Friday, July 17, 2009

Just don't hurt anybody

We all agree that civil liberties are good things, right? But we don't all agree about specific liberties and their defenders. Some people snipe at sexual rights and the ACLU, others at self-defense rights and the NRA ... We may believe in liberty, but we don't seem to agree on what it is. So, what is liberty? The answer, is that it's anything peaceful, or, put another way, anything done among consenting adults.

Some people will answer: But, you have no right to smoke grass, own guns, have gay sex, travel without showing ID, or open a business without a license if the government says otherwise! The law tells us what our civil liberties are, and the government, elected by a majority of the people, makes the law.

To put it bluntly: Screw the government, screw the law and screw the majority.

If you want to marry somebody of the same sex, toast the festivities with marijuana bought at an unlicensed bar, and celebrate with a machinegun shoot (well ... I suggest you reverse the order of the shoot and the toast), it ain't nobody's business if you do.

In fact, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do is the title of a wonderful book written by Peter McWilliams and published in 1996. In the book, the full text of which is now available online, McWilliams wrote, "You should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don't physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other."

McWilliams didn't invent this idea. It's an old one, perhaps most closely associated with the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who wrote:

[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right... The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

In the modern context, McWilliams elaborated:

Laws against consensual activities create a society of fear, hatred, bigotry, oppression, and conformity; a culture opposed to personal expression, diversity, freedom, choice, and growth. The prosecution of consensual crimes "trickles down" into ostracizing, humiliating, and scorning people who do things that are not quite against the law but probably should be. "They're different; therefore, they're bad" seems to be the motto for a large segment of our society. We are addicted to normalcy; even if it means we must lop off significant portions of ourselves, we must conform.

There's no need to accept the validity of all these arguments; the validity of any one is sufficient reason to wipe away all the laws against consensual activities.

"A culture opposed to personal expression, diversity, freedom, choice and growth"? Isn't that a bit strong?

Not really. You see, McWilliams died in 2000. A cancer and AIDS patient himself, he was arrested while helping another writer conduct research for a book on growing marijuana for medical purposes. His mother's house was held as collateral for the bond that secured his freedom while awaiting sentencing, and the chief prosecutor in the case threatened to seize the home if McWilliams was found with even a trace of the marijuana he used to control the severe nausea caused by his medication.

Unable to control his nausea, McWilliams choked to death on his own vomit.

Some people would make excuses for the prosecutor in the case. He was just doing his job according to the law, after all.

But a law that would deny a man medicine and cause him to choke to death is evil, and so are those who voluntarily help to enforce such laws.

We make a big deal about the democratic nature of our political system, but there's nothing about 50% plus one that could sanctify laws and actions like those that led to the death of Peter McWilliams. If we recognize that you have the right to do peaceful things -- that is to engage in trade, or to love, or to consume -- by yourself and with other consenting adults, then it doesn't matter if the people intruding into your life are lone wolves or a majority of the population. They're wrong to intrude and they're doing evil by sticking their noses where those noses aren't welcome.

Because it ain't nobody's business if you do.

Unfortunately, governments and our neighbors have grown accustomed to interfering in what isn't their business. Occasionally, they give a hat tip to the philosophical tradition represented by Mill and company by arguing that, if you're allowed to smoke grass or own a gun or operate a storefront without a license, others really are harmed by your subsequent (alleged) lower productivity at work, or the possibility that you'll go postal, or the vague potential for you defraud customers in a way that could allegedly be prevented by an official piece of paper.

This stretches the idea of "harm to others" so far out of shape as to be unrecognizable -- except as a dishonest intellectual dodge. Accepting the argument that what you might do, or what could reduce your utility to society, is any business of the government, leaves absolutely nothing beyond the reach of nosey busybodies with official titles.

It also, incidentally, reduces you to a cog in the machine.

Laws that interfere in your right "to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don't physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other" go too far. They should be defied and sabotaged. Governments that insist on passing such laws are illegitimate and should be dumped. And majorities that put such governments in power? Well, they're just wrong, and should be told to take a hike.

Defending liberty isn't about playing by the rules. It's about judging whether the rules, and the people who enforce them, are worth respecting.

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Blogger Kent McManigal said...

I think "consenting, responsible people" is a little more accurate than "consenting adults", but is much less popular to advocate.

And yes, you have a right to do ANYTHING as long as it doesn't violate the equal rights of others. That means a lot of very, very trivial things are within your rights, as well as some awesomely important things. This strikes down the nitwits who claim "driving is not a right" or other nonsense.

July 17, 2009 2:55 PM  
Blogger Ziggy said...

However, one could argue, for instance, that while driving is certainly a right, the government, having gone to considerable expence to build and maintain them, has every right to decide who may or may not drive on public roads.

July 17, 2009 11:38 PM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

The government has NOT gone to any expense to build or (poorly) maintain "public" roads. They stole the money from the population to build the roads. Government can have no "rights" since it is not an individual. Government CAN have authority in certain cases. But not in this one. A government can't steal money, commandeer property, and then claim authority.

There will come a day when people are amazed we ever settled for government roads.

July 18, 2009 7:08 AM  
Blogger Ziggy said...

Let me rephrase. In the ideal case, the population has established a government, given it the authority to enact taxes so that it may have funds with which to carry out the will of the people, and tasked it with the building of roads, which, having been payed for by the people, are their collective property, giving them the right to decide, via the government that represents their interests, who may or may not use them. Is that better?

July 18, 2009 7:28 AM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

No one can give anyone else authority to steal ("tax") any more than I could give you authority to rape my sister.

The desires of the mob do not override the rights of the one.

July 18, 2009 8:19 AM  
Blogger Ziggy said...

Your lack of rebellion is implied consent to be taxed. As is your use of government services paid for by taxing the people. Using, or even being willing to use these services (police, public defender, etc) under any circumstances without paying your allocated share is in principle the same as stealing cable. You aren't really hurting the person your stealing from, you're hurting those who pay them. also, this is funny: Libertarian reluctantly calls fire department.

July 18, 2009 1:36 PM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

My lack of rebellion is due to a desire to not be murdered by the state. There is no "implied consent". If you are robbed at gunpoint by a freelance thug and you cooperate and don't protest, does that mean you are OK with the robbery? Or does it mean you recognize who is holding the gun?

I am not willing to "use" the police. There is no situation so bad it can't be made worse by adding a badge-guy. I have never thought about using a public defender, but from what I've heard you might as well plead guilty for all the good they do a person. Are volunteer fire departments a government entity? If so, what are the free market options available? If, as they have in some cases, fire-fighters become spies for the state you would be better off to avoid their "services", too.

I gladly pay for what I use. Charge me a user fee; don't rob me to pay for things I don't use. I only ask for options rather than monopolies enforced by an evil coercive group that operates by theft, kidnapping, and murder.

July 18, 2009 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked this discussion. Folks often don't want to pay for a safety net until they want to use it, but unfortunately, one cannot create a safety net anew each time an individual comes to their senses. As a society we recognize the need to plan ahead, and we do so, knowing that some ignoramus will hurt themselves, or need roads, or need protection from harm in the future even though they are unable to imagine it beforehand. We the people are the government, get used to it.

July 25, 2009 3:52 PM  
Blogger funchy said...

One big problem though is we cannot agree on the definition of the word "hurt". Suicide and drug addiction definitely cause hurt even if it's not the person doing the action. Animal abuse (anyone remember Michael Vick) is definitely causing suffering, even if a person has a "right" to his property.

And if it's up to the plaintiff to prove "hurt" how do other citizens control someone who is dumping large amounts of toxic chemicals (or offal or other garbage) into the air or water. Who owns the river? The person who owners the beachfront? All property owners? The whole country?

The problem is that people tend to twist word meanings to suit their own agenda. Maybe it "hurts" me that there are websites online with things I find offensive -- should they be made illegal?

September 9, 2009 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Well done and well written and I agree heartily. It's getting out of control and a quick read of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" will give you a horrible blueprint for our near future.

September 9, 2009 11:07 PM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

"Hurt"- Actual physical damage/harm. "Offense" does not qualify.

If you hurt animals you may be a terrible person, but you are not harming any person by your actions. Feel free to shun or tell others about the animal abuser, but don't interfere with his use of his own property by using coercion.

If a river is on your property, then you own that part of it. If you toss in trash or sewage, the next property owner (and the next, and the next....) has been hurt by your irresponsible behavior. They could request restitution. If you choose to not cooperate (without government coercion, that is a possibility) you could be shunned and people may feel justified in using self-defense against you. It may be worth it to them to take action and then face arbitration to decide if they initiated force against you. This isn't the only way things could be worked out, of course, but just a possibility.

September 10, 2009 8:21 PM  

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