Special interest law not always bad (was: Laws and the law)

Jeff Bone jbone@jump.net
Tue, 04 Dec 2001 04:07:20 -0600

Paul Prescod wrote:

> > > Somebody
> > > has to say who is at fault when two ships collide in a particular
> > > region.
> >
> > Why?
> Because it is in the best interest of all of us that ships not collide
> when they are bringing us our neat new Gingers.

No contest that this is indeed in the best interest of all of us.  My issue is with the
*assumption* that the best way to attempt to ensure this is by having a third party which
is charged with adjudicating such mishaps and applying coercive remedies as a form of
potential negative incentive.

> > ... My only purpose was to point out in response to
> > Russell's challenge that achieving the behavior in question does not *require*
> > nation-states and involuntary law, it merely requires a coercive agent.
> The coercive agent with a geographical boundary is essentially a state.

But you've leapt to two conclusions already in one fell swoop!  First, that these coercive
agents need have a geographic rather than a relative / contextual boundary, and second
that these agents need be third parties.  If the seas were teeming with heavily armed
vessels and one could be certain that one would not long survive being the cause of such a
mishap, then extra care in preventing such collisions would be taken --- without the need
for a coercive *third* party or any geographic boundaries.  I'm not suggesting that this
is desirable, only that (a) it's possible to obtain the desirata (minimizing collisions)
without investing coercive authority in a third party, and (b) (obliquely) that thinking
that it does illustrates a large number of culturally programmed assumptions.

> Society can grant rights through through organizations.

(1)  "Society" can't do anything at all by itself, nor organizations, except through the
agency of the individuals that make them up.  And while an "organization" may have a
well-defined constituency and determinable power of execution on behalf of the will of the
constituency, "society" certainly does not.  And it's not clear that there's any moral
basis for assuming that the will and self-interest of the individuals belonging to one
organization can trump the will and self-interest of others.

(2)  "Rights" that need to be granted aren't really rights, are they?  More like

> > I don't believe I've suggested that.  Indeed, starting entirely from scratch is out
> > of the question practically, and undesirable in any case:  we've got too much
> > valuable experience accumulated to date.
> On alternate days you call that vast body of valuable experience cruft.

Not true.  "The body of all law" and "the valuable experience we've accumulated to date"
are not exclusive;  to assume so would be to assume that "the body of all law" is a
precise and accurate expression of "the valuable experience we've all accumulated to
date."  The issue here was whether or not to start "entirely from scratch."  I'm not
suggesting that an alternative need be constructed entirely from first principles;  and
the alternative --- preserving some of the valuable experience that's been accumulated ---
also does not require preserving the body of all cruft, er, law.

Paul, I really wish you'd read rather than read into.  It's tough, but I do think I make
some effort to be specific in what I say.  (It's a challenge, statistically, given my rate
of spew. ;-)  Try not to leap to so many conclusions, though, and our sailing will be
smoother. :-)

> By the way, if you haven't read De Soto's Mystery of Capital, I'd
> recommend it. He argues that what keeps poor countries poor is that
> there are too many competing spheres of competing contract and property
> law instead of a unified, centralized, government-backed,
> database-driven system.

Ok.  And I'd argue that, time after time, decentralization / distribution of information,
of decision-making, of authority, of execution ability, etc. has trumped centralized
mechanisms.  This is clear through observation of any number of complex systems.  Biology
provides lots of good examples.  And history provides plenty of counterexamples of the
failure of centralized systems.

Bottom line is, people are inherently suspicious of disorganization.  It's in our
hardwiring to try and organize and centralize.  We think it puts a bound on complexity ---
and it may --- but it also reduces opportunity for equilibria to be found naturally.  I
would claim that what keeps poor countries poor is actually mixed-mode implementation of
free markets, inconsistent / unnatural / suboptimal distribution of decision making and
authority, etc.  Look at the poorest countries in the world and you will find the most
centralized, authoritarian governments.  Loot at the richest, the ones whose economies
grow the fastest, and you will find the least centralized and --- indeed --- often least
activist governments.

> I'm happy to examine the notion of natural rights, but then I think that
> the illusion that we have such rights is a massive step forward and you
> will have a hard time convincing me to move back to brain-washing the
> populace into thinking otherwise. "We hold these truths to be
> self-evident." Bullshit. They are not self-evident. But holding them to
> be self-evident makes for a demonstrably successful system that most
> people would prefer to those that preceded it.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident" is indeed a pragmatic position.  However, the
assumption that there are natural rights need not precede those "self-evident" truths.  If
our forefathers had the benefit of the last two centuries of history then perhaps they
might have settled on a different set of self-evident truths and a more rigorous
explanation of why those truths are self-evident.

> Until you identify a problem we're trying to solve, I really don't have
> much enthusiasm for embarking on a mind experiment for its own sake.

Do you *really* mean to tell me you need examples of how individual self-interest is
*often* trumped by the otherwise-uninvolved self-interest of third parties?  *REALLY?*

> You
> agree with me that you do not have a natural right to be left alone. Why
> should I care about your ardent wish to be left alone?

First, don't assume that I wish to be left alone.  I just wish --- for my own sake, for
yours, for everybody's --- that we all had the maximum amount of liberty to pursue our own
interests individually or consensually as long as they did not involve
otherwise-uninvolved third parties.

> > That's exactly right.  My position is that you only think you're happy because you
> > haven't truly examined your premises --- your assumptions are flawed, you are not
> > free, you are trapped in a prison of the mind whose bars you cannot recognize.
> It is not within the government's power to make me happy.

I never said it was.  It is, however, CLEARLY in the government's power to make you
unhappy --- and it takes but a little self-examination to realize that it's generally
undesirable for some other party to have the power, completely out of your control, to
make you unhappy.  The fact that "they" *can* make you unhappy is insufficient *to* make
you unhappy --- though for someone like yourself who believes in vesting authority in
these ghosts and shadows, it *should* make you unhappy.

I, however, am *not* unhappy;  I actually denounce the government (any government's) right
to coerce me in any way whatsoever.  On a practical level, though, I realize that I have
to either play ball or be perpetually hounded, so mostly I choose to play ball.  This is
the difference between "unhappy" and "annoyed."

> > You're only happy until some unexamined aspect of the current system appears out of
> > nowhere and bites you on the ass.  Betcha.  :-)  Wanna find out?  I can help you
> > construct an experiment.
> Go ahead.

You really don't want to perform the experiment I've performed. ;-)

> What if my karass has a policy that no matter what the members do, an
> attack on one is equivalent to an attack on other. That would be a great
> karass to belong to because you have all of the benefits of protection
> and none of the responsibilities to behave. In fact we could call the
> karass "the Crips" or "the Scilians" and get it over with.

Aha, but both of those groups have *incredibly* rigid codes of conduct -wrt- how they
relate to other groups, to non-affiliated persons, etc.  We've noted before that the
mob-controlled parts of the Bronx have some of the lowest rates of violent crime in NYC.
To the extent that either of these organizations is a poor choice of karass for an
individual, it's only because they --- particularly "the Crips" --- have such short-term
planning and decision-making processes.

And there isn't much of a qualitative difference between mi familia and Uncle Sam.  Guido
collects protection money from the local pizza parlor;  Uncle Sam collects taxes.  Guido
and his cousin Vinny have a mutual protection pact;  the US and the other NATO members
have just such a pact.  If you blow up Guido's building, he's going to put you down;
ditto Uncle Sam.  The only difference is one of scale;  Uncle Sam is a thug on a "Grand
Guignol" scale undreamed of by modest Guido.  We just pretend to believe that the scale
matters morally, that some pretty words on a few papers give us the moral high ground,
that indeed might makes right.

> The pathological situations are the ones that always bite you in the
> ass.

I was a bit vague.  I wasn't referring to the pathology of a given action, rather the
pathology of a given mindset that does not recognize that mutual / proactive / optimistic
pacifism tempered with an aggressive tit-for-tat reactive strategy is the optimum stance
for everybody.

> So we can have a well-understood common denominator law

Why law and not guideline?  Tell me, does "law" imply involuntary obligation?  Does it
vest coercive authority in an otherwise uninterested third party?

> as soon as we
> agree on whether abortion is murder and whether terrorists are freedom
> fighters. How will we decide these things? Not through the tyranny of
> the majority! And not free for all.

Why not free for all?  Why not assume a default of you guys go about your non-interfering
business, I'll go about mine.  What do you care if I create three-headed mutant fuzzy
JboneClone embryos, harvest their livers, then flush them down the toilet?  How does that
impact you, exactly?  What's that, it offends your sensibilities?  You think it's a moral
outrage?  That's too bad, you may not have any rights at all and *certainly* don't have
any right to have your "sensibilities" protected from being offended.

As for the terrorists / freedom fighters:  it's a moot point.  Bottom line is that if
somebody --- *anybody* --- uses violence on somebody else, the gloves are off.  There's
never a moral high-ground in such a conflict.  You can bet OBL believed he was on the high
ground when directing the WTC attacks --- and he has just as good a reason for believing
that as we do in directing our bombers to strike back.  The goal isn't to create some
bogus moral framework to justify such actions.

We should recognize that there are times when our own self-interest just *has* to trump
others --- perhaps violently, perhaps outrageously --- as in the case of survival
threats.  But we should be dispassionate about this;  such acts, though expedient, are
still "immoral" in the sense that they are nonconsensual, coercive, and are short-term
deviations from a program (maximal noninterference in free value exchange)  that otherwise
ensures maximum distribution of real value among all participants.

> And how do we keep the common denominator law minimal? After all, the
> WTO, EU and UN produce tomes and tomes of similarly "voluntary" rules.
> Maybe karass' will find they delegate more and more power upwards as the
> states of the United States did. Perhaps eventually all of the karass in
> a geographic region merge

I expect --- and hope --- that the natural evolution will be in the opposite direction.
Also note that the upwards migration of "power" from states to fed hasn't always been the
will of the states and hasn't always been for the better of the governed.

> > ... This law
> > would still be voluntary --- a person entering a karass would know the obligations
> > to externals that come along with membership in the karass.  If those obligations
> > weren't agreeable, then the person doesn't have to join --- but conversely does not
> > receive the privileges and protections of belonging to that (or any signatory)
> > karass.
> In other words they may be murdered by anyone with impunity.

Guess what?  You can be murdered by anyone with impunity *today* --- assuming the murderer
is not caught.

> about as voluntary as our current government.

Not so.  Try to peacefully but definitively decline to participate in this coming year's
collection of the tithes.

> So in effect they will be
> forced to choose a gang and the only question is whether the gang is
> aligned with the "central government" (er, set of "conventions") or is
> completely free of such freedom-limited hindrances.

Yup.  Like I said, I don't know that this is *the* answer, just *an* alternative.

> This idea has been pretty effectively debunked already. What's the point
> of going through it again?

What idea is that, exactly?  I'm just peppering you with possibilities, not suggesting
anything in particular.

> Nobody questions that. We've seen dozens of them in history.

We've seen exactly NONE of them in history.  I am talking about a specifically,
consciously-constructed rational anarchy based on a system of contractual metalaw.  It's
never existed.  There have been superficially similar things, but they fail on cursory

> In this universe, I'd rather wait until you think you've got one
> that would actually work and be worth implementing.

But your perpetual participation says otherwise.  ;-)

> > BTW, go read "The Diamond Age"  by Neal Stephenson.  Reflect on it.  Report back.
> For illuminating this conversation, I would choose Snow Crash --
> geographic nation states all collapse and everything is run according to
> contract law between franchises.

"The Diamond Age" just pushes that same notion along.

> > Taxes need not be involuntary.
> Mechanisms for financing government do not have to be involuntary. I'll
> agree with that. But taxes are by definition involuntary: "A
> contribution for the support of a government *required* of persons,
> groups, or businesses within the domain of that government." "A fee or
> dues levied on the members of an organization to meet its expenses."

Too narrow.  Many people --- and much more reputable folks than you or I, economists and
legislators and political theorists and the like --- have suggested methods of taxation
which are voluntary on several dimensions.  A universal consumption tax is, for example,
voluntary as you can avoid paying it simply by avoiding consumption of taxed goods and