L. Neil Smith's
Rebuttal of the Article "Some Limitations of the Non-Aggression Doctrine: Part I: As Concerns Individuals"
by Jonathan Lee
Exclusive to TLE
An article, written by Patrick K. Martin, was recently published [in TLE #161] attempting to refute the Non-Aggression Principle. On the face of it, this article was simply calling for "moderation" in the application of the Libertarian first principle. However, as any good scientist or other logical thinker knows, if there is an exception to a theory, that theory is no longer valid. Mr. Martin acknowledges this implicitly later in his article by suggesting instead the substitution of an alternate moral principle which he calls the "doctrine of competing harms". This proposed alternate principle is simply the old, worn-out, unworkable doctrine of choosing the lesser of two evils, instead of choosing what is right.
To bring his readers around to his theory, Mr. Martin provides three hypothetical situations which, he hopes, will provide sufficient visceral reaction from his readers to blind them to the fallacious logic he is using.
The first scenario his gives is one in which a young child is about to drink some deadly antifreeze by mistake. Mr. Martin then provides an example of how he thinks the situation should be handled, involving the forceful removal of the cup from the child, compounded by the additional beating of the child. He goes on to explain that this reaction would be a violation of the Non-Aggression principle, but since he hopes you would react this way too, and feel justified about it, therefore the Non-Aggression principle must be too extreme.
This first error in Mr. Martins explanation is that this is the only way to handle this situation and therefore must be a reason to use a less stringent moral principle. I would like to suggest to Mr. Martin, and any others who find they would have the same reaction proposed by him, that there is indeed an alternate child-rearing method that already completely follows all of the libertarian principles. The name of this method is "Taking Children Seriously" or TCS. Using this method, here is one way in which this scenario could be handled, without violating the Non-Aggression principle:
As you see your young child about to take a drink of deadly anti- freeze, you run towards them, screaming hysterically "STOP! WAIT! STOP! THAT'S POISON!!!". Upon hearing your frantic words and tone of voice, your child pauses, allowing time for you to reach her. You then ask if she would like a drink and suggest that you both go into the house and you will fix her whatever type of drink she wants. You also explain that the nice green water is deadly poison and would hurt her, but you will provide good stuff for her to drink whenever she wants it.
In this scenario, some things are assumed that are actually implicit in children raised using the TCS method. First, the children know that you will never take such a tone of voice with them unless they are in immediate danger, therefore, they respect and heed it. Second, the children know that you truly desire to always help them, with your knowledge, experience and other abilities (proven not by simply saying it, but by the way you treat them). Therefore, they are more willing to listen to your opinions and do not immediately oppose any suggestions you make. Thirdly, the child is not trying to drink the anti-freeze because she wants to die, but simply because she is thirsty. For this reason, you are not interfering with her choice, but simply helping her fulfill it.
The second error in Mr. Martins explanation is that the further application of force to your child (i.e. the beating) is covered by the fact that his scenario required you to use force to remove the cup from the child's possession. In fact, however, this is a separate, unnecessary, uncalled for violation of the Non-Aggression Principle. Any proposal to allow use of force in an emergency (i.e. the cup removal) should be limited to strictly that needed for the prevention of death or other acute, immediate harm. His proposal instead is that once the principle is violated, all further violations are warranted. This means that if, in your mind, you can justify the initiation of force in some situation, from then on the use of force is justified forevermore. In real life, true, immediate, life threatening emergencies are very rare, but a lot of people can always hypothesize just one more scenario where they feel the initiation of force is justified. Then they apply that justification backwards as Mr. Martin has done and slide right down the slippery slope.
Mr. Martin's second scenario brings up the dreaded, much harped upon and overblown "Adult consensual sex with a minor" situation. Again, he is relying on the visceral, knee-jerk reaction of most parents today to help mask the defects in his scenario. Let me instead ask a few questions to place the scenario in a different light. First, why does your child not respect you enough (or even fear your reaction) to ask your theories on the matter? If they have heard your theories on the subject, why do they respect the opinions of this adult on the matter more than they do yours? If the child has heard the opinions/theories of both you and the other adult, and has judged the other adult's theory more valid than yours, why is the situation given a surprise to you and why hasn't your child asked your help in making the situation as safe and non-threatening as possible for them? Could it be that your past actions have proven to them that they can't rely upon you to help them achieve their desires as defined by them, instead of imposing on them what you think they should want? If you are parenting your children correctly, they should feel free to ask for your theories on any subject and to debate them with you, knowing that you will not in any way try to force your opinions on them if they don't agree.
Later in his missive, Mr. Martin states the he does not believe children are human (implied since they do not have rights and humans, or other sapient beings, have rights), but that adults have certain responsibilities to them. Specifically, he asserts that children are unable to reason until they reach a certain magical arbitrary age called the "age of consent", when they suddenly get their fully functioning brains implanted into their heads. Until that time, adults, he states, must care for them as the farmer would his livestock, cattleprods and all. Mr. Martin's theory, however, is easily refuted. To be rational is to have the ability to create (or obtain) and use processes that create knowledge, reason. Since a child learns to speak, he is obviously creating knowledge, becoming better and better at communicating his ideas. Every child learns about the world outside themselves and how to interact with it. These features in and of themselves would qualify the child as a rational being, and therefore having rights, although of course there are many other specific examples of learning that children do.
For more information about the TCS philosophy and practical implementation, check out this website: http://www.tcs.ac Under the 'Articles' link you will find many in-depth essays about the subject.
The third scenario Mr. Martin proposes is one in which you come across someone against whom force is being initiated, but you don't know them personally. Here he argues that since you aren't related to the person in any way and your personal well-being isn't being affected you would somehow be initiating force against the aggressors if you came to the victim's defense. Here I have to disagree, and would argue instead that by default, unless specifically told otherwise by the person you want to assist, you are simply aiding the victim in their self- defense. If, in Mr. Martin's scenario there was some sort of communication to you by the victim that assistance was not welcome and you still insisted on shooting at the aggressors, then you would be initiating force.
In summary, Patrick Martin's essay is one full of gross logical errors and fallacies. He uses various contrived examples in an attempt to prove that the Non-Aggression Principle should be replaced, but his only suggestion for replacement is one proven not to work in real life. As someone once said, "The lesser of two evils is still evil". Since there will always be someone advocating a greater evil, compromising and accepting a lesser evil will slowly but surely result in having the greater evil.
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