A Reaction to Peter Hitchens: Democracy, Drugs, and Free Will
by Benjamin Studebaker
Yesterday evening the university was visited by Peter Hitchens, columnist for the Daily Mail, ardent conservative, and brother to the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens. You can read his blog here. Peter Hitchens exceeded my intellectual expectations and impressed me. He was thoughtful, clever, articulate, and even admitted to not always being thoroughly pleased with the content of the paper for which he writes. I even found myself agreeing with Hitchens in one quite notable, and though I disagree with many of his other positions, the nature of our disagreement was not quite what I expected either. Today I would like to discuss to views and opinions of Peter Hitchens, where I agree with him, where I disagree, and the reasoning behind each.
The first position Hitchens articulated was the one with which I found myself, to my own surprise, in firmest agreement–his view that the Conservative Party in Britain has become unprincipled, unimaginative, and unable to affect real political change. This view is remarkably similar to a view I have discussed previously, that in democratic politics political parties have a tendency toward the self-perpetuating mainstream view of the median person. The parties move toward this intellectually dead realm where all the various ideas lead back to the status quo and impede dynamism because that’s where it is easiest to claim a democratic majority, and the consequence is that the political spectrum gets continuously more and more narrowly focused around a very small zone of consensus. The consensus is self-sustaining because, just as the parties move to the consensus to get votes, the existence of the consensus tends toward a wide media audience for consensus ideas in the media, persuading more people to the consensus view and self-perpetuating its electoral effectiveness. I do however take this idea somewhat further than Hitchens does–Hitchens argues that the solution is a collapse of the major parties and their replacement with repositioned parties, but I hold that it is the democratic procedure itself that produced the situation in which we now find ourselves, and that eventually any democratic political party will eventually devolve in the age of media into an intellectual shell of its former self. My solution to the problem is the replacement of the democratic system with sophiarchism. Still, it was remarkable that Hitchens had made this observation so very close to my own, because my view is not, at present, particularly mainstream.
I also agreed with Hitchens’ argument from this that voting is not a sensible political activity, because it sustains and propagates the impotent and ineffective status quo, all the while knowing that the direction Hitchens would like to take our society is quite dissimilar from my own. Hitchens and I both would like to see dynamic government that takes serious decisions and enacts real, comprehensive, impactful policies, but in very disparate directions.
This initial agreement made me somewhat more receptive to Hitchens’ other arguments and positions, and, while he was unsuccessful in changing my views on religion, drug legalisation, criminal justice, and so on down the line, I did observe that his arguments were logical and well-reasoned. This may perhaps sound paradoxical–if the arguments were so logical and well-reasoned, why did they not change my position? The answer I would give here is that it is possible for someone to write a valid argument, in which each point follows logically from the proceeding point, without the argument being correct. The initial premises on which the logical construction is built can still be incorrect or faulty, and if the foundation of the argument is askew, the entire argument does not work.
Consider Hitchens’ position on criminal justice and drugs. A reconstruction of Hitchens’ argument might go something like this:
- All human beings have free will and freedom of choice.
- Ergo, the decision to acquire drugs in violation of law is a choice that a person can freely make in either direction, for or against, rationally.
- Consequently, if a deterrent is introduced via strict enforcement of drug laws, the use of drugs will become much less attractive.
- All other policies that fail to deter are consequently labelled a form of enabling, because they do not deter.
The principle of deterrence is indeed a valid principle–it is the basis for our entire system of security from nuclear attack, and has performed quite well in that capacity. There is nothing wrong with this argument in terms of its validity. Where we must disagree with it is in its fundamental premises and assumptions, the key one here being that “all human beings have free will and freedom of choice”. If people are free and rational, then it follows that deterrence can change the equation for them away from “drugs are fun, therefore I should try them” to “drugs are fun, but if I try them the state will punish me, so I won’t try them”. However, historically, strict drug enforcement has a sketchy record (consider our own United States as just such an example). The reason I would posit for this is that Hitchens’ assumption is wrong–people are not freely and rationally choosing to use drugs, but are being compelled to do so by social forces whose strength exceeds the state’s ability to deter with punishment.
People are not naturally attracted to that argument because it implies that we do not have free will, that we are controlled and influenced by forces outside our control, and this makes people feel a sense of justifiable nervousness. If we do not have absolute power over ourselves and our own actions, we are in a sense our own prisoners, and indeed, this is the tragedy of drug addiction–people become slaves to their desires, to their id. We like to view our actions as deliberate choices, but I would argue that there are only two inputs into everything we do:
- Genetic background–the basic facts of our potential in terms of personality, intellect, and physical prowess that are inherent from birth
- Environmental socialisation–the interaction of every event and interaction in our lives on this basic genetic background
One can argue that one of these forces is stronger than the other, but whichever prioritisation they hold for you, there is one truth about both–neither is self-selected. You did not choose your genetic background and you did not choose your experiences. For the “free will” premise to hold, there would need to be a third influencing factor on behaviour that is self-selected. I would argue that there is no such third factor, and certainly none that is self-selected. We are the amalgamation of genetics and socialisation, and all of our behaviours and actions are the product of these forces. While deterrence is a kind of social input, it is not of sufficient strength to influence the sort of people who do choose to use drugs. It is common knowledge that, broadly speaking, most drugs are not good for you and will lead to a deterioration of your mental and physical health. People who nonetheless choose to use them, particularly the more severe ones, are exhibiting a self-destructive tendency that is likely the result of defects either in genetic background or environmental socialisation, defects that would be quite difficult to counter merely with the threat of state punishment. The people who would take state punishment seriously, who would see that as having an influence on their likeliness to use drugs, with the exception of the deeply ignorant (of whom there are relatively few left now, at least with regard to the drugs issue) are the sort of people least likely to try drugs in the first place.
My disagreements with Hitchens were all more or less of this form–he had a premise that I didn’t think was right, but nonetheless argued from that false premise with intelligence. Consequently, I am in respectful disagreement with Hitchens, and, while I will not defend most of his views, I will defend his intellectual character.
“….It is common knowledge that, broadly speaking, most drugs are not good for you and will lead to a deterioration of your mental and physical health….”
Most substances and most activities can potentially fall into the category of ‘not good for you’.
By your ‘reasoning’ all foods with refined sugar in them (or worse, high fructose corn syrup) should be made illegal. We are, after all, seeing an explosion in diabetes, even in children now.
Cars are not good for you. Tens of thousands of people die each year on the roads. Cycles and motorbikes are even more dangerous. We’d better ban them as well.
Governments are not good for us. Last century governments caused 250,000,000 deaths and that’s NOT including all the government sponsored wars. More recently governments have murdered of a million Iraqis – all based on lies as it turns out.
Properly prescribed, FDA approved and completely ‘legal’ pharmaceutical drugs kill tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people each year too. The devastating and often bizarre side effects of legal drugs also represent a colossal assault on the health and wellbeing of the human population.
Horse riding is extremely dangerous activity and often leads to back injuries and often death. The same goes for car racing and other sports.
Being a spectator or ‘sports fan’ can also be seriously expensive and addictive, especially for men. Many ‘sports fans’ talk about sport all the time and spent thousands of pounds a year going to see their favourite teams play. Often they will watch matches in the evening during the week on widescreen TVs and spent every Saturday travelling to a sports venue to see their team play live. This is time (and money) which could be spent on their family, and on their children in particular. Many men place their sports addiction above their family and above their role as a parent.
The list goes on and on…. all of these activities can be considered potentially self destructive and/ or potentially harmful and destructing towards others.
The point here is that if you are going to use this argument (the argument from effect) you have to be consistent in which case you must advocate the banning just about everything, otherwise you’re not presenting a logical argument. (Which is fine, it just needs pointing out that’s all).
“…People who nonetheless choose to use them, particularly the more severe ones, are exhibiting a self-destructive tendency that is likely the result of defects either in genetic background or environmental socialisation, defects that would be quite difficult to counter merely with the threat of state punishment……”
Do you have any actual *evidence* for this rather sweeping claim? Or is it just something which you *believe* is true?
In terms of reason and evidence (as opposed to opinionated belief) why should (illegal) ‘drug use’ be any more or less self destructive than ‘chocolate cake use’ or ‘fast car use’ or (legal) ‘drug use’ or ‘fast food use’ etc?
Chocolate cake, for example, has no real nutritional benefits and unless we are seriously short of calories there is no real benefit to be gained from eating it – only negatives (tooth decay, blood sugar fluctuation and associated stress on our internal organs etc).
Eating chocolate does not (usually) provide any kind of insight into our inner nature or the nature of reality, as many drugs can. None of the great artists or scientists have admitted being inspired by chocolate cake directly – as they have drugs (from the Beatles’ albums to Crick’s discovery of DNA…..)
It’s true that drug ABuse (or MISuse) is likely to be harmful and destructive. But so is chocolate cake abuse, fast car abuse, (legal) drug abuse and fast food abuse. This is precisely what abuse means!
The occasional joint, the occasional whisky, the occasional Big Mac, the occasional pice of chocolate cake is not significantly harmful. But an excess of these things (ie ‘too much’) can be harmful. Again, that is precisely what ‘excess’ means!
‘Too much’ of something is precisely that amount which starts to produce negative effects. Drinking ‘too much’ water can (and does occasionally) kill people.
The issue in ALL cases boils down to the behaviour of the individual and not the the thing being abused, misused or used in excess.
Therefore it makes no sense whatsoever to advocate banning the object itself – for the object is clearly not the problem. Nor does it make any sense to persecute people who are happily taking drugs, driving Porsches, riding horses, eating chocolate cake, drinking whisky and eating Big Macs in an appropriate, grown up, responsible and sensible way in the privacy of their own homes.
“…. people are not freely and rationally choosing to use drugs, but are being compelled to do so by social forces whose strength exceeds the state’s ability to deter with punishment…..”
Again, I ask if you have any evidence for this sweeping statement? Have you considered the possibility that YOUR assumption is just as wrong as Hitchen’s?
In the real world, people ‘take drugs’ for all manner of reasons, in the same way that people ‘take food’ or ‘go to church’ or ‘support a political ideology’ or ‘learn to play the guitar’ for all manner of reasons, too.
In all these activities social/ cultural forces undoubtedly play a role, and in many case the person undertaking the activity might not be exercising much ‘free will’. But in other cases the choice will be free, independent of social forces and rational (or emotional or spiritual or whatever).
But whether or not a person is genuinely *choosing* to participate in these activities of their free will or being swayed by social pressures (or inner insecurities or addictive personalities or delusions of any kind) is totally irrelevant to the debate.
When considering ‘drug laws’ (or any kind of laws) the question which needs to be asked is this: what right do we have to INITIATE FORCE against other people to coercively and violently prevent them from engaging in these activities – or ‘punish’ them after the fact?
Let’s not forget that if we advocate for a third party (such as the state) to behave in a certain way on our behalf we must be (in a moral sense at least) willing to behave that way ourselves – otherwise we’re just being a total cowards and a hypocrites.
And so anyone who advocates for drug laws should have no problem with personally dressing up in a fancy blue costume, arming themselves with clubs, tasers and guns and going around breaking into the home of a drug user to terrorise them, kidnap them, take them away from their families, bundle them into the back of a van and lock them up inside a cage, causing this person to lose their job and get a criminal record along the way.
In addition, advocators of these kinds of government drug laws (AKA ‘war on drugs’) should have no qualms about putting on the fancy blue costume once again, arming themselves with clubs, guns and tasers and going around forcing everyone in society to PAY for all this terrorising of drug users, as well as pay for their trials and their time inside a cage and all the administration (the massive government departments and all those fancy weapons and blue costumes etc).
Anyone NOT prepared to pay for this will also need to be kidnapped, dragged away from their family, bundled into the back of a van and locked up in another cage They also will also have to lose their job and get a criminal record.
This is the reality of advocating (and voting for) the so called ‘war on drugs’. If you support or ‘vote’ for drug laws, then you MUST be willing to behave in this way yourself. After all, by voting you are advocating your elected representatives behave that way on your behalf.
This is the moral argument against coercive and violent drug laws. The argument from effect is just as valid….
Making drugs illegal drives the whole thing underground. Only when drugs are illegal can criminals make serious profits by dealing them. Criminalised industries can’t be regulated. Drug dealers can’t advertise the ‘cleanest drugs in the neighbourhood’ or they will be kidnaped by armed thugs and locked up in a cage. As a result most drugs are cut (diluted) with all manner of harmful substances to increase profits.
If someone buys drugs which contain harmful substances or drugs which are defective or sub standard in any way they have no consumer rights, they can’t sue for damages. Nor can they easily test them to see what they contain.
I’m sure coffee would be a lot more harmful (full of crap) if coffee was made ‘illegal’ and everyone had to buy their coffee from the criminal underclass.
Government’s violence against drug users (AKA ‘war on drugs’) combined with government’s violent wealth redistribution programs (AKA ‘welfare’) combined with government’s monopolised and forced Prussian Schooling system (AKA ‘compulsory education’) combined with government sponsored propaganda (AKA ‘Entertainment’) all combine to create a ‘lethal cocktail’ consisting of a permanent, dumbed down, disillusioned, demoralised, dependent underclass who’s culture is based on around consumerism, militarism and violence and who feel that drug dealing, becoming a rap superstar or joining the military are the only realistic ways to get out of the poverty trap.
In terms of suffering, harm, destructiveness, misery and death (ie in terms of the evidence) the various forms of government coercion and violence (‘war on X’) must be included in our list of serious threats to public health and civilised society.
Perhaps the families of the innocent victims of drive by shootings, gang culture and other drug related crimes – or people who lost their jobs and were forced to spend a year inside a cage because they chose to smoke a particular herb – should make up a law to ban government policies in these areas.
We know from the evidence that when drugs are decriminalised – which is to say when the amount of government sponsored violence against drug users is dramatically reigned in – drug users and society as a whole prospers. The number of destructive drug ABusers drops considerably, crime drops, violence drops and everyone reaps the benefits.
But of course this is only true in terms of the evidence. In terms of opinionated belief, misinformation, disinformation or superstition all drug use remains evil as ever! (unless the FDA has approved it of course, in which case it become instantly sociably acceptable, regardless of the side effects).
One addiction which needs mentioning here, is the addiction to power and the addiction to violence against, and control over, others.
This addiction extends to people who have not gained political power themselves, but who like to ‘vote’ for people who have and get them to point the massive gun of the state at other people on their behalf. This category includes all ‘voters’.
I would humbly suggest this addiction to authoritarian power and violence against others is the most harmful and destructive kind of addiction in society, and it always has been. All the drugs in the world put into one giant syringe could not leave a greater trail of death, destruction in its wake.
You seem to have jumped to a conclusion here–I do not advocate for the illegality of drugs. That is precisely the argument I was refuting–my claim, against Hitchens, is that deterrence is ineffective. Please read the entirety of the post before writing long diatribes against points I did not make. You and I are actually in agreement about drug policy.
I would also urge you to reconsider what amounts to a comparison of the effects of using say, heroin, to the effects of, among quite a large number of things, driving. There are clear advantages to driving, and we as a society accept that a minority of people who drive will suffer for having made the decision–efficient transportation, for one. There is no clear social advantage to heroin usage. That does not mean heroin should be made illegal, but it does mean that it is not desirable that people use heroin (or the other drugs, to the varying extents that they damage health). These comparisons are wholly unpersuasive because the reader can find numerous clear social advantages to most of the items you list that justify their comparatively minor costs, while in the overwhelming majority of the cases in which drugs are used for reasons outside their intended pharmaceutical purpose (this is what we term “abuse”) the use is detrimental to the mental and physical health of the user. Obviously, you can point out specific individual drugs for which this is less true, but this piece is clearly written about the drugs that clearly do constitute social problems, the ones that are destroying communities and contributing to the cycle of poverty in many western countries. While I agree with you that making the drugs illegal is an ineffective policy, I do not agree that the broad social attitude toward the use of drugs should be one of indifference or endorsement as it is with say, driving, because I perceive extremely limited social advantages to the abuse of drugs and substantial disadvantages, while in the case of driving (indeed, in just about all of your examples) precisely the reverse situation exists.
Yes I understand that. You believe illegality only works with rational people and that drug use is not something which rational people do. That is why you take issue with Hitchens’ stance.
You do seem to condemn (or look down upon) drug use. You also talk about it as if it were single activity – and always a negative one – involving a single type of person (ie an irrational addict of some kind who is driven by social pressures, bad genes or whatever).
Those are some of the claims I argued against.
When I mentioned the ‘war on drugs’ issues I was not referring directly to you. TBH I wasn’t entirely sure what your stance is in terms of *actively* discouraging, deterring or punishing drug use (with or without the law as an instrument of force).
Perhaps you don’t have a ‘stance’ on that – which is fine of course 🙂
However you appear to condemn or at least argue against drug use using many of the same arguments and assumptions used by people who do advocate for drug laws.
There are drugs with no significant benefits and numerous detriments (heroin, meth).
There are drugs with conflicting scientific evidence, some of which argues for benefits and some of which argues for detriments , and which, in reality, probably present a mix (marijuana, LSD, alcohol).
The former category was in the forefront of my mind when I wrote this post, but recent scientific evidence and anecdotal personal experience leads me to believe that consistent, day to day use of the substances in the second category is also probably not desirable. Consider the recent study that came out this summer regarding persistent use of marijuana in adolescence:
Personally, my preferred policy is to legalise and tax currently illegal drugs so that the revenues raised can compensate society for instances in which the use of drugs does lead to negative social impacts in combination with clinics to treat addiction, similar to that used in Portugal.
“…There are drugs with no significant benefits and numerous detriments (heroin, meth)….”
Yes, but now we’re back to arguing from effect.
Just because an activity is not beneficial for someone – or even harmful to them – does that give YOU the right to dictate whether they should or shouldn’t be allowed to participate in that activity?
There is a subtle yet PROFOUND difference between saying:
“I *grant* you the right to eat toast and marmalade on Sundays” or “I *declare* eating toast and marmalade on Sundays to be a legal activity”
“I do not have the right to *prevent* you from eating toast and marmalade on Sundays”
Do you see the difference?
To ‘declare’ drugs to be ‘legal’ (in this sense of first example) still implies you (and the government which you use as your enforcer) have some kind of god-given authority over everyone else with respect to how they live their lives.
I humbly suggest that you do not.
If drugs are ‘legalised’ it should be NOT be because an authority says so, it should be because we finally recognise that no one has the right to harass, coerce, persecute, kidnap, imprison or steal from someone else just because they have ingested (or are in possession of) certain herbs or plant extracts.
It’s not that drugs should be ‘made legal’, it’s that initiating force against people who use drugs (or ride horses, or drink coffee, or drink whiskey, or skydive, or eat fast food) should be recognised as a totally unacceptable, immoral and unjustifiable way to behave. Like, duh!
Let’s not forget that alcohol causes more disease, more deaths, more violence, more social dysfunction, more road accidents, more depression, more misery than all illegal drugs put together.
We can put forward a compelling *evidence-based* case as to why people are far better off staying away from alcohol, or at least drinking in moderation (as opposed to drinking to ‘excess’…. ie ‘too much’).
However, being able to make this case does NOT give us the automatic right or ‘authority’ to either ‘permit’ or ‘forbid’ alcohol use generally throughout society. Do you see?
Being able to prove that something is potentially harmful does not mean you can start behaving like an emperor!
Most mainstream TV, music and movies also have no significant benefits and numerous detriments – such as being loaded with questionable (and often subliminal) messages and propaganda.
We can certainly discuss the content of corporate/ government controlled entertainment and we can try to persuade people to tune into something a bit less ‘indoctrinaty’. We can even campaign all day long to help raise awareness. We can choose to not buy certain brands or networks. But personally, I would never advocate censorship of the media by force (or advocate for a third party to censor it by force on our behalf).
Apart from not having the moral right to do so, I believe that as soon as we advocate for force to be initiated against ourselves by an ‘authority’ in order to ‘improve society’ we create an even bigger problem: who makes sure this force is initiated against us fairly?
Who gets to control what gets censored and what doesn’t? Who gets to control which drugs are made legal and which ones are made illegal? Who gets to control how much they are taxed and how the money is spent?
Here’s an idea:
Instead of trying to solve all of society’s (supposed) problems by asking a third party to initiate force against us, why don’t we just accept that we simply don’t have the right to interfere in other people’s *private* lives by force? Period.
This would also include….. not having the right to force children to attend government education camps AKA ‘schools’. (This does 1000x more damage to children’s brains development than persistent use of marijuana in adolescence ever could. The same is true of the psychotropic drugs now being forcefully prescribed to children by school psychologists – often without parental consent).
I’ve already mentioned the corporate media and entertainment industries which I also believe do more harm to the social, spiritual, philosophical and moral development of children and young people than drugs ever could – in fact many drugs *enhance* people’s social, spiritual, philosophical and moral development. This has been known for centuries.
We simply do not have the right to either permit or outlaw such experiences.
It’s worth remembering that it’s only in the last century that certain drugs have been been made illegal by the state.
The more the state has intervened in our lives by force, the more we have seen a rise in social disfunction in that area.
Legalising drugs might *seem* like a sensible step forward, but I’m sure if various drugs were made legal they would just end up taxed to the max and a significant proportion of that money would would go towards more weapons, more wars and a bigger government …… it always does.
I’m sure monsanto (or coca cola or whoever) would bribe government to be granted a virtual monopoly over ‘recreational’ drug production, just as they have bribed government to monopolise certain crops – ie FOOD!
Growing and selling your own vegetables or keeping hens or goats is already being made a crime in certain parts of the US.
It’s hardly a secret that illegal drug sales contribute to the funding of a significant amount of the world’s governments – including western governments.
Whether force is used to keep drugs illegal (and therefore profitable for the military / prison industrial complex) or whether force is used to make drugs legal but heavily taxed by the state and monopolised by big business the result is the same – the people end up being exploited by the heavily armed parasitic class (AKA the ‘elite’).
The only moral AND practical solution is to stop falling for same scam again and again…… let’s stop advocating for one tiny group to organise the rest of society through a monopoly of legalised coercion and violence.
I object to people harming themselves not out of some kind of paternalist desire to protect them from themselves but because that self-harm inevitably has social impacts by decreasing the social and economic productivity of the individual in question.
I subscribe to Mill’s harm principle:
“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right”
I do not accept an ethic that asserts the individual’s right to harm society with impunity. Like stealing, or killing, or various other socially harmful acts, it is within the state’s scope to reduce the incidence of socially harmful behaviours with whatever tools are at its disposal to effectively do so. Criminalising drug use is ineffective, and so I oppose it in favour of other measures. If it were effective as a deterrent, I would support it, because it harms wider society. I do not care about the individual heroin addict’s drug use because I wish to save him, I care about his drug use because I wish to save the community from having to pay the cost of the inefficiency he produces.
“…I object to people harming themselves not out of some kind of paternalist desire to protect them from themselves but because that self-harm inevitably has social impacts by decreasing the social and economic productivity of the individual in question…..”
Are you saying you want drug users to buy you more stuff? Take you out to dinner more often? Build a theme park in your neighbourhood? 😉
Does the self harm inflicted by the majority of ‘recreational’ drug users really decrease economic productivity to the point of annoyance? If so why pick on only drug users, what about fat people, or anorexics, or depressed people or limbless soldiers with PTSD?
But hang on….surely *someone* is making loads of money treating all these sick people, selling them pills, building them hospitals, inventing and selling all sorts of cool medical equipment etc?
Are you sure it’s the drug users themselves that you object to?…..It sounds to me like you object to government forced wealth redistribution schemes.
You object to being FORCED to pay taxes for things you don’t care about, but rather than object to it outright you blame some people who seem (in your eyes) to be getting away with not paying their ‘fair share’.
Rather than condemn the system of slavery (and your slave masters) you instead pick on a weak fellow slave for ‘not pulling his weight’. Their weakness means that the rest of us have to work that extra bit harder in order that our masters get enough money to pay for their wars, debt, bribes, social programs, more wars, more debt, bankster bailouts etc.
Without coercive and violent wealth redistribution you could not possibly object to drug users whether or not they chose to participate in the same areas of economic and social activity that you do.
As for groups who f*ck up society let’s hear it for the greedy, immoral, sociopathic people who gamble away other people’s investments, invent ponzi schemes, and bribe governments to invent new laws protecting their immoral actions so that when it all (inevitably) crashes and burns the taxpayer is FORCED to bail them all out to the tune of TRILLIONS. Aren’t these the kind of immoral people who we should be objecting to? They do far more a harm to society than a bunch of pot smokers and coke addicts?
Even from within the ‘slave paradigm’ which is forced wealth redistribution I question the idea that the majority of drug users are unproductive in social and economic terms – er Steve Jobs anyone? …or all the other famous and revolutionary scientists, composers, inventors, artists, philosophers etc.
As Bill Hicks once said, “… if you oppose drugs then throw away all of your favourite albums because they were all made by people who were really f***ing high on drugs”.
And of course you seem to be implying that economic productivity is the be-all-and-end-all….. we’ve never been more productive in human history and yet the economy is collapsing and MUST collapse as a mathematical certainty!
This is because it is run as a pyramid scheme. BAnks lend out money at interest which they created out of thin air. They never create the interest though – yet they always demand it be paid back with the principal. The end result can ONLY be everyone eventually defaulting and the banks owning all tangible assets (land, homes, industry, businesses etc). And this is exactly what we see happening.
If more people took drugs (mind enhancing, rather than the addictive sort) they might SEE this -instead of being locked into their stupid little ME, ME, ME consumerist/ statist paradigm.
Just saying 🙂
Let’s not forget that criminalising drug use (which I know you say you don’t advocate) is in itself:
(1) a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money to the tune of $ billions. Money which could have been spent actually doing good in society instead of breaking into people’s homes and building more jails.
(2) puts thousands of people behind bars each month for ingesting, owning and trading herbs and plant extracts – thus preventing them from participating in society and in the economic market (as employees, employers, consumers and producers)
(3) helps to create a needlessly criminalised youth. The innocent teenage pot smoker is given the message by society (by law) that he is a criminal. Yet he knows that his pot smoking is a harmless and positive activity (in moderation – as with all things in life). This devalues (or perhaps we should say ‘inverts’) the whole concept of ‘criminality’ and ‘law’ and even ‘morality’ in the teenager’s mind.
Pot smoking is not immoral, but stealing is immoral. Yet both are against the law. Therefore the law does not reflect morality. This is a contradictory and confusing message to send to the teenager. It cheapens, dilutes and confuses the concepts of both laws and morality.
As it is kids today learn that laws are arbitrary and NOT based on morals – and so what matters to them is not law/ morality but ‘to just not get caught’. And they are quite correct a lot of the time – and sadly misguided the rest of the time.
If social rules actually reflected morality AND were applied universally (theft is theft, assault is assault, murder is murder – even when carried out by the state!) then ‘laws’ would be something we could all understand and respect a lot easier.
Because there are so many ‘laws’ in a statist society we assume it is a society based on rules – but it is the very opposite of this!
There are in fact no rules.
“Its wrong to steal” is a rule. Yet this rule does not exist in a statist society. Governments can steal from us at will, as can corporations (using government as their instrument of force).
“It’s wrong to murder or assault” is a rule. Yet this rule does not exist in a statist society. Governments murder people by the millions. Whether it’s drone strikes in Pakistan which have a 2% accuracy rate (98% of kills are innocent civilians), or the million dead in Iraq which governments invaded illegally….
There are no rules in a statist society….. only rulers.
“…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right…”
This basically sounds like the ‘non aggression principal’ which states that it is wrong to INITIATE force against another. Force may only be used in self defence (ie against someone trying to initiate force against you).
‘Preventing harm to others’ would include many of the actions of the state – including drug laws.
I do not see how drug users qualify as harming others. Most drug users have jobs, homes and live peaceful civilised lives.
If a drug addict (a drug abuser) mugs you in the street then that is theft (initiation of force/ violation of property rights) and is clearly wrong. But that’s no different to a drunk person mugging you, or a gay man mugging you, or a chocolate cake addict mugging you….. the crime is the mugging itself and not being gay, drunk, a drug addict or a chocolate cake addict.
Without forced redistribution of wealth everyone would be out for themselves and all drug addicts would die in their own filth in the streets…… except that is NOT really what would happen in reality! 🙂
In reality it is in our selfish interests to help build a functional, safe, civilised society. This includes helping the poor, the abused, the vulnerable, the sick, the addicted to improve their lives or look after them when they are unable to do so (such as the mentally ill or sick).
There is no need for force. Force only makes things worse.
Only when there is no forced redistribution of wealth (no forced taxation) can we be motivated to SOLVE social problems rather than merely TREAT them.
The government (or any group) has ZERO incentive to help solve social problems as long as we give them the mandate to take half our wealth by force.
In fact they have a very real incentive to NOT solve social problems and to keep inventing and stirring up new ones in order to justify the existing taxes and keep increasing them to grow government in size.
The moment society starts to solve its social, economic and geopolitical problems government will be expected to reduce in size, and tax us less.
Therefore relying on (and ‘voting’ for) government to solve social problems is a bit like asking ‘The Guild of Shoeshiners’ to invent the self-shining shoe. It ain’t ever going to happen.
“….I do not accept an ethic that asserts the individual’s right to harm society with impunity….”
That is not a practical issue with any drug user. If a drug user robs, murders, assaults or aggresses against anyone else (or harms society) there are already laws and procedures in place to deal with it.
The same cannot be said for the actions of the state which cause catastrophic harm to society every day with impunity. If a drug dealer puts something bad in their drugs even in a lawless criminal underground he will suffer repercussions – social and economic ostracism if nothing else.
By contrast the harmful actions of the government are virtually immune from any repercussions – whether they are kidnapping an innocent pot smoker and locking him up in a cage, killing a million innocent men, women and children or approving (legalising) a dangerous drug without proper medical tests which then goes on to cause illness and death.
If we’re going to talk about ‘harm to society’ then let’s be universal and empirical about it.
“….I do not care about the individual heroin addict’s drug use because I wish to save him, I care about his drug use because I wish to save the community from having to pay the cost of the inefficiency he produces….”
I humbly suggest the best way to achieve this is to remove the initiation of force from the equation totally. We can keep governments if we like – just remove their right to initiate force, steal, murder, assault, kidnap, coerce, intimidate, beat us with clubs etc
Once the right to initiate force is removed from our mindset (and from law) then selfish interests will ensure that as individuals (and as a community) we find ways to solve any problems which ‘bring our society down’. (not a utopia, just a functioning, pleasant, prosperous, peaceful, free society)
But as long as the initiation of force remains at the heart of social organisation AKA the state (despite us having rejected the use of force from all our day-to-day social and business interactions) then selfish interests will keep having the opposite effect – they will ensure these problems are NEVER solved and only get worse.
That’s my take on it anyway 🙂
Sorry, one last point and then I’ll shut up 😉
“….I do not accept an ethic that asserts the individual’s right to harm society with impunity….”
Even if a drug addict spends all day injecting himself with heroin and soiling himself he can’t steal a penny from you (or anyone else) to pay for his dinner or his rehab without breaking existing laws in relation to theft.
The moment he tries to steal from you or threatens you in an attempt to coerce you into paying his bills you can easily call the police and have him arrested.
If everyone was a complete cold hearted bastard unwilling to help the unfortunate drug addict they could all ignore him and he would just starve and die. No harm to society done (if that’s really how people really wanted to behave…).
The only entity which CAN steal from you with impunity is the state. And the only ‘right’ that addict has to harm society or personally bleed you dry of your hard earned cash is granted to him, and enforced, by the state.
The addict can’t rob you directly, but he can use the state as a ‘weapon’ of sorts……… to coerce, threaten and if necessary violently force you to pay for various social programs which transfer money from you to him.
*** Therefore, as I said earlier, your objection is really to the state and not the addict ****
In a free (non coercive, non violent) society you’d be free to ignore the addict and let him die – with your funds untouched, if that’s what you wanted. In a free society, no one (not even a government) would have the right to take your wealth by force (ie against your will) and give it to someone else.
In reality (and luckily for the poor addict), plenty of other people *would* be compelled (morally, practically or just for fun) to help the addict, provide housing, shelter and so on.
We know this because helping the poor and vulnerable in society is one cause most people (but not you – which is cool) are fine about paying taxes for. Most people don’t pay taxes to fund blowing the legs off children in Iraq – they pay them to help the poor and vulnerable and pay for hospitals and roads etc. These are the things which people are prepared to pay for voluntarily.
Maybe you want to fund some other social program which other people object to. In a free society you could choose to fund that instead and they could choose not to.
It’s basically how our society works already (the free market)… the only exception being the state. They’re the only agency left who still claim the legal right to initiate force against other people to achieve their aims.
There are three primary mechanisms by which drug abuse harms society:
1. Economic disutility whereby they are made less capable of employment or otherwise reaching their potential, reducing their output and consequently societal output. Taken in aggregate, this is substantial. You also have, on top of this, resources wasted to manufacture and purchase drugs that could better be consumed elsewhere.
2. Medical disutility whereby drug abusers end up in emergency rooms and receive medical care at cost to the taxpayer or the insurance holder, depending on the medical system in question.
3. Social disutility whereby drug abusers are less effective spouses and parents, worsening the relations of those around them and living off of the charity and kindness of friends and family, consequently spreading their economic disutility to their immediate social circles.
Direct theft is unnecessary; indirect theft, both fiscal and otherwise, occurs constantly.
I am happy to accept all consequences that flow from these views–obesity is also socially undesirable for these reasons, and so on down the line. State bans are usually ineffective in addressing these problems, but they remain problems worth addressing.
I am far more concerned at this point about the rampant anarchism of your position. Human beings are naturally hierarchical beings; we demand structure and order and in its absence we will be reduced to a state of nature and all the various barbarities that follow from that. The just state is ultimately the highest good because it protects society from the many failings of the individuals that comprise it, organising and directing social forces to the mutual gain of all. Coercion is sometimes a necessary element of the state’s toolbox to achieve good ends. This is self-evidently deducible from previous human history and experience. All lapses in structure in favour of what you would term “free” (and what I would term “anarchic”) society have led to injustice, inefficiency, and human misery. I am a statist and proud to be one. The alternative is, as Hobbes puts it, a state of affairs in which life is “nasty, brutish, and short”.
I’d like to respond to your three mechanisms….
Let’s agree that drug abuse (as distinct from drug use) causes people to become unproductive in terms of their ‘output’, as you call it.
What’s the worst thing that can happen in this case? I would argue that the worst thing that can happen is having a group of people point a gun at you and demand that you start handing over a proportion of your wealth each week to subsidise that dysfunctional and unproductive lifestyle.
This is exactly the situation right now. The state forces us all to subsidise all kinds of dysfunction in society.
Because social dysfunction is one of the prime arguments used by state to justify its forced confiscation of our wealth each week, there is zero incentive for any of the government departments to actually solve (eradicate) the problem.
And drug abusers who receive ‘free stuff’ from the state also have zero incentive to improve their life and become more independent and self sufficient.
In real life would we’d never propose helping drug addicts by giving them the legal right to steal from our bank accounts each week. This is because we understand that automatic access to our wealth is not going to help them in the long run. Yet this is what taxation amounts to.
Let’s look at the three distinct parties involved here.
1. The productive members of society.
2. The dysfunctional members of society (typically damaged people who were abused as children or traumatised in wars etc)
3. A small group who claim the legal right to use coercion and violence against group one, and violate group one’s property rights each week
Group one is the only group who actually producing any wealth. Both group 2 and group 3 rely on group one for survival. In the end, power lies with group one to decide how to respond to the two other groups who can’t (or won’t) generate their own wealth.
And as society slides into more social dysfunction and more debt the statist answer (group 3) is always to create MORE social programs, requiring MORE money, requiring HIGHER taxes.
Seeing as how group one are the only group producing any actual wealth, you’d think they would be the ones deciding how to organise things – yet they only get to make one decision every four years – a decision in the form of a vote for one of two choices of ruler (who will then make all the real decisions). The rest of the time group 1 kept busy at work and distracted at weekends with endless entertainments, sports, shopping etc.
As I have pointed out already the ‘burden’ you associate with drug addicts is entirely due to state programs of FORCED wealth redistribution from group 1 to group 3 – with some small change thrown at group 2 as well.
Addicts (and other ‘burdens on society’) are only able to drain the resources of the rest of society via the state. And as long as we have no control over half our earnings (ie that which is taxed) we will remain powerless to help solve the problems ourselves. This powerlessness is the price we pay for offloading all moral responsibility to Group 3. Of course in reality no one ever *decided* to offload this responsibility, nor would we if given the choice. In reality we are BORN into this system and our consent is assumed, our obedience demanded by Group 3 from birth (from before birth in fact – see below).
It is in the public’s (but not the state’s) selfish interests to reduce or remove such burdens from society. And indeed poverty was being reduced year on year at a steady rate and was on course to be eliminated in the US before welfare programs were introduced. The moment welfare (ie forced transfer of wealth to the poor) was introduced poverty levels rose and have risen ever since. This is exactly as one would intelligently predict. It’s a ‘no brainer’ as they say.
“….Human beings are naturally hierarchical beings; we demand structure and order and in its absence we will be reduced to a state of nature and all the various barbarities that follow from that. ….”
Were you trained to say things like this in a government school I wonder?
Hierarchy is nothing more (or less) than the handing over of one’s thinking and one’s moral responsibility to the person higher up the pecking order, while at the same time imposing your will on the person lower down in the pecking order. The hierarchy itself may indeed have structure and order but the effect on society is always utter chaos and devastation.
Confusing the two is a catastrophic mistake, as history has shown us again and again and again….
The most violent, destructive, barbaric and immoral societies throughout history have ALWAYS been the most rigidly ordered, structured and hierarchical ones. Nazi Germany is a classic example. The most perfect example of a correctly implemented hierarchical structure is the army general ordering ‘his’ men to go ‘over the top’ into a hail of machine gun fire … a well as the men on the other side of no-man’s-land being ordered to fire on these men by their corresponding general. Another example is people following orders to murder other people in gas chambers.
In all cases these barbaric acts have only been possible because moral responsibility has given up by the many to the few who claim a status of ‘authority’ at the top of a hierarchy. Giving up our moral responsibility to a ‘higher authority’ results in a hellish blood bath, every time. And I really do mean every time.
Without government education, taxation, government debts and government controlled fiat currency (all products of government’s legal right to use violence and coercion) there could be no wars.
Neither is there any incentive to invade another country UNLESS that country already has ‘rulers’ who have already trained that population to give up half their wages each week. If they are not already trained to be slaves (tax cows) then it is simply not profitable to invade them – any invasion just becomes a huge drain on your resources, as well as a suicidal act of aggression.
Aggressors rarely attempt to conquer entire countries, instead they simply conquer and take over the existing governments of those countries. They place themselves at the top of a pre-existing hierarchy of force, and start collecting taxes. Another reason why government force is the absolute bane of civilisation….. war is literally an effect of taxation.
And just think…. all that prosperity and wealth spent on wars could have been used for the good of society. All those millions of traumatised or DEAD soldiers (from the WW1 through to Iraq) could have stayed at home to be fathers and husbands. All the PTSD (formally ‘shell shock’) would disappear. All that grieving, misery, suffering, depression, sadness (and the drug / alcohol abuse it leads to) would be wiped from our history.
In short – we’d be a rich, prosperous and un-traumatised society had we spent the last century without state interference by force.
“… The just state is ultimately the highest good because it protects society from the many failings of the individuals that comprise it, organising and directing social forces to the mutual gain of all. …’
Logically, a state cannot possibly protect society from ‘the many failings of the individuals that comprise it’, because a state is comprised of those very same potentially failed individuals which come from that same society.
A government is (by definition) a monopoly on the legal right to initiate force against the population to achieve their aims. The VERY FIRST thing all intelligent criminals do is infiltrate, bribe, blackmail or otherwise gain control or influence over the enormous guns of the state.
The justification for government which you use (ie humans are flawed and prone to immoral behaviour – therefore they require a government to rule them) is in fact an argument AGAINST being ruled by a state. Think about it……the fact that all humans are flawed and prone to immoral behaviour is precisely why we should never give ANY single group the right to initiate force against us.
This logic is also why you lock your front when you go to work, why you take out insurance against theft, why you keep you bank details secret etc.
Let’s call a spade a spade….. a ‘just state’ is a state which, at the very least, adheres to the same basic morality which it imposes onto the rest of society. That’s the basic starting point, wouldn’t you agree?
The state demands that we do not steal, murder, threaten, coerce, start wars, violently redistribute wealth…. or kidnap, imprison and persecute others for what they get up to in the privacy of their own lives…etc
The state tells us that all of these behaviours are immoral and completely unacceptable. It even punishes us for behaving in this way. And the state is correct – these are all completely immoral and unacceptable ways to behave in a civilised society, as I’m sure you would agree.
And then the state goes ahead and steals, murders, threatens, coerces, starts wars, violently redistributes wealth….. or kidnaps, imprisons and persecutes others for what they get up to in the privacy of their own lives…etc
So which is it? Is basic morality universal – in which case the government is acting immorally and needs to be stopped…
… or is basic morality optional and of no importance – in which case we can ALL go around stealing and murdering too without being judged as doing any wrong?
We can’t agree on a set of *universal* moral principals, and then not apply them *universally*. That’s madness……. Gravity always makes objects fall to earth – but not on Tuesdays! Punching people in the face is always wrong – unless you’re wearing odd socks. Theft, coercion and murder are always immoral – unless you work for a government!
There is, after all, no such thing (philosophically or morally speaking) as a ‘government’ – there are just PEOPLE. A government is just a group of people…not gods, not aliens, not abstract entities.
And when any of these people working in or for government steal, coerce, murder, threaten etc either morality applies or it does not.
If you believe it does not then please explain how that works.
You might argue that they have the consent of the people. If this is true then you are admitting that consent is REQUIRED in order for their behaviour to be morally acceptable. You’re admitting that without this consent their behaviour is immoral.
If this is your argument (it may not be, but for many statists it is) then I would ask you why is coercion and force required. It’s supposed to be consensual right?
If it’s consensual when exactly does one choose to opt in…. and how does one choose to opt out? Obviously you can’t – if you try to opt out then they kidnap you and lock you in a cage.
Therefore government rule is neither logically consistent or civilised because it violates every basic moral principal which defines civilise society.
Statism is illogical, immoral, barbaric and violent. And that’s fine if you want to support that kind of system.
But it would be great if you (and all other statists) had the decency and the honesty to admit in public at least once a year that you are not interested in logic, reason, morality or civilised behaviour and that you just want things to be done through brute force……… and anyone who disagrees can just disagree from the inside of a cage which is where you will put them.
“….Coercion is sometimes a necessary element of the state’s toolbox to achieve good ends. This is self-evidently deducible from previous human history and experience. All lapses in structure in favour of what you would term “free” (and what I would term “anarchic”) society have led to injustice, inefficiency, and human misery….”
Democide has been calculated at around 250,000,000 over the last century. That is without including the government funded wars.
How many deaths have committed ‘anarchists’ caused over the last century? A hundred perhaps? (I’m guessing, perhaps it is more, perhaps it is less)
A collapsed government or empire, or a ‘failed state’ is NOT an example of anarchy, it is still statism – just as a collapsed wino is still the same person.
When angry, violent people protest against ‘government cuts’ and start smashing up buildings and demanding ‘more free stuff’ this is the result of the statist mindset, not an anarchic one.
Everyone today seems to want the ‘free stuff’ which the state ‘provides’ yet few realise that the state is incapable of providing anything at all. It generates no wealth, it only shunts our wealth about by force (pocketing most of it for itself along the way).
Statism is, in essence, a never ending attempt by everyone in society to get their grubby hands on the wealth of everyone else – all encouraged by an agency of coercion and violence who’s existence and use of force is dependent on us being permanently at each other’s throats so that we will keep ‘voting’ for them to rule us by force in the hope that we might get a ‘tac break’ here or ‘increased public services’ there.
The irony (and tragedy) is that it’s all paid for by us anyway. Promises of cheaper public transport by some mayor campaigning in an election just means promises of more debt and higher taxation somewhere down the line to pay for it. It’s ludicrous.
Statists will even advocate for violence to be used against future generations in order to pay for ‘free stuff’ which they consider their right. Literally theft from the unborn. It is utterly barbaric behaviour, hidden under thin veils of meaningless euphemisms such as ‘democracy’, ‘taxation’ and ‘social contract’.
‘An-archy’ is such a loaded and misunderstand term it’s virtually unusable. But in essence anarchy simply means the absence of a hier-archy…… or to put it another way anarchy just means people retain their own personal responsibility, instead of giving it away to an authority, or the collective.
An anarchist society is one where people do not recognise anyone’s right to initiate force against anyone else. If someone steals, robs or coerces they are acting immorally, regardless of whether or not they work for a ‘government’ or dress up in a special costume with a badge on it. Makes sense, yes?
Anarchy is really just the natural result of any population’s adherence to universal morality, and their rejection of violence and coercion as a legitimate way of organising society.
Actually, most of our society *already* operates in a state of anarchy. This includes your own life. When was the last time you used violence or coercion to catch a bus, conduct a business transaction, cook a meal, go out with friends, visit the theatre or engage in a sexual relationship?
Most of society operates voluntarily and peacefully – without any hierarchy, coercion or violence at all.
Would you like an authority to take over these activities and use coercion, theft and violence against you to allocate your transport for you and decide your destination, or supply you with a sexual partner, or allocate your food for the evening?
But don’t think I am trying to coerce you into living in a state of anarchy…. in an anarchic / free society you would still be perfectly free to live as you do now if that’s what you want. You could find some people willing to take on the role of statist rulers and then surrender your rights to them (along with half your wages each week) and let them ‘govern’ you. I mean, if that’s your ‘thing’….
You could find some like minded statists and together buy some land and set up a full blown statist commune with its own mini government, police, prisons, courts, schools, tax revenue offices, free speech zones, torture camps and everything.
The only thing you *couldn’t* do in a free society is impose your lifestyle choice onto others (like me) by force. But that’s fair enough, isn’t it?
We all fiercely defend the anarchy we already have and enjoy……. yet we fear the anarchy we do not yet enjoy (such as the freedom to actually own all of our wages and spent them as we wish).
Anarchy is just another way of saying ‘being a grown up’. Anarchy is not the result of ‘overthrowing governments’, just as becoming a grown up is not the result of ‘overthrowing’ your parents.
Anarchic societies can still have governments, but if anyone in government attempts to rob you, assault you or intimidate you they are rightly identified as behaving immorally and unacceptably. So in this sense governments could not exist – only peaceful service providers (like the ones we have already for phones or internet services etc).
An anarchic society, and a grown up individual, are just what happens INEVITABLY whenever we assume moral responsibility and reject violence as a legitimate way to conduct ourselves.
“…. I am a statist and proud to be one. The alternative is, as Hobbes puts it, a state of affairs in which life is “nasty, brutish, and short”……”
Statism is (by definition) rule by coercion, theft and violence.
The alternative to SUPPORTING coercion, theft and violence as the prime means to organise society is to REJECT coercion, theft and violence as the prime means to organise society.
If supporting coercion, theft and violence makes you proud and if rejecting coercion, theft and violence is viewed as nasty and brutish then I fear you are already living in Orwell’s dystopian world of doublethink, where freedom is slavery and war is peace.
The state’s political legitimacy, its justification for taxation, is that it accomplishes collective social goods. If it fails to do that, people will act to overthrow it, and it, quite naturally, wants to avoid that outcome. That is where the incentive for the state to make an effort to solve problems comes from–it is widely socially accepted that that is the whole point of it, and if it stops performing its function it will cease to be.
The goal of state policy should be, or so I would argue, the maximisation of outputs across society (utilitarianism), which it can achieve through many policies, one of which is redistribution–taxing wealth and moving it to places to which the free market would not send it.
With those two things in mind, it is clear that the state’s use of taxation to acquire wealth which it can use for the purpose of reducing the incidence of drug use so as to raise overall societal output and consequently total social utility is consistent with the objectives of the state. We criticise state drug policy when it fails to achieve this goal or produces other disutilities in pursuing it that mitigate the benefits of its policies, and rightly so, but the goal and objective remains desirable.
I would encourage you to read today’s post criticising libertarianism:
You seem to embrace the two fallacious libertarian principles:
1. Taxation is theft.
2. Coercion beyond preventing theft and murder is always wrong.
This is the result of:
1. Your assumption that property acquired through legal market relations always produces a just distribution.
2. Your assumption that only direct theft or physical violence constitutes harm.
I would reassess both of these assumptions; they are wildly divergent from the world in which we live.
I wholeheartedly embrace all the various ways in which the state coerces and taxes people, provided that those policies achieve ends that I consider good and just. There are many ways in which I would like the state to expand its coercive behaviour, and many other ways in which I would like it to replace its present coercion with different kinds of coercion. You’ve adopted a moral attitude that coercion is bad in and of itself on a deontological level and forgotten that it is a tool that states use to achieve ends which are themselves either good or bad in character, that it is the consequences of the use of coercion that matter, not the coercion in itself. If you want to call statism “coercion, theft, and violence” as pejoratives for “deterrence, taxation, military force”, then fine, I am a supporter of coercion, theft, and violence, if they achieve good and just ends, and you should be one too.
“…The state’s political legitimacy, its justification for taxation, is that it accomplishes collective social goods….”
This is a claim. As a claim it can be agreed with or it can be disputed. (Democide over the last century has been calculated at 250,000,000 people and that’s not including all the government sponsored wars. Every major human catastrophe involving genocide, persecution, tyranny, injustice, incompetence, economic collapse has been the direct result of governments – not even governments misfunctioning, but governments operating within their design parameters).
You can claim governments as the vehicles for social good….. and I can claim them as violent, parasitic leaches holding back all of humanity.
But such arguments are a waste of time because for ‘social good’ to be properly debated it really needs to be clearly defined first. But as we all know, governments refuse to work with contracts which would define their commitments and the cost and timescales they require to deliver the goods. WIthout contracts we cannot define social good, or rather someone else can always claim to have a different definition.
By contrast, we can both easily agree whether or not my mobile phone company is fulfilling its promises by referring to the contract I entered into with them.
If governments had contracts which stated (for example) that they agreed to ‘not lie to us, start illegal wars and then spent $3000 a second prolonging these wars for a decade killing a million civilians in the process’ then we could agree that they had catastrophically failed on that count. But as it is (with no contract) we are left squabbling over whether such behaviour represents ‘social good’ or not.
So let’s forget that argument then…
Let’s focus instead on the fact that government’s ‘social good’ is a *claim*. Porsches are the best cars in the world is another claim. Chicken should be part of our diets at least once a week for good health is another claim.
Whether these claims are true or not is irrelevant. And it may be that these claims are true for some of us but not true for others. Perhaps ‘social good’ is as they say, in the eye of the beholder – in which case no one set of policies imposed onto society can fulfil ‘social good’ thus destroying your argument for government’s legitimacy….
But what REALLY matters is whether or not we have the right to FORCE other people to accept our claims.
Do you believe, in all honesty, that you have the right to FORCE me to drive YOUR favourite car, eat YOUR favourite food once a week or live under YOUR preferred political system?
If you believe you DO have that right, then (logically) you must also believe that I must have the right to impose MY favourite things onto YOU too.
We are both equal human beings after all. Or do you think you are in some way superior to me? (arguments based on inherent superiority have become a lot less socially acceptable since Mr Hitler’s time)
And so being equal human beings, either we both have the right to impose our preferences onto each other by force ……
…. or another possible conclusion is that we both DO NOT have the right to impose our preferences onto each other by force. Hmmm, this sounds a lot more sensible doesn’t it!
This means that you get to enjoy your favourite things and I get to enjoy mine and neither of us needs to use any force against the other at all. Sounds perfect! 🙂
And as far as I am concerned I have no right to impose my lifestyle onto you. And just so you know, I am happy for you to find some people willing to play the role of your ruler and I am happy for you to surrender a good proportion of your freedoms to these rulers, as well as half your wages – if that is a lifestyle which is desirable for you.
All I ask – and I think this is fair – is that you don’t try to impose your lifestyle choice onto me by force. Are you willing to leave me in peace, or are you going to force me to join your cult either in person or by asking your cult leaders to use force against me on your behalf?
It’s a very simple question which can be answered “yes” or “no”.
In a free and civilised society which respects basic moral principals every kind of lifestyle under the sun is possible from democracy to communism to anarchy. The only condition we need adhere to is that no one can initiate force against another person. That’s it! If you want to sign away certain freedoms and a proportion of your wealth in return for certain coercive systems of social and economic organisation then go right ahead!
As long as we don’t start trying to initiate force against others there’s no reason why you and I can’t be neighbours and get along fine. Or if we prefer we can go live in a community (or even a commune) and surround ourselves with people who share our lifestyle preferences.
You could sign a contract with your statist masters to live under their rule for five years (or whatever duration you agree on), and during that time be forced to pay taxes, obey their laws, send your children to their schools and so on. After five years you can renew or opt out and try a different system (or just live a free life with no rulers at all).
How you live your life is YOUR choice and as long as you don’t start pointing any guns at me you can do what you like. Will you return me the same courtesy – or are you going to start pointing guns in my direction to force me to pay for YOUR lifestyle?
“….If (the state) fails to do (social good), people will act to overthrow it, and it, quite naturally, wants to avoid that outcome….”
This is not true though, is it. Not in the real world anyway.
No state wants to be overthrown (you got that bit right) but there are many tactics besides pleasing the population which the state can use to prevent them from overthrowing them. These include indoctrination, intimidation, mass murder, imprisonment, fear mongering, secret police, demoralisation, distraction, information control and bribery. All of these tactics have been used repeatedly by governments around the world throughout the last two thousand years – up to and including the present time.
In terms of history (ie evidence) doing ‘social good’ ranks as one of the LEAST used tactics employed by governments in an efforts to avoid being overthrown.
“… That is where the incentive for the state to make an effort to solve problems comes from–it is widely socially accepted that that is the whole point of it, and if it stops performing its function it will cease to be….”
Then, logically, if that incentive is what drives ‘social good’ it makes sense to remove factors which would reduce or inhibit that incentive, such as having the legal right to initiate force against us. Knowing it could not continue to operate by simply rounding up ‘unhappy customers’ and imprisoning them or murdering them (as so many governments have done throughout history) government would have an EVEN GREATER incentive to do good in society and therefore keep everyone happy.
So by your own logic, the government’s ability to initiate extreme force is a hindrance to ‘social good’.
This logic is why we do not buy guns for our employees, our accountants, or plumbers or car mechanics and then grant them the legal right to initiate force against us at will. We understand that there is the very real possibility they will end up doing a slack job, and when we complain they will just pull the gun on us.
“…The goal of state policy should be…”
Again you are expressing a preference here. This is fine – we can all argue what’s best for society. But the moment you try to FORCE people to do as you say you are (by definition) claiming a greater authority over them and their property than they have. That is the sort of thing that insane tyrants, serial killers and psychopaths believe.
I don’t think you genuinely believe you have this authority at all…… I am now metaphorically placing a gun in your hand. Are you going to use it to redistribute other people’s wealth or are you going to put the gun down and respect other people’s property?
“….You seem to embrace the two fallacious libertarian principles:
1. Taxation is theft.
2. Coercion beyond preventing theft and murder is always wrong….”
1. Taking someone else’s property by force and without their consent is theft. How can it not be? The force (or threat of force) may result in no resistance, or even a strong desire to pay up (to appease the thief). However this does not stop it being theft. A man can threaten a woman with forced sex and she might CHOOSE to offer him access to her body to appease him (and avoid the violence which has been threatened). This is still rape. And tax is theft.
2. This is too vague. What specifically are you taking about? (some real world examples, perhaps?)
“…This is the result of:
1. Your assumption that property acquired through legal market relations always produces a just distribution.
2. Your assumption that only direct theft or physical violence constitutes harm….”
2. This is too vague. Define ‘harm’. Real world examples…?
1. You do not define what a ‘just’ distribution actually means. Can you define it please?
Don’t forget, an *equal* distribution of MONEY is not necessarily an equal (or ‘just’) distribution of WEALTH because…
A) people put in different amounts of time and effort into various activities (including but not limited to their ‘jobs’), as they are free to do. Money is only one measure of someone’s investment – or productivity.
B) not all effort is directed towards gaining FINANCIAL wealth (money). Happiness is wealth. A safe, friendly and helpful community is wealth – these are things we can invest in and work for and gain rewards in without any actual ‘money’ being involved at all.
C) not everyone’s value systems are the same – in fact they vary greatly – some people value money more, some people value free time more, or doing helping other people, or job satisfaction, or learning new skills
D) some people desire (or require) rural or remote locations, some people desire (or require) urban locations etc Factors like these influence the overall earnings/ costs of a particular job
E) Payment (reward) for different jobs comes in forms which vary greatly and actual *money* may or may not constitute a significant part of that reward.
Redistributing money is therefore not redistributing wealth. It is redistributing only a small part of the wealth associated with our work, our lives and our interactions.
Why not redistribute free time, or job satisfaction as well? This is wealth which is paid by some jobs. Why not redistribute commuter hours saved/ spent? Or stress!
Not only is any form of redistribution by force immoral, the whole thing completely absurd, too!
Also the whole system is based on the idea that all money spent is spent reluctantly and that money distributed through the VOLUNTARY TRANSACTIONS OF SOCIETY is where society DOESN’T want it to be, but money shifted around through the COERCIVE ACTIONS OF A FEW is precisely where society does want it to be.
That is like the government breaking into our cars every night and parking them somewhere else, far away from where we *chose* to park them earlier…. perhaps to ensure ‘just parking’ (whatever that might mean!).
In reality (at least where the market is free from coercive interference) money is simply our way of rewarding products, services and behaviour in general that we like and approve of.
Has it ever occurred to you that we might WANT certain individuals and groups to be rewarded with lots of our money? For example technological innovators and any well run companies who are in tune with what we currently desire. Taxation moves our money away from these people.
“…I wholeheartedly embrace all the various ways in which the state coerces and taxes people, provided that those policies achieve ends that I consider good and just…..”
This is all fine and dandy, and I’m happy for you that you like this system.
However you just need to change the word ‘people’ to ‘me’. Otherwise you are behaving like a terrorist (asserting your authority to use violence and intimidation against others for your own political aims).
“….You’ve adopted a moral attitude that coercion is bad in and of itself on a deontological level and forgotten that it is a tool that states use to achieve ends which are themselves either good or bad in character, that it is the consequences of the use of coercion that matter, not the coercion in itself….”
Regardless of what attitude you think I have adopted, the fact remains that you and I obviously have different preferences when it comes to organising our affairs.
I am not in any way preventing you from living according to your preferences. You on the other hand do not seem to be affording me the same respect. In fact you seem to be advocating the use of violence against me. We appear to be having a civilised discussion, but if you advocate state coercion and violence against me then in reality you have a gun pointed in my face (or a taser or a billy club or whatever).
“…..If you want to call statism “coercion, theft, and violence” as pejoratives for “deterrence, taxation, military force”, then fine, I am a supporter of coercion, theft, and violence, if they achieve good and just ends, and you should be one too…..”
It doesn’t matter what we call X, Y and Z. I am interested in the real world of human interaction (which is all that exists in reality).
I have stated over and over again that I am happy for you if you want to choose some coercive rulers and ask them to force you to start paying them ‘taxes’ and so on.
I prefer to find some legit service providers who are willing to enter into a proper legal contract with me (one which protects us both and ensures we BOTH fulfil our stated obligations). Hey, you never know, my free market service providers might be so streamlined and efficient that your government might sub contract them and as a result save some money and cut your taxes! (or at least reduce their massive debts a little…)
The statist position is NOT that other people ‘should’ do the things which you want them to do, but which they object to.
The statist position is that other people should BE FORCED to do the things which you want them to do, but which they object to.
This entire discussion is like a man telling a woman all the reasons why she ‘should’ have sex with him. And there is nothing wrong with a man trying to convince a woman that having sex with him is the right thing for her to do.
However, if the woman does not wish to have sex with him, the man should accept this. If he does not accept her “no” and instead resorts to intimidation or violence to FORCE her to have sex with him then he is a rapist.
I am telling you that I do not wish to fund your lifestyle. (But nor do I demand that you fund mine). The state is an agency of intimidation and violence. If you support it you KNOW that it will use intimidation and violence to force me to fund your lifestyle. Therefore you are initiating force against me and we are in the realm of theft, rape, terrorism, bullying and so on.
One does not go into a bank with a gun to ‘debate’ why they ‘should’ give you money…… you go into a bank with a gun to intimidate, coerce and FORCE them to hand over their money.
The state is the same. One does not vote to convince other people what they ‘should’ do. You vote for your party to FORCE other people to pay for stuff which you want and they probably do not.
The question is very simple: will you let me live my own life in peace or will you come knocking at my door armed with weapons and demanding that I fund your lifestyle?
Remember, if it’s the latter then you’re going have to not only justify your actions MORALLY, but also explain LOGICALLY how:
1. destroying my family
2. assaulting me and my children
3. making me lose my job (and all those lost earnings I would have pumped back into society)
4. burdening yourself (as a tax payer) with having to keep me in jail and feed me
…. is achieving this thing you call ‘social good’.
Governments, by definition, manage statecraft, and all the various elements of statecraft–international relations, economics, ethics, and so on down the line.
The state’s decisions cannot be evaluated as monolith–each decision can be a good decision or a bad decision, depending on one’s personal philosophical beliefs and on one’s point of view.
The important thing is that, without some kind of state, we cannot devise social policies to address these various areas. We cannot provide for our collective security without a state. We cannot provide for our collective economic welfare without a state. We cannot ensure that people behave in a manner consistent with social cooperation without a state and its coercive powers. There is wide scope for argument as to how the state should use its powers, but there is no scope for arguing that the state is bad.
Claiming that the state is bad is equivalent to claiming that hands are bad because hands have been involved in every (or nearly every) murder, atrocity, and evil or malevolent act that any human being has participated in. So why not cut your hands off? The answer is obvious–because human hands have also been involved in the overwhelming majority of good deeds and good activities, and the same can be said for states regardless of one’s political position. States protect us and our property, they organise food distribution so that people can engage in non-hunter/gatherer activities, they facilitate the development education, health, industry, technology, all sorts of things. Sometimes they wage good wars–sometimes not. Sometimes they do the wrong sort of thing, I acknowledge that. That is not a reason to scrap the single most powerful force for moral good on the planet, that is a reason to perfect it and make it more consistently reliable.
Will everyone agree on what is “good” and what is “bad” for a state to do? No. The libertarian position would have us abandon the effort to achieve good things as a result, merely to avoid coercing anyone. I reject every single individual person’s right to veto collective decisions. Every individual in a society benefits from living in the collective, so every individual is bound to live with the collective’s decisions or to openly resist them and risk being removed from that collective. Ethics are too important to subjugate them to the whims of individuals, particularly unlearned ones.
“….The state’s decisions cannot be evaluated as monolith–each decision can be a good decision or a bad decision, depending on one’s personal philosophical beliefs and on one’s point of view….”
Agreed. I would also add this: each decision can be a good decision or a bad decision depending on generally accepted morality. (murder is wrong, theft is wrong etc).
And so if the state’s decisions cannot be evaluated as a monolith, as you say, then you must logically oppose ‘elections’ which reduces the thousands of decisions made in an ever changing world and over a period of four to five years (!) as a single ‘vote’.
“…The important thing is that, without some kind of state, we cannot devise social policies to address these various areas. …’
This assumes we CAN devise social policies with a state. But the very point of voting is to block other people from devising their social policies – and stop them by force. And anyone trying to develop social policies which differ from the two main parties is automatically prevented BY FORCE from developing them, and is forced instead to fund policies which they object to.
“…We cannot provide for our collective security without a state. ….”
This assumes collective security IS provided by the state. History shows us over and over that it is not. In fact having a system of forced taxation to a central agency acts as a huge incentive for tyrants to invade that country. Without forced taxation an invading army needs to conquer every single person (not cost effective), but in a statist nation they only need to conquer the existing government who have ALREADY conquered the population and set up forced taxation. The invaders just need to take over government to get access to half of everyone’s wages each week.
“…We cannot provide for our collective economic welfare without a state….”
This assumes the state provides for our collective economic welfare. Evidence shows us that it does not. Welfare programs are PROVEN to increase poverty. The state ALWAYS spends everyone’s compulsory retirement funds. The state ALWAYS gets into massive debts which collapse the economy. In no universe can spending everyone’s money and burdening future generations with massive debt before they are even born be called ‘economic welfare’. It is correctly called theft and fraud.
“…We cannot ensure that people behave in a manner consistent with social cooperation without a state and its coercive powers…..”
Yes we can. If you come onto my property with an axe trying to steal my TV I can use force against you, or I can call a private security firm. Or I can just claim insurance against the theft. The only people I can;t protect my self from is the state. They have almost unlimited funds and weaponry which enables them to steal from me each week.
“…There is wide scope for argument as to how the state should use its powers,….”
Arguing how the state should use its powers achieves nothing (by definition). And if you ‘vote’ you are forced to impose you will on other people.
“…Claiming that the state is bad is equivalent to claiming that hands are bad because hands have been involved in every (or nearly every) murder, atrocity, and evil or malevolent act that any human being has participated in….”
I am NOT claiming that the state is bad. I am claiming that violence, coercion, theft, intimidation and fraud is bad.
I am NOT claiming that ‘hands’ are bad. I am claiming that murder is bad.
YOU are claiming that murder/ violence/ theft etc is good. More specifically, you are the one claiming that murder/ theft/ violence is good if the state does it, because the state is automatically good therefore if the state does bad, that bad must be good.
You are the one taking the illogical position. John is good, therefore if John commits murder then that murder must be good and it can’t really be murder it must be something else. That is not logical.
“…States protect us and our property, they organise food distribution….”
No they do not. The state steals half of our wages by force. The state takes out massive loans and then FORCES FUTURE GENERATIONS TO PAY THEM BACK. By definition that is a violation of property. It is theft and fraud. If I acted that way towards you I know for certain that you’d understand that I’d violated your property rights and stolen from you.
This is the reason for your confusion: The state enforces its monopoly on the legal right to steal from everyone. To do this they must (by definition) criminalise and try to prevent other people from stealing from each other.
Think about it….
How can I violently defend my MONOPOLISTIC legal right to set fire to any house I like?
The only way I can do this is to PREVENT anyone else from setting fire to houses by creating a law which forbids them from doing it and by punishing anyone who breaks this law.
So now only *I* can set fire to people’s houses at will without breaking this law I made up. And so I go around every day setting fire to people’s houses.
Does that mean I am protecting people’s houses from fire? No, of course not!
But I have invented a law forbidding other people from setting fire to houses. Surely that means I am protecting houses from fire?
No! I have excluded myself from that law – plus I am spending every day setting fire to houses!
Do you see how it works now? Just substitute ‘setting fire to houses’ with ‘stealing half of everyone’s wages each week’.
‘…Sometimes they do the wrong sort of thing, I acknowledge that. That is not a reason to scrap the single most powerful force for moral good on the planet,…”
They do more than ‘the wrong sort of thing’ – they routinely murder a million people in cold blood. This means we can’t really call them ‘the single most powerful force for moral good on the planet’, can we?
We CAN call them “the single most powerful force for evil on the planet” This is because there is no individual or agency which has done more evil in the world than governments. No one else even comes close.
“…I reject every single individual person’s right to veto collective decisions….”
Then you admit that in a room of 10 people if 9 of them agreed it was OK to rape your child you would agree to it. This is an insane stance to take.
“…Every individual in a society benefits from living in the collective, ….”
What about those who are persecuted, stolen from, violently assaulted, kidnapped, imprisoned and coerced by the ‘collective’?
If everyone benefits then there is no need for force to be used.
“….Ethics are too important to subjugate them to the whims of individuals, particularly unlearned ones….”
What you mean is this: Morality can only be used as a weapon by creating universal moral rules, imposing them by force onto a society but making yourself exempt from them.
You never answered my question.
I have half my earnings in my hand. You want me to use MY MONEY to fund YOUR lifestyle, YOUR social programs, YOUR policies, YOUR wars etc.
I refuse to hand my money over.
Are you willing to FORCE me to fund your lifestyle – either in person, or by asking your rulers to use force against me on your behalf?
Yes or no? Just answer the question!
If you will unreasonably persist in consuming the benefits of being part of a society whilst refusing to contribute to the perpetuation of said society, then yes, I am perfectly willing to coerce you into doing so. I do not necessarily think that half your earnings will be necessary–perhaps more, perhaps less, it’s quite a complicated computation. But yes, in principle, I am happy to coerce tax avoiders into performing their social obligations. Your continued denial of having obligations to the state is what Rawls would term an “unreasonable position”–you claim the right of benefit from communal living but refuse to participate in preserving that system. That, I would submit, is a grave injustice on your part.
You seem to be assuming that I embrace the democratic model of decision making or accept whatever the majority decides as ethical. This could not be further from the truth–I am a sophiarchist, and believe that educated academics and scholars should run the state and debate the questions of justice and the policies deriving there from. I sketch out a system of government whereby academics would govern society here:
A quick addendum…
‘…Sometimes they do the wrong sort of thing, I acknowledge that. That is not a reason to scrap the single most powerful force for moral good on the planet,…”
I am NOT advocating for the scrapping of the state.
I am advocating for basic morality and civilised behaviour to be EXTENDED to include those people who work in and for the state.
I am suggesting that regardless of whether you work for a circus, a garage, a cafe, a bank, a government agency, an insurance company or as a freelance journalist you do NOT have the moral right to initiate force against others (steal, assault, coerce, intimidate etc).
I am advocating for MORE order, more rules, more civilised behaviour… not less.
States do NOT operate based on rules. They operate based on RULERS.
A rule is something like: ‘Nobody is allowed to steal’ or ‘nobody is allowed to initiate force’.
These are two rules which do not exist in a statist society! The state itself steal and murders all the time without breaking any rules or laws. Therefore these roles cannot be said to apply in a statist society.
Rules must be universal to be rules. The law of gravity is a rule because it applies universally. Gravity doesn’t NOT APPLY to people in red pullovers, or objects made of aluminium.
Statism is a system without rules! That’s why it doesn’t work. That’s why the world is in chaos. We think there are rules galore but there aren’t any when you look closely. And deep down I’m sure you know this.
Who is to enforce these rules? Who is to ensure they are obeyed and followed? The state. And how does the state pay for this enforcement? Taxation. And how does the state ensure that taxes are collected? Coercion. This is not “stealing”, this is a rightful demand by the state on the people that they pay their fair share for its maintenance and for the maintenance of the rule and order it enforces. Just as a member of a country club owes a due to the club, a citizen of a state owes a tax to that state. Those who do not approve of the rules or of the enforcement should either go forth and live naked in the forest surviving by means of their own subsistence or openly challenge the ethics and justice of the state, seeking to overthrow it and replace it with something superior. Any other response is hypocrisy.