different from the Robert Heinlein, Timothy Leary, Ayn Rand, Aldous Huxley stream that attracted my crowd. We were also surrounded by communist anarchist infiltrators and other snitches and saboteurs. But the LP formed, survives, and has been setting fire to bad laws for 47 years now, and is growing by leaps and bounds. I’m laughing all the way to the voting booth!

      1. Oh, that’s right. Tuccille’s old man wrote a Trump biography as well, as I recall.

  8. Much as most of us would love to tell statist nanny busybodies to go fuck themselves with a big fat NO, the fact of the matter is, and this has been pointed out countless times by Reason writers and commenters, the state holds a monopoly on the use of force, so good luck telling them no to anything, but if you insist on it, I can assure you a swat team will be at your door soon to haul you off to jail if they don’t shoot you dead for saying no first.

  9. The only way you can really say no is by refusing to vote, or literally casting a blank ballot ( no to everyone). If you settle on the lesser of two evils or a third party that will be ignored, all you are doing is saying Yes to the legitimacy of a system that will look for new ways to restrict more of our freedoms regardless of whether the red or blue team is in charge.

    1. Yeah, voting sucks. It’s a blunt tool, and I hate giving the bums my vote, but what’s your real solution? If you just blank your vote, and Hitlary wins with 2 votes (total) over Trump’s 1 (total), she’s not going to look at the 310 million who stayed home and say “gee, I guess I ought to be careful”, but “wheeee!, I won by a 2 to 1 margin!!!! I have a mandate to do whatever I want”.

    2. Refusing to vote says nothing. You may intend a certain message, but the actual message is that you don’t care enough to get off your butt and bother, so you’re just willing to accept whatever is done to you. Blank ballot is a different story. It’s effectively the same as a 3rd party vote. It softly says, “This is fucked up and I reject it” amid millions of screaming fans of team Red and Team blue. Motivating all of the butt-sitters to go out and vote for anything other than Blue or Red is the only message that can ever be heard.

      1. Does every attractive woman have to respond to every inane come on line she hears? Politicians are even worse that, so why in the hell are they entitled to a response? They are intransigent scum and we only validate them by giving them our time and attention.

        The answer isn’t to participate in their crooked system. The answer is to exit. Buy currencies that the state can’t print/generate at will.

  10. So we should all start saying “No” to the TSA “request” for papers, pat downs, searches, etc.?

    Love the idea!

    You go first.

    1. We’re waiting for the Rosa Parks of airline travel.

      1. Did she have to suffer through a cavity search?

  11. I will not comply

  12. “Its only common-sense that our government takes away your individual ability to say no. After all; we are the champions of human rights, animal rights, grasshopper rights, housefly rights and equality in all things!” – Spews the Anti-Individual [WE] foundation.

    The DNC promises that if elected —
    You don’t own your own personal health. The [WE] foundation does and [WE] will ban your ability to individually say ‘no’.

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