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 »


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.”

Sublime Failure

October 8, 2009

William Gillis posed this question today on his Facebook profile:

A communist with some degree of knowledge on the subject once told me that what defined anarchists and anarchism was a total incapacity for any form of acceptance. In short, our affinity for valiant loosing battles was not indicative of any moral superiority, but rather a strange psychological — and possibly neurological — handicap when it came to surrender. Ignoring the source, what say you?

I’m inclined to take a different angle and agree with Guyau that, far from a handicap, it is “a medium useful for the development of life itself” “raised into sublimity”, that it instead represents what is well and good about being human, a virtue, as long as it is considered in unity with other virtues, such as reason. But the success of the struggle itself is not what makes the goal rational or a sign of flourishing in the individual, I think.

It is rare that real sacrifices present themselves in life as certain. The soldier, for instance, is not certain of falling in the fight; far from it: there is here only a mere possibility. In other words, there is danger. Now, it is necessary to see if danger, even independently of all idea of moral obligation, is not a medium useful for the development of life itself—a powerful stimulant of all the faculties, capable of carrying them to their maximum of energy, and capable also of producing a maximum of pleasure…

Let us note that the pleasure of contest alters its form without disappearing, be it in the struggle with an animated being (war or chase), or in the struggle with visible obstacles (sea, mountain), or in the struggle with invisible things (illness to be cured, difficulties of all sorts to be conquered). The struggle always partakes of the same character—that of a passionate duel. In truth, the doctor who starts for Senegal has decided upon a kind of duel with the yellow fever. The struggle passes from the domain of things physical to the intellectual domain, without losing anything of its ardour or of its fascination. The struggle may also pass into the special domain of morals. There is an inward struggle between the will and the passions, as captivating as any other, and in which the victory brings an infinite joy…


In short, man [sic] needs to feel himself great, in order now and again to have full consciousness of the sublimity of his will. This consciousness he gets in struggle—struggle with himself, with his passions, or with material and intellectual obstacles. Now, this struggle to satisfy our reason must have an aim. Man [sic] is too rational a being to fully approve of the monkeys of Cambodia playing for fun with the jaws of the crocodile, or of the Englishman Baldwin going into the heart of Africa for the pleasure of hunting. The intoxication of danger exists at times in everyone of us, even in the most timid; but this instinct of danger requires to be more reasonably exercised. Although, in many cases, there is only a superficial difference
between temerity and courage, he who, for instance, dies for his country is conscious of not having accomplished an idle deed. The need of danger and of struggle, on condition of it being thus directed and utilized by reason, assumes a moral importance all the greater, as it is one of the rare instincts which have no fixed direction. It may be used without resistance for any social end…

Moreover, danger in endless shades and degrees—from the danger of losing one’s life to the danger of losing one’s money—remains one of the important features of social existence. There is not a movement in the social body which does not imply a risk. And intelligent boldness to run this risk identifies itself up to a certain point with the very instinct of progress, and liberalism; while the fear of danger identifies
itself with the conservative instinct, which, after all, is always doomed to be beaten as long as the world exists and progresses. Thus, in the danger incurred on behalf of somebody (myself or some one else), there is nothing contrary to the deep instincts and laws of life. Far from it; to expose one’s self to danger is something normal in a morally well-constituted individual; to expose one’s self to danger for the sake of others is but going a step further on the same road…


From this side self-sacrifice again takes its place among the general laws of life, from which it at first seemed to completely escape. The peril confronted for oneself or for others—intrepidity or self-sacrifice—is not a mere negation of self and of personal life; it is this life itself raised into sublimity. The sublime in ethics, as well as in aesthetics, at first seems to be in contradiction to the order constituting the beautiful; but this is only a superficial contradiction. The roots of the sublime and the beautiful are the same, and the intensity of feeling which it pre-supposes does not prevent a certain inward rationality.

Jean-Marie Guyau’s A Sketch of Morality Independent of Obligation and Sanction

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 »