Silver and Gold

There are two approaches we are offered from antiquity, one of which we are all familiar with and one that is less familiar although not completely unknown. The more common is the “Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The less well known but still famous is the “Silver Rule”: Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you. I believe it is instructive to examine both of these approaches to see how they differ, and how they can guide us in life and in law.

The Golden Rule is what I think of as affirmative guidance. It tells us what we should do. It doesn’t restrict or circumscribe our actions away from things so much as guide us toward things. While this seems good on the surface, I’m always leery of things that look good (too many “candy from strangers” commercials as a kid, I guess). The first caution I would bring to the table is that maybe what I like isn’t what someone else likes. Just because I want you to do it to me, how do I know that’s what you want done to you? I’m not talking anything sick or extreme here, but there’s a lot of human activity that falls in the grey areas between “obviously wrong” and “of course I’d be okay with that”. If you don’t believe me, swing on by house next week. It’s almost time for my annual mohawk, and my wife is going to be out of town; I’ll do your hair first, then you can do mine. It’s the Golden Rule, after all.

Standing in opposition to this is the admonition to not do unto others. While this doesn’t lift nearly as much weight from a moralistic perspective, it does just as much work from another perspective: that of circumscribing negative behavior. Again, if there is objectionable behavior someone would actively enjoy, there’s nothing in this rule that would stop them from doing it to someone else, but then the Golden Rule practically requires them to go out and do it. At least this rule just amounts to “keep your hands to yourself”.

That leads into the other aspect of where I think these two subtly different moral guidelines have major differences in their implications. Many people, some among them being either moralists or lawmakers (and even moralistic lawmakers) like to cite the Golden Rule when debating the merits of different laws. Why? Is there something inherent to the Golden Rule that makes it a superior basis for a legal system? Citing something like Hammurabi’s Code I could at least understand (not that I think that’s a good source mind you), or the Magna Carta. But instead they refer to “the Golden Rule”. Aside from its qualities as a common point of cultural reference, what else does it offer in terms of jurisprudence?

Consider my point from above: the Golden Rule is affirmative. It does not circumscribe behavior as much as compel it. All laws are compulsory by nature, in that they compel us to act a certain way or refrain from acting in a certain way for fear of punishment (if we would have behaved properly without the law then we either don’t need it or can safely ignore it). So laws that are made with the Golden Rule in mind are looking to compel people to take a good action, to “do unto others”. They are not designed from the perspective of refraining from negative action, that of “do not do unto others”.

The essential question then is, what sort of government do we want to live under? What sort of system do we want to have? Do we want a system that determines in advance what actions we should take, and uses the threat of force to compel us to take actions for the benefit of others? I’m pretty sure that’s been tried, and it never seems to work out very well. The alternative is a system that writes laws carefully, narrowly tailored to circumscribe intolerable behavior but otherwise leave open the grey area of noxious but tolerable behavior. It’s perhaps not as pretty in theory, but works much better for a diverse plurality than reaching for fool’s gold.


Anarchy X: The Sixth Commandment

“Thou shalt not kill.”

Of all the Commandments, I personally would have put this one at the top. Maybe I’m funny that way, or maybe I’m just not quite the omniscient being and there are other factors in play I’m not aware of, but it does seem to be a rather important one. Setting all of that aside however, it is at least straightforward. “Thou shalt not kill.” It has also been translated as “Thou shall not commit murder”, which is a very different thing entirely, and it makes a big difference which is the correct statement when looking at this from a public policy perspective. There are two distinct yet equally important reasons for this, one of which I can come down in agreement with the “not commit murder” version, and the other I come down on the “shalt not kill” side, so I’m a bit torn.

For the first reason, there’s the question of “what exactly is murder?” I know that sounds like a silly question to some, maybe most, but it is an important question, not just in jurisprudence but in society. Is murder any time you shorten another person’s time on Earth? If so, I can’t agree with that definition. Put bluntly, if you threaten me or mine, I will not hesitate to use any and all necessary force to affect our defense and escape. That’s not to say I prefer to use force nor do I look forward to the day, but I reserve the right, and while I may regret the necessity of the act I will never regret the act itself.

Likewise, I am a great proponent of the idea that a person’s life is their own, to live as they see fit and only so long as they wish to. If they require assistance in leaving a life they no longer find tolerable, I will not hold someone liable for providing that assistance. Maybe that makes me a bad person in the eyes of some, but that’s what I believe and I stand by it.

So having ruled out those definitive cases, what about the questionable ones? What about the issues of negligence, unintentional action, and incitement? Those I am comfortable at least putting in the custody of the judicial system, as they are questionable, and are worthy of being weighed by a jury. While I can see in each one of those without stretching a case of either vindication or at least a far lesser crime, I can also easily see a case of murder. That is why we have an adversarial judicial system, to sort out such murky cases, and to (ideally) ensure the innocent are not punished along with the guilty.

But the truth is that the judicial system is also something we have to look at when we consider this Commandment, because it is a part of the government, and at least in America the government represents us all. The actions the government takes are, if not literally than at least symbolically, the actions we all take, and if we do not at least raise our voices against the immoral actions than we are equally culpable of them.

I have made my feelings on the death penalty clear before, but here we have another consideration to make. If the State is, collectively speaking, all of us, then every action taken by the State is an action taken by us. That includes every execution carried out by the State. If you believe that the proper interpretation of this Commandment is “Thou shall not commit murder”, you cannot in good conscience ever question any execution carried out, or else you must oppose all of them, and as I have pointed out before the inherent imperfection of man is such that the latter is inevitable. Even if you believe the death penalty is just and can be (and is) applied justly, and therefore it is not murder, do you believe the proper translation is “thou shalt not kill”? If so, you must oppose the death penalty on those grounds alone. As a wise man once wrote, “you can’t eat meat and look down your nose at the butcher.”

It may seem odd that I would have no problem with killing in my own person, or even with someone ending their own life, and I have as much as said I would help someone to end theirs if asked, yet I am opposed to the State taking life in the form of the death penalty. Like most things, it is contextual. I would not kill except as a last resort; I believe that a person has a right to make their own choices about their own life, including when to end it; and if it came down to it, I am willing to assist someone I care about to do what they feel they must even when they don’t have the strength to do it themselves. That does not mean I enjoy it, nor does that mean I prefer it. And when there is another option, I will always take it. For me, that is the heart and soul of this Commandment. There is almost always another option, and it is incumbent upon us to find it.

My Ideal Candidate

I spend a lot of time complaining about politics on this blog, and I would argue it is with good reason (there are those who know me that would say I would argue anything, but they’re just jealous). I thought in the interest of balance I would take a little time to lay out what I would like to see in a candidate for office, not just president, but any office really. Seeing this sort of thing would warm my heart, and maybe even get me to reconsider my assertion that there is no such thing as a good politician. While it would be easy to say “a libertarian”, that wouldn’t be entirely true, or completely fair. Even libertarian leaning politicians have been known to fall prey to some of the worst habits that bother me, and so I give you the following guidelines; feel free to offer your own.

First, don’t claim to be an “outsider candidate”. If you are running as one of the two major party candidates, surprise! You are by definition an insider. We have a two-party system that has been made all but exclusive, so trying to claim you are somehow running as an “outsider” with an “R” or a “D” next to your name is disingenuous at best. Likewise if you are running as an independent or third party candidate, chances are I can figure out for myself that you don’t have a chance in hell – excuse me, that you are an outsider without being told (unless you’re really just a major party candidate in disguise and want to pretend you’ve left your party – paging Joseph Lieberman, Senator Lieberman please pick up the white hypocrisy phone in the lobby).

Second, for the love of all that’s holy, please hire a proper fact checker and listen to them. I realize that the pundits and the spinsters will still be playing gotcha politics with everything you say, but when every five year old is saying “liar liar pants on fire” while you walk down the street and I don’t even have to do an internet search to call you out on your least blatant untruths, you’ve hit a new low. Telling the truth has never been fashionable in politics, but who knows, it might be refreshing enough to garner a few votes.

Third, be logically consistent in your policies. I realize this will turn off 95% of the electorate, but I’m discussing my ideal candidate, not theirs. In particular, when you say things like “we’re going to eliminate the deficit, lower taxes, and keep Social Security intact” all in the same breath, I start to wonder if you are either (a) not listening to yourself or (b) high on drugs. Individually these might be laudable goals, but you simply can’t achieve all of them at once. In the same vein, do me the favor of assuming that I have a memory that extends beyond the speech you’re currently giving, because even if I don’t I assure you that there is someone else out there who does, they work in the media, and they are just waiting for the chance to call you on it.

Finally, and this is related to the last point, please develop a political philosophy that is internally consistent and stick with it. Being able to elucidate that philosophy in a way that the average person finds approachable would be a nice plus. By this I mean when I hear Republicans talking about Big Government doing Too Much and being Too Involved In Our Lives and then they turn around and demand that we continue to prosecute the War on Drugs, ban pornography and gambling, and deny homosexuals the right to marry, and meanwhile I hear Democrats talk about how we have every civil right under the sun, but they go out of their way to ban smoking, doughnuts, and sugary sodas, because they know what’s good for you. Come again? I am not demanding that the philosophy in question be one I agree with; if someone wants to come out and say they believe that people make bad choices when left to their own devices and so we have to make these decisions as a community, and then lays out how they believe that based on “the values of our community as a whole” they believe we should ban X, Y, and Z, fine. I disagree, but at least it’s approachable and consistent.

I realize I am asking a lot of politicians, but that is only because they are asking a lot of me. They are asking that I entrust them, literally, with the power of life and death, and more importantly with the power to make decisions about how I am allowed to live my life. That being the case, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they be upfront and honest with me about how they would use – or abuse – that power.

The Value of Tradition (And Challenging It)

I believe it was F. A. Hayek who defined tradition (and I may be paraphrasing here) as those concepts, ideas, or behaviors that have survived undisturbed because they are not sufficiently contra-survival to have died out. The point he was getting at was that even though we may not understand why we do a certain thing, or why we do things a certain way, things evolved that way over time for a reason, and to simply throw it all away because we don’t understand the reason behind it is very foolish indeed.

Truthfully, I am not known for being a very traditional sort of person, at least not in the common parlance of the word. I don’t abide by most of the cultural mores I find around me, and I am the first one to buck the trend if I find that it inhibits me from getting something I want or doing something I want to do. But those who know me well also know that I am a sentimentalist at heart, and I have a fondness for tradition that goes well past nostalgia. I suppose it would be the height of hypocrisy to suggest that when I flaunt tradition it’s for the common weal and when others do so it’s a danger to the commonwealth, but I’ve been accused of hypocrisy before.

Most of our structures, our society, everything we do and live by and with, exists for a reason. We may not understand why or what that reason is, but that doesn’t mean that reason isn’t there. Even something as basic and structural as language is an evolved form of tradition handed down from one generation to the next, and while it is certainly mutable within a few standard deviations of the norm, it is not simply something we can dispose of without regard for what comes next. This is not to suggest we should never challenge tradition; a society that refuses to challenge its traditions stagnates, becomes rotten in the core, and inevitably dies under its own weight. But the challenge should be constructive, with some idea of what will replace those defunct traditions, not a simplistic, nihilistic destruction.

The fact is, most of the time when I see people making a break from tradition these days I see them doing it with lack of foresight. They are not trying to strive toward something, rather than are simply running away from something. Likewise, they are never willing to pay the price for their rebellion; too often the expectation is that there should be no price, that what they want should be the proper order of things, and that they should be rewarded for demanding change rather than being asked to sacrifice to make that change happen. “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” is the cry of a child, not a rational adult, and should be treated in much the same way: ignored at first, and with a time-out if it continues. If and when they decide to grow up and be a part of the broader community, to bring something to the table, to add to the civilized discourse, then we can engage and see what we have to offer each other. The drive to blindly challenge everything without a sense of purpose is simply being a douchebag.

I do have one caveat: teenagers. It is their right, their privilege, and their duty to be douchebags in this fashion. You cannot offer something of value until you know what you have to offer, and to do that you need to know who you are. It is only by striving against anything and everything, by pushing against all that society has and being blasted back in response, that we develop our true sense of self. When that societal pushback comes and scours away everything else, whatever remains and refuses to let go, the part of you that stands defiant against everything and everyone that would change you, that’s what you know is the real you. It is through this process of rebellion that teenagers come out of their parents’ shadow and find their own identity.

The benefit for society is that there are some things that do occasionally, occasionally, need to be challenged on the merits and not be replaced by something new. There are traditions and ideas that have outlived their usefulness (if they were ever useful at all), and it is the responsibility of each new generation to challenge those ideas. It is this sort of pruning that allows our society to continue to grow and brings each generation more fully into the fold.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I’m Not a Zombie)

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a friend at work that later spread (rather ironically) to some fellow coworkers. It was on a topic of grave (pardon the pun) importance in this day and age: if it was the zombie apocalypse, would you want to be the first person turned into a zombie or the last person left on Earth after everyone else had been turned into a zombie? Think about that one for a second. Go watch a few episodes of The Walking Dead if you think it would be instructive.

Got your answer? Here’s the ones that came up: almost universally the decision was be the first. The reasons given ranged from the maudlin (“I would hate to watch my entire family and all of my friends die”) to the perverse (“I’ve always enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet…”), but there was solid agreement on this point; as usual I was the lone dissenter. I said, unequivocally, I would invest my entire fortune in canned food and shotgun shells and ride this one out. My reasoning may sound flip at first, perhaps even grotesque, but I ask you to bear with me.

To start, answer this perhaps indelicate but I promise serious and on-point question: have you made love enough in your lifetime?

No need to answer out loud; feel free to keep it to yourself. Regardless of your answer, let me take it a step further. Have you read every book you would ever want to read? Seen every film? Have you experienced every great or wonderful moment you could ever want to experience? If nothing else, have you seen every sunset or sunrise you ever need see again?

Answer me every one of those questions, and then answer this one again: would you be the first zombie, or the last?

I also pointed out that, if you remove the element of the fantastic from it, the question becomes one of the essential nature of humanity. Death, in all of its forms, is unpleasant at least and gruesome at worst. It is rarely desirable, and it is always final. Change the question even slightly: “if every person on Earth were going to die in a car crash, would you prefer to be the first or the last?” Does your answer change?

Life is for the living. It’s easy to forget that as we go through the motions of job and school, get trapped in the daily grind of wake up, commute, work, commute, sleep, rinse and repeat. There are joys to be had, great and small, victories and triumphs and losses and tears and great walloping gobs of life to live. And when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m going to ride that sucker out in style. Feel free to stop by; I’ll have plenty of canned food and shotgun shells to go around.

I know it’s just a game, a thought experiment, and perhaps I take it a bit too seriously, but I think sometimes games are worth taking a little seriously just to see where they take us. If this game takes you to a place where you appreciate life a bit more, perhaps enjoy a sunset, kiss your spouse one more time, pet your dog, or just give an extra piece of candy to the kids who knock on your door tonight, then it was a game well played.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

The Market Won’t Provide: How Libertarians Get It Wrong

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted a flying car. I know I’m not alone in this, since roughly everyone since ever has wanted a flying car. Cars have been around for over a hundred years, and people have been talking about delivering a flying car for at least half that time, so if as I hear so often “the market will provide”, where’s my damn flying car?

1.       The market can’t defy the laws of physics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of naysayer who looks at an airplane and says “that thing will never fly”. Of course I understand that man will continue to push past the boundaries of the present, and I fully believe the free market is the best motivator to allow the best ideas to flourish and make their way to the top. But I too often hear libertarians make impossible (for today) wishes, and when you call them on it, they just say, “the market will provide” as if that’s some kind of answer. Yeah, maybe it will someday, but today’s not the day, and tomorrow doesn’t look too good either.

2.       The market might provide, but not in the way you think. Actually, my father-in-law has been behind the wheel of a flying car more than once. He has a pilot’s license. I’m not even talking about those big, giant private jets (which are the stretch limos of flying cars), I’m talking a Piper Cub and the ilk. It may not be the flying car everyone envisions, but that’s how I’ve been taught markets work: when you can’t get exactly what you want, they provide a more reasonable alternative. But when most libertarians say “the market will provide” they usually mean it as a blind faith assumption that they can get what they want – somewhere. Which leads to…

3.       The market might provide, but not at a price you want to pay. There’s a term I’ve become very familiar with of late: “market clearing price.” It goes like this: say someone actually does invent a flying car. And say they start selling them for, oh, one million dollars. Guess what I won’t be buying anytime soon? And neither will anyone I know, despite the fact that we all want a flying car. The demand is there! It’s there, I tell you! In fact, I’m demanding a flying car right now. And yet I can demand it all day and I still won’t get one until I pony up the cash, because there will be enough people who do.

That’s what a market clearing price is. Even if they could make them cheaper, there’s no incentive to. Same with anything else; as long as people will buy at the price they set, there’s no incentive to lower the price. “But wait!” cry the libertarians, “the free market means someone else can make another flying car at a lower price! Competition, that’s the answer!” Fair enough. But competition will only bring the cost down just so low before it’s no longer the best use of their time and money before they have another, better way to make money. That’s how free markets work, remember?

4.       The market only provides to meet demand. Yes, I want a flying car. Yes, I know a lot of other people who want flying cars too. I also know a lot of people who want adult-sized Underoos (no, I am not one of them, no matter what my sister tells you). That doesn’t mean the market will start providing them tomorrow, even if it could meet the engineering feat, and considering the size of some of these people I really hope it can’t. Why? Because there’s just not enough money to be made. Money is just a proxy for demand, which tells us the best use of resources, and quite frankly I don’t ever see adult size Underoos being a good use of resources. For anyone. Ever. And just because everyone I know wants a flying car, or claims they do, doesn’t mean there is enough real market demand for them, because I don’t know everyone. That’s what economists call a knowledge problem. That’s kind of what markets are there to solve, and sometimes the solution is you don’t get your flying car (or Underoos).

It’s time to think in new ways, and hopefully some of the libertarians I know will think about some of the things I’ve written here and lose some of the utopian idealism they have about markets. Markets aren’t perfect. They are the best system we have in an imperfect world to achieve very specific objectives, but there are some things they can’t do. They can’t provide the perfect product at the perfect price in the perfect time frame. More often markets are about finding the best compromise with the resources at hand in the time you have. Or as my mechanic used to say, “we have three options: good, fast and cheap. Pick two.”

So what am I driving at here? Am I trying to tell libertarians to throw in the towel, stop worrying and learn to love the government? Far from it. What I am saying is that faith-based arguments only work when you are preaching to the choir. For everybody else, a little humility can go a long way. Acknowledge the weaknesses of the market, and then point out a few things. Things like the government can’t defy physics either, that government services often cost more than private solutions, and that government options are often more limited than free market solutions when they exist at all.

The false dichotomy of “perfect government solution” vs. “pie in the sky by and by” is a loser every time. But once you start putting real world options next to each other, admitting that each has something to offer but each has inherent weaknesses, you start a meaningful dialogue. The result of that dialogue, hopefully, is that by treating the person you are speaking with as an intelligent person they will offer you the same courtesy, and you can give them a new perspective and something to think on. You may not make a convert out of them, but you won’t make an enemy either, and you might at least get them thinking in new ways.

Finding Strength through Adversity

“Life’s not fair.” These are the words of wisdom my mother greeted me with every time I was a child and I had a complaint about some new injustice that had been visited upon me. (To be fair, I preferred this to her more often used “go play in traffic” or “take a long walk off a short pier”, but I digress.) I have since come to understand that in her own Long Island way she was trying to toughen me up and prepare me for a cruel and uncaring world. (I think. I’m still not sure about the traffic thing.)

Since then I have had good days and bad days, and then I have had “Oh dear GOD seriously WTF?!?” days. These latter have reminded me more than once of mom’s admonition when I was a child, and after I got done playing in traffic, I would then remember that she also had other important life lessons to share and try to find strength through the adversity. There are certain key things I have since found that, by keeping them in mind, have helped me to get through even the most trying of days.

Some days are just going to suck. Accept it now. This may not seem comforting, but the truth is it helps. Once you accept that there is nothing you can do about it, that the cards are all stacked against you and fighting against it is simply a waste of time and energy, it becomes a lot easier to just go with the flow. That’s not to say you should take individual events lying down; rather just that you need to accept that today is going to be “one of those days”, and not try to somehow make it a good one.

It’s not personal. Even when it feels like the entire universe has singled you out to be picked on today, chances are that’s not the case (and if it is, I strongly suggest you give Ashton Kutcher a good shot in the mouth when he jumps out to tell you “you’ve been Punk’d!” So has your career, Ashton.) Most of the people around you who are getting on your nerves are just trying to get through their own mediocre-to-awful day, and I promise that they are not trying to make your day worse, so taking it out on them will not help… no matter how good you think it might feel.

Taking it out on someone else will not make you feel better. Since you have the discriminating taste and class to read this, I am assuming you’re not a raging asshole, so I feel safe in making this prediction. In a heated moment you might think you’ll get some satisfaction in making someone else pay for adding to your already steaming pile of a day, but in all likelihood you’re just going to walk away feeling a little worse for having gone off for no good reason. You’re also going to leave them with a bad impression of you, which is likely to make tomorrow (or a future day) worse, if they don’t just decide to serve their revenge piping hot.

There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. I don’t mean to endorse over-indulgence here (I prefer to endorse that all on its own), but when things are already in the toilet, why put yourself through the added misery of denial? Treats are just that, and sometimes you need one. Have some ice cream. Pour a glass of wine. Go see a movie. When the world refuses to cut you a break, cut yourself a slice of pie.

That’s what friends are for. Real friends aren’t the people you go drinking with when you are in a good mood. They are the people you call when you need to complain about your bad mood. Great friends are the ones who take you out drinking so you can complain about your bad mood and then pick up the check.

Every day ends. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how long it feels, the one redeeming virtue of every bad day is that it only last 24 hours. Even if the bad carries over into the next day, there’s always the chance that this new day will only be mediocre rather than a true crapfest. And even if things don’t improve, the new day is still only 24 hours long.

Wait for “the cherry”. You’ll know the cherry when it happens: that last, little thing that isn’t nearly so bad as the rest, more of a finisher, the topping that just says, “And now your shit sundae is complete.” Once you have experienced this transcendent moment, you can at least start to look forward to the inevitable dénouement to the dramarama your day has been thus far.

There’s always tomorrow. Yes, it’s cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. This one exists to remind us that so long as we live, there is a chance of some good balancing out the bad, and even if life isn’t fair, that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.

Whose Body Is It, Anyway?

In a recent post, I seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy regarding some stated opinions about feminism. One opinion I explicitly did not state was my opinion regarding abortion, as I felt it was at best tangential to the issues I was discussing at the time. It is a weighty and emotionally charged issue, and I did not want it to distract from the other issues I was trying to raise. However, it is also an issue worthy of serious discussion and debate, and I feel the time has come at last to lay out my position.

Before I begin, I want to make a few things clear. While I will do my best to discuss the matter as rationally and dispassionately as possible, that does not mean I am in any way immune to the emotional freight attendant to it. On the contrary, I am as invested as anyone in the matter. That having been said, I believe that any issue worthy of being debated as a matter of law, or even being considered as a matter of law, should be addressed as rationally as possible. The purpose of the law, in my view, is to allow us the time and distance to make decisions in a manner we would not and cannot in the heat of the moment.

All the necessary provisos aside, if it’s not clear from the title of this post, let me be clear now about my position: I am in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Before the gasps of shock or hateful comments begin, I ask that you read on to understand my reasoning; it is not something I came to by chance, nor did I simply go with what “feels right”. Like most everything else I believe, I started from the same base libertarian principles I have held for a very long time, and moving forward I have come to what I believe is the only logical conclusion. Also please note that I do not see it as an unlimited right, something else born out of those same libertarian convictions and that same logic. I welcome anyone to challenge me on the logic, or any point of fact, but please reserve points of faith for yourself, as I assure you that you will not sway me.

The first point I begin with is the fact that there is, indisputably, at least one person in this situation, a person who must be addressed, and that would be the woman in question. I know this might seem redundant, but sometimes it seems to me as if people who speak of a “right to life” have forgotten the existence of this person, or that she also has rights. Or does she? On this point, I turn to Murray Rothbard:

Let us set aside for a moment the corollary but more complex case of tangible property, and concentrate on the question of a man’s ownership rights to his own body. Here there are two alternatives: either we may lay down a rule that each man should be permitted (i.e., have the right to) the full ownership of his own body, or we may rule that he may not have such complete ownership. If he does, then we have the libertarian natural law for a free society as treated above. But if he does not, if each man is not entitled to full and 100 percent self-ownership, then what does this imply? It implies either one of two conditions: (1) the “communist” one of Universal and Equal Other-ownership, or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another—a system of rule by one class over another. These are the only logical alternatives to a state of 100 percent self-ownership for all.

I highly recommend reading the entire piece, as Rothbard explores the full (absurd) implications of each of the two positions he lays out, as well as building a strong defense for the notion that every person has an ownership right in their own body.

Having established that there is at least one person who has rights, we are left with the question of whether we as a society have a right to violate her right to self-determination. I do not deny that there are times when we can do so in the name of a greater justice, but those times must be in extremis, and most often are done so when there is a direct and credible threat to the life or property of another person. This is of course the assertion of the pro-life movement; that abortion is in fact a threat to the life of a person, and should therefore be banned. Let’s test that assertion, shall we?

One slogan that is often resorted to is “life begins at conception”. Perhaps, although that’s not saying much. Any single-cell organism qualifies as being “alive”, and we do not ascribe the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to every living creature on Earth. According to the Constitution Society, “[u]nder Common Law existing at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, “natural personhood” was considered to begin at natural birth and end with the cessation of the heartbeat.” However, they do go on to note that “technology has created a new situation, opening the way for statute or court decision to extend this definition and set the conditions under which personhood begins and ends.”

So that’s not definitive, although I do think it gives some guidance. Even if technology has pushed back the boundaries of what could be defined as “personhood”, I don’t think that any rational person would call a sperm a person, and yet there are rational people who would declare a zygote a person. I have to admit I don’t understand this. By the same standard, I wouldn’t deny that a fetus one minute before birth is as much a person as a baby one minute after being born. So where do we draw the line?

Ultimately I have to go with the concept of “personhood”, and the best definition I can attach to it in a very real, philosophical and moral sense for myself: the idea of a singular, individual consciousness that exists separate from another. This requires that the fetus be able to exist viably ex utero in order to be ascribed the rights of personhood. While I understand that development is not constant in all cases, and I am not up to date on the latest science on when that point is, I am fairly certain that moment is not at conception, but it is sometime before birth. In the same way that we draw a line to denote when someone becomes an adult regardless of individual development, so must we do so here. Because that’s what the law is: a set of boundaries that we as a society have agreed to in advance.

If anyone reading this has gotten this far and is still discomfited by my suggestions or finds them lacking in some way: good. So do I. This is not an issue we should be addressing with laws and courts. This is an issue we should be addressing with empathy, personal discussion, and the greatest respect possible. The simple fact is that no matter what side of the debate you are on, you have to acknowledge that no one considers abortion lightly, if at all. But trying to control another person by force is not the answer; denying a woman her right to self-determination will not win the day.

Anarchy X: The Ninth Amendment

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

At last we come to what I have to admit is my favorite amendment. If for no other reason, I love this amendment because it is the final answer to every question asked by most of the self-proclaimed “strict constitutionalists” I have met. In most cases these would be people who are looking for excuses to legislate their own petty meanness on the rest of the world, and when you call them on it, they have a standard fall back: their shield, their shelter, their raison d’étre almost universally seems to consist of “where do you find that right in the Constitution?”

Right here. Here it is. In the same way that the justice system lays the burden of proof on the prosecution, and for many of the same reasons, so too is the burden of proof that the government, that we the people have the right to take an action against other people. For my money this is the defining feature of the Bill of Rights, and in many ways the Constitution itself.

It is worth noting that the Ninth Amendment only exists in large part because of the debate about the Bill of Rights itself; by the very notion that there should be no need to specifically enumerate rights that would accrue to the people in a country where the powers of the government would be spelled out quite specifically, and the government would have no further or additional powers beyond those that had been granted to it by the very document that was being amended. It’s a nice thought. Any student of history, classical or modern, political or otherwise, should know it’s also a naïve one. So should anyone who has read Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.

Call me cynical if you must, but it is my belief born out of study and experience that any human system built for managing people will do two things: grow and accrue more power unto itself. It is not (necessarily) some corrupt plot, it is simply the spontaneous order of human systems. Governments are designed to govern; that is their purpose. They can only do that so long as they are either stable or growing. No system can remain viable if it is stagnant. Therefore, for a government to remain viable it must continue to grow, and the only way for a government to grow is to become more powerful, and thereby more intrusive.

Having delineated specific areas and ways in which the government can’t grow in the first eight amendments, there are two possibilities left. The first is the Federalist assertion of a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” of government, that the rights of the people would be implicitly protected simply by virtue of having delineated the powers the government has. Which has worked so well up to now. The second possibility is finding new and interesting ways to interpret the powers granted by the Constitution, including simply ignoring any rights people might reasonably expect to enjoy, including those grounded in the common law tradition from which the Constitutional government evolved.

The modern upshot of this is widespread. As society has evolved, we have changed in our expectations of what it means to be a part of that society; we have even (thankfully) changed in our attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be human. We have recognized and defended rights along the way that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, but that are grounded in the same tradition as the other rights that are. One example is the right to privacy, which is often assailed by the aforementioned “where do you find that right in the Constitution?”

Let me be clear: I believe that all the rights that are defended and provided for by the Constitution, regardless of what philosophical approach you may take to it, derive from the following:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common
defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to
ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
United States of America.

That having been said, I see nothing that runs counter to a right to privacy. On the contrary, privacy in one’s person and effects seems to me to be eminently just, promotes tranquility, adds to the common welfare, and is one of the greatest blessings of liberty I can imagine. If you don’t believe me on that last point, throw wide the settings on your Facebook profile and wait five minutes.

Not everything people claim as a right truly is one; I get that. But to say that it must be spelled out to exist is absurd. The law is and always has been a lagging indicator of the culture at best, and a drag on the culture at worst. Far better to put the burden on those who would control us than on those of us who would be free.

Patriarchal Misogynistic Tendencies

Recently I’ve been reading a lot more internet chatter about feminism, which I can only take to mean it’s on the rise again. This wounds me greatly, as I had hoped we lived in a Post sort of world. You know, post-racial, post-gender, post-political, Post brand cereals, whatever. But I guess that ship has sailed, and we’re right back to having the same arguments that we’ve been hashing over (and failing to reconcile) for decades.

So what does this mean for me personally? To be honest it means I’ve had to confront my own patriarchal misogynistic tendencies. Yes, I admit that I have them. Of course I have them. C’mon, I was born in the mid-seventies and educated in public schools. I’m lucky I can even spell “patriarchal misogynistic tendencies” let alone admit having them. And I do. But just like paranoid schizophrenics can still have enemies, misogynists can still be right from time to time.

Here’s my favorite example: I’ve had a crazy ex-girlfriend or two. Now don’t get me wrong on this; I actually have several exes, and for most of them I hope I hold the place of “pleasant memory”, and I more likely hold the place of “bullet, dodged.” Most of those ladies I don’t even think of anymore, and while I may have in my callous youth said some unkind things about them I at least have enough class to regret it. But the fact is I do have one or two truly crazy ex-girlfriends. I even have objective witnesses of both genders to back me up. But here’s the problem: everything I’ve seen in the feminist orthodoxy says that’s wrong. That somehow I’m as much to blame as they are, if not more so, simply because I was a willing participant in the relationship. Boy, that’s not blaming the victim much, now is it? Only I can’t be a victim, because of my gender. That’s one.

My next favorite is things like quotas, preferences, and government set-asides. There are plenty of these designed to help women get ahead in school, in business, and in civil service. Setting aside the question of their efficacy, I wonder about their essential morality. Is this just? Is it right to single out one gender and favor them over another? And if so, for how long? Sure you may feel you are correcting some sort of societal imbalance, but when there’s no limit set the assumption is that injustice is either endemic to society or the individuals that comprise it (which are basically one and the same). With women graduating from college at higher rates than men and getting more advanced degrees than men these days, have we reached the day we no longer need these set asides? If not, will we soon? Will we ever? That’s two.

And hey, for the third issue, let’s go for a hat trick of issues that all tie together: divorce, custody, and child support. Despite the great gains that have been made by women in the workplace and men in the home, the default assumption that is near impossible to overcome in any divorce proceeding is that a man should support a woman “in the style she has become accustomed to”, and if there are kids they will almost always go to mom unless dad has absolute iron-clad proof she is a drug-addled child molester. In that case the kids will probably wind up with her parents. Fathers without custody will be tasked with child support (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that) and hunted down like the dogs they are if they miss a single payment (a bit draconian, but hard to argue with), and in the rare event a mom doesn’t have custody she has to… well, how often are they ordered to pay child support? And when was the last time you heard the phrase “dead-beat mom”? And please don’t feed me some line about women being “nurturers”. Remember, we don’t assign gender roles in this classroom. So that’s three.

Last but not least is a real touchy one and the one I expect to catch the most hell over, but I feel the need to say it since nobody else will. First a clarification: I am not taking a stance on abortion here. That’s another post entirely. I do have an opinion, a strong one, but I don’t want to cloud the issue with that argument. Let’s simply take as given that Roe v Wade is the law of the land. So women have the right to decide, once they are pregnant, whether or not they will have a child. What right do men have in this arrangement? If he disagrees with her choice, either way, he is powerless. Completely at her mercy. He can beg, plead, persuade as best he might (and please don’t suggest threatening because I will gladly see a man in jail for that), but he has no recourse before the law. If you believe that is fair, turn the situation around. Put a woman in ANY situation in which she is bound for almost twenty years by a single decision that a man makes on her behalf, even if he is bound by that same decision, and tell me that it’s still fair. Here’s an alternative: let him surrender his parental rights if he doesn’t want the child. It’s not everything, but it’s more than nothing.

Life’s not fair. I get that. But why is it that women get to cry “life’s not fair” and call it a movement? Why do men have to stand by on the sidelines and simply accept the slow chipping away at our dignity and all the good we have in order to make the world an acceptable place? There is injustice in the world, this I understand; that is a fact that is not limited by gender, ethnicity, or politics, and we should all stand against it. But robbing from Peter to give to Paulina does not create a better world; injustice is not the answer to injustice; misandry is not the cure for misogyny.


Related posts:

The Road Away from Hypocrisy

How Is This Still a Thing?

Whose Body Is It, Anyway?