A Fresh Take on Gun Control

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The gun control debate recycles more haggard and stale arguments than other issues in public policy. The talking points of both sides of the Second Amendment have become warn-out platitudes that lack facts, context, or intellectual depth. All these two-dimensional pithy statements fit handsomely on a bumper sticker. Intellectually honest or curious individuals would insist that further elucidation is required. 

However, there may be a novel anti-gun control argument that few commentators have explored. See below from philosopher Michael Huemer:

“…As in Example 1, except that Victim has a gun, which he would use to defend himself against Killer. Before he can do so, Accomplice grabs the gun and runs away, with the result that Killer is able to stab Victim to death.

Q: How wrong was Accomplice’s action in this case?

A: This case is morally comparable to Example 1. Again, Accomplice violates Victim’s right of self-defense in a way that predictably leads to Victim’s death. This is comparable to murder.

The government does not know specifically which people will thus be victimized, but we know a large number will be, and our not knowing their specific identities is morally irrelevant. So strong gun control laws are similar to the Accomplice’s action in Example 2.”

We frequently hear the right to self-defense as one of the key arguments supporting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Few gun rights activists squarely address (from a moral context) the government’s culpability in victimizing law-abiding citizens in instances of strict gun regulations. Too often, they rely on the concise statement “guns save lives”. There is some truth to this statement, but what did the government do when they restricted gun access to the victimized individual? In effect, these laws were analogous to restraining someone while they were being robbed, assaulted, or raped, making the state complicit in the crime. Stringent controls on personal possession of weapons have a greater degree of ethical depth than the conspiratorial narratives of “gun grabs” spun by populous conservatives. A government using legislative fiat to deprive its citizenry of access to weapons is morally equal to a rapist, thief, or murderer.

The Billionaire and The Average Voter: Moral Equals

Photo by Edmond Dantu00e8s on Pexels.com

It is easy to forget that not everyone shares similar needs and desires as you. This is a fact that is validated by contemporary public policy debates. All too often, voters and participants in the political process conflate (either inadvertently or strategically) their self-interest with the common good. Public interest or social welfare is an abstract metric open to interpretation; the terms operate as a form of persuasion than a concrete standard (p.77). For some, it is difficult to think that someone would not want free college or a single-payer healthcare system; this stems from an individual being too fixated on their values and policy preferences.

If it is likely that every political actor (including the average voter) acts in their self-interest, then why is it perceived to be immoral when a wealthy voter does versus an impoverished or middle-class voter does so? If the Republican and Democratic parties are moral equivalents, it is not outrageous to surmise that the poor person voting for “free” healthcare and the billionaire that votes for tax cuts are ethical equals. Neither individual is genuinely concerned by the potential externalities their favored policies impose on the rest of society. They only want initiatives that work in their self-interest. The concerns for the feasibility of these programs and processes are not even the equation for these people!

Admittedly, this is a heterodox position; most people would derisively dismiss it. The underlying assumption is that wealthy people do not need more money or institutional advantages. Most refutations would cite the imperative of actual need, especially if people lack necessities. There is some veracity to this argument, but the United States is not on par with the plight of a third-world country. Only 10.5 percent of households in 2020 suffered from “food insecurity”; in 2021, the United States outranked Germany in food security. Overall, impoverished people in the United States are better off than their counterparts abroad. While the wealthy may have market power and the connections to exert their political influence, the stakes for the average person in the US are often embellished. 

The belief that wealth inequality is the only determining factor in assessing the morality of voters acting in their self-interest is a fallacy. This suggests that the ethical responsibility for advocating and selecting bad policies (at the referendum level) is only subject to the size of a voter’s bank account. While a single vote is inconsequential in an election, a myriad of like-minded citizens voting in unison is a formidable coalition. Should these individuals be excused for electing representatives and choosing government programs that bankrupt this country or get us tangled in another foreign war? It would be reasonable to suggest no. Ultimately, neither the billionaire nor the average citizen truly cares about what is best for the country, only what benefits their interest. In the consumer market, this is not an issue, as acting in your interest does not require a redistribution of resources. In contrast, the same cannot be said about the political marketplace. 

Conspiracy Theories- The Lazy Man’s Cult

Photo by Mitchel Durfee on Pexels.com

The literature (p.93-94) paralleling conspiracy theory culture with the social dynamics of religious cults is starting to accumulate. In the post-factual world, there has been an explosion in the amount of research and commentary surrounding the psychological and sociological implications of conspiracy-mongering political sects such as the alt-right and QAnon. Outside of the grand edicts of Alex Jones being profane (non-spiritual in nature), there is another notable difference between the microcosm of conspiracy land and a religious cult; commitment costs. 

In theory, a fan of conspiracy theory media can participate in this sphere without paying a dime (outside of the cost of electricity and monthly bills for internet access). Sure, our good friend Alex might be slinging some bogus supplements, but there is no requirement to purchase any Infowars products. Anyone with internet access can still access his web-based content. In contrast, a religious cult not only lays claim to all your earthly possessions and assets, the leader expects that future earnings are directed to the “church’s” coffers.

 Beyond the differences in direct monetary costs, there are also drastic disparities in the nonmonetary costs of participation. In the conspiracy community, there is a large spectrum of various commitment preferences; no formal obligations to increase your level of commitment. The range goes from sitting consuming conspiracy media and frequenting conspiracy Reddit pages; even partaking in political activism predicated on conspiracy theories. Even if you are under the spell of the false prophet peddling tin-foil hat tomfoolery, there is still a degree of choice. To be a member of a religious cult, the costs of participation are extraordinarily high, and there is no gray area. A prospective member is fully obligated, or they are out. They must give up or share (their spouse or sexual partner), job, family, friends, hobbies, and contact with the external world. Alex Jones nor David Icke are not pressuring people to cut all ties with family to worship in their bugout bunker in rural South Dakota. 

Essentially, conspiracy theories are opium dreams for the lost and disillusioned, like religious cults. But subscribing to conspiracy theories is the lazy man’s version of being a cult member. The commitment expectations and financial costs are much lower. Theoretically, a conspiracy theory adherent can live normally; hold down a square job, and raise a family. However, once they are off the clock, then their double life begins. 

Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012)- Part II

Photo by My Photos on Pexels.com

The religion and mythology of Greek antiquity were heavily an integral component of the lives of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greeks as a civilization worshipped the same pantheon of deities; however, each individual city-state has a patron deity that was extensively venerated by the citizens of that polis. The manner in which the patron deity was portrayed and their role in mythology often influenced the culture of the polis. The most conscious example of this was in the ancient city-state of Athens, the citizens of which often derived rituals, values, and concepts from the mythological depictions of their patron goddess Athena. The patron goddess of Athens influenced the form of Athenian government, perspective on education, rituals of celebration, and the local function of their institutions of worship.

In the city-state of Athens much like other city-states, religion and mythology were closely intertwined. Athena was a prevalent figure throughout Greek mythology (Mikalson, 68). Athena was often depicted as the following: a cultural hero, a figure of protection, a virgin deity, and a rival of Ares, the Greek god of war. Athena is known as a cultural hero for her role in establishing the crucial institutions of Greek life (Hoffman, 277). She was responsible for life-sustaining institutions such as arts and crafts, wisdom, the structure and order of law, shipbuilding, domestic chores such as cooking, mathematics, etc. (Burkert, 140-141; Graves, 96).

Athena often acted as a protective figure that tended to guide a hero or the Greek people away from harm.  Examples of such accounts are ample, for instance, her aid to Hercules in the myth of Twelfth Labor: The Capture of Cerberus, his task of capturing the dog, Cerberus, from Tartarus, offering him guidance and moral support (Graves, 514-517). Athena was portrayed as being a deity that never engaged in any sort of amorous activity and zealously guarded her prudish nature. The account of Teiresias being blinded by Athena while watching her bathe clearly illustrated this attribute (Graves, 327). Athena has also been depicted as a rival of the god of war, Ares.  Ares tended to be viewed as the boorish representation of offensive warfare, while Athena was the representation of strategic and defensive aspects of war (Burkert, 141, 169).

It is important to realize the cultural context in which Athena was venerated in ancient Athens, the same polis which first developed the institution of Democracy. This development was rooted in the Solonian reform (594 BCE) and came to fruition during the era of Cleisthenesian leadership (508 BCE). Under Cleisthenes is where pure democracy was developed. A form of democracy in which average citizens had an actual say in making policy and were selected to the Assembly or boule, by lot for an annual term. Individual citizens who disagreed with policy had the ability to issue a “writ of unconstitutionality” to formally express any grievances (Starr, 46-47, 50-53). Both developments created a sense of socio-economical equity with regard to the political rights of the polis.

It appears as if this cultural development is rooted in the founding mythology of the city-state. The city-state of Athens has a strong sense of national identity coupled with a sense of equality among the citizens of equal status (Athenian-born male landowners). It is speculated that this value of equality among Athenian men is what engendered the establishment of the first democracy. This sense of equality among Athenian men stems from a myth in which they are identified as having a common lineage with an early Athenian king, Erectheus, who was cared for by Athena (Mikalson, 58-59; Starr, 50-52).  The myth depicting the birth of the first Athenian king begins with an account of Hephaestus attempting to sexually force himself upon Athena. She halts this attempt, but Hephaestus does end up ejaculating on her thigh.  She wipes off the discharge and lets the semen fall on the ground, thereby creating Erectheus. Fulfilling her role as a protective figure, Athena watches over him until he ascends to the throne of Attica and institutes the worship of his protective surrogate mother (Gantz, 77; Graves 96-97). This myth rationalizes direct democracy through the concept of the divine right of kings, a premise based on the idea that authority and order are derived from divine will (Leonard & McClure, 192-193). Due to Athenians being decedents of the chosen king, they are all of equal status and all participated in running the government. This clearly illustrates how humans tend to utilize myths to justify governmental authority.

True to the depictions of Athena, the Athenians held wisdom and education in high esteem. Formal education was available in the polis; however, contrary to Athens’s lack of social stratification in politics, it seems as if it was a privilege of the wealthy. Formal Athenian education was diverse and included: poetry, music, rhetoric, physical training, grammar, didactic, writing, and logic.  All of this suggests a very holistic approach to the education of young affluent males. Formal higher education was available in the form of academies founded by philosophical thinkers such as Isocrates and Plato, which was a development that transpired around the 4th century in Athens. However, male children of lesser affluence were often taught to read at home due to the skill playing a vital role in citizenship (Starr, 44, 61-63; Webster, 59-63, 67).  Athenian males of voting status pursued knowledge in order to be competent participants in the political process, illustrating the value of knowledge (Beye, 113). It is quite evident that the form of democracy practiced in ancient Athens did have an influence on the Athenian values of education and knowledge because of the high degree of civic involvement. However, the city-state’s patron goddess’s influence cannot be ignored when examining this cultural value. Athena has been depicted in Greek mythology as being the divine manifestation of wisdom (Hamilton, 29).  This is shown in the myth of The Wooden Horse, in which Athena suggests using a wooden horse as an effective means of covertly sneaking troops into Troy, which proves to be a worthwhile strategy (Graves, 692, 696). Just as their patron deity inspired the proper application of knowledge, Athenians in the classical era used wisdom to stay informed, so they could govern themselves, instead of succumbing to the consequences of detrimental policies. The value of education is more directly influenced by mythology since Athena created many of the academic disciplines that existed.  She is known to be the deity that taught Prometheus math, astronomy, medicine, architecture, and other fields of study (Graves, 39).

Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012)- Part I

Photo by Hert Niks on Pexels.com

This upcoming series will feature segments of a paper I wrote while attending Bridgewater State University. My paper Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012) was composed for professor Dr. Michael Zimmerman’s course Anthropology 111-F01. Most of the papers I wrote in college might have been “well written”, but this is the only work I chose to hang on to for the past ten years. For me, accumulating sources and drafting this paper became something more than a mere school assignment; at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I was fighting for my soul. I attended this course my senior year to fulfill a university-mandated “writing intensive” requirement. However, this endeavor was far from mundane. After spending hours engaging with material that pushed me to question the interaction of religion, mythology, culture, and social institutions, but circuitously led me to look a little deeper inward to learn more about myself. Any dynamic thinker cannot help but examine their own beliefs and values when undergoing such a transcendent analysis. After all, culture is never neutral. The stories of our culture permeate into our subconscious without us even being fully cognizant of this occurrence. These commonly shared tales manifest themselves in everything from moral arguments to colloquial speech and are even referenced in popular entertainment.

This was a defining moment in my life; I was about to graduate and faced a hostile job market. This lingering confrontation with the uncertainty of my future career and life was extremely anxiety-inducing. Ancient myths convey lessons and observations that are still applicable in modern society. For example in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh’s struggles with life, legacy, and acceptance of death was not parochial concern isolated to the ancient Mesopotamians; but are concerns that are prevalent in modern societies today. Once an individual has this revelation, it is difficult to deny the logic behind Carl Jung’s theory of Collective Consciousness. I was a fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s work shortly before Jordan B. Peterson reignited interest in their intellectual contributions.

A decade has passed since I was at the crossroads of being a student and entering the workforce; I have done much self-reflection within these ten years. In retrospect, majoring in psychology was a horrible error in judgment on my part. I have also realized that the mythic hue of the proverbial “dream job”; is nothing more than a rose-tinted mirage. However, the specter of uncertainty still is omnipresent in my life; it will be a lifelong process to acquire the adequate skills to navigate these uncharted waters. Whether this context is impertinent or adds another level of depth to my analysis remains to be seen. I request all my readers to join me on this multipart series journey. I hope you all find this series to be illuminating and insightful. 

Peter Clark, Arizona

April 2022

Adam Smith’s Fallacy of Productive Labor

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

This concept has been submitted to the Journal of Brief Ideas.

https://beta.briefideas.org/ideas/f19f83884619d0642e5713c18c96fe88

Adam Smith’s Fallacy of Productive Labor

Adam Smith was the brilliant moral philosopher who dispelled us of the persistent myths of mercantilism. However, as prescient as Smith was, he was far from being above reproach. One example was his inability to solve the Diamond-Water Paradox. Smith being unable to explain the Diamond-Water Paradox was not his only shortcoming. In his economic treatise, The Wealth of Nations (Book II, Chapter III) (1776), Smith surmises that any work that does not result in producing tangible goods is unproductive labor.

Smith writes: “…The labor of some of the most respectable orders in society…unproductive of any value.. does not realize itself in any…vendible commodity..”(p.423). Smith was even bold enough to add lawyers and physicians to the list of unproductive contributors in the workforce. This mistake is a corollary of the labor theory of value, the same principle that hindered his ability to address the value paradox. The value of a product or service is not determined by the amount of labor required to produce it but by whether consumers value it. If consumers values an intangible service and firms can provide such services and yield profits, then whether the enterprise creates tangible goods is immaterial.

Focal Points- Part IV: Truth, The Ultimate Focal Point!

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

In-game theory, the concept of a focal point is a conceptual locus of convergence in the absence of pre-arranged communication. Generally, these mutually agreed-upon center points are culturally contingent. Although, there is one focal point that transcends culture and is arguably the ultimate point of unspoken convergence; that is truth. Some social commentators claim that truth is relative, quickly dispelling the argument that truth is a universal focal point. The facts are the facts. When something is axiomatically true, it is self-evident. To claim that truth is subjective is a puzzling assertion. We cannot simply deny the laws of mathematics, then suddenly, the rules governing the order of operations become invalid. The assumption of truth being subjective confuse methodology with results. Pluralism is valid so long as it reflects the truth. For example, there are multiple ways to solve an equation, but only one correct answer.

When people formulate rules, they must do so in a manner congruent with the immutable laws of the social and natural sciences. Otherwise, we will fall victim to the natural consequences of violating these eternal laws. Truth is such a magnetic focal point that it is inescapable. Sure, it is possible to contrive a convincing delusion, but while delusions may dissolve, the truth remains fixed. Regardless of whether we are truth-orientated immutable facts pull us in like the force of gravity bringing us back down to Earth. We can fight gravity; however, even when interpersonal communication is absent, any semi-rational person already knows that such resistance is inevitably futile.

Suicide as a Natural Right -Part IV (a): Social Capital

Photo by u0410u043bu0435u043au0441u0435u0439 u0412u0435u0447u0435u0440u0438u043d on Pexels.com

Following Dr. Block’s supposition that a person can commodify themselves and effectively sell or alienate themselves (p.6), we must address the issue of capital destruction. The economic costs go beyond losses in productivity but also have more subtle ramifications throughout the economy. The act of suicide destroys a person’s body; however, the intangible assets lost are arguably the most detrimental. Most notably, in the form of squandered human capital and social capital. While these forms of social capital are refutably mere constructs, they still seem to possess a priceless qualitative value. In the absence of the knowledge, credentials, and necessary social networks financial success is not possible. 

Commodifying these abstract concepts applies them to John Locke’s postulations regarding wasting resources (p.12). But if the value of commodities is subjective, we have to evaluate Locke’s assumptions regarding frivolous resource consumption. Furthermore, if we accept this notion of wasteful consumption, we must apply it to other areas of resource allocation. For example, investing too in production can be considered a wasteful form of resource allocation. Under Locke’s theory, if extrapolated, we should bar entrepreneurs from making overinvestments in their firms. Not only would such a law be unenforceable, but it also suffers from the Hayekian Pretense of Knowledge. Neither the businessman nor the lawmaker has access to perfect information. How would the lawmaker even know if a business owner engaged in malinvestment until the downstream effects have come to full fruition, paralleling the flaws of proactive legal sanctions? Entrepreneurial decision-making is enveloped in uncertainty. To quote the great Frank H.Knight:

It will appear that a measurable uncertainty, or “risk” proper, as we shall use the term, is so far different from an unmeasurable one that it is not in effect an uncertainty at all. We shall accordingly restrict the term “uncertainty” to cases of the non-quantitative type. It is this “true” uncertainty, and not risk, as has been argued, which forms the basis of a valid theory of profit and accounts for the divergence between actual and theoretical competition. (p.84)

To preemptively declare a form of capital use or manipulation as “…wasteful..” is fallacious. At best, we can attempt to use market signals as a guide for appropriately deploying capital. Whether an investment was prudent or foolish will only be known once the downstream consequences are evident. In this respect suicide is just a form of managing the “… social..” capital structure through the informal destruction (p.21) of such social assets. Allowing people to dispose of capital at their own free will allows for the unfettered restructuring [1] of productive activities utilizing human and social capital. Allowing the substitution or destruction of “..social..” inputs. 

Foot Notes:

  1. A reference to the Austrian Theory of Capital

Suicide as a Natural Right- Part III: The Externalities Argument

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Part I:

Part II:

Most legally mandated suicide prevention measures fixate on its impact on society. An individual assuming an externalities defense of the involuntary hospitalization of those with suicidal tendencies falls prey to a fallacy that all prohibitions of vices are subject to operating as a preemptive measure. Prompting the question, what is the committed offense outside of the state statutory code? What most Libertarians would refer to as victimless crimes. Enforcement of victimless crimes does not remedy the loss of property or harm to any non-consenting third parties. Rather, such laws have the unfortunate propensity of conflating potential consequences with actual damage done. Most arguments for maintaining the federal ban on illicit drugs emphasize prospective ramifications versus actual outcomes. Even drunk driving laws fail to meet the criteria for a violation of our private property rights. Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated only increases the odds of bodily harm and destruction of property, but it does not guarantee this consequence. 

US civil law no longer recognizes personal suicide attempts as a criminal offense. However, the criminality of physician-assisted suicide varies radically by state. Suicide is no longer a crime. Suicide prevention laws are completely constructionist inventions. More importantly, it also fails to fulfill the criterion for violating another person’s natural rights. Arizona has an involuntary commitment law codified under Title 36 of Arizona Revised Statutes. If there is no crime committed, can detention be perceived as lawful?

Such fits the definition legally sanctioned form of kidnapping. The basis of the logic of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments provides fodder. If it were not for Title 36, it would be considered unlawful confinement. The only rational inference is that these mandates are the illegitimate byproduct of legal positivism. The standpoint drove by a “moral” concern for potential externalities. Codifying morality is never a justifiable reason for exercising the authority of governing institutions!

Bodily Integrity Arguments and Misapplications

Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

People have the unfortunate tendency of favoring reasoning that is favorable to their preferences. Once an individual encounters the same logic applied to a position they disagree with, the application is assumed to be invalid. The abortion debate is no different in this respect. Pro-Choice advocates basing their stance on the logic of bodily integrity must be willing to extrapolate this same principle to other situations. Anything else would merely be convenient cherry-picking.

For example, advocating for choice regarding bodily integrity also applies to several other controversial topics. Such subject areas include drug use, the right to commit suicide, and objections to vaccine mandates, to name a few. Despite any Pro-Choice advocate’s misgivings about permitting the listed rights above to be consistent, they must begrudgingly accept that these are rights that cannot be prohibited by law. Any counterargument or suggestion to criminalize the above positions is a deviation from the logic of bodily integrity. Permitting an activity does not mean you believe it is moral. Moreover, this argument is predicated on an externalities argument; in a rash attempt to weigh the societal costs.

However, many Pro-Choice proponents may then surmise that individuals defending the decision to use drugs, commit suicide, and decline immunizations must accept abortion as a permissible procedure. Reverse application is not quite so linear and has several complications. Indeed, abortion presents a predicament for exponents of a Lockean conception of self-ownership. In one sense, abortion violates the Lockean notion of self-ownership. As Locke asserts that we cannot “… nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other… or take away the life or property of another..”(p.43)[1].

If we define the fetus as a living being, there is a conflict between the mother and the unborn child. Drug abuse, refusing immunization, and suicide confines direct bodily harm to the individual making the decision, thereby comporting with the tenants of the Non-Aggression Principle. Although, even in a legal sense, living children do not have rights[2] as they are under the guardianship of their parents. Also, if we truly own ourselves, can’t we choose which procedures we can have performed on our bodies? There is no easy solution to this complex and taxing quandary. 

Foot Notes:

1.) I omitted the portion of the quote regarding self-destruction. This portion of the doctrine is wholly illegitimate. If we own bodies, we have a right to dispose of ourselves; if God exists, he transferred our spirit to our corporal bodies. Through this transfer, God relinquishes ownership of our essence extending to us full possession of our bodies. Meaning we can maintain our physical bodies how we see fit, including but not limited to drug use and suicide.

2.) See Rothbard pages 97-113.

The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

The Paradox of Implicit Logrolling

The process of implicit logrolling (p.101) is a form of indirect vote-trading that heavily relies on the bundling of wedge issues. By way of tying specific groupings of policies and candidates to attract target demographics of voters. Per Buchanan and Tullock (1962), such arrangements encompassing political platforms can be manipulated by “…political entrepreneurs…”. Simultaneously considering the zealous nature of many single-issue voters, it is easy to see why implicit logrolling is such an effective mechanism in shaping the American political landscape. If the American voters continue to support controversial political positions, implicit logrolling will be effective.

Most analysts ignore how voters reconcile selecting programs and political candidates that hold logically inconsistent views. For example, an individual that defends abortion rights on the grounds of a bodily integrity argument concurrently favoring vaccine mandates. Whatever happened to “my body, my choice”? Although, if this individual held both positions on the grounds of an externalities argument, perhaps there might not be any logical discrepancies. However, few voters delve that deep into the logic of their political philosophies. Here lies the Paradox of Implicit Logrolling; political platforms drive voters to support policies they would not otherwise choose. We have most saliently observed this phenomenon in the demographic shifts within the Republican Party. The GOP was once favoring free trade, now advocates for tariffs.

Suicide as a Natural Right- Part II

Photo by Ryanniel Masucol on Pexels.com

Part I

The Lockean conception of shelf-ownership does not work if we cannot alienate self-hood. In the context of involuntary slavery, our absolute right (p.10) to self-possession is relinquished through coercive force [1]. The notion of natural rights almost always implies that the individual owns. For instance, the right of free speech codified under the First Amendment of the Constitution implies self-ownership. Individuals embroiled in political debate must utilize the very bodies they own and utilize scarce resources (p.2)to engage in the passionate exchange[2]. There is one glaring flaw that most ethical theorists get dead wrong about natural rights. Our negative rights that are part-and-parcel with our personhood may be self-evident, but they are certainly not inalienable. The American Declaration of Independence echoes this sentiment and forever cements it in the public consciousness: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The claim that these rights are unalienable does not connote ownership of these rights in any meaningful sense. By the inseparable nature of self-ownership and natural rights, we do not truly have unfettered possession of ourselves. The ability to alienate something is that can only be the consequence of ownership. True ownership implies that an individual can transfer, maintain, sell, deface, lease, destroy, etc. the article in question as they see fit. One of the strongest arguments for this radical interpretation of ownership comes from economist and Libertarian theorist Walter Block. Dr. Block writing “..No law should be enacted prohibiting or even limiting in any way people’s rights to alienate those things they own. This is “full monte” alienability, or commodification…” (p. 6) [3]. Block surmises that an unlimited condition of ownership naturally extends to the person, meaning that if an individual chooses to sell themselves into slavery this is legitimate. Unlike the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the individual being sold is consenting to the arrangement [4].

However, most, and moral theorists would suggest that natural rights, especially selfhood cannot be alienated or dispensed with. As our mind and body are typically inseparable; neither can be reallocated nor disposed of. This supposition suffers from an unfortunate fallacy because a person can voluntarily absolve their will and sentience. In the most extreme case, a person could give themselves a lobotomy effectively alienating their will and severing their mind from their corporal body (p.8) [5]. 

There are less extreme examples of people abstractly selling off natural rights in exchange for material gain. One only needs to look to employment contracts to see a ubiquitous example of this selective selling of rights. It is common for employers to include social media policies as a condition of employment. Effectively acting as a voluntarily acknowledged limit on free expression; a right codified under the First Amendment. Regardless of whether this restriction is a temporary sale of this right or permanent alienation it is a legitimate exchange. From the standpoint of Rothbardian contract law, this arrangement fulfills the criteria for an enforceable contract. Under this theory of contract law, the property must be exchanged for the contract to be binding, any other agreement is a mere promise (p.133-135). At the core of an employment contract or conditions of employment, the property is being exchanged. The employer is transferring compensation (monetary and additional benefits) to the employee. This exchange is contingent upon the employee following the company’s internal policies. Indirectly operating as a form of selling or “renting” natural rights in exchange for employment.

Selling property is merely one means of alienating property. Other more drastic measures can achieve this same outcome. The concept that an individual can condemn their property, mirroring the same privilege current held by various tiers of the U.S. government. The only difference is that when the state does it, they do so without the consent of the owner. Even when eminent domain is practiced within the parameters of the takings clause, however, the property owner generally does not have the right to refuse to surrender their property. Regardless of whether they are justly compensated for the relinquishment of their business, land, or home this arrangement is still inherently coercive. In stark contrast, if a property owner dedicates to transfer or otherwise condemn the land they own, this is legitimate. Effectively, suicide is an example of a person opting to condemn themselves. A person choosing to forever dispose of themselves permanently disables their ability to contribute to society; mimicking how governing institutions can decree that land or a build is no longer fit for occupation or commercial use. The state typically initiates such a directive in the context of habitation or use of the property would pose a “safety hazard”. However, a person contemplating “condemning” themselves does not need to fabricate such vague excuses. If they truly own their own body and mind, they do not have to provide any justification for performing such action. Unlike eminent domain, the individual can consent to the decision they have made. 

Most people might argue that allowing others to commit suicide with no mandated intervention would squander human lives [6]. Further supporting this statement by repeating tired platitudes about how it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. No doubt, suicide does come with a wide array of societal costs. The individual can never be replaced nor can their human capital because no two people have the same experiences. If we set aside the externalities of the act, there’s a deeper conflict at play. There’s a long tradition of property owners having the right to destroy what they own. The right to destroy one’s property has its roots in the doctrines of Roman and English Common law (p.8). Moreover, there is a long-standing tradition that arguably supersedes the concerns of modern environmentalists or other public interest initiatives. The concern for wasting resources was even voiced by John Locke back in the seventeenth century:

The same law of nature, which does by this means give us property, does also bound that property. God has given us all things richly, 1 Tim. vi. 12. is the voice of reason confirmed by inspiration. But how far has he given it to us? To enjoy. As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his Tabour fix a property in whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy. (p.12).

While Locke provides us with prudent advice regarding resource management, it is nevertheless, a suggestion. A just legal system would defend the property owners’ right to dispose of their property how they choose, even if it is considered wasteful. A legal system that has penalties or restrictions impeding the right to destroy one’s property, provides a perverted form of justice. Much like anything else a person owns, they should be able to “destroy” themselves. In a sense, we legally permit other more protracted forms of incremental suicide. For instance, currently, no laws are prohibiting the sale or consumption of sugar-saturated and chemical ladened soft drinks. Although cigarettes are highly taxed and regulated, we still live in a society where smoking is still legally tolerated. Both soda and cigarettes slowly kill the person ingesting either product; despite this fact, these products should remain legal. Following this same logic, if the person should be able to choose what they put into their body, they can choose to also ultimately dispose of their body.

Footnotes

[1]. The account of Slavery in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1690).

[2]. An allusion to  Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s theory of Argumentation Ethics.

[3]. In reference to Block’s postulations related to the possibility of voluntary Slavery.

[4]. How slavery was practiced in the United States was a reprehensible institution. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was incompatible with a property rights justification for self-ownership. 

[5]. An example Walter Block borrowed from legal theorist Stephan Kinsella.

[6]. The idea of wasting human life can be applied in an economic sense. The decreasing fertility rates in the Western world present challenges to the labor force and the tax pool. Especially, after all the Baby-boomers die.

Suicide as a Natural Right- Part I

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

The act of suicide is a serious matter that has a litany of inseparable moral, physiological, psychological, and societal considerations. Unanimously, the institutional consensus is that intervention is imperative in addressing the issue of suicide. Although little consideration is given to whether intervening in every alleged suicide attempt is ethical. In most cases, intervention entails involuntary commitment orders placed upon “suicidal” individuals. There is often a wide degree of digression allotted to mental health professionals in determining who is a danger to themselves. The nuances within these laws vary state by state. It should be noted the majority of states have involuntary commitment laws. As noted in a recent Supreme Court decision has indicated that the reasonableness for involuntary commitment under due process has already been established. Citing Addington v. Texas   , O’Connor v. Donaldson, and Foucha v. Louisiana. Do the despondent nature and impending bodily harm of a suicidal person warrant them being held against their will? Despite any ethical counterarguments, the law of the land indicates that such measures are justified.

All because a specific policy is codified in statutory law or is validated in case laws does not make it moral. Our law ought to reflect a sense of justice, however, this normative ideal is seldom achieved. Often many laws appear to be a capricious byproduct of overextended digression. If the Lockean proviso people do own themselves, at the very least involuntary commitment laws present a conflict between the legal statute and our natural right of self-ownership. From a Libertarian perspective, this is a right that should not be infringed upon. The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume wrote:

A man who retires from life does not harm society: he only ceases to do good, which, if it is an injury, is of the lowest kind. All our obligations to do good to society seem to imply something reciprocal. I receive the benefits of society, and therefore ought to promote its interests; but when I withdraw myself altogether from society, can I be bound any longer? But allowing that our obligations to do good were perpetual, they have certainly some bounds. I am not obliged to do a small well to society at the expense of great harm to myself. Why then should I prolong a miserable existence because of some frivolous advantage which the public may perhaps receive from me?

This short excerpt from the large corpus of Hume’s work encapsulates the issue with mandatory commitment laws; suicide presents little harm to society. In contrast, hold a man against his will for committing no crime would be quite damaging. It also should be noted that “suicide” across the board is not universally condemned, but is permissible based upon a qualifying context. For instance, some argue that elderly people suffering from chronic illness(es) have the right to end their own lives. Predicted upon the basis that they no longer owe anything else to society and are no longer a stakeholder. If membership to a community is voluntary, then withdrawal through either suicide or self-isolation should also be voluntary, making anything else coercion. The preference towards the norms of suicide towards the elderly and sick are also reflected in our laws.  As of 2019, eight states allow for physician-assisted suicide this privilege is only permitted for those suffering from a terminal illness. There are two interrelated flaws with the logic behind only allowing the terminally ill to have legal permission to end their own lives. The first concern is that this undermines the severity of mental illness. Through sanctioning such procedures to those suffering from physical illness, a double standard has been created. For years we have heard that mental illness is also an illness, however, mental health professions do not even vindicate their own words. These individuals are actively allowing for physical illness to hold a privileged legal status over mental illness. The second fallacy is that one of the prevalent arguments for intervention in suicide attempts is that the person’s thinking is impaired by psychological distress or intoxication. To allow the chronically ill to do the same is hypocritical under this very same line of logic. Those who are terminally are generally on psychoactive pain killers or are in intense pain. Couldn’t their capacity for reasoning be questionable at best under such debilitating conditions? If mental illness is an illness couldn’t it be terminal in its own right? These are two discrepancies that few pundits in civil society would have the courage to address honesty.

If we own ourselves, we have the implicit right to kill ourselves without any interference. That does not necessarily provide a moral justification for a suicide attempt but is moral condemnation obstruct this right. Analogous to how soliciting a prostitute may not necessarily be moral, but to utilize legal institutions to disrupt this exchange is unquestionably immoral. If under Arizona statute ARS 13-1304 sustains that holding a person against their will is illegal, then the same can be said about involuntary commitment. The difference is due to a pedantic technicality than a justifiable ethical argument.