Rights vs. Duties

(This is another draft from the past that just needed a little light cleanup before hitting “Publish.)

In a previous piece, A Fisking, a couple of commenters have taken exception or raised questions that ought to be addressed in depth. The first was “craig“:

‘Any “right” that demands that someone else provide a service, a material good, or any other thing of value is not a RIGHT.’

Whoa there.

We do use the word ‘right’ in two ways, but it’s not so clean as negative-rights good, positive-rights bad. The only rational basis for comprehending what we mostly understand intuitively lies in natural law, but natural law does include a few positive rights in addition to the obvious negative rights.

What John Locke described and Jefferson wrote into the Declaration are natural or ‘negative’ rights. These are rights (life, liberty, property) that automatically exist in a person unless they are negated (taken away) by some external force or impediment. They are inalienable in that they exist prior to any governments or laws; men are ‘endowed by their Creator’ with these rights, and so no government may, as a matter of justice, arbitrarily impede them.

The problem is that ‘positive’ rights (rights that impose a duty on another) do exist. The left has ruined our concept of them, starting with the Soviet propagandists who boasted about the Soviet ‘rights’ to employment, housing, etc., to distract from their obvious offenses against natural rights.

First and foremost, a child has the right to the care of both his father and his mother. To neglect the duty of caring for one’s offspring is to deprive him of justice. A child also has the rights to care, food, and shelter, as do his parents when they are old and unable to care for themselves. Without a natural-law understanding that the act of procreation also ‘endows’ certain duties upon persons, all basis for the law’s treatment of families (marriage, guardianship, inheritance, etc.) vanishes.

I responded:

Here we’re going to have to agree to disagree.  A parent has a duty to their minor children.  Adult children have a duty to their eldery parents.  I do not consider the imposition of these duties “rights.”  My definition of the word “right” is then narrower than yours.  “Duties” are not the reciprocal of “rights,” in my view.  I have a right to arms.  I do not have a duty to be armed.  I have a duty to care for my children and my parents.  They do not have a right to have access to my checking account.

To which “craig” replied:

OK, I’ll agree with that take, if you can tell me where duties come from.

A Catholic Christian can say that rights and duties alike are corollary attributes of the God-given dignity intrinsic to humans as beings made in His image (i.e., with free will, rationality, and conscience).  So I’m comfortable speaking of duties.  But in the absence of some philosophically rigorous basis, it’s hard to claim that there are intrinsic duties upon any person.  Sure, care for offspring is in our DNA, but it’s also in animals’ DNA and yet many of them abandon or even eat their young.  If the adult animal survives to reproduce another day, it’s all the same to natural selection.  We don’t treat animals as moral agents in this case; what causes us to treat humans as such?

Classical philosophy considers justice as the condition of one’s having what is rightfully his.  But reciprocity between rights and duties has to be limited:  only when another’s acts leave you incapable of exercising your natural right, do they implicitly assume a proportional duty to aid.  This is nothing more than restoring what rightfully belonged to another, and such is just and is consistent with centuries of common law.  He who breaks, buys.  He who procreates assumes a duty to care for offspring.  He who impedes your right to self-defense in a particular place implicitly assumes a duty to defend you.

If you don’t have at least this level of correspondence between right and duty, then it must follow that a declaration (as QuadGMoto argues above) that the incapable have no right to food, only need, means that by that same declaration it cannot be unjust to let Granny starve.

Good discussion.

Yes it is.

Andrew MacDougal also asks:

What about the 5th amendment right, “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Providing just compensation seems to require somebody else do something.

What about the 5th amendment right “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” In the same way a trial requires all sorts of work by paid professionals plus a jury donating their time, so a ‘right’ to health care requires other people to work.

Pressed for time even then, I deferred to my readers to reply, and one Chris Gerard stepped up:

I would posit that it is different, and I’ll address the two points separately.

First, with regard to private property, you can’t only talk about the part where just compensation occurs. The absolute most important part of that clause, in my opinion, is the part where the government is taking your property away from you. Furthermore, that taking is happening whether you want to allow it or not, and will be done – as with so many other government actions – with armed agents of the government standing by if need be. Just compensation isn’t just requiring someone else to do something; here, it’s saying that the .gov is going to take your private property if need be, but they have to compensate you justly for doing so.

The second part of 5A that you mention, on the other hand, is a very “um… lemme think about that for a minute” kind of argument. Again, though, I have to begin with the part where the accused is facing a government that’s here to do some taking (likely why these two clauses are in the same Amendment. Neat, ain’t it?). In this case, we’re talking about taking your money (fines), freedom (imprisonment), or life (death penalty). That’s a Big Damned Deal, and requires as it should a whole big lot of folks to make damn sure that the .gov, on behalf of the people, has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt the necessity of removing your money, freedom, or life.

While there is a glowing similarity to the healthcare argument, it’s still apples and oranges once you take away the government force. When it comes to getting treated at a hospital, sure it can be life-or-death, and yes, that makes the situation arguably every bit as important as a trial – if not more so – but we’re not talking about a situation where the hospital administrators are taking away health you already had. And that makes it very, very different.

The next day I received an email from retired blogger Publicola, which I turned into its own post, More on Rights, which was his exploration of individual rights as property rights. I can’t say I disagreed with any of it.

But now it’s my turn, as promised.

As I have noted previously in the “Rights” essays linked over on the left sidebar, I am convinced that Ayn Rand was correct in that there is only one fundamental right – the right to one’s own life – and that all other rights are corollaries of that fundamental.  I believe that John Locke’s “Life, Liberty, Property” list of fundamental rights are such corollaries.  I also believe that Rand was accurate when she defined any right as “a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.”  So let me address craig’s question concerning the source of duty.  Let me quote Heinlein:

Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.

Duty is voluntary. It is not imposed by outside forces – thus there is no such thing as (for instance) “obligatory charity” – the term is null.  Self-respect is a function of education and of culture.  What one would never imagine doing in ones own culture has throughout history been done to other cultures without a second thought.  Remember Rand’s “moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.”  If that social context changes, then the actions that are sanctioned also can change, based on cultures.

Bear in mind, I’m not saying this is philosophically correct, I’m saying this is how it has worked throughout history.

More on Rights

Former blogger Publicola dropped me an email this morning which I will reproduce here in its entirety (minus postscripts):

Hope you’re doing well. I’ll omit the small talk as this has the potential to be lengthy enough (though don’t take it as I’m not interested in what you’ve been up to, how things have been – etc. I is, I just know you probably don’t have loads of time, or perhaps even time to load).

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together over the millennia decades…

Natural Rights (God Given, Vishnu Given, etc…) are simply Property Rights. They’re existence is akin to the laws of gravity – they’re there and constant you just have to figure out how to define them – after you discover they exists. But unlike Newton’s laws, Property Rights are only applicable when dealing with other humans (or sentient, sapient beings in case E.T. ever drops by).

When you’re typing out a few paragraphs or an article for submission to a magazine, Newton’s laws are irrelevant. When figuring out where to place a semi-colon you don’t refer to the rate of speed of a freefalling object; it simply does not matter. Similarly grammatical rules won’t gain you a foot of altitude if you’re flying a plane sans an engine. Well, Property Rights, that is to say Natural Rights, are like that. They’re not in place so we can write better structured essays, or keep a plane gliding to a relatively safe landing – they exist solely as a way out of the Hobbesian eternal perpetual war-against-all that mankind would otherwise succumb to. A mountain slides down on ya, Tort law won’t help you recover damages, neither will an appeal to Natural Law prevent said landslide from giving one a vigorous full-body deep tissue massage. Heinlein’s old allegory about there being no Right to life because the sea can drown you without recourse is misplaced – like saying there’s no such thing as lift since it won’t prevent you from having a triple run on sentence.

What they will do, and were designed to do, is give an individual an opportunity to become more than a mere sustenance farmer, or hunter-gatherer (though I always thought hunter-gatherers were under-rated – hunting and fishing all day? Every day? Sounds better than a cubicle migration lifestyle to me – though coming by hushpuppies or what y’all call sweet tea would be tricky). In theory, and as much as its been tried in practice, the more a culture (society, civilization, etc..) respects Property Rights the more prosperous the individuals in that society can be, hence the more prosperous that society can be.

America is a good example. We’ve never been perfect, and I’ll bitch and rant for eons about how a lot of things are unjust and immoral here, but relatively no country on earth has had a wider or more prolonged respect for Property Rights (though that’s winding down as we type). The 19th century, and early 20th century weren’t ideal, but the rate of growth, expansion and our ascendance as a world power can be viewed as a consequence of relatively broad respect for property rights. We had the freedom to build railroads, so we did. (of course by “we” I don’t mean the feds). With those railroads we had the ability to pursue commerce on a scale never really done before. But as important as the speed of rail, we had the freedom to engage in commerce without the fear of the feds “nationalizing” our sugar beet farms, or “appropriating” our grazing land to set up wind farms.

Other nations did well to varying degrees in the same time period. But not to the extent we did. Certainly not with the longevity we did. Even with the steady encroachment on Property Rights that the feds undertook in the beginning of the 20th century (which sadly continues today) we had enough of them there Property Rights to keep us afloat despite the infringement of same.

So that “American Exceptionalism” that everyone keeps whispering about wasn’t because of some genetic trait or DNA strand that we all just had – it was simply that the government A: afforded some protection of Property Rights (actually a great deal compared with the rest of the world) and B: largely kept off our backs. Again it’s relative and by no means was it ever laissez faire or perfect, but for the most part governments had a 3 martini lunch (as opposed to now where governments seem to be alumni of Betty Ford).

But what specifically are Property Rights? Locke had it – at least the beginnings of it – and also unknowingly began to answer the query “What is morality?”

Property begins with your self. Your mind and body are yours and no one else’s. You can rent them out, but you can never actually transfer ownership – not while living at least. Through force you can be enslaved (so long as you value life above freedom at least) but this is not natural – it’s a perversion (much like N’Sync).   Like any Natural law (Newtonian Gravity, Relativity, that one about not swimming 30 minutes after you eat, etc.) they can be physically violated but not without consequence. When you try to break any part of the law of Gravity the consequences are usually immediate. With Natural Law it’s more a delayed comeuppance. But Natural laws were meant to have a long term effect (think decades), whereas Gravity has a short term (though constant) effect (think seconds – very scary seconds).

So you own your body and your mind and they’re non-transferable. That means you also own the products of your body and mind; your thoughts, ideas, actions all belong to you. Those however you can rent out and in some cases sell outright. But here’s the thing – it has to be consensual. At this point The Right to Contract kicks in.

The Right to Contract is a necessary derivative of Property Rights. In essence it just holds that you can exchange anything you possess (except your mind & body) for anything you wish to possess as long as both parties freely agree to such trade.

As an aside there, are four ways in which humans interact with each other to exchange goods and/or services; Trade, Manipulation (which would include fraud and deceit) Coercion and Force. The last 3 are, to use the technical term, bad. They’re bad because they violate that whole Contract law thingy, and pragmatically they have less than cool consequences for all concerned somewhere down the road. Without some means of arbitration, such as a tort system centered on Contract Law and Property Rights, the latter 3 are the most convenient means of exchange, and severely stunt any society’s growth, unless you think a feudal-esque system or warlords or Mafioso are somehow growth.

In any event, you own your labor and your creativity, but you can exchange those for other goods or services through Contract.  What you receive in exchange for your creativity and/or labor becomes your Property just as surely as your labor and creativity were your Property. No one can justly or morally take them away from you, though they can be taken unjustly or immorally. Remember, Property Rights are Natural Laws but not Physical Laws. Violating them has negative consequences but not necessarily immediate consequences.

Here’s where you and to some extent I spent our focus for so long (at least when I was writing). It is essential as well as a natural offshoot of Property Rights to be able to protect said property from unjust taking. In other words, this is where Self-Defense comes into play.  Also this is where owning property appropriate for Self Defense emerges.  After all, what security does one have in Property Rights if the thief or thug or congressman (but I repeat myself) can walk in unmolested and waltz out with your property that you acquired through an exchange of your labor and/or creativity?

By most accounts we’re a heavily armed society. It’s arguable that we have the most liberal self defense laws of any developed nation. That means we have the strongest protection of Property Rights of any nation extant. It’s not as strong as I’d prefer, but that relative thing puts us miles above damn near anywhere else on the whole.

Now this is not to say that societies that do not value Property Rights cannot be prosperous to some extent. It’s just that such prosperity will be short lived (and in societies short lived isn’t a matter of years, more like decades or centuries).

So Ownership of Self, Contract and Defense comprise the three tenets of Property Rights. You’ll note (cause I know you’re sharp like that) that the consensual nature of Contract (under a properly viewed Property Rights system) negates “free health care” or “free widescreen TVs.” In fact looking at this thing like it should be looked at (that is to say, not making exceptions for every whim 51% of the people want) a correct view of Property Rights would hold that permits for individual activity, income taxes, value added taxes, estate taxes (in fact all but the most modest of sales taxes, and even those are iffy), subsidized anything (Social Security, Medicaid, Obamacare, Educational Grants, etc) mandates (Obamacare, conscription, servitude, slavery) are not just bad ideas for long term growth, but immoral.

Touching on morality, that too centers around Property Rights. If it violates Property Rights it’s immoral. If it sustains Property Rights it’s moral. Everything else is amoral, as morals should be based on consensual activity as no other objective standard, including religious or social mores, can consistently define what and why moral activity is or isn’t.

But because of the limiting nature of Property Rights when it comes to collective action there’s more of a chance that a boy band will end up in Valhalla than a government of any longevity will keep its Mitts (or Mitt depending on the outcome of that lever pulling fiasco in November) off of Property Rights. It simply limits collective power too much, and all politicians (or at least the overwhelming majority) crave power above all else.

Blame Rousseau and the Pragmatists. Yes, no Right can be respected to any meaningful degree if a majority disregards it. Or as has been said a Right is simply what a majority says it is. Pragmatically at least.

Some time back our military thought it should officially frown upon smoking whilst in flight. So they stopped designing aircraft with cigarette lighters in them. Instead what occupied that little slot was called a “spot heater.” As you probably guessed, the “spot heater” had an uncanny resemblance to the cigarette lighter of olden days. In fact it functioned in an exactly identical manner.  Lo and behold our service men did not use it to heat Spot (dogs being cumbersome in a cockpit and all), but to light cigarettes and even cigars. But everyone called it a “spot heater.”

Similarly calling health care a Right does not make it so. It’s just a more polite name for “medical slavery.”  That is the flaw of Rousseau and the Pragmatists; they feel that by using force (a majority vote is simply authorization to use force to impose the majority’s will) and words which do not mean what they think they mean they can create Rights. But this is fallacy, and the consequences, though not immediate, are dire.

A Right can be reasoned, not as a whim of an electorate, but as a principle upon which something else depends. With Property Rights, their purpose is to enable an individual, and thereby a society, to develop in the best way possible. Take them away completely and you’ll perhaps see how I define “best way possible.”

If you did not have ownership of what you traded your labor and creativity for, if anyone or specific someones could stroll in and remove your DVD player consequence free, then who would bother designing let alone marketing an iPod? A person would put forth just enough effort to exist and a little extra, but why bust your ass when it profits someone else but not yourself?

Rousseau, Marx & Engels, Keynes – they all form a line in which Property Rights are disregarded or in some cases outright negated. The results of their philosophy are all around us.  While temporary prosperity may be argued for some tenets of their faith, overall and in the long run the consequences of their actions catch up to them, and getting spanked is inevitable.

That’s probably enough rambling and hopefully you see my points. But at this stage if you do agree with my reasoning and hold that Property Rights, as I inadequately explained them, are the most important basis of any society that deigns to be free, you’ll feel that pang that a person feels when he realizes four months later that the night he was drinking beer with the prettiest girl he ever saw he could have said one or two things differently and she’d have fallen for him instead of hooking up with that jerk who picked on you in High School cause you had better grades and less detentions than he did.

In other words I think the only thing that can turn this country around now is to have a strong reinforcement of existing Property Rights by the government (at sword point if necessary) along with an expansion of, or more correctly an acknowledgement of and respect for, what Property Rights truly are. Those odds are about as good as Thor patting Ricky Martin on the back and saying “Well met, hale fellow; we’ve awaited thee.

Cheery thoughts, aren’t they?

You know, sometimes this blogging thing is no effort at all….

Sometimes I Wish I Drank

As Tam said, “Et tu, Clarence?”  The Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision basically rubberstamped the Indiana Supreme Court’s Barnes v. Indiana decision, further eviscerating the 4th Amendment’s guarantee of the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects in the name of the War on (Some) Drugs™.

And I find that I am in complete agreement with Justice Ginsberg:

The Court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases.

I’d expect this of Clarence Thomas, not Ginsburg.

I feel a strong urge to get completely drunk and take a long, very hot shower.

This I Believe

(At last, the long-promised Überpost!)

Last year I wrote some more posts in my ongoing series on the topic of the British gun control experience. It would be misleading to call these particular posts a “debate” as no actual exchange on the topic took place, but there was another party involved: James Kelly of the blog Scot goes Pop. If you’re new to this, or you need to get up to speed, it started with a blog post (no longer available) over at Rachel Lucas’ place. Rachel, a Texan, recently moved to London because her significant other had transferred there on business. Rachel kept reading stories in the media there about people being attacked and sometimes killed, and could not understand the British attitude that supports universal victim disarmament. The comment thread to that post was quite long, and one commenter – James – was willing to engage the rest of us in defense (no pun intended) of that disarmament.

I can’t link to everyone else’s posts, but I can link to mine and James’ to this point if you’d like to get caught up:

James: Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be George Foulkes…

Me: Violent & Predatory vs. Violent but Protective

James: The only freedom I’ll ever understand

My response to that last: Of That, I Have No Doubt

I followed on a few weeks later with Cultures: Compare and Contrast, a piece apparently too much for James’ brain as he declared it “incomprehensible, logic-bending, pseudo-scientific ‘analysis’” in his counterpiece, Culture : the root cause of voodoo statistics and the sudden urge to write 10,000 word dissertations?

James has posted a few more times since then, but these posts cover the majority of the topic.

In the comments to The only freedom I’ll ever understand, however, James wrote this:

The difference in this debate is that I have been arguing on the basis of what I believe to be true, and doing my best to explain why I believe it. Kevin, by way of contrast, claims to be able to literally ‘prove’ his case beyond any doubt whatsoever by recourse to detailed statistical data.

Not exactly. The difference is, I believe that statistics can disprove one philosophy, but not the other. James seems to think so, too, because in one of his later posts, he asks for statistical proofs! However, I did state in my invitation to debate that this was about the philosophies.

And I think James has a point: There’s a time to do extensive research, footnotes and statistical analysis, and there’s a time to expound on philosophy. I’ve started and restarted and re-restarted this essay about a dozen times now, wanting to get it right. This time I just may get it.

Back in the 1950’s, there was a radio show called This I Believe. NPR picked up on the idea decades later:

During its four-year run on NPR, This I Believe engaged listeners in a discussion of the core beliefs that guide their daily lives.

This blog has been a seven-year exploration of the core beliefs that guide my daily life, and I think this is the appropriate place to drop the statistics for a change and declare “This I Believe.”


I believe that most human beings are born morally neutral and develop their personal ethics, their moral code, from the culture they mature in. This is not, however, universal. There really are those people who, for whatever reason, end up at the outer edges of the bell curve regardless of culture. Those who populate the extremes are – by definition – extremely rare, but those one or two standard deviations off of average are – also by definition – not. The extremes may be due to genetic flaws or brain damage or abuse or who knows what, but the ones a standard deviation or two off of norm for any major culture are generally part of a sub-culture.

However, under the veneer of culturally-inculcated morality, most human beings remain morally neutral. Many can (and do) abandon what their culture teaches them in times of stress or moments of opportunity. The atrocities of history teach us this, if we’re willing to face up to it. As I have written previously:

Never again” is the motto of the modern Jew, and many others just as dedicated. But “again and again and again” seems to be the rebuke of history.

Despite this part of humanity’s history, the record also shows us that mankind is capable of feats of greatness. Further, human societies – and even individuals – are capable of both at the same time.

By holding these beliefs, I am a believer in the “Tragic Vision” of humanity, and all that belief entails.

I believe, in agreement with Ayn Rand, in one fundamental human right: the right to ones own life, and that all other “rights of man” are its consequences or corollaries.

I believe that John Locke was correct when he named three corollaries of that right as “life, liberty, and property,” and that Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant rhetorician when he substituted “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

And I believe that any purported “right” that demands something of another is no right at all.

I believe that I am not responsible for the acts of others except where I directly induce or coerce those actions, nor are other people responsible for my acts except where they as individuals have induced or coerced me.

I believe that I am not responsible for your safety. The police are not responsible for your safety. That’s your job. You have no “right to feel safe.” Such a right would put an obligation upon others that cannot be fulfilled. You have a duty (should you choose to accept it) to protect yourself and a duty to help protect the society in which you live, but those duties carry with them a certain amount of unavoidable risk. Dealing with risk is one thing adults do.

I have stated previously:

I believe that there are three things crucial to the rise of individual freedom: The ability to reason, the free exchange of ideas, and the ability to defend one’s person and property. The ability to reason and the free exchange of ideas will lead to the concept of individual liberty, but it requires the individual ability to defend one’s person and property to protect that liberty. The ability to reason exists, to some extent, in all people. (The severely mentally retarded and those who have suffered significant permanent brain injury are not, and in truth can never be truly “free” as they will be significantly dependent on others for their care and protection.) The free exchange of ideas is greatly dependent on the technologies of communication. The ability to defend your person and property – the ability to defend your right to your own life – is dependent on the technologies of individual force.

From this observation grows my belief that Mao was right when he observed that “all political power grows from the barrel of a gun,” but I take a different lesson from this than he attempted to teach: I believe that if individual rights are to be protected, whether from individuals with criminal intent, or governments with tyrannical or even beneficent intent, enough individuals in a free society must possess weapons and the willingness to use them to say “NO!” and make it hurt if and when necessary. Done properly, the mere threat is deterrence enough.

I believe author Robert Heinlein was right when he wrote:

Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

I believe that the purpose of government should be the protection of the rights of the individual, but it very seldom is and never stays that way. I believe Thomas Paine was correct when he wrote in Common Sense:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer!

I believe that, as members of a society founded on the concept of defending the rights of individuals, we yield certain rights that are unquestionably ours “in a state of nature,” but the right of self-defense isn’t among them. Self-defense and the tools of that defense are, as Oleg Volk points out, a human right – another corollary of the right to ones own life. I believe that instead of yielding our right to self-defense to the State, we extend to the State the power necessary to assist in our defense, while recognizing the State’s inherent limitations in exercising that power. Again, in belonging to a society that defends our individual rights, the corresponding individual duties that go with those rights expands to include the protection of the society in which we live, best expressed by Sir Robert Peel’s Seventh Principle of Modern Policing:

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Incumbent or not, however, I believe that duty must be voluntarily accepted, and cannot be forced on any individual.

I believe the gun isn’t necessarily civilization, but it is most definitely responsible for the existence of modern democracy.

I believe that our ancestors in Britain once properly understood this, having learned it as the yeomanry with their longbows, for it was they who first codified this knowledge into law.

I believe they have since lost this understanding.

I believe 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski was right when he wrote:

The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

I believe the Geek with a .45 was dead-on right when he said:

In a truly civil society peopled primarily by enlightened, sober individuals, the carriage of arms might be deemed gratuitous, but it is nonetheless harmless. In a society that measures up to anything less than that, the option to carry arms is a necessity.

It’s a cultural thing.

While nearly everyone is capable of reason, not all utilize their full capacity for it. When all of this started, James characterized his culture this way:

. . . Rachel Lucas’ bafflement in encountering a society where it’s not simply the case that ordinary citizens are legally thwarted from owning guns for self-defence purposes – for the most part they simply have no wish to do so. After all, she comes from a society where it’s taken as a given that people will be constantly aware of potential threats against them and will want to directly protect themselves against those threats, in many cases by owning and even carrying a gun. But upon arrival in Britain, she cites examples where innocent people have been attacked and have been unable to adequately defend themselves. Isn’t it obvious, she asks, that these individuals would have been more likely to survive if they’d had a gun handy? On the face of it, the answer can only be yes. So haven’t other people in the society around them heard about these attacks, haven’t they read the newspapers, haven’t they seen the photographs? Yes they have. So don’t they want to possess a gun to lessen the risk of the same fate befalling them? On the whole, no they don’t. Utterly inexplicable.

As I recall, Rachel was noting that the comments to the original story reflected a significant loathing of the concept of having a firearm or other weapon for personal defense by the majority of commenters. Not only did many commenters not want weapons for themselves, they were fully supportive of the laws that prevent anyone from being legally armed in their own defense, and yes, to most Americans (especially most Texans) that’s, well, “baffling” is an understatement.

That comment thread ran to nearly 300 posts if I recall correctly, and the lone voice in defense of the UK’s victim disarmament policy was James. He took a lot of abuse. He was at the same time both a stereotypical representative of his side of the argument and a unique one. His arguments were stereotypical, but he remained engaged. He did not take his ball and leave, and he did not descend into insult. (At least not unsubtle, deliberate, blatant insult. Much.)

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for many arguing my side, though I’m used to that.

James eventually got around to posting about his experience at his own blog, and there I invited him to debate the topic. James was reluctant, at one point saying:

. . . the cultural differences on the gun issue are massive and probably unbridgeable. We’re barely even speaking the same language on the topic.

As once observed by someone, we’re two nations divided by a common language. More than that, we don’t think the same way. (Culture, again.) We use the same words but those words too often have entirely different meanings. And we absolutely do not see the same reality around us. He eventually accepted my invitation, but on reflection I think that neither one of us received what we expected, though we each struggled mightily to fit the other into the boxes we’d mentally constructed.

For me, it seemed just another experience in “Deja moo”: I’d heard this bullshit before. And it was, for me, such obvious bullshit that doubtless James had to understand it, and was therefore being disingenuous.

But no, he was perfectly serious. He had earlier written (and I had dismissed):

Even as I speak, other posters on the blog are busy archly agreeing with each other that I am ‘dishonest’ and comparing notes about exactly what point in the discussion they had first realised I wasn’t ‘arguing in good faith’. One of the posters even noted Ms Lucas’ patience for allowing the discussion to go on – the implication being that my ‘behaviour’ was so beyond the pale that she had been extremely generous in even permitting me to have my voice heard. Since I was, in fact, being very honest and arguing from deeply-held principles throughout this is obviously rather hard to swallow . . . .

At one stage I tried to introduce an alternative concept of personal liberty (one, which as it happens, I genuinely and passionately believe in) that doesn’t define itself so narrowly as being entirely dependent on the capacity to defend yourself with a gun – that, it was immediately pointed out to me, was a “bridge too far”.

The sometimes bemused, sometimes angry ‘does not compute’ reaction I stirred up was so intense that I began to realise that the posters on that blog simply have very little exposure to the type of arguments I was – for the most part in a fairly restrained manner – putting forward, even though millions of people in their own country (let alone beyond their shores) would broadly agree with me.

What I should have understood from this is that he’d had very little exposure to the pro-gun side of the argument, and couldn’t accept that we were sincere. Instead, I took him as just another of the people I had been arguing with for nearly a decade.

That “bridge too far” James referred to? It was this:

I think this is another crucial aspect of the cultural difference between the US and countries like Britain with strict gun controls. You see, I believe in liberty as well – and the cornerstone of that is the freedom to live and the freedom from fear. Freedom that can only be safeguarded by a gun in my hand and the sharpness of my physical reflexes is a very poor quality, one-dimensional freedom. The widespread possession of deadly weapons by others is therefore a severe infringement of my personal liberty. And, yes, I am being utterly serious.

(My emphasis.) And it’s not just firearms that infringe on his “freedom from fear”:

I’m one of those idiots who think we’d all be a lot safer without so many knives around. And it seems the police in the UK (not a bunch of woolly liberals on the whole) agree with me, as they’ve fairly regularly held knife amnesties with the intention of making the streets safer.

At the end of the day, it’s a legitimate philosophical difference – am I safer with there being far fewer guns around to shoot me with, or is the proliferation of guns a price worth paying as long as one of those guns is in my hand and I’m trained to use it? I prefer the former option, and I suspect I always will.

As I have noted, I’ve started and restarted this essay probably a half-dozen times, because as I want to get it right. I understand, even more deeply than I did before, that James is not reachable. He has “reasoned” as far as he’s going to, his conclusions are intractable, and all evidence (voodoo statistics) will be dismissed or massaged to fit his worldview.

Nate of Guns and Bullets wrote a post on this topic, and in the comments to one of my posts (gone for the moment thanks to Echo), Nate said:

Accepting that the underpinnings of a deeply-held political position are complete bunk is not an easy thing for most people to do, and again, this is why Kevin is wise to point out that he’s not trying to convert James.

No, he’s trying to convert me. And it worked; two years ago when I was just beginning to learn about guns, stumbling on this site was enormously helpful in learning the nitty-gritty specific facts of how and why each gun control policy and law was ineffective and counter-productive.

So keep it up, Kevin. Use the facts and kill ’em with kindness.

I shall. That is what I try to do here.

Nate stated in his piece:

(T)his debate isn’t really about guns; it’s about what kind of society we want to live in; one where we’re responsible for ourselves, or everyone around us.

James was being honest when he repeatedly said that statistics wouldn’t faze him. Because the truth is, when it comes to conflicts of visions like individualism vs collectivism, it’s not about the facts. Each of us arrive at our conclusions due to intensely personal and emotional events, and we only later dig up facts to support our views.

Mr. Kelly is convinced that only by disarming his neighbors can society enhance its collective “freedom from fear,” and any attempt to illustrate to him that his simple and obvious solution is wrong is an exercise in “voodoo statistics” or is “incomprehensible.” It has to be, because to acknowledge a flaw in one’s basic philosophical premise means questioning the entire philosophy. As Nate noted, few people can do that.

Mr. Kelly epitomizes what Thomas Sowell describes in his book A Conflict of Visions as a believer in the “unconstrained vision.” Like William Godwin, Mr. Kelly’s worldview tells him that people are (or should be) perfectible, and that the intention to benefit others is “the essence of virtue,” regardless of the actual outcomes of ones actions. As Sowell illustrated, followers of the “unconstrained vision” believe that there is a solution to every problem if we just put our intellects to it. To once again quote:

In the unconstrained vision where the crucial factors in promoting the general good are sincerity and articulated knowledge and reason, the dominant influence in society should be that of those who are best in these regards. Whether specific discretion is exercised at the individual level or in the national or international collectivity is largely a question then as to how effectively the sincerity, knowledge, and reason of the most advanced in those regards influence the exercise of discretionary decision-making.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. Kelly sees himself as one of those “most advanced” in knowledge, sincerity, and reasonableness. In short, his position is morally superior to that of those insisting on retaining a right to what he describes as “luxury items.”

Let’s spend a bit of time exploring Mr. Kelly’s worldview and self-image to further illustrate this. Bear with me, it’s not a frivolous exercise.

First, James is a member (or at least supporter) of the Scottish National Party, described by Wikipedia as “in the mainstream social democratic mould” in nature, “center left,” and “(A)mong its policies are a commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, progressive personal taxation and the eradication of poverty, free state education including support grants for higher education students . . . and is against membership in NATO.” Second, James is an ardent opponent of the death penalty. In fact,  James claims:

In terms of issues which I could have imagined myself getting into conflict with American right-wingers over, the death penalty would have come top of the list by some distance. That is a subject I feel extremely passionately about and always have done. Indeed, I’m entitled to a vote in American federal elections and I always go out of my way to vote for candidates who are opposed to the death penalty (which led me, against almost every instinct in my body, to vote for Ralph Nader ahead of Barack Obama).

Oh, how he suffers for his beliefs, but his sincerity is unquestionable!

I’m only speculating on this point, but I somehow doubt that his argument against capital punishment has anything to do with the fact that governments use such power badly, and thus shouldn’t have this particular one. No, I get the feeling it’s a “sanctity of life” issue with James, or a “poor, misunderstood criminal” thing. In fact, let’s look at Thomas Sowell on the topic of those of the unconstrained vision’s understanding of crime:

The underlying causes of crime have been a major preoccupation of those with the unconstrained vision of human nature. But those with the constrained vision generally do not look for any special causes of crime, any more than they look for special causes of war. For those with the constrained vision, people commit crimes because they are people — because they put their own interests or egos above the interests, feelings, or lives of others. Believers in the constrained vision emphasize social contrivances to prevent crime or punishment to deter it. But to the believer in the unconstrained vision, it is hard to understand how anyone would commit a terrible crime without some special cause at work, if only blindness.

Within this vision, people are forced to commit crimes by special reasons, whether social or psychiatric. Reducing those special reasons (poverty, discrimination, unemployment, mental illness, etc.) is therefore the way to reduce crime.

The unconstrained vision sees human nature as itself adverse to crime, and society as undermining this natural aversion through its own injustices, insensitivities, and brutality.

And James’ own words:

Scotland does have a huge knife violence problem. I’d have to disagree with you, though – part of the solution is to get as many knives as possible off the streets (and from what I can gather, that’s a crucial part of the police strategy). But there are all sorts of other sides to the equation as well – the biggest thing that would help would be the alleviation of poverty, although of course there are sharply differing views about how that might be best achieved.


My own view (and note that I don’t claim to be able to prove it) is that Brazil and Mexico are not more like the UK largely for one very simple reason – a greater rate of poverty.


Carnaby : With the conclusion that we ought to increase the restrictions on legally owned firearms. Well, given that logic, how do we solve the following problem here in the USA: you’re (anyone) far, far more likely to be shot in the US by a black person than a white person. Furthermore, you are far, far more likely to be shot by a black person using an “illegal” gun than anyone using a “legal” gun. Your solution, James?

A massive policy effort to raise the educational and living standards for black people up to the national average, and then the differential will disappear over time. Unless you’re about to tell me that black people are somehow innately more prone to violence. Of course, rational gun control laws would reduce the problem in itself, without the slightest need for racial discrimination in its implementation.

Like gun bans, it’s blindingly obvious to James that poverty is the driving force behind crime, everywhere. He might want to talk to Richard Cohen about that. We’ve had a decades-long “massive policy effort” the intent of which was to “raise the educational and living standards for black people up to the national average.” Like gun control, it has failed utterly at its stated goals. The actual outcome has been a larger population living in poverty than we started with, and a poverty rate that’s just about flat. Among that population are more broken homes, more fatherless children and a homicide rate six times greater than that of the rest of the American population.

But correlation isn’t causation, and its implementers meant well and that’s what really matters. And if they failed, it wasn’t because the philosophy was wrong . . .

To go even further, that his is the obviously morally superior position is illustrated by this excerpt:

…people will construct the most astonishingly complex defensive arguments just to avoid having to let go of their familiar certainties, whether those certainties be that cruelty to animals can always be justified because life wouldn’t be so easy without it, or that wealth inequality is justified by differential intelligence, or that there was no immorality in the mass slaughter of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (because it was the US that dropped the bombs, and the US doesn’t do genocide). The more well-rehearsed these complex arguments become (and the defence of the Hiroshima atrocity is a good example of one that has become extraordinarily well-drilled)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were genocide and indefensible! Once again, don’t confuse him with facts and “voodoo statistics.” (Oh, and there’s apparently no justification for wealth inequality either. Where have I heard that before?)

So, we have established that James Kelly cares about his fellow humans and wants nothing but the best for them: he wants everyone to be safe, free from fear, have an equal share of the wealth, etc. But it’s the reactionaries that prevent his personal vision of utopia from coming true, people who construct the most astonishingly complex defensive arguments just to avoid having to let go of their familiar certainties”, people who are willing to carry weapons and use them against their fellow-man.

In short, people like those who read this blog. People he terms the “Kevin Baker Fan Club.”

Mr. Kelly’s entire argument is that the number of weapons is what dictates the level of violent crime. If gun crime is increasing in the UK, it’s obviously because there are more guns, despite the UK enacting every gun law that our gun ban control safety groups want to enact here, up to and including complete bans on legal possession of whole classes of firearms. If knife crime is up, it’s due to more knives (not weapon substitution). But when the US adds 3-4 million new guns each year and our gun crime goes down, then what?

We hear crickets from Mr. Kelly. Or further insistence that things are still worse in the US! As he himself said:

If I could make sense of much of it, I might be provoked into breaking my word and responding directly to some of Mr Baker’s points, but frankly I can’t (doubtless a lack of intellectual capacity on my part).

He said it, I didn’t.

It all hinges on CULTURE, that question of “what kind of society do you want to live in?” Do you want to live in one where you get to decide whether to exercise your duty to protect yourself and your society, or one where your superiors tell you that they’ll handle it, you’re not qualified, while not telling you that they’re generally not capable?

I know what my choice is, and I know what James Kelly’s choice is. If you live in the U.S., your choice is still, for now, up to you.

(Hey! Less than 5,000 words!)

Peterson Syndrome

The upcoming elections on Tuesday promise a landslide for the Republican party, but as Instapundit (among thousands) has said, “don’t get cocky.”

The gun-rights movement, similarly, has enjoyed a landslide of victories in the last decade since the nadir of the 1994 “assault weapon ban.” That landslide took a long time to build momentum, starting all the way back in 1987 with Florida’s passage of “shall issue” concealed carry legislation, proceeding to the earth-shaking Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions of 2008 and 2010 respectively.

We shouldn’t get cocky. The Other Side is still out there. It’s not over.

I started TSM a bit over seven years ago because I was tired of reading the unrefuted illogic, obfuscation, distortion, and outright lies promulgated by The Other Side. The Web offered a voice for people like me, and I used it – first on Usenet, then on message boards, and finally in the blogosphere.

And there were hundreds like me!

And there are hundreds like them.

We were on the internet.

They were on radio, television, newspapers and magazines.

But as the media paradigm has been changing, this has, too.

One recent example, Joan Peterson of the Brady Campaign, has become the darling of the gunblogging set. She has set herself up as the prototypical anti-gun activist, spewing falsehoods and distortions with nearly every utterance. Joe Huffman has diagnosed her as having a mental defect, to wit:

She is frequently incoherent. She cannot distinguish the difference between intentions and results. If she is a liar she would not repeatedly make these kind of mistakes. Or if she is a liar then she is very very smart and skilled to consistently use the same sort of tool without ever slipping up.

I claim it is not necessarily and in fact probably isn’t stupidity. If this were stupidity then this sort of faulty thinking would not continually show up throughout human history even with people that are exceedingly well respected. Every age and society has stupid people in it and they are easily recognized and the instances of them being well respected are exceedingly rare. This is some other type of mental disorder.

This mental disorder can be, and has been, easily detected. Ask the question, “What is the process by which you determine truth from falsity?” People suffering from this mental disorder not only won’t be able to supply an answer but frequently cannot even understand the question. The question is nonsensical to them. They are lacking a thinking process. Hence, by necessity, they fail to process information. Asking them to supply a process when they are totally unaware of the existence of such a concept results in the same sort of difficulty as asking a person blind since birth what color the walls are. They have no common basis with the questioner such that they can even understanding the question. This is the same sort of response we get from her. She cannot understand concepts that to us are intuitively, blindingly, demonstrably, obvious. It is nearly impossible for us to believe that she does not understand what we are saying. But if she were blind you would not claim she was stupid or a liar if she did not know the color of the wall.

As Joe notes, this condition is now known as Peterson Syndrome.

It’s not an uncommon affliction.

Let me illustrate now another victim, G. Eyclesheimer Ernst. Mr. Ernst has been active in the gun control movement for years, first running an online magazine entitled The Firearms Policy Journal that later morphed into the tax-exempt Potowmack.org web site. Where Joan Peterson’s illness may be attributed to the shock of her sister’s murder, I’m not certain of the source of Mr. Ernst’s. It may be that it is a genetic condition in his case, but Mr. Ernst’s particular version of Peterson Syndrome is focused not on the gun, but on society, or – as he puts it – “It’s not about guns, it’s about citizenship.”

For G. Eyclesheimer Ernst, the concept of personal sovereignty, not gun ownership in and of itself, is what trips his circuit breakers. He has been writing since at least 1990, and has been insistent from that time that the concept of an individual right to arms for the purpose of self-defense against a tyrannical government is, well, just crazy talk! In GEErnst’s world, human beings should be happy cogs in Society’s machine, doing whatever the Government tells them they should. The very idea of personal sovereignty is the antithesis of how the world should work. Take, for example, a letter that he submitted in 1994 to the New England Journal of Medicine and, after its rejection, to the American Medical Association which also rejected it. Cutting to the chase, GEErnst writes:

The monopoly on the exercise of armed force, separated from simple gun ownership, defines sovereignty. Government is the administrative apparatus of sovereignty. We put ourselves under the laws of this government so that the authority to exercise armed force is in one place where it is restrained and ultimately accountable to the people through democratic processes. Lincoln put it in his First Inaugural: “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks . . . is the only true sovereign of a free people.” The other choices are anarchy and despotism. No matter the corruption we call “politics,” the duties of citizenship are to make this system work not point guns at it. There is—can be—no “constitutional design” that includes a contingency of extralegal armed force, organized or unorganized, as a rival sovereignty to the legal institutions of government. No state can share its sovereignty and insure the validity of its laws, the safety of its citizens, or even its own survival.

Like Joan Peterson, GEErnst’s worldview cannot be swayed. In 1998, some four years later, he wrote another (unacknowledged) letter, this time to Ron Stewart, then president and CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing. In that letter he sings the same tune:

The National Rifle Association’s individual right is the right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority. The right to be armed outside of accountability to public authority is the right to individual sovereignty. Individual sovereigns are laws unto themselves. By definition they do not consent to be governed and do not give “just powers” to government. They create no sovereign public authority. Without sovereign public authority there is no rule of law and no civic culture of public trust which is essential to the economic existence of any business. The whole crisis in gun violence turns on accountability to public authority. It is the one point the doctrine of political liberty that the gun lobby has built around its purported individual right cannot accommodate. If you don’t think so, just ask them. The doctrine amounts to a childish political fantasy.

But here’s the interesting excerpt:

The NRA cannot win its childish fantasy in court. It has to have it by defeating legislation.

Right on one count, wrong on the other. The Second Amendment Foundation won in court. The NRA has achieved its ends by passing some legislation, and defeating other bills. Still other groups, notably the California Rifle and Pistol Association have also won in court and in the legislatures with very little NRA assistance, and sometimes their opposition.

Since the Heller and McDonald decisions, GEErnst has been seething. Mr. Ernst protests on his home page:

The Potowmack Institute prepared a crude draft of a brief to file in McDonald but no lawyer could be found to refine and file the arguments. There is political consciousness among lawyers. The brief would not have made any difference. The courts have become highly politicized and are not interested in arguments. There is no public that holds the courts accountable.

It would seem that the very democratic mechanisms of government that he protests are the only legitimate ones are now insufficient to the task. In bold print, GEErnst states:

The challenge is to pursue the next step which is a study by the Eric Holder Justice Department that updates Ashcroft’s 2004 study, which was a gun lobby propaganda piece likely written by NRA operatives.

Which sounds like something from a bad spy novel, but is quite revealing of his damaged mindset.

After all, he’s asking the “Eric Holder Justice Department” (not the United States Justice Department) to make a finding in his favor when that very same Justice Department has made it abundantly clear recently that some people are more equal than others.

GEErnst insists that “We put ourselves under the laws of this government so that the authority to exercise armed force is in one place where it is restrained and ultimately accountable to the people through democratic processes,” but he steadfastly refuses to even consider the question of “what do we do if they stop being ACCOUNTABLE? Like asking Joan Peterson how she determines truth from falsity, asking that question of G. Eyclesheimer Ernst is like asking a blind man what color the wall is.

Mr. Ernst, like Ms. Peterson, isn’t stupid and isn’t lying. He cannot comprehend what, to us, is “intuitively, blindingly, demonstrably, obvious” – that each of us is and must be personally sovereign. We don’t “give ‘just powers'” to government, we loan them. We do “consent to be governed,” but we retain the power to withdraw that consent. (If you don’t retain the power to withdraw consent, it’s not consent – it’s surrender.) What Mr. Ernst cannot seem to grasp is that this is a nation of “We the People,” not “Them the Government.” The people with their hands on the levers of power may (and throughout history have too often proven to be) unworthy of that position, but without the power to withdraw consent the result is inevitably slavery of the majority by the minority in one form or another.

His particular pathology prevents him from acknowledging this.

I recently spent several hours perusing his site, reading his arguments, and never once did he acknowledge the existence of this one question. He cites source after source from both sides of the gun control argument; historians, jurists, social scientists, legislators, court decisions, he even refers to the 9th Circuit’s Silveira v. Lockyer case multiple times, but nowhere on his site does he mention – much less rebut – this portion of Judge Alex Kozinski’s dissent:

The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed – where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

Our job as activists is to not let up. The Other Side won’t.

UPDATE 10/31: Then again . . . Reader Brett emails to inform that Potowmack.org has let its domain name expire. That domain name is not registered to a “G. Eyclesheimer Ernst,” it is registered to the more mundane Ernest McGill, P.O. Box 5907, Bethesda, MD 20824. I can assume this is the same Ernest McGill who penned an amicus brief for Parker v. D.C. Why the man feels the need to go by the pseudonym GEErnst is beyond me, but it’s his nickel. I sincerely hope that Mr. McGill hasn’t gone off and swallowed a handful of tranks and washed it down with a fifth of Jägermeister in his angst over the McDonald decision. His site is a treasure-trove of information. For our side.

Moral Outrage and Rights

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the fire department in Tennessee that let a family’s doublewide trailer burn to the ground because the owner hadn’t payed the $75 annual fee the department requires. Here’s just one of many reports covering the story:

A small rural community in western Tennessee is outraged and the fire chief is nursing a black eye after firefighters stood by and watched a mobile home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 municipal fee.

South Fulton city firefighters — equipped with trucks, hoses and other firefighting equipment — didn’t intervene to save Gene Cranick’s doublewide trailer home when it caught fire last week. But they did arrive on the scene to protect the house of a neighbor, who had paid his fire subscription fee.

Firefighters in South Fulton city are under orders to respond only to fire calls within their city limits, as well as to surrounding Obion County, but only to homes there where people have signed up for a fire subscription service.

Because Cranick hadn’t paid his fee, firefighters doused the border of his neighbor’s property to protect that house in case the flames spread, but wouldn’t help him. He lost all his possessions, plus three dogs and a cat.

“They could have been saved if they had put water on it, but they didn’t do it,” Cranick told MSNBC. The fire began when Cranick’s grandson set fire to some trash near the house, and the flames leapt up. Cranick said he told the 911 operator that he’d pay whatever fee was necessary, but it was too late.

Here’s a representative sample of the majority of the comments left at this particular piece:

by MIteach on 10-06-2010 11:40 AM

They should have gone ahead and put out the fire, and then put the $75 fee or the cost of the fire run on his property taxes for the year. Either way the house would have been saved and the firefighters would have looked like heros. This is government at its best!!!

by jpinteriorsgo on 10-06-2010 11:43 AM

This is totally outrageous. How could anyone with any conscience stand by and let this happen? This family needs a good lawyer and the animal rights groups should protest. Basically this goes against EVERYTHING that firefighters stand for!

by SilverFin on 10-06-2010 11:46 AM

Unbelievable. I am shocked that they stand by what they did. It’s horrendous. So does this mean that the uninsured and poor are left to die outside of hospitals because they can’t pay? That rape and murder victims don’t get police help if they don’t pay their taxes? This is bullsh*t. How could any decent human being with the means to save another’s home stand by and watch it burn, allow animals to die and this man to lose everything. Just standing there?!?! The firefighters may have followed policy, but they have no souls or human decency. Douse the fire, make the man pay the tax plus their time and a penalty after. But save his home. Pure crap to let this happen.

There’s lots more like this, most outraged over the fact that a mere $75 fee hadn’t been paid. One has to wonder if it had been, say, $1,000 if they’d feel any different.

Today Say Uncle linked to a piece at LeanLeft, Life in Libertarian Land, that stated that this is how the Libertarians want the world to work. Uncle characterized the piece thus:

Remember those government employees following government rules and letting house burn as sanctioned by government regulations contracted with another government? Seems that is a fundamental flaw in libertarian philosophy.

OK, then.

But Kevin (the other Kevin that blogs at LeanLeft) put it this way:

Fire fighting — like all government services — costs money. Firetrucks need to be purchased. 911 systems need to be staffed. Alarm systems need to be maintained. Firefighters need to be clothed, housed and fed while on duty. None of that can exist without money — money that the residents of the county have refused to supply as a community and only sporadically as individuals. So the choice is clear: let people freeload on the taxpayers of the municipalities that do support fire departments and eventually ruin their budgets or let houses burn to the ground. It is, in other words, the perfect libertarian world.

Letting houses burn to the ground is the only result acceptable to a libertarian. If you do not let the house burn to the ground, then you encourage free loading, which eventually bankrupts the fire department or the people who are willing to support the fire department. And when we replace the notion of community and collective action for the good of the community, then we are left with the libertarian schemes that require firefighters to stand by and watch homes burn.

Some of you may think that is just fine, that the man got what he deserved. I would argue that that is immoral — that putting out fires is a community responsibility best shared by the community. In this scheme, a person who is poor or down on their luck might lose everything because they could not pay the flat fee for the protection. Someone just might forget, or have the paperwork lost. It is not just to allow someone to lose their home or life to that kind of mistake if the damage from that mistake can be reasonable mitigated.

Now, interestingly enough, not too long back I wrote a piece tangential to this topic in response to a post at Markadelphia’s. In the comments to Mark’s post “blk” wrote:

Most people would agree that protection by the fire and the police departments is a right. It wasn’t always that way.

I responded:

Obviously I’m not “most people.” I know better. I’ve lived where residents had to pay a local private fire company to get them to come to their homes if there was a fire. If they chose not to pay, the firefighters could choose not to come. Or if they did, the homeowner would get a big damned bill for their appearance afterward that would represent a lot more than a few years of subscription to their services. If the homeowner chose not to pay that bill, they’d be taken to court.

Does that sound like a “right”?

I also understand that I have no “right” to police protection. That happens to be just one of many reasons I’m an activist for the right to arms. As I said, I’m a pragmatist. I try to deal with the way the world works rather than how people think it ought to be.

(Emphasis added.)

Now, Kevin (the other Kevin) admits that:

75% of the fire calls to those services are in the county. And when the fire department tries to collect for the costs of going to put out fires, they are stiffed more than fifty percent of the time. So the citizens of the cities are paying for fire protection for people who refuse to contribute the common good. So, inevitably, they were forced to make a choice: enforce the penalty for opting out of the community or continue to pay higher and higher costs to protect those who refuse to be fully paid up members of society.

(Emphasis added.) So Kevin (the other Kevin) thinks that morally it’s the community’s responsibility to provide fire protection to all, therefore everyone ought to be forced to chip in and pay. This, of course, disregards the fact that “the community” is made up of people – people who decided not to pay. For Kevin (the other Kevin), forcing people to pay at gunpoint isn’t immoral, but letting a home burn to the ground is.

Here’s where our positions differ: He wants people to behave one way, and I know that given the freedom to choose they may not.

I’d rather people have that freedom. He’d rather they didn’t.

Here’s an example of a group opposing being forced to pay:

A proposed fire district annexation in Oro Valley has been met with opposition from a group of residents,

Nearly all of the 120 property owners in La Cholla Airpark have refused to sign annexation petitions circulated by the Golder Ranch Fire District. Some of the residents have organized a formal opposition to the move to incorporate the airpark and nearly 500 other properties, mostly in Pima County, into the district.

“I think it’s just a big money grab,” said Dick Heffelman, a La Cholla Airpark resident and one of the forces behind the group Citizens Against Annexation.

Heffelman said he wants to see less government and doesn’t want to pay the more than $1,100 in secondary property taxes per year he estimates annexation would cost him. The total secondary rate in the district stands at $1.73 per $100 of assessed value.

“It’s more than twice as much as I pay for insurance,” Heffelman said.

Residents have proposed having all homeowners pay $1,000 into a fire-service fund that would be tapped to pay fees for emergency services.

Did you get that? “Nearly all of the 120 property owners” object. But hey! They’re outvoted by the nearby municipality that wants to annex them! Now these residents say they’re willing to pay $1,000 (one assumes annually) for emergency services, not the piddling $75 that the residents of Obion County, TN are required to pay, but you have to wonder about that, really. How many actually would?

But here’s the thing I wanted to point out, one comment among the hundreds left to that original piece on the home being left to burn down:

by sekkymomma on 10-06-2010 12:19 PM

I have lived in Chattanooga TN for almost 4 years now and didnt(sic) believe the “statements” that we received in the mail stating that we needed to pay for fire service were real. I just assumed that it was a donation type thing. I live less than a mile from fire station and always felt safe knowing they were so close. After hearing this story we have since paid our “dues” which are $105.00! I think this is outrageous! Something needs to be done.

(Emphasis added.) What do you want to bet that a whole bunch of people just mailed checks to their local fire departments? And not just in Tennessee?

Human beings are human beings. They respond to incentives.

So yeah, Kevin, rather than let people freeload on the rest of us, occasionally letting a home burn to the ground because of someone’s right to choose is A-OK with this small-“L” libertarian.