In a recent column for Townhall.com, Ben Shapiro wrote about the recent announcement that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez directed the FBI to increase its anti-obscenity efforts against pornography. While the anti-pornography crusade is wrong-headed for many reasons, I’m more amused with Mr. Shapiro’s reasoning for his support of this policy. In challenging unnamed FBI agents who criticized the new program with comments like “I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror,” Mr. Shapiro explains political philosophy. Consider this nugget of twisted nonsense:
Plainly it is not governmental inefficiency these agents are worried about. They find the anti-pornography crowd disturbing because they believe that policing pornography violates fundamental rights. This has become the dominant view in our society: As long as what I do doesn’t harm you personally, I have a right to do it. It’s a silly view and a view rejected by law enforcement policies all over the country. Were we to truly recognize such a philosophy, we would have to legalize prostitution, drugs and suicide — as well as the murder of homeless drifters with no family or friends. After all, if someone kills a homeless drifter, how does that affect anyone else? Consent should make no difference here — that’s an imposition of your values. Just because a murderer offends your moral sensibilities doesn’t give you an excuse to impose your subjective values on a society.
Such logic means destroying human communities. It is uncivilized, in the purest sense of the word. It makes us each selfish actors. The effects of our actions on others are irrelevant. No, you can’t punch me in the nose, but if you choose to perpetrate genocide, and if none of my friends or family members is thrown into a mass grave, what business of mine is it? When everyone is an island, no one is safe. Actions cease to have consequences.
With so many holes in his theory, I’ll just start at the beginning and slog my way through. What he attempts to
discredit describe is a libertarian view that everyone has liberties which are inherently free of government possession or granting. I’m not sure who said it (otherwise, I’d attribute the quote properly), but Mr. Shapiro suggests that the prevailing philosophy in America is based on the sentiment that my rights end only where your nose begins. Oh, if that were only true. I only need mention same-sex marriage to dispel that notion as little more than lip service from many. The dominant view seems to be more I have the right to do anything I want as long as I don’t harm you. You, on the other hand, have to live by my idea of right and wrong. Unless I choose to read Mr. Shapiro’s statement without the implied “physical harm” and replace it with the not-implied “moral harm”. In that case, he’d be 100% correct. But he’s not arguing that. Anyone disagree?
There are people who do hold Mr. Shapiro’s original statement as political gospel. I happen to be one of them. We should legalize prostitution and drugs. (Suicide? What argument is that, other than the “Culture of Death” stupidity preached today?) The drug war? If that was a war in a foreign country with large numbers of soldiers involved, the American public would revolt at the devastating failure. Exactly how much has the drug war slowed down drugs? All it does is criminalize what has always happened, what will always happen. People get high. One must acknowledge nothing more than “alcohol” to understand the lack of difference. What’s happening now in the market for drugs is exactly what happened during Prohibition. We’ve done little more than trade the mafia for gangs, which seems an even trade in a best-case analysis. That’s not smart, nor is it effective.
And prostitution? I can’t personally imagine what would drive someone to a prostitute, but wouldn’t it make more sense from a public health viewpoint to legalize it and regulate it? That way, we can test for STDs. We can devise ways to reduce the dangers associated with prostitution. That makes more sense than defending some illusory idea of public morals. I love theories and ideas but health is practical. It’s here and now. We’re never going to stop prostitution without Theocratic rule. We shouldn’t try.
Continuing, perhaps freedom is silly, but it doesn’t specifically matter what law enforcement demands. Law enforcement agencies are beholden to the public (i.e. elected government) it serves and protects. Law enforcement doesn’t set its policies independent of legislation. Mr. Shapiro’s point is ridiculous, unless he’s interested in a police state. I suspect he is, of the “you have to live by my morals” manner. So be it. He’s a columnist, not a legislator.
Everything after that is an absurd attempt to pander to the stupid. Murdering homeless drifters with no family or friends? Forgive me for missing the logical transition from “as long as what I do doesn’t harm you personally” to “as long as no one will miss you when you’re murdered.” Granted, it must be a brilliant transition, but Mr. Shapiro fails to provide it for the rest of us. I want to understand how libertarianism is little more than barbaric hedonism. Enlighten me, maybe with a future column. Unbelievable.
The same argument he makes for regulation of drugs and prostitution can be made for economic regulation. We don’t want people to starve because that offends morals, so we need to make sure that everyone has a reliable income. They won’t work? Who are you to say that everyone should earn their living? If you like going to work, why should you care about how someone else receives an income? That logic falls apart quickly. I assume Mr. Shapiro would agree. So how is the culture held to a different standard than the economy? Political philosophy should be robust enough to not crumble under some issues facing a society. If it does, it’s not a political philosophy, but instead a hodgepodge of subjective applications designed to promote self-interest over principle.
Mr. Shapiro shuffles out his next argument, at which he’s supposedly arrived from his explanation of libertarian freedoms. Consider:
If we are to maintain communities, someone’s standards must govern. Those standards can either make it easier or more difficult for the traditionally moral to live their lives. The idea that no one’s standards have to govern — that everyone can do what he likes, when he likes — inherently means tolerance for evil. Tolerance for evil means nourishment of evil. Nourishment of evil means growth of evil. Growth of evil is a direct affront to traditional morality.
That makes no sense. The libertarianism Mr. Shapiro smears does not exist in any accepted view. But it does hold that standards must govern. Those standards are that everyone is free to live his life as he sees fit, as long as he does no actual harm to another. There’s nothing particularly complicated about that. It doesn’t mean a tolerance for evil, merely an acceptance that people believe “evil” things and may continue to believe “evil” things. Unless the thinker acts on (or threatens, etc.) his “evil” beliefs, government has no authority to control it.
That doesn’t hinder traditional morality, which is subjective, at best. Mr. Shapiro is free to believe whatever he wants, no matter how crazy or “evil” I might imagine it to be. However, traditional morality is not an objective, stationary principle. It’s a moving, subjective target designed apparently to police the salvation of everyone through the litmus of one. That is not a governing philosophy for a free society, nor is it in the Constitution of the United States.
So here’s a thought: leave people to self-determination. Reduce legislation to the allegedly dominant view in society. We’ll see individual actions conform almost exclusively to the actions individuals previously chose under legislated t
raditional morality. People already make choices, regardless of legality, which inherently means that moral laws are useless. So wouldn’t it make sense to direct law enforcement efforts to immediate (physical, economic, etc.) dangers than to moral dangers?