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Law vs Custom
by Lindsay Perigo

In his excellent essay below, "Not Enough Justice," Joe Rowlands spotlights a type of conundrum routinely flung at Objectivists, involving " ... some horrific action a person can take that is technically not a violation of anyone's rights. This may include the torture of animals, a guy who is emotionally abusive to his girlfriend, parents who refuse to educate their children, or a wife who insists on cooking vegetarian dishes. All of them travesties of justice, and yet the law is not allowed to remedy them."

It should be noted in passing that the cooking of vegetarian dishes for one's spouse assuredly is an initiation of force (not to mention the fraud involved in passing these dishes off as food), which the law should remedy (with flogging followed by boiling in vegetable oil); and that parents who refuse to send their children to school (as opposed to educating them) are doing them a great service. But we get the point: a libertarian society would indeed leave a person free to be negligent, cruel, discourteous, verbally abusive, shallow, conniving, manipulative an all-round general anushole without any legal retribution, as long as no physical coercion were involved. Anti-libertarians, whose knee-jerk response to any kind of problem is, "What's the government going to do about it?" seize on such a laissez-faire position and trumpet it as validating their advocacy of Big Government. "Aha, see?! You can't guarantee some people won't starve in your libertarian society therefore the government must steal from the earnings of those who won't for the benefit of those who might. You can't guarantee no one will have his feelings hurt therefore the government must curtail freedom of speech. You can't guarantee no one will be cruel to animals therefore the government must pretend animals have rights [a concept applicable only to humans] and make laws against cruelty to animals!"

Etc., ad nauseam.

Pseudo-libertarians, such as those in New Zealand's ACT Party, perform a variation on this theme when they say things like, "Well, it's true the government shouldn't run pension schemes, but people should be forced to take out private schemes because you real libertarians can't guarantee that, left to their own devices, they'll make provision for their retirement." And ACT MPs are at the forefront of those calling for the imprisonment of parents who fail to send their children to school. How else, after all, to guarantee all children get an education?

The demand for such guarantees in any kind of society is irrational. The only thing guaranteed in life is death (and taxes, while collectivists rule). On the metaphysical level, life will always throw up accidents and disasters; on the man-made, people who yell at their wives and fornicate with goats. Trying to legislate against such contingencies is simply a recipe for tyranny. A free society will ensure that problems are tackled without the initiation of force against anyone (which offers the best hope of success); it will not guarantee that all existing problems will spontaneously vanish and no new ones will arise.

The more important point, the one Joe raises, is this: relying on the government to do the impossible and solve every ill is a cop-out. It ignores the self-responsibility side of the freedom coin.

What should the government do about hurt feelings? Nothing. If you're concerned about your own hurt feelings, develop a thicker skin, avoid the people who hurt you, etc.; if you're concerned about the hurt feelings of others, console them if you wish, and don't hurt their feelings yourself.

What should the government do about cruelty to animals? Nothing. If you're concerned about it, make a noise about it, link up with others of like mind and use the non-coercive weapons such as persuasion, ostracism, boycott and denunciation that are open to you.

What should the government do about anusholes? Nothing. If you're concerned about them, avoid them, excoriate them if appropriate and don't be one yourself.

In short, if you perceive something to be a problem, and it does not involve a rights violation, take ownership of it yourself, and strive to solve it without recourse to coercion. Above all, recognise that the promotion of decency, benevolence, courtesy, responsibility, etc., is a matter for individuals, not governments; that on a societal level, it is a matter of culture and custom, not of law.

"The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours."

If you fight for it!

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