Monday, 2 November 2009

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.


  1. Absolutely. Well said.

    Lowell? Thought it was Herbert Spencer ...

  2. Rap is wrong? Ever tried Greydon Square?

  3. the Drunken Watchman2 Nov 2009, 12:31:00

    PC: 'I think it is WRONG to listen to rap and techno'(caps are mine)

    So, is this the same type of wrongdoing as is, for example, murder?

  4. Dude, don't diss techno.

    Trust your DJ - T4E!


  5. Richard McGrath3 Nov 2009, 00:44:00

    Powerful words Peter, and all of them so true. Don't ever change.

  6. As Sir James Russell Lowell said "the ultimate result of protecting fools from their folly is to fill the planet full of fools."
    You finish your piece with this appeal to darwinian natural selection. The problem with this approach is that if someone does something stupid and takes themselves out, they shouldn't be able to take other people with them.
    Is endangering other people's lives against your principles?

  7. @Monsieur: You appear to lack the distinction between natural selection, which is a process of changing morphology over generations, and the process of learning, or not learning. Somewhat, not to say much different.

    @DrunkenWatchman: No. It's much, much worse. Murder kills one person. Rap and techno can lay waste to whole generations. ;^)

  8. @ Peter:
    I think you missed my point. Surely Libs don't condone behaviour that could endanger other people's lives (e.g. using cellphones while driving)

  9. I think that Obama has been listening or reading Mark Skousen.

    WHY? His approach to both North Korea and Iran is to follow persuasion by dialog rather than persuasion via tomahawk missiles dropped from a B2 bomber?

    I prefer the tomahawk persuasion to rain down on those nuclear facilities in both Iran & North Korea, but then, perhaps Obama is starting to act like a true Libertarian by adopting persuasion via diplomacy and diaglog.

    So, the question to ask is if Obama likes the libertarian approach?

  10. Just to reinforce my previous point:
    Mark Skousen in Persuasion vs. Force says...
    "Liberty Under Law
    This approach does not mean that laws would not exist. People should have the freedom to act according to their desires, but only to the extent that they do not trample on the rights of others. Rules and regulations, such as traffic laws, need to be established and enforced by private and public institutions in order for a free society to exist."

  11. the Drunken Watchman3 Nov 2009, 10:26:00

    'It is wrong to listen to rap and techno'

    Ha ha. However,

    so, this is a moral wrongdoing, then? Or some other kind of wrongdoing. It clearly isn't a 'legal wrongdoing.

    BTW, this is a serious question - I wasnt the one to invent pedantry.

  12. I hope not. Snoop is great for summer in the sun with a few pints. But then so is Chris Knox.


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