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Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

(Post updated)

In my earlier post on this theme, I expressed my opposition to using coercive legal means to advance social goals and my moral abhorrence for laws which censor expression, ban consensual behavior or limit freedom of association. I wrote:

Any rational system of morality that makes the basic libertarian distinction between the personal and the political must conclude that laws [which restrict individual liberty] are immoral.

To give another side of the issue, I am also surprised when people think that it is ‘unlibertarian’ to attempt to modify other people’s behavior — for good or bad — through non-coercive means. A controlling husband who does not want his wife to dance with other men, a guy who ‘makes’  his girlfriend eat healthy foods, a friend who tries to emotionally pressurize you to give up smoking or a lover who makes you give up something you love as a precondition of being with you are not in any way violating the non-aggression principle. Such behavior can be sensible or irrational, helpful or counter-productive but as long as they do not involve actual coercion, they are neither libertarian nor unlibertarian.

Let me focus on the cases when the controlling behavior is generally seen as bad or unfair. In those examples, the offending party may not often act in an understanding or considerate manner. However they certainly have the right to be inconsiderate. I most definitely have the right to demand that my partner do things in a certain way. The partner also has the right to refuse. At that point, each of us has the right to suggest a compromise, let the other’s wish prevail or end the relationship. As a general principle, I think such controlling behavior is a terrible idea because even if the other person acts as you wish, she will usually resent it and if you do it often enough, end the relationship with you. However, simply because an idea is terrible does not mean it violates another’s liberty. When private, consensual relationships are involved, everyone has the right to stay in it strictly on their terms.

For instance I would never date a deeply religious person. I would also prefer that my partner’s tastes and convictions are compatible with mine. I might attempt to persuade her to do things in a certain way if they are important to me, even if those things are essentially her personal matter. If the matter is core and non-negotiable, I would even make it clear that we cannot be together if she does not change. These actions may or may not be the best thing for the relationship but they certainly are a natural consequence of my liberty to live my life (which includes my associations and relationships) on the exact terms I wish.

Libertarianism deals with the legal and the political. The meme that it also governs one’s behavior in a purely social or personal setting  is misguided and display a lack of understanding of the underlying philosophical principles. That is not to say that social and personal behavior is not important or that the pros and cons of a particular kind of behavior should not be discussed; merely that such discussions (or any ethics/principles underlying it) are distinct from the principles that underlie individual liberty. Using pressure and emotional leverage to make a friend change his behavior is fundamentally different from having a law that mandates this behavior change. Social pressure is on an entirely different plane from legal coercion. Friendships, marriages and relationships can be ended by either party for any reason, rational or irrational; an oppressive law can never be escaped from.

The personal is not the political. Period.

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From the SF gate report:

Mayor Gavin Newsom has proposed prohibiting tobacco sales in pharmacies, including Walgreens and Rite Aid. The city’s public health chief said the proposal is modeled after rules in eight provinces in Canada but has not been tried anywhere in the United States.

Supervisor Chris Daly has proposed legislation that would vastly limit areas where people can smoke.

Gone would be smoking in all businesses and bars, which now make an exception for owner-operated ones.

Gone too would be lighting up in taxicabs and rental cars, city-owned vehicles, farmers’ markets, common areas of apartment buildings, tourist hotels, tobacco shops, charity bingo games, unenclosed dining areas, waiting areas such as lines at an ATM or movie theater, and anywhere within 20 feet of entrances to private, nonresidential buildings.

Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Public Health, said he strongly supports both measures – even if they are angering business owners who say it’s one more example of San Francisco City Hall overstepping its bounds.

“Tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. – period,” he said. “It’s government’s responsibility to protect people from obvious risks.”

To paraphrase a comment at the Reason blog, whose responsibility is it then to protect people from tyranny?

Indeed, it’s scary listening to these public-health fanatics. By their logic, speed limits should be lowered to 10 mph, burgers and cokes banned and motorcycles outlawed. Gambling and extreme sports ought to be banished from the face of the earth. And did I forget to mention unprotected sex?

Its a simple enough principle but some don’t get it. Costs and benefits are different for different people. An act that one person views as self-destructive is completely worth the risk to another.

As Jacob Sullum eloquently put it:

Maximizing health is not the same as maximizing happiness. The public health mission to minimize morbidity and mortality leaves no room for the possibility that someone might accept a shorter life span, or an increased risk of disease or injury, in exchange for more pleasure or less discomfort. Motorcyclists, rock climbers, and sky divers make that sort of decision all the time, and not all of them are ignorant of the relevant injury and fatality statistics. With lifestyle choices that pose longer-term risks, such as smoking and overeating, the dangers may be easier to ignore, but it is still possible for someone with a certain set of tastes and preferences to say, “Let me enjoy myself now; I’ll take my chances.” The assumption that such tradeoffs are unacceptable is the unspoken moral premise of public health. When the surgeon general declares that “every American needs to eat healthy food in healthy portions and be physically active every day,” where does that leave a guy who prefers to be fat if it means he can eat what he likes and relax in his spare time instead of looking for ways to burn calories?

It’s true that, as the anti-smoking activist William Cahan pointed out on a CNN talk show several years ago, “People who are making decisions for themselves don’t always come up with the right answer.” They don’t necessarily make tradeoffs between health and other values in an informed or carefully considered manner. Sometimes they regret their decisions. But they know their own tastes and preferences, and they have access to myriad pieces of local information about the relevant costs and benefits that no government regulator can possibly know. They will not always make good decisions, but on balance they will make better decisions, as measured by their own subsequent evaluations, than any third party deciding for them. Leaving aside the question of who is better positioned to decide whether a given pleasure is worth the risk associated with it, there is an inherent value to freedom: When it comes to how people feel about their lives, they may well prefer to make their own bad choices rather than have better ones imposed on them.

Now the smoking ban of course goes beyond nanny-statism. It is also about protecting other people from the risks of second-hand smoke. That’s a laudable intention and as a libertarian I have no quarrels with the underlying principle. But my point is this — how does preventing the sale of cigarettes from certain shops or preventing their use in private bars designated for smoking serve this goal? People who enter such a bar or restaurant usually do with the intention to smoke — those who do not can always choose not to enter.

And whats this about banning smoking in rental cars? Second-hand scent? WTF?

Ultimately, we must recognise these type of bans for what they are – an act of those who are pompous enough to believe others’ well-being is their business and deluded enough to think they are in a better position to make these value judgements than the individual involved. The result is a further expansion of government power in an era when the threat to civil liberties and personal freedom from such intrusions gets bigger every day.

And just so that no one ascribes imaginary motives – I have never smoked, do not ever intend to and hate the smell of second-hand smoke as much as any regular guy. (I do however believe in respecting others’ choices.)

(Hat-tip: Reason Hit and Run)

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One of the dangers of publicly funded healthcare is that it increases the likelihood of the government micromanaging your health and other private affairs. Jacob Sullum wrote an excellent article in Reason last year about the totalitarian implications of public health. The Japanese government is the latest to prove him right.

Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population.  

Those exceeding government limits – 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women – and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.  

Here is the link to the above article.

And while you are at it, do read Sullum’s article from last year. It is full of truths that are obvious but often not recognized by those in power.

Maximizing health is not the same as maximizing happiness. The public health mission to minimize morbidity and mortality leaves no room for the possibility that someone might accept a shorter life span, or an increased risk of disease or injury, in exchange for more pleasure or less discomfort. Motorcyclists, rock climbers, and sky divers make that sort of decision all the time, and not all of them are ignorant of the relevant injury and fatality statistics. With lifestyle choices that pose longer-term risks, such as smoking and overeating, the dangers may be easier to ignore, but it is still possible for someone with a certain set of tastes and preferences to say, “Let me enjoy myself now; I’ll take my chances.” The assumption that such tradeoffs are unacceptable is the unspoken moral premise of public health. When the surgeon general declares that “every American needs to eat healthy food in healthy portions and be physically active every day,” where does that leave a guy who prefers to be fat if it means he can eat what he likes and relax in his spare time instead of looking for ways to burn calories?

It’s true that, as the anti-smoking activist William Cahan pointed out on a CNN talk show several years ago, “People who are making decisions for themselves don’t always come up with the right answer.” They don’t necessarily make tradeoffs between health and other values in an informed or carefully considered manner. Sometimes they regret their decisions. But they know their own tastes and preferences, and they have access to myriad pieces of local information about the relevant costs and benefits that no government regulator can possibly know. They will not always make good decisions, but on balance they will make better decisions, as measured by their own subsequent evaluations, than any third party deciding for them. Leaving aside the question of who is better positioned to decide whether a given pleasure is worth the risk associated with it, there is an inherent value to freedom: When it comes to how people feel about their lives, they may well prefer to make their own bad choices rather than have better ones imposed on them.

Indeed.

(Link via Reason Hit and Run)

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It’s the classic pitfall. The law tries to prevent a reprehensible act of fraud (in this case, obtaining sex from one’s brother near-sleeping girlfriend by impersonating the brother). However it does so by passing a law whose language is much broader than it should. The result is yet another encroachment by the law into an area it has no business being in.

Read Eugene Volokh’s excellent discussion on a potentially chilling statute that is being pushed for passage in Massachusetts. Also the comments under Volokh’s post are interesting; below are some of my favourites.

Make-up is now to be illegal in Massachusetts, as are Wonderbras and those ass-padding panties.

Did they just outlaw the greater bulk of bar-room pick up lines?

OK, let’s take a hypothetical 25 yr old Tom and 16 year old Suzy. Suzy tells Tom she is 19, and they have sex. In both Texas and Mass, this is rape. In Texas, she’s the victim, in Mass, he is. Makes sense to me!

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