THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 573, June 6, 2010
"A sign of the tyrant is a failure to
distinguish between dissent and treason"
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
I have spoken before of rights. I must warn you now that today, I will speak of sex and morality.
I believe that rights are best defined as legitimate moral claims which an individual can make as to his own actions and those actions which are taken against him based upon observable biological reality and the principle of the non initiation of force.
But what is morality? If we are to use the word "moral" in the above definition, then we must understand what that word means.
Morality can mean "socially acceptable." Herein however, I am specifically referring to normative morality, or an absolute standard of right and wrong.
I was having a discussion with a coworker the other day about sexual morality. I strongly believe in absolute sexual freedom, just as I strongly believe in absolute freedom in every other areas. If an outside entity can tell me where, and with whom, I may engage in any consensual physical action, including sex, then they have made a claim of ownership upon my being and have made me into a slave. There can be no freedom without sexual freedom.
This leads into a whole morass of counter arguments about child pornography and prostitution, rape and a number of other topics which are brought up only to distract from the moral reality. It's my body. If I can't do with it what I choose, then I am not free. Consensual sexual behavior is not itself a moral issue, any more than playing tag, or a game of catch, or climbing a tree. It is purely a physical act. Boys and boys, boys and girls, girls and girls, it's all just a handshake.
Now, climbing someone else's tree is an act of aggression. Stealing someone else's baseball and playing catch with it is an act of aggression. Chasing someone down and hitting them is an act of aggression. But it is not the physical act which is wrong, it is the context of the act.
Sex is amoral, but I can't rape a person, because that would be to enslave a second party and is clearly a violation of their freedom. Of course I can't engage in child prostitution or child pornography, because a child can not give informed consent to that action, and so it is an act of aggression against their freedom. However, once a person can give informed consent, regardless of their age which is only an arbitrary benchmark no more sensible than the drinking age or the driving age or the voting age or the working age, then it is their decision what sexual activities to engage in, and no one else's. At that point, preventing that person from engaging in sexual behavior would be exactly the same as rape. You would be aggressing upon that person's sexual freedom and claiming ownership of their body.
So we were discussing sexual behavior, and this coworker of mine said that public sexual behavior was wrong. I asked her how she could attribute a moral attribute such as "wrongness" to consensual sexual behavior simply because it was in public view. She said she didn't want to see it, and she didn't want her kids to see it, which I fully accepted. But how did that make it wrong? Does not wanting your children exposed to certain non violent consensual behaviors between other people give you the right to use violence to restrict them?
For instance, I don't want my children exposed to fat people. Obesity is destructive, it is often a lifestyle choice, and it leads to a number of personal problems including low self esteem, lower pay in the work place, fewer personal relationships, and shorter life spans. Why on earth would I want my kids to see or emulate such a behavior?
Before you get all worked up, let me tell you that I am also heavily overweight. I am not simply lashing out at people to hurt feelings. I recognize that this is a dangerous behavior, and one I am responsible for, and I want better for my children.
But does that give me the right to prevent fat people from walking the streets? Can I use guns to keep all the chubby folk in doors whenever my kids are out, simply because I have expressed a preference against their presence? Of course not. Because that would be an aggression against their freedom.
The simple truth is that the "morality" or lack thereof of sexual behavior is a simple hand me down of religious and cultural illusions foisted upon us as children.
Now, in my personal life, I am actually a bit of a sexual prude. I don't practice extramarital sex. I don't practice homosexual sex. I don't practice group sex. I don't practice high risk sex. But this is all simply a matter of preference.
And there's that word again. Preference. You see, through talking to this coworker we were able to establish that we both agreed that sex itself is objectively amoral. And we were able to establish that using violence to enforce our preferences against others is immoral. If someone were to tie you down, force open your eyes, and force you to watch people engage in sexual behavior, now that would be immoral. But not because of the sex. It would be immoral because they were using violence to prevent you from acting in accordance with your preferences.
So does morality entail using violence to prohibit or enforce certain behaviors? Or is it moral to allow people to act according to preferences so long as they bring no provable, quantifiable harm against others? I believe that it is the second.
Of course there are ways to curtail behavior absent the use of force. If most people don't want to see public sexual behavior, and I believe there are a number of people including myself who would fall into this category, then it is in the best interests of business owners not to allow such behavior on their property, lest they drive away their prospective clientele. This is obviously not an aggression against the rights of the people engaging in public sex, because they would be aggressing upon the property owner first by trespassing against his preference for how his property be used.
This can be extrapolated out into a number of areas, but the key issue here is that just as each man or women must be allowed to decide their own preferences, they must also be allowed to act upon those preferences absent the initiation of force. It is the only moral choice. It is the only way we can build a just society. Violently curtailing the behavior of those we do not agree with, but which does no provable, quantifiable harm to us may make us happy in the short term, but it will simply result in the same being done to us in the long.
It is truly an example of living and dying by the same sword.