Busybodies, One, Two, Three
There were busybodies all over the place over the weekend. Busybodies making sure that you didn’t smoke in bars, drink alcohol in public places and – most importantly! – that you didn’t talk into your phone while your car was moving or while "stationary in the normal flow of traffic, such as approaching intersections, traffic lights or roadworks."
This was important work – or so all the busybodies seemed to think. Didn’t matter if you were eating while driving, or putting on your make up, or playing with the radio or you iPod – just as long as you weren’t talking to someone on that little electronic device we call a phone.
Bloody busybodies. They’re everywhere.
But I have a confession to make. I'm a busybody myself.
Yes, I’m a busybody. There, I've said it. You'll notice that I frequently tell off busybodies for their bossiness, but the perceptive among you have noticed I'm one myself.
I have strong opinions and I don’t care who knows it.
I think taxation is theft. That a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away again. That where liberty is concerned, “moderation” is suicide. That the point of liberty is to make the world safe for reason.
I hold these opinions strongly and, like all busybodies, I think my opinions should be yours too. And if you don’t like those opinions, I have others.
I think it's wrong to listen to rap and techno. I think smoking cigarettes in company is impolite and consuming recreational pharmaceuticals is dumb – but I think it’s your right to do that if you choose to.
I endorse teaching youngsters phonetics, admiring figurative painting and sculpture, and building homes following the principles of organic architecture. I think you should listen to Wagner and Duke Ellington, refrain from eating meat, and avoid bad beer altogether. I think you should follow Australian Football and support Geelong, read Ayn Rand, Raymond Chandler and Umberto Eco, and drink martinis under a starry sky while filing your subscriptions to The Free Radical and the MG Car Club and your membership in the Libertarianz.
Like Sue Kedgley and Steven Joyce and the nannies in ASH and and ALAC I'm opinionated and bossy, and I don't care who knows it. There is one small point of difference, however. The main point is, the little question of persuasion. Of persuasion as opposed to force.
There are two kinds of busybodies, you see: those who want to persuade you that you're wrong and they're right (that's me, and I am), and those who want to force you. Those who appeal to reason to demonstrate the superiority of their ideas, and those who resort to the big stick.
Doesn't matter who's right in that end, since even if you're right and they're wrong there's nothing you can do once Nanny's stick comes out.
You who never understand the difference between persuading someone to do your bidding, and coercing them never truly understand or respect the crucial difference between treating someone as a slave and respecting them as a a free man.Using persuasion rather than coercion is the recognition that human beings are sovereign individuals, with the right to make their own choices, and to commit their own mistakes. Using force takes their choices away.
One appeals to the human mind, to human reason. The other treats people as a subject, as a serf, as a mindless chattel.
The truth is this: That just because you feel strongly about something that gives you no right to impose your feelings upon others who may in no wise agree with you.A new law is not persuasion. No matter how many other MPs you can persuade, the effect of that law is the assembling of the vast might of legislative, judicial and police powers to enforce this thing about which you feel so strongly. That's force. That's coercion.
Talking about bringing in a ban is not persuasion, it is not a "national debate we should be having." It’s simply the first act in a three-act drama of bullying to come.
I say think twice before reaching for a ban, or calling for a legislative smack around people’s head.
If smacking is bad because it uses force against children, as some people have argued, then why isn't force bad when it's used against adults (who -- unlike children -- do have the full power of reason).
If date rape is bad because it takes away a woman's right to refuse consent (and so it does), then so too is every form of coercion in that it too takes away the power of consent.
In his seminal essay on Persuasion Versus Force Mark Skousen argues, "The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilised society." And so it is. What's wrong with persuading people, rather than using force? What’s wrong with reasoning with them instead of reaching for the big stick. Isn't that -- or shouldn't that be -- the mark of a truly civilised society? If you look for symbolism, you might think of it as reason against brute force, or the mind versus the gun.
Isn’t it more civilised to appeal to what’s in someone’s mind by reason, than to reach for a gun to refuse that mind permission to think? As Ayn Rand sais, “Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.”
How about we ban bans, and think about being civilised instead.
Freedom means the freedom to make mistakes. It means leaving people free to make their own mistakes – to listen to rap and country music; to read Danielle Steel and Dan Brown; to smoke like a trooper and talk and text on their cellphones.
As Sir James Russell Lowell said, "the ultimate result of protecting fools from their folly is to fill the planet full of fools."
As the man says, if it makes sense, then they wouldn't have to force you.