Eight Pounds Lighter

August 16, 2011

From the transcript of Ron Paul’s interview with Piers Morgan last night:

On abortion, I just recognition [sic] as a physician and scientist that life does exist prior to birth. There is a legal right to it and there is a biological definition of it. And most people don’t think about it, that if you say the woman has a right to do what she wants with her body and what is in her body, that means that an eight-pound baby a month before birth can be destroyed and the doctor be paid for it.*

There is something awfully bizarre about a society that says oh, that’s OK because it’s a woman’s body. And every argument for all abortion endorses the principle that you can take that life and abort it and kill it. And I had to witness this. It’s very, very disturbing.

So I think that somebody has to speak for the meek and the small. And they do have legal rights. If you’re in a car accident and a woman’s pregnant and her baby dies, you’re — this is homicide. You’ve committed a very serious crime. You killed a life.

So, this whole thing that is simple to woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body — no, you have to deal with the fact. You have to decide is there a real life there? And there is a real life there.

I’m liable as a physician. If a woman comes in and if she’s a week pregnant or 10 months, pregnant, or was eight, nine months pregnant — if I do something wrong, rightfully, so I can be liable for injuring the fetus. So, if I give her the wrong medication, I’m liable for this.

To pretend that life doesn’t exist, that’s like putting blinders on.

And I don’t talk a whole lot about it. But I’ve made the emphasis the other day that if you truly care about liberty, you have to understand life because how can I defend a woman’s or any individual’s right to lead their own life as they choose and even do dumb things and drink raw milk or whatever they want to do, at the same time say that life is not precious?

And we can throw away a life even if it weighs eight pounds because it’s within the woman’s body.

I believe in property rights. I believe that a baby in a crib deserves protection, even though I honor property. And a house is our castle.

But nobody, nobody would say oh, a woman after the baby’s born, we can kill it. And today, we have this — all these abortions. But if a young girl is in a desperate situation and she happens to deliver her baby and kills it, she is arrested immediately. But if she had done it a day before, there was no crime and the doctor gets paid money.

That — even if you divorce this all from the law and enforcement of law, but morality. Our society has to decide whether that’s morally right or wrong in dealing with this.

I have high respect for life. Therefore I have high respect for liberty. And it’s hard to separate the two.

I’m going to defer to Paul’s experience “as a physician and scientist that life does exist prior to birth” and then I’m going to explain why that doesn’t matter at all when it comes to whether or not women have the right to abort a pregnancy on demand and without apology. In fact, I’ll even raise the stakes and say that we know for a fact that the baby (yes, ‘baby’, since we’re accepting Paul’s premise for now) will grow up to cure cancer and bring about total world peace.

[TRIGGER WARNING for descriptions of hypothetical rape.] Read the rest of this entry »

Hard-wired to Choose

August 8, 2011

Seems like “the debate” is often structured so one has to either believe in some “exception” to cause and effect, or that that our preference for a Belgian triple ale with tonight’s dinner is merely fall-out from the big bang. I’m in the “hard-wired to choose” camp.

(Shawn P. Wilbur)

(University of Texas at Austin philosophy professor David Sosa talking in his office in the movie Waking Life)

Transcript (click here if you want to skip to the rest of the post): Read the rest of this entry »

In a new post, Gene Callahan expands upon his recent theme of “rejecting ideology,” particularly with respect to libertarianism. At one point in the comments, he made a statement that I found interesting:

Given the existence of people who disagree, the libertarian claim to be uniquely ‘non-aggressive’ is bogus — libertarians will not aggress against those who accept their political system, and will aggress against those who don’t — just like every other political doctrine.

Is he making a variation of the classic (and flawed) “argument from disagreement” for relativism? I wasn’t sure, but it seemed to me this might be the key to getting a grasp of his argument. I decided to ask for clarification:

So what? Are you implying that truth is relative? Is that what all of this talk about “rejecting ideology” means, i.e. that you’ve come to accept a sort of radical relativism about justice?

You’ll only see my questions here, however, since they disappeared. Callahan seems to be having some trouble with the comments on his blog randomly going away.

Take It Easy

April 29, 2010

Anarchists are radical types and some of us love a good boycott. The recent immigration law in Arizona, being an abominable piece of garbage, seems as good a reason as any to ostracize the hell out of somebody. But I’ve seen a few calls for “boycotting Arizona.” Not Arizona business X or Arizona group Y…just Arizona. It’s quote possible that this is just a shorthand way of saying the government or supporters of the law; sloppy, but right on. If they mean something more like anyone or anything from the artificially-demarcated area known generally as Arizona, I have to raise an eyebrow. Isn’t boycotting AZ residents or products en masse akin to the tactic of state sanctions of other states? State sanctions aren’t normally something I see anarchists praise. So why would we want to emulate them?

Jim Davidson, in a conversation on Facebook, agrees:

…a boycott of Arizona as a region makes no sense, to me, because of the parties not involved in, or opposed to, the acts of oppression being boycotted and ostracised.

But he also point out a subtle difference:

I don’t know about the extent to which private actions are similar to state actions….it would be individual actions in a boycott by persons consenting to participate. A state sanctioning another state or country causes everyone in the state which is sanctioning to suffer even if they don’t consent to the sanctions, as well as causing all those in the state being sanctioned to suffer even if they don’t agree with the actions purportedly motivating the sanction. Sanctions are different from individual action in the extent to which they are coercive to all parties.

This is a good point as far as it goes. But the fact remains that they are, if used indiscriminately, directed at “those in the state being sanctioned…even if they don’t agree with the actions purportedly motivating the sanction.” Is it appropriate to boycott just anyone (primarily businesses I imagine, export or tourist) that happens to be from AZ just because the government that no one can ever consent to passed a horrible law? If so, it seems to give credence to the idea that “you are where you live.” That seems to be more than a little ironic when used in support of the idea that people should not be discriminated against because of an accident of birth. I just question the sense of wide-ranging boycotts over large territories simply because the goons forcibly maintaining a monopoly over force there are behaving goonishly. You lose something in both efficacy and the moral high ground.

What Is Aggression?

April 27, 2010

The following essay was my submission for an ATP 101 assignment asking: What is aggression? How can we distinguish between aggression and other kinds of undesirable influence? The space in the assignment was limited so I only intend this to be a starting point for further research.

A key concept underlying aggression is that of a moral agent’s ‘boundary’. I do not mean for this term to imply a continuous, spatiotemporal boundary [1] , though it will often correspond to exactly that. Instead, the boundary is a logical entity that divides the set of all actions that can be performed by others into (a) those that treat our agent as a means [2] (“inside the boundary”) and (b) those that do not (“outside the boundary”).

Simply performing an action that treats another person as a means (i.e. is within that person’s boundary) is not sufficient to make the action one of aggression, however. That would count most, if not all, of human interaction as aggressive, making it a poor basis for a legal system [3] . Therefore, we might be tempted to separate out those ‘boundary crossings’ that occur without the consent of our agent. But that too seems a poor basis for a legal system that needs to enforce its judgment without being itself unjust.

I do think, however, that lack of consent from our agent is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for an action committed against her to be classed as one of aggression. Either of two other conditions must obtain: (a) the action is not necessary to end an act of aggression on the moral agent’s part; or (b) the action is necessary to end an act of aggression but morally disproportionate (in the direction of excess) to the seriousness of that act. Therefore, aggression is treating someone as a means without their consent where doing so is either (a) unnecessary to end aggression or (b) disproportionate to the seriousness of that aggression [4] . (Long) We might call this, and therefore define aggression as, “treating someone as a mere means.”

Because I have given a definition that relies on the concept of “treating someone as a means,” using it to distinguish between aggression and other kinds of undesirable influence will require a method for knowing what “treating someone as a means” means. It also relies on an ability to determine the necessity of an action (to end aggression) and whether an action found so necessary is disproportionate in moral seriousness. The necessity of an action to end aggression is likely something that can be determined empirically, for the most part. The other two factors will require more complex methods of determination (e.g. critical reflection, reflective equilibrium, intuition-pumping, additional moral principles, community norms etc.)

I will say something further about “treating someone as a means.” I do not think that treating someone as a means requires intention. Nevertheless, intention can play a role in certain contexts, e.g. “threatening to invade someone’s boundary is itself an invasion of that person’s boundary (since in announcing my intention of using you as a means I am already treating you as the sort of thing it is legitimate to use as a means).” (Long) I do think it requires subjecting or subordinating someone to some condition, rather than simply taking advantage of the facts about someone.

You will notice that I do not refer to property rights nor do I specifically refer to physical force. It may be the case (and I think there are good reasons for thinking) that in the process of unpacking ‘treating someone as a means’ that it will necessitate some consideration of external property and/or a limit to actions that are physical violations of person or property. This more general definition, however, keeps the underlying moral premise in the foreground so as to prevent any question-begging formulations prior to a discussion of property rights or non-physical harm among those who share a desire to capture the spirit of non-aggression.

Works Cited

Long, Roderick T. “Abortion, Abandonment, and Positive Rights: The Limits of Compulsory Altruism.” 1993. <http://praxeology.net/RTL-Abortion.htm&gt;.


[1] Imagine a sphere in 4D space-time surrounding our moral agent.

[2] I will not be defending this notion here but it comes from (though not only from) the Aristotelian virtue-ethical normative principle that states that, “Every person has the right not to be treated as a mere means to the ends of others,” where ‘right’ is understood to mean in the sense of ‘legally enforceable’. To treat someone like a mere means is to not treat them as an end in themselves. (Long)

[3] I will only focus on aggression as it relates to legal institutions concerned with the legitimate use of force. There are many other domains concerned with correctly defining ‘aggression’, including psychology and biology, but these are not generally concerned with the normative realm implied by a non-aggression principle.

[4] The recursive nature of this definition is not problematic because (a) obtains in the case where there is simply a lack of any reciprocal boundary crossing.

Consent is Golden

February 26, 2010

I recently brought the reader’s attention to Gary Chartier’s excellent post on New Classical Natural Law (NCNL) and its relation to anarchism. In the comments, I asked Gary:

As for [arguments against the state], I see that you relied mostly on consequentialist arguments “guaged in light of the Golden Rule.” That’s fine of course but would it also help to use arguments like Charles Johnson’s argument that it is impossible to consent to a state? That seems like it gets around the need to talk about who best can serve the “social order and coordinate social interaction.”

Gary replied:

As regards the state: I think Charles’s arguments are entirely persuasive. But the NCNLs clearly don’t generally think consent is required for political authority: one is just obligated to obey whoever can maintain social order [...] So my goal was to respond to them on their own terms. For an argument like Charles’s to work, I’d have needed to show first that consent to the state was required for its legitimacy, and then demonstrate the impossibility of consent. Or so it seems to me: do you see another way I might have proceeded here? I’m going to turn this into an article so I welcome all the input you want to offer.

I was surprised that the NCNLs “don’t generally think consent is required for political authority” since it seemed intuitive to me that it was somehow involved in the whole structure the Golden Rule (GR). I could not until now, however, put my finger on why. Well, Gary, this is my first weak attempt at articulating another way. I will not try to defend NCNL but will assume NCNL, for the sake of argument, so as to see if we can derive a commitment to consent from the tools it gives us. I warn the reader that I have not spent much time thinking this through. I welcome any corrections if I have committed an error somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Your Mama’s Anarchism

February 23, 2010

Gary Chartier, riffing on his riveting book, launches some potentially game-changing language over the bow of absolutist libertarianism.

Property-based anarchism without the NAP? It’s certainly not your mama’s anarchism. I think mutualists especially will find this intriguing because of the Golden Rule language but also because it does so using typically un-mutualist natural rights language. He doesn’t argue for the premises here but they do show off their ability to do some heavy lifting while remaining coherent, which is a type of evidence in itself; and, to steal a phrase from another natural lawyer, its seeming ability to “reconcile…sides of the Liberty debate is itself an extremely good reason for thinking it’s true.”

Calculating Consent

February 22, 2010

21% of the nation is necessarily wrong.

Of course, a good portion of the remaining 79% probably thinks it is something that can (and should) be corrected; they are destined for disappointment.

Poetic Justice

February 18, 2010

I’m a screenwriter in New York City, and am writing to see if you might be willing to assist me in a project that involves a unique constitutional issue.

My latest screenplay is a comedy about Maine seceding from the United States and joining Canada. There are parts of the story that deal with the legality of such an event and, of course, a big showdown in the Supreme Court is part of the story.

At the moment my story is a 12 page treatment. As an architect turned screenwriter, it is fair to say that I come up a bit short in the art of Supreme Court advocacy. If you could spare a few moments on a serious subject that is treated in a comedic way, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts. I’m sure you’ll find the story very entertaining.

-Daniel Turkewitz, writing to each of the 10 Supreme Court justices

Dear Mr. Turkewitz:

I am afraid I cannot be of much help with your problem, principally because I cannot imagine that such a question could ever reach the Supreme Court. To begin with, the answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede. (Hence, in the Pledge of Allegiance, “one Nation, indivisible.”) Secondly, I find it difficult to envision who the parties to this lawsuit might be. Is the State suing the United States for a declaratory judgment? But the United States cannot be sued without its consent, and it has not consented to this sort of suit.

I am sure that poetic license can overcome all that — but you do not need legal advice for that. Good luck with your screenplay.

Sincerely,

-Justice Antonin Scalia

Dan, you’re asking for advice from the wrong guy; try this guy.

Please Pass the Verstehen

February 2, 2010

HT Stephen Landsburg.

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