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  • Enslaving the Responsible

    Posted by Shannon Love on May 16th, 2008 (All posts by )

    Over at Reason, the Libertarian Party of California is quoted as saying:

    There’s no reason why consenting adults should not be allowed to marry so long as their arrangement doesn’t interfere with any other individual’s ability to live their life in any way they want to.

    Aye, there’s the rub. With the contemporary culture of the invasive nanny state, we do not let people suffer the consequences of their own mistakes.

    We can see this in the history of the sexual revolution. We were sold the idea that people had the right to make their own decisions about sexuality free from the involuntary restraints of law and culture. Yet, at the same time, it quickly become standard to regard dealing with the negative consequences of those choices as the responsibility of the rest of society.

    People are free to have sex however and whenever they choose, but if they catch an STD, the state is expected to pay for their healthcare. If they get pregnant, the state is expected to pay for abortions or pre-natal care. If people choose not to form and maintain a traditional family, the state is responsible for picking up any economic short fall or dealing with the social pathologies of their children.

    In an ideal free society we could let people make their own mistakes because social natural-selection would rapidly correct any errors. People who did stupid things would end up poor, marginalized, unemulated. Nothing cures stupidity like the freedom to fail.

    Today, we live in far from an ideal free society. People expect that the state will pick up the pieces when they fail. We blame negative consequences not on the individual but on impersonal forces in society itself. We see people who choose poorly as innocent victims of fate. In this real-world society, the consequences of person’s personal decisions become the responsibility of the collective. That responsibility in turn mandates some authority over the individual’s decisions in order to prevent the harm for which the collective stands responsible for mitigating.

    I personally support gay marriage but it is easy to see how the California Libertarians legal thinking would support people choosing polygamy, polyamory or something not yet imagined. Not a problem for me in theory, but with our present real-world institutions, such choices could prove disastrous.

    Liberty without responsibility does not produce freedom. It merely enslaves the responsible to the irresponsible. Creating a legal standard that lets people chose whatever marriage arrangements they wish will be a disaster unless we simultaneously create a legal standard of personal responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

     

    9 Responses to “Enslaving the Responsible”

    1. Smitten Eagle Says:

      I am a bit more socially conservative.

      Liberty, in addition to allowing for individual choice and indiviual responsibility, also includes the right & responsibility to enact laws that we live under. If we, as “The People” choose to enact a law, fine. So long as it does not infringe on Fundamental Rights, great. And no, I don’t define marriage as a fundamental right.

      Furthermore, another argument to be made is a right to have existing marriage contracts left alone. What many married people DO NOT need is a redefinition of the marriage contract, or any other contract, based on the politically-correct social whims as they affect the law. I do not need a redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat that may now, for instance, include polygamy, incestuous marriage, marriage for the sake of easing immigration, etc. (And yes, there are movements for each of these) Such redefinitions cut the chains on the anchors of society, casting society adrift and subjecting it to the winds of change, for good or ill.

      And as was mentioned, rarely are the costs of such changes born by the individual–rather the costs are born by the society as a whole. And the costs are always increasing.

    2. Tyouth Says:

      “There’s no reason why consenting adults should not be allowed to marry so long as their arrangement doesn’t interfere with any other individual’s ability to live their life in any way they want to.”

      As a practical matter widespread redefinition of marriage would indeed change or “interfere” with society’s (the great group of “individuals”) “ability to live their life….” It would decrease the birthrate and this is, simply, a good reason “why consenting adults should not be allowed….”.

      The decadent lifestyle that prosperity allows might not harm a single person this year or in the next ten years but in the long view of human history it is apparent that good times are not a permanent thing and it’s prudent to live in a productive way. To encourage, by allowing the decadence, we weaken the individuals, the society, that follows us.

    3. Shannon Love Says:

      Smitten Eagle ,Tyouth,

      I am uncomfortable with the idea that the collective has the right to regulate behavior that does not directly interfere with the rights with another specific individual. I do think that there are harms that people cause it other very indirectly but I don’t think it a good idea to empower the state to address such indirect harms.

      I think it better to just let people make their own mistakes. That way, any harm is self-limiting.

    4. Tyouth Says:

      No man is an island, Shannon. Using that argument suggests, for example, that education for the kiddies should be optional. Some individual’s lack of education certainly isn’t going to directly affect me.

      I’m liberal enough to not want to persecute unproductive behavior, but I would condemn encouraging it. Here, of course, we’re going beyond encouragement and contemplating institutionalizing gay unions.

    5. Smitten Eagle Says:

      Shannon-

      I think you are contradicting your own argument. You claim to “be uncomfortable with the idea that the collective has the right to regulate the behavior that does not directly interfere with the rights with another specific individual.”

      Yet you support “liberalizing” the concept of homosexual marriage–meaning that you support the collective modifying a contract between a male and a female adult at the behest of the collective you pretend to abhor. Furthermore, this contract is not merely any contract, but a contract whose roots in the West lie in religion and in common law, not in government. Therfore you are using government to modify a common-law and religious institution.

      If I am incorrect, please correct me.

    6. tehag Says:

      “There’s no reason why consenting adults should not be allowed to marry so long as their arrangement doesn’t interfere with any other individual’s ability to live their life in any way they want to.”

      Isn’t that what the New Mexico prosecution of a wedding photographer was about? With the CA law, expect more prosecutions of people who don’t approve and won’t cooperate. Legalizing gay, poly or any other kind of marriage isn’t about the freedom to marry, it’s about compelling obedience from people who disagree.

      That is, if the quoted statement were to be taken seriously, people who don’t believe in alternative marriages should be allowed to (1) condemn them in public in speech and print, (2) refuse to provide marriage benefits for alternative marriages, (3) refuse to do business with married couples married in alternative ways. Does anyone think that will be allowed?

      tehag

    7. gattsuru Says:

      There’s no reason why consenting adults should not be allowed to marry so long as their arrangement doesn’t interfere with any other individual’s ability to live their life in any way they want to.

      That’s interesting.

      Last I checked, that’s already the case. The government is completely incapable of preventing any two people of any combination of genders from standing in a room and giving or listening to a guy with a funny white collar give a speech, or having a lawful contract specifying monogamy (or non-monogamy) and sharing (or not sharing) of funds.

      That’s marriage. We’re not really talking about just that, though.

      We’re talking about government recognition, licensing, and tax reductions. The nature of that means that it will always bounce other people, albeit usually to a small degree. The power to tax is the power to destroy, and having more people at a lower effective tax rate means either less government spending, more government borrowing, or more taxing of other, different people.

      That’s life.

      That’s not to say gay marriage is a good or bad policy decision — my personal concern would be more along the lines of the spent political capital and rather minimal benefits — but simply to say that trying to frame it as a libertarian-statist event suggests a rather lackluster understanding of the discussion, or an intent to mislead.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      Gattasura,

      …but simply to say that trying to frame it as a libertarian-statist event suggests a rather lackluster understanding of the discussion, or an intent to mislead.

      No, rather it reflects my estimation of the real-world limitations of political systems. Indirect harms shade into vast grey areas which we have trouble measuring or even articulating. That in turn means that the political process has a great deal of trouble making good decisions about preventing and seeking justice for those harms.

      Therefore, as a matter of personal political philosophy, I don’t think the State should involve itself in such matters. Instead, we should let the free interaction of individuals evolve our way to a solution.

      However, that is a separate matter from the real-world problems of altering long established law. As I pointed out, given the real world circumstances today, altering marriage means offloading any negative consequences on society as a whole.

    9. Jack Diederich Says:

      I’m reminded of a quote from Tom Robbin’s Still Life with Woodpecker

      There’s a tendency today to absolve individuals of moral responsibility and treat them as victims of social circumstance. You buy that, you pay with your soul.