Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Joe Bennett continues his civil disobedience by remaining resident in his own home. And he yeanrs for a judge who does not exist:
"But," began the council chief executive, emerging from behind a colossal pay cheque.
"But nothing," bellowed the judge, his jowls turning purple, his voice like the all- shaking thunder.
"But nothing at all. Has every one of you forgotten the first principle of civilised freedom, as enshrined in the words of John Stuart Mill, words that should be emblazoned in scarlet letters a foot tall above the desk of man, woman or child who holds office? 'The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others'.
"Go. I have tired of you. Return to the vast amount of important work that needs doing and leave Mr Bandit alone. Case dismissed."
As the council drooped out, the defendant leapt from the dock and flung his arms around the judge and kissed him. "Oh," he exclaimed. "To think that I have lived to see such a magnificent defence of freedom and individual responsibility from the judicial bench. Oh your Honour, you are the knees of the bee."
"You seem to have forgotten," said the judge, disentangling himself with some urgency from the defendant's embrace, "that I am entirely imaginary and most unlikely to exist in real life. The same cannot be said of your halitosis."
Ah, Joe. You're not part of the new enlightenment. The old, superseded enlightenment took a narrow view of harm to others, where harm had to be directly imposed on other people, and "other people" was far too exclusionary. The new enlightenment says it's a harm to others if those others can't help themselves from coming in to rescue you if you get into trouble, so force can be used to keep you from taking risks. And even "others" is problematic - how can we be sure that you today is the same person as you tomorrow? If not, then the state is justified in using force to prevent harms to your other selves: it knows better than you do how to implement a social welfare function with appropriate weights attached to the varieties of you than "you" do yourself. For that matter, does "you" even make sense given what we're finding in neuroscience about the different decision modules in the brain and their struggles for dominance?

I wish I were kidding.

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