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 »

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.

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.”

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.

As a group, libertarians have not dealt well with the prospect of anthropogenic global climate change. As most parts of the world scramble to find “solutions” to what they anticipate will be a serious problem for human civilization, libertarians have often brushed the issue aside by denying that climate change is real or, if it is real, that humans have caused it…A more serious problem with the libertarian habit of questioning the scientific basis for concern about climate change is that it does not indicate what position libertarians would endorse if climate change were known to be happening. We have no compelling reason to believe that anthropogenic climate change or a substantively similar phenomenon cannot happen. Accordingly, it seems extremely reasonable to ask what libertarians would say about such a phenomenon if they knew that it was occurring now.

Thus begins a new article by Dan C. Shahar (aka Danny Shahar¹) published this month in The Independent Review (v. 14, n. 2, Fall 2009, ISSN 1086–1653, Copyright © 2009, pp. 219–237). I encourage everyone to find a copy and read it. For you agorist types, I was able to find the unpublished online PDF. For libertarians everywhere, the heat is on.

¹ Danny, as many of you know, is the voice behind the Back to the Drawing Board blog (which recently went dark indefinitely). Please rummage through his archives if you want more. Presently, he is studying under David Schmidtz, among others, at the University of Arizona.

Stephan Kinsella:

Even if private property owners were not prohibited from inviting whomever they wish onto their own property, the guest would have a hard time getting there, or leaving, without using, say, the public roads. So merely prohibiting non-citizens from using public property would be one means of establishing de facto immigration restrictions. It need not literally prohibit private property owners from having illegal immigrants on their property. It need only prevent them from using the roads or ports – which it owns.

Note: the above quotation and link is not intended as a claim that Stephan ultimately supports state immigration laws or closed border (see comments) but to compare the argument he describes in light of other considerations.

Roderick Long (mp3):

Suppose that you homestead an area like this [draws square] and then I come along and homestead an area like this [draw a larger, concentric square]. You want to leave your property now. And I say, “Sorry. Unless you have a helicopter or something, you’re not leaving; or at least you’re not leaving unless you pay me a heck of a lot” or whatever. Is that legitimate? I would say no, I don’t have the right to interfere with your coming and going and so I have to allow you some form of getting onto and off of your land. In law, this is known as an easement.

It seems to me that if you hold the latter to be the right position then it would be difficult to hold the former position without some creative juggling. Read the rest of this entry »

Leading By Example

May 8, 2009

I have thirty-eight brains and not one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave, especially now that we have a black President.

These were the words of Eliza Dushku’s character Echo in “Omega”, the season one finale of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.

Especially now? Does she mean that especially now that Barack Obama is POTUS, the argument against voluntary slavery is somehow more convincing? If so, I think I’ve been too hard on Obama. If he is capable, simply by assuming power, to make liberty more convincing, perhaps we shouldn’t protest too much. Give him a few more years and we might not have to convince anyone of the obviousness of anarchy.

[And, Joss, you just lost major geek points for throwing in an awkward “We [sic] Won [sic]” shoutout to the Hollywood Messiah.]

Bejabbers!

April 27, 2009

Mark Helprin was on NPR yesterday reminding me that I am barbaric. His new book, Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto, argues for an extension of current copyright protection.

Included with the link above (along with the audio of the broadcast) is an excerpt from the book. It is simultaneously frustrating and hilarious. Here is a selection (but be sure to read it all). Put down your drink because the following howler is likely to make you spit from your nose: Read the rest of this entry »

My post “Vaguely Defined Property Rights Indeed” was, at its core and in its title, a response to Peter Klein’s involvement in the “conflation debate”. Klein pointed out that cooperatives (his all-purpose stand-in for labor-managed firms) “all suffer from serious incentive, information, and governance problems, almost none of which are mentioned in the anti-corporation libertarian literature.”

Klein was referring to his 2007 article “Vaguely Defined Property Rights” where he essentially argues, using Mike Cook as a primary source, against the LMF on consequentialist grounds. There is a danger that by engaging him on this level, I may be validating the importance of efficiency over what essentially is an issue of inalienable rights, the proper imputation of responsibility and property appropriation. During the Abolition movement, it would have been unnecessary to argue about the relative efficiency of slavery for example. That said, I will carry on nevertheless.

I had the good fortune to discuss these concerns with David Ellerman, whose ideas I referenced in the previous post. Therefore, I will present here a fictional conversation in five acts between Peter (in the form of his article) and David (in excerpts from my conversation with him). Hat tip to David for allowing me publish this private correspondence and providing my readers with rare and valuable insight. Read the rest of this entry »

Hitting on a Solution

January 11, 2009

For some reason, there seems to be a surge of interest in the issue of hiring hitmen and whether the person doing the hiring is guilty of some crime from a libertarian perspective. For example, a recent video on YouTube by Morty14 spends ten minutes “defending the undefendable” as he puts it: the person hiring the hitman is not guilty of any crime.

Now I personally think that the issue is one of the least important that modern libertarians face and I can hardly believe I am taking the time to engage it. How many hitmen have you hired lately? But I think there are some important and worthwhile concepts that come out of this example. Read the rest of this entry »

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