Libertarian "Non-aggression" and Ostracism

Libertarians often suggest that using ostracism is a "non-aggressive" was of responding to actions or speech one doesn't like. And this is tied in an interesting way to the metaphysical error at the heart of liberalism.

Here is a good (if harrowing) New York Times article about what has happened to the lives of people ostracized by social media thought police for minor missteps in Tweets, etc.
These people's lives were shattered by these "non-aggressive" campaigns: they would have been harmed far less if the government had jailed them for a week for a "hate speech" crime.

Liberalism à la Hobbes and Locke starts with an atomic individual as fundamental. That individual then may (or may not!) enter into a "social contract" and so voluntarily take part in society.

But this is nonsense: no such individuals have or could exist. Humans are inherently social animals, and membership in a society is integral to our very being. Short of killing a person outright, there is no act more aggressive towards them than ostracism, something primitive societies have understood very well.

So libertarians are suggesting that we replace the relatively tepid aggression of jailing someone with the extreme aggression of ostracizing them. And then they call this course of action "following the non-aggression principle"!

24 comments:

  1. A great article. Thanks for calling my attention to it.

    I think this is an example of the rabid conformism so ubiquitous on campus, and among les biens pensants generally. So many people seem to have read Lord of the Flies as a how-to manual.

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  2. It's very dangerous to give punishers incentives to punish more harshly. That is what ostentatious shaming does though; I get to pose as a greater, purer guardian of the good the higher my dudgeon.

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  3. What's most frustrating to me is the idea that these alternatives that they pull out of thin air are somehow "private" and "voluntary" in contrast to the "public" and "involuntary" nature of "state punishments". Which is usually why I can't see how "the market" is anymore "voluntary" than "the state".

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    1. Of course it is. You don't have to buy a Ford, but you have to pay taxes. Functioning markets are voluntary, and accept all comers. The question isn't whether markets are more voluntary, but whether they are appropriate, or even possible, for everything. For some things clearly not; we have discussed "private law" a lot. Markets are more voluntary, that's precisely why they are sometimes inapprporiate.

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    2. "Voluntary" is just not the word I'd use to describe business transactions.

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    3. Don't want to be humiliated by your boss? Don't work there.
      Don't want to pay income taxes? Don't work for any income.
      Etc.

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    4. And one other thing: what about the distinction between positive and negative rights? Is there really a difference or are the differences elsewhere?

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    5. But Ken, what is NOT voluntary is your acceptance of the prevailing property arrangements.

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    6. Government can exist without taxation, Ken, and it wouldn't be any more or less "voluntary". It would, like the market, simply be.

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    7. Right Gene, we agree on that critique of Libertarianism. But Corwell is comparing levels or amounts of voluntariness. And it is quite clear I have more choice amongst cars or face cloths than I do about paying the sales tax on them. It's simply wrong to deny this difference. The reverse side of the Major Freedom coin as it were.

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    8. OK, that seems sensible.

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    9. "It's simply wrong to deny this difference. The reverse side of the Major Freedom coin as it were."

      No, not really. It's difficult to explain. It's just that in my mind that's not often a category/attribute that pops up. Whenever, for example, I hear someone say something like "voluntary business transactions", I'm not quite sure why they put the word "voluntary" in there. "Business transactions" would've sufficed.

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    10. Likewise, I'm not entirely on board with saying that property rights are "involuntary" or "voluntary".

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  4. What the stories in Ronson's story seem to be about is people for whom the punishment they received was too great for the wrong they committed (if indeed they committed a wrong).

    Perhaps for them a week in jail may been been preferable. But then , given the choice between what they suffered and 20-years in jail, they may well stick with what the got.

    Similarly a serial killer offered the choice of total medial hostility and loss of all his friends for a few months or years versus life in jail may well go for the first option.

    My point is: Just because ostracism may sometime be an extreme punishment it doesn't mean it always is. If this form of punishment could be applied in a rational way I see no reason why it may not actually be a more effective form of deterrent than jail-time. (example: I would be strongly against jailing open racists but would have no objections to them being ostracized if they were too vocal in their views in my community)

    The important thing (to end with a cliche) is that the punishment (whatever form it takes) should fit the crime.

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    1. "The important thing (to end with a cliche) is that the punishment (whatever form it takes) should fit the crime."

      I agree!

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    2. Not really! It must also fit the *threat*. This is another problem with private law by shunning. Some offenders are dangerous. They don't need shaming, they need restraining.

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  5. Adam, if you are trying to say something sensible here, it is not coming across. Perhaps rephrase and try again.

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  6. Sorry. This post is spot on and the liberwhatever obsession with the state is quite perverse. That said I don't think you can or should discount the social and economic stigma/ostracization that comes with having a criminal record. That's not so much a problem in your post, it is just that I believe it should be mentioned.

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    1. Indeed. Especially the "sex offender" registry. This is disturbing because teenagers are getting classified for sexting, and end up on the registry.

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  7. I never liked Jon Ronson, but this a good thing he has done, telling these people's stories.

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  8. I think Ronson is great, actually. He is better on video than in print.

    Gene, you should watch his "secret rulers of the world" series instead of crappy nature documentaries. It's all on youtube.

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