Monday, January 18, 2016

The Starving Baby Problem

The school of anarchism to which I subscribe takes the Non-Aggression Principle to its logical extreme: it is never, ever, morally justified to violate people or their property. Period. Not even if “a small violation prevents something worse from happening.”

This is called brutalism by some who see reasons to violate the NAP for “humanitarian” reasons:

There is a segment of the population of self-described libertarians—described here as brutalists—who find all the above rather boring, broad, and excessively humanitarian. To them, what’s impressive about liberty is that it allows people to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on “politically incorrect” standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used as a means, to shout down people based on their demographics or political opinions, to be openly racist and sexist, to exclude and isolate and be generally malcontented with modernity, and to reject civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms.

Let me only point out that ascribing nasty motivations to those with whom one disagrees is “neither right nor safe” (as I have discovered from sad experience). Take any five articles I’ve written, or those written by Murray Rothbard or Lew Rockwell or Tom Woods or Hans-Hermann Hoppe. While we do love liberty because “it allows people to assert their individual preferences,” do we celebrate open racism or sexism (or “homophobia”)? Or are we more likely to say, “I hang with whom I wish to hang with, and I’ll give you the same privilege”?

Just as you can use a hammer to build a house or bash a baby’s head, so the same liberty that allows people to profit from their good decisions also allows people – all of whom are rebels against God, don’t forget – to take bad decisions farther down the road than a “humanitarian” interventionist society might permit. My point in what follows is that liberty or anarchism or brutalism or whatever you want to call it is the best way to deal with the human tendency toward evil.

The reductio ad absurdum that is supposed to send us brutalists packing goes something like this: “What if some parent puts his baby in a display window with a sign that says, ‘Watch this baby starve to death.’ Would you not be justified in breaking the window, ‘kidnapping’ the baby, and thereby saving its life? I sure as hell would do it, and if you would sit by and let the baby die, you’re beneath contempt.” Take that, damned brutalist!

Just so you know, dear reader, I would consider “the liberty to starve your baby to death” a downside of liberty and would want to see the baby live.

I would be tempted to respond that someone once said something to the effect that making general laws to deal with exceptional cases is a good way to end up with bad laws. I don’t know of any cases of people torturing babies to death, but whaddya know, we’re standing in front of that very window with that very sign, and that very baby. big as life, hasn’t been fed for hours, and it’s crying its head off. What do we do now?

You say, “You either break the window and grab the baby, or you call the cops and have them do it. End of problem.”

Since we’re dealing with a first-of-its-kind situation – and, don’t forget, really a hypothetical one – I don’t feel badly about pointing to instances, however rare, that have actually happened, where the cops wouldn’t intervene. Can you imagine the reaction of Hitler’s storm troopers if the baby and father were Jewish? I would expect them to “put it out of its misery,” which would indeed end its suffering and get it to stop crying, but I don’t think a bayonet through the torso is quite what you had in mind.

“Be reasonable,” you say. “That was one out of countless states.” Well, I am being reasonable: you have to have control of what those interventions will look like before you can say that they will accomplish the greater good that supposedly justifies them. That is, you need political power. Mao wasn’t far from right when he said that power flows from the barrel of a gun. Those used to feeling like they look down the barrel are going to be a lot quicker to rely on political power than those who feel like they’re more likely to be looking up it.

As for states that kill their own citizens, Hitler was not alone. Uncle Sam’s ally Josef Stalin literally starved many times as many Kulaks as Hitler gassed Jews, a strategy used earlier by the Ottoman Turks on the Armenians. Can you imagine the Kulaks or Armenians appealing to the powers that be, ordained of God, to rescue a Kulak or Armenian baby being starved by its parents?

“But this is the United States. We don’t do things like that.”

Oh, no? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands who have lost their children during my lifetime to napalm, Agent Orange, “shock and awe,” “collateral damage,” white phosphorus, and depleted uranium, all for “humanitarian” reasons – “We’ve been attacked!!” Tell that to the women who feel, shall we say, buyer’s remorse after taking advantage of tax-subsidized abortions (not to mention those of us who ask, in vain, only that we not be taxed to pay for those abortions). One thing liberals and conservatives agree on is their right to kill babies; if they disagree, it’s over which babies they get to kill.

If “Yes, he’s a racist; leave him alone” or “I am not going to break that window” is brutal, what is Uncle Sam?

I would say that there has to be a better way to solve the problem than to employ the political power that George Washington called “an untrustworthy servant and a fearsome master.”

I would add that the interventionist solution inaugurates an end-justifies-the-means ethical system. It works fine as far as snatching this one baby out of the jaws of death is concerned, but we have to plan for the day that that ethical system, the cute little velociraptor that we’ve just hatched, grows into a quarter ton of muscle and voracious appetite that can run as fast as a car.

Said baby, if he grows up, will no doubt tell the world that he is only alive because someone violated the NAP, and he will be telling the truth. He will also be telling the truth when he says that he owes his life to an end-justifies-the-means action. Convinced of his own innate goodness and self-worth, if he grows up rational, what will stop him from applying end-justifies-the-means solutions to an increasingly wide range of problems? (How’s this for starters?) Might those whose persons and property he violates in his quest for self-fulfillment, whether individual or collective, be forgiven for wishing he had been left in the window?

“Look. The baby’s screaming. Stop worrying about the future. Let’s help the baby!

OK, fine. The same liberty that supposedly allows a man to starve his baby to death in public also allows the community to respond as it chooses. No man is an island, and no decent community wants a member who would starve his baby in public. So we shun him.

Who knows this father? Does he buy food? Can we get whoever sells it to him to refuse to do business with him? Can we take away from him the right to travel on the roads? Can we get the power and gas and oil shut off from his house? Can we get the medical community to tell him that if the baby dies, he himself will never receive treatment?

“None of those ‘solutions’ will get that baby to stop crying anytime soon. I want to fix the problem now!”

As those who provide services at a great discount are wont to say, “Lack of planning on your part does not make an emergency on my part.” The mechanisms I’ve just described need to be in place before the idiot tries to starve his baby in the window. He needs to be asking himself before taking any given course of action, whether it’s starving his baby or painting his house a garish color or trying a new psychedelic substance or calling people bad names or any form of “reject[ing] civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms” how he is going to be part of the community afterwards.

Is an extended argument that the “humanitarian” state tends to isolate people rather than build community needed? Absent the top-down state, people will find it in their best interests to build communities from the bottom up. You want to save the starving baby? Make sure the father never puts him there to begin with.

The ultimate preventive medicine, of course, is the gospel of Jesus. Anyone who would starve his baby in a window is not only an obvious rebel against God but also one who is acting out because he is somehow suffering from that rebellion. More than anything he needs the offer of life through Jesus. If he refuses the offer, it’s his business: the same Jesus who said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” also said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” It may literally be the case that this dead man buries his dead baby. But we’ve made that a very expensive decision.

Still not convinced, my Christian brother? How’s this, then? Many parents consider it their sacred duty to raise their children to be devout Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Scientologists – you name it. According to our theology, they are telling us, “Watch this baby die.” Do you really think Jesus wants us to break the window and take those babies by force and indoctrinate them in what we consider the truth?

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