I’m a big believer in the theory that you really learn the ins and outs of something by trying to do it or model it yourself. To better understand politics, I’m trying to write my own constitution. It’s shockingly difficult. I mean, I did expect that it would be hard, but this is crazy. One of the first ideas I had to let go of was my theory of no contraband. My basic thought here was guns, drugs, and pornography. I know some conservative person just read this and is now convinced, more than ever, that I am rapidly going to hell. Allow me to explain.
I don’t believe in bad objects. I believe the morality of an object is decided by its use. To try and legislate against an object, instead of its use is to say to the world at large, “You’re all either to stupid to use this responsibly, or just plain evil. Either way, you couldn’t possible use this object morally. No one could! So the object is banned, banned I say!” I think that is wrong and sort of stupid.
Let me make a parallel to free speech. True free speech means speech you don’t like. It’s that freakin’ simple. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, they all believed in a kind of free speech! They all believed they should be free to say whatever they wanted. It was the freedom of others to speak they made illegal. Because we, and the people we agree with, want to be free, we grudging accept the fact that everyone is going to have to be free, and we tolerate other’s ridiculous babble so that we allowed our Righteous Pulpit of Truth.
Free ownership is the same. Free ownership means some people are going to own things some people don’t like. Again, communist tyrants and the kings of old were very pro-private property: the party or royals should be free to own anything and maybe everything. The people, not so much. Since we all want to own things that some people aren’t going to like, we must grudgingly accept the fact that everyone is going to have to be free, and we must tolerate others ridiculous and vile possesions, so we may keep our treasured and divine baubles. (To the moralists who might think they don’t have or want any offensive possession, I remind you that every religion’s holy book has been banned in part or totality at one time or another.)
I always thought it bizarre that people I knew who were the most pro-gun seemed to support any new anti-drug law which came down the pipe. My father is rabidly pro gun ownership, believing any restriction at all on gun ownership is a plot to disarm law abiding people and take over the country. But, on the other hand, I remember Dad explaining to me once that even though some people might have the self control to use, rather than abuse drugs, most people would not. Their abuse would cost society in lives, crime, and money. Thus it was better to have drugs be illegal. “But, Dad, if that’s true of drugs why not guns? I mean some people might have the self responsibility to use rather than abuse guns, but most people wouldn’t. Their abuse would cost society in lives, crime, and money. So shouldn’t guns be restricted?”
Oh no, he assured me. Gun crime was lowest in the places with the least restrictions on guns, proving guns had a positive effect on society. “But wouldn’t legalizing drugs have the same effect? Where we have drug dealers now, we’d have tax paying pharmacies. Where criminally supporting addicts need to steal thousands of dollars now, they’d only need to steal tens of dollars for the same high.”
We never did come to see eye to eye on the issue.
I still see it the same way, though. Guns can be for recreation and utility. They can provide a fun afternoon of target shooting, put meat on the table, money in the economy (in the form of hunting licenses, boat licenses etc.) and they can save your life from an attacker. That’s using a gun. They can also be abused. They can rob a bank, terrorize your fellow man, kill someone accidently, or even murder. Drugs are the same. They give people something to gather around, they numb heartache and physical pain. Many can be grown in your backyard and sold (if legal) at a farmers’ market. They can also kill, drive to desperate acts, and destroy families. Use or abuse, the choice is up to you.
And I think porn is the same. Porn can be an outlet for the outlet-less, a fun way to kill an afternoon, a business opportunity, and, if both partners enjoy it, a relationship builder. It can also be an obsession, a perversion, a gateway to far more damaging behavior, an avenue to exploitation, and, if both partners don’t enjoy it, it can eat a relationship alive.
So my original idea, to prevent the government from promoting the freedom of one group to dislike something over the freedom of another to like it, was to simply remove all laws defining “contraband.”
Congress shall make no law forming any contraband of any kind.
My theory was that, yes, this would allow people to own crazy, dangerous things, but; (1.) You can already own anything you want in any society. Illegality just makes the profit margin thicker for the seller because it does nothing to decrease demand, but increases the scarcity of supply; (2.) Making it legal would decrease demand because it’s not as cool anymore; (3.) Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can get it. Cyanide is deadly and dangerous, but legal. It’s used in some welding operations. Anyone can get it, they just have to have the right bits of paper first; (4.) Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can afford it. It’s not illegal for a person to own radioactive material, for instance. There’s some in your smoke detector. But the price to quantity ratio makes it unlikely that anyone will do anything antisocial with it; (5.) We tend to misunderstand risks of legality all the time. Car’s kill around 50,000 people a year in the US alone. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for people under 40. Cars are legal and kill in the tens of thousands. Treehouses (stats on treehouses as a cause of death, anyone?) are illegal in many cities.
It’s a good theory on all of the above points. I don’t believe in punishing people for the capacity to do wrong which certain objects might give them. You shouldn’t prevent someone from owning a gun when there is no reason to believe they won’t use it responsibly. You shouldn’t prevent them from growing poppies or weed or owning a car or having a treehouse because they are assumed to be responsible and free until they prove they are going to use their freedom to harm others, instead of just themselves.
The problem is an odd and specific one; items, the creation of which requires breaking the law, but are not stolen. Example one: bits of an endangered species. So, you go to the store and you buy a white tiger robe. You didn’t kill a white tiger; the poacher did, and once the tiger was dead, it’s not like you could make it alive by not buying it. If there is no contraband, then a person cannot get in trouble for owning a white tiger robe, only for killing the white tiger to get it. So, supply is illegal, but demand is fine.
There is a solution to example one. All free game belongs to the people, whose right over it is administered by the State. (It’s already that way in New Jersey, by the way.) Then, owning it constitutes owning stolen property, as such, it can be seized, and returned to it’s rightful owner, and the un-rightful owner held to various consequences depending on their level of involvement in the original theft.
Example two is a bit more evil: child pornography. While I believe that any consenting adult should be able to see (and do) pretty much anything regarding another consenting adult, the sexual exploitation of children is never acceptable. Applying a parallel of example one doesn’t work, because even if all children are the property of the state (a profoundly lousy idea) the image of a crime is not identical to the crime. Owning a stolen tiger pelt is not the same as having a picture of someone stealing one.
My basic theory was that property is not good or bad, but can only be used for good or bad, but this sort of falls apart with child pornography. There is no good side to child pornography. There is no way to “use” rather than abuse it. For it to exist something unconscionable must happen. How can a society embrace the freedom of adults to own what they wish, and follow the general truism of the amorality of tangible things, and yet keep this one thing contraband?
My answer is this: what makes child pornography is wrong is the exploitation. The photo is amoral. The evil is the exploitation which went into making the photo. As such, the real problem here is one of exploitation. Pornography of a non-consenting adult is no more and no less wrong. That being the case, exploitive pornography is treated as any other evidence of a crime (in this case rape). The holder of the evidence is accused as an accomplice to the crime until they can provide evidence otherwise. Child pornography is especially evil, but we need not throw out due process to pursue and punish it.
Pretend a man walks up to you on the street. He holds up a bat.
“I’m going to brake your left kneecap or your right kneecap. Which do you want me to hit with the bat?”
“Neither,” you reply. “I don’t want you to hit either of my kneecaps.”
“Well, too bad,” he says. “You have to chose which kneecap I’m going to hit.”
“But I don’t want you to break either of my kneecaps!” you yelp.
“Look,” he explains, “I have to break one of your kneecaps. There’s nothing you can do about that, but I am trying to be nice and let you choose which kneecap you want broken.”
“It’s going to be horribly painful!” you yell.
“Well, yes, but it can be slightly less painful emotionally because of the choice, you know,” he replies. “I’m giving you a choice here, you don’t have any right to complain.”
“I DO TO HAVE A RIGHT TO COMPLAIN! YOU’RE GOING TO BREAK MY KNEECAP!”
He clucks his tongue and cracks you across the nearest kneecap. It shatters instantly, and you fall on the ground writhing in pain and screaming.
He shakes his head as he walks away. “I just can’t abide people who refuse to vote and then complain about the results,” he says to himself as he walks away, bat in hand.