Nebulous Rationality

Corruption of culture is a nebulous and subjective concept which has been used toward evil authoritarian ends for as we can remember. Sorry, unless there is a clear victim, legislation of such morality, or culture as you call it, is not a proper function of government, as you would certainly agree if the progressives took control and sought to impose their own morality and culture upon you.

So writes Dan in a comment, here. As a historical matter, I’d argue that, while (yes) the “nebulous and subjective concept” has been used for evil, it has also been used to focus and advance Western civilization. The idea is to get better at applying it, not to declare ourselves beyond its necessity.
But we could argue history and import until the sun comes up and still not say anything new or change anybody’s mind, so let’s pick up the thread with another sentence of Dan’s, written here:

… there is a difference between having a broad and intrusive law like prostitution law which actually makes certain activities that shouldn’t rationally be prohibited illegal and a narrow law like theft for which enforcement requires a certain amount of investigation to confirm the elements.

It can hardly be argued whether objective rationality has also contributed to “evil authoritarian ends” in history. Recent history. The problem is that it isn’t objectively rational and only appears so, in our conversation, because Dan places arbitrary restrictions on its allowable origin and permissible application to determine who judges what as harmful and to whom.
A person who believes that God will punish a society for toleration of prostitution is advocating a personally rational policy when he supports the criminalization of prostitution. To declare his internally rational worldview invalid in the formation of the law is to establish a state religion premised on the impossibility of such a God. In another direction, a person who sincerely believes that his own will is the determinant of reality is also being perfectly rational in advocating for policies that allow him to subject others to what some might call harm. With a nod to our progressive friends, one could bring to mind, as an example, a greedy corporate executive who advocates politically according to his rational self interest, even though the proposed policies are unreasonable by community standards.
Libertarians, I’d further argue, found their views on an irrational faith that the only harms that matter are direct and provable and the dogma that all must accept their criteria for the passage of laws. Both counts are absurd. Anybody who thinks human beings are capable of discerning the waves of cause and effect and articulating their observations with sufficient clarity to codify them into law is irrational.
Center-mass conservatives see tradition as the means of learning, over time, what practices cause harm, often on a profound scale. That which does not pick my pocket may yet bring down my house, and a wise society will seek to give its citizens a means of expressing the dangers that they see, while preserving the rights of those with their eyes on different threats.
We accomplish the feat by constructing a governing system that enables tiers of community norms. It gives us all sorts of room to decide whether and at what layer of government to accomplish the inevitably muddy work of agreeing to laws in order to maintain the freedom of our beliefs and to work together and compromise wherever possible. So, the town should be free to zone strip clubs out, while the state should leave strip clubs alone but prevent the establishment of prostitution as a region-defining industry, and the federal government should protect the rights of sex-trade advocates to speak and protest at town council meetings.
To put it plainly, we work the subjective stuff out on as small a scale as makes our decisions effectual.
The decision about whether prostitution should be legal in Rhode Island is logically prior to the method of making it illegal, so Dan’s subsequent objections about leaving “selective enforcement” up to the police is premature. If we agree, however, for the sake of argument, that prostitution should be illegal, then we might also agree that the prostitutes should not be the target of the penalties and that enforcement may also be constrained to limit investigatory efforts. The principle would be that, if you don’t get caught, then the transaction was really and truly a private matter.
The grandest irrationality of the state’s pro-prostitution libertarians is the apparent believe that a state with a governing system conspicuously strangling the private sector — that can’t keep its hands off even minute details of life — will somehow adhere to a libertarian ideal when it comes to prostitution. Now that it is widely known that prostitution is legal, here, the government will not fail to extend its reach into the occupation, should the “loophole” making it legal become, instead, a portal.
What the libertarians will accomplish, with their small-government zealotry, will be an intrusive regime that fails to flush out the illicit. Regulation of prostitution means licensing, testing, workplace inspection, and more, and all it does is create a legal subset, leaving those who will not, cannot, or do not want to live within the rules to create an even seedier black market.
Of course, Dan professes not to care about seediness. Even if a majority of prostitutes are merely trapped in the trade to support their hard-drug habits, it remains a private matter. Once again, to believe that such a society as ours will not cry for government to do something to help such poor souls is to believe something more incredible than found in the strangest sects of the jungle.
Readers will note that my tack, when progressives et alia strive to impose their morality, is to argue that the imposition ought to be made at the state level (or smaller) and then to argue why the law wouldn’t achieve its stated aims or is wrong or reckless for other reasons. This isn’t only a strategic move; it’s also reflective of strong convictions that a rational system can only operate in such a way.

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Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Lots to cover here. Not sure if I can give it all adequate treatment, but here are my first thoughts. “Libertarians, I’d further argue, found their views on an irrational faith that the only harms that matter are direct and provable and the dogma that all must accept their criteria for the passage of laws. Both counts are absurd. Anybody who thinks human beings are capable of discerning the waves of cause and effect and articulating their observations with sufficient clarity to codify them into law is irrational.” Direct? No, we generally acknowledge that harms can be indirect. Provable? Yes, we do require that one. If we are going to go so far as to ban an activity in its entirety and throw people into jail cells away from their families over it, then I would like to require that the supposed harm to others be provable. I actually agree with your last statement, but reach the opposite conclusion. It is precisely because human beings cannot always discern the waves of cause and effect that we should be extra cautious in saying what sort of behavior is good or bad, and intervene only as a matter of last resort. “With a nod to our progressive friends, one could bring to mind, as an example, a greedy corporate executive who advocates politically according to his rational self interest, even though the proposed policies are unreasonable by community standards.” Which is precisely why government should be as small and restricted as possible, to prevent it from being corrupted by powerful special interests and used against the whole of society as a self-serving weapon. By contrast, that greedy corporate executive could not violent coerce people to do business with him in the free market, the same way government can violently enforce some sort… Read more »

Tabetha
Tabetha
11 years ago

Justin,
I have been reading your posts and have some serious questions to ask regarding your conception of freedom of religion and the place (if any) that religion can have in the development of law.
First, do you believe that all people should be free to hold their own religious beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be (within the boudaries of not infringing on the rights of others – e.g. rape and human sacrifice would not be protected under religious freedom)?
Next, if we are all free to believe what we choose, then how can religion possibily have a place in the development of the laws which all must follow? Whose religion would we use?
If you choose the religion of the majority (in RI, Catholocism, for example), then essentially you are advocating for what amounts to the Sha’ria law that is practiced in many Islamic countries.
In which case, you do not really believe in freedom of religion.
Please explain how you believe freedom of religion and law based on religion can possibly coexist.
I am not criticizing you; I am simply have trouble understanding your position.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

I’ve always believed that it’s not just freedom OF religion, but also freedom FROM religion. If you don’t believe in any religion at all, one should not be forced upon you by any government laws. Just the same as if you do believe in one religion, a different one should not be forced upon you either.
Although, one could then question why government offices are closed on Christmas Day.

Tabetha
Tabetha
11 years ago

Patrick,
I think agnosticism and atheism are also covered under freedom of religion. You have the right to believe (or not believe) anything you wish. As for holidays, people do have the right to take days off work for religious observance. That is part of freedom of religion,too. And if 90% of your employees celebrate Christmas and need that day off, it just may be a bad business decision to remain open.

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