Thursday, May 24, 2012

There's no "Well, maybe..." in Libertopia, dammit!

In the whole "Cart You Off To The Rubber Ramada" discussion, Roomie offers the following argument in opposition to my viewpoint:
You don't own other people; you don't get to control what they do. When you threaten to harm someone -- even yourself -- you're initiating force, attempting to extort something from the persons to whom you are expressing your threat.
You know, I don't think I agree with that. And yet it's an angle I had not pondered before. I'm willing to go sit someplace quiet and chew it over for a bit and see if I still disagree. I think I will, but the very fact that I'm willing to do this is apparently proof that I need to scrape off my Ron Paul bumper stickers and burn my Murray Rothbard books. I just got my wookie suit dry-cleaned, too, dammit!


Hollowpoint1938 said...

Thought you might find this little episode interesting. Something that
might have shown up in "Atlas."

J.R.Shirley said...

(Wookie growl)

Ambulance Driver said...

I think she summed it up nicely in her very first comment: Suicide = legitimate act of self determination. Threatening suicide = extortion.

Wish I had said that.

DanH said...

Someone tried to tell me that suicide was illegal once. I responded by stating that suicide most certainly is NOT illegal, attempting and failing, however, is.
Threatening suicide is nothing more than an extreme form of holding your breath till your parents buy you a toy and it should be dealt with the same way.

Anonymous said...

Why do you disagree with what RobertaX wrote? For myself, it seems a pretty good statement of the fundamental principle of libertarianism, something I find more sensible with just about each passing day.

I look forward to reading your additional thoughts.

Divemedic said...

I still haven't gotten a Libertarian answer to how we are to deal with people who have diminished capacity:
Head injuries
mental retardation

Who decides for them?

perlhaqr said...

DocJim: I can't speak for Tam, of course, but I disagreed with that particular line in that post myself. The reason being that I disagree with the assertion that talking about something I have the right to do constitutes "initiating force" in the way that libertarians mean it.

Anonymous said...

Divemedic - I still haven't gotten a Libertarian answer to how we are to deal with people who have diminished capacity...

A good question, and I admit that I haven't got an iron-clad answer. My view is that, to a large extent, it's less "society's" problem than a family / friend problem.

To the extent that it IS society's problem, it can / should be dealt with as we have in the past: by having hospitals or sanitariums for people who can't take care of themselves (and, ideally, these should be run by private charities).

The problem arises in determining whether people CAN'T take care of themselves. In many cases, I suppose that it's easy. But what about the hypothetical suicide-wannabes? Shall we lock people up because we THINK that they are a menace to themselves? Who makes that call? Using what criteria?

Rule of thumb: threaten / harm yourself, it's your business or perhaps your family / friends'.

Threaten / harm somebody else, it becomes society's (i.e. government) business.

Robert said...

And then there's the case of the vet in DC, who called a helpline asking what to do about his nightmares, and ended up 4 hrs later with a full bore SWAT team outside his door, in jail for weeks, and weapons confiscated. Wonder if A/D would be there supporting those cops that hauled that guy off?

Anonymous said...


Ah, I see what you mean. Thank you.

alcade said...

I'm not sure either of you are correct. Roberta certainly has a point in that threatening to commit suicide is basically extortion, but really, no matter how much we may love that person, the answer "who cares, do it" will always negate that. Imagine if the Muslims threatened to blow themselves up instead of us...

As for the libertarian response of its your body do with it what you will, I think the issue of implied consent comes into play. Most suicides aren't done with logical detached contemplation; we might believe they are because that is how we think... but typically there is some sort of chemical imbalance or mental disorder at play that is causing the suicidal feelings. If one wishes to commit suicide, it is implied that they are no longer making informed decisions and must be handled by a third party. It's really no different that a coma patient, at least legally speaking.

Brian said...

Who cleans up the mess? Do the neighbors just let your body decompose in your house? If you off yourself that forces somebody to clean it up and what right do you have to do that?

Keith said...

Ideally Brian they would go after the persons estate for the cleaning fees.

Brian said...

Yes Keith and we all know we live in an ideal world.

Robert said...

Brian: The same people that clean up if you have a heart attack and keel over while having breakfast, that's who.

Ken said...

In Ambulance Driver's specific circumstance, if I understand it correctly (subject to sanction if he ignores the suicide threat), one is certainly justified in defending oneself. The other actor involved AD by making the threat in his presence, thus exposing AD to consequences. Beyond that, I'd have to think 'er over some more myself.

Anonymous said...

Here's another angle to chew on, then - Suicidal makes a comment that is interpreted by Medic as a threat to commit suicide (for agument's sake, assume some wiggle room in the suicidal statement); Medic attempts to bundle Suicidal into the van for a ride; Suicidal objects to the perceived kidnapping and elects to treat Medic as a kidnapper in the act of committing a felony and starts rapidly climbing the force ladder in defense of Suicidal's personal property.

Christopher Burg said...

This could really be viewed both ways although I find myself disagreeing with the idea that threatening suicide is extortion.

Generally, in libertarian ethics at least, extortion is considered an initiation of force because one party is threatening another party with an act they have no right to do.

For example, if somebody pulls a knife on you and demands you surrender your wallet it would not be considered an act of extortion to threatened your would-be mugger by saying, "I have a gun, back off or I'll draw it and defend myself" (granted such a threat would be a bad idea to say the least but this is for the sake of demonstration, not an explanation of how to properly handle a mugging). The mugger on the other hand is performing an act of extortion by threatening to stab you if you don't surrender your wallet. As the mugger is initiating violence you have every right to perform an act of self-defense so threatening an act of self-defense is not considered extortion.

With that said I must now address whether or not committing suicide is an act of initiating force. This is gray area obviously and could be argued either way, although I don't believe committing an act of suicide is an initiation of force myself. Most libertarian philosophers argue that an individual is a self-owner, that is to say they have sole ownership over themselves. Ownership implies control, for example if you own a car it is your right to burn it just because you want to burn your car. On the other hand if you are only a part owner of the car then you may not burn it without consent from the other owners. As an individual is a self-owner they have complete control over themselves. This means if you want to kill yourself you have the right to do so, nobody else has ownership over you and thus has no just input in the matter. Since you have a right to commit suicide, by the fact you are a self-owner, threatening to commit suicide is no extortion.

Whether or not somebody is in a rightful state of mind is another matter. As a staunch libertarian I believe somebody does have the right to commit suicide but would certainly not hold anybody who attempted to prevent a suicide accountable unless extenuating circumstances existed (for example, if somebody was in a constant state of pain and wanted to be put out of their misery and it was obvious they had full control of their faculties I would consider it unjust to interfere). I say this because it is fairly safe to assume somebody threatening suicide is not in full control of their faculties and thus it is rightful to assume the person, if in a property state of mine, would want help. Using a similar situation let's assume you come across somebody being held a knifepoint and you decide to intervene on the victim's behalf by drawing a firearm and shooting the attacker. Even if the victim didn't specifically ask you to intervene it's a safe assumption that the person would have wanted you to intervene to save their life.

There are no absolutes, circumstances are usually full of gray area. I believe libertarian ethics make sense for general cases but there are situations where said ethics will be ignored, Rothbard gave the example of lifeboat situations for instance. We can argue about what libertarian ethics would dictate as propert action but, like hypothetical self-defense situations, they will likely be idealized so that a "good" option exists. A "good" option doesn't always exist and no system of ethics will always apply to everything.

Ambulance Driver said...

To Robert,

Absent any threat of harm to himself or others, no I couldn't support bringing him to the hospital.

Calling a mental health hotline for help with your nightmares is not a suicide threat.

So no, I wouldn't take him, and my employer would support me in that stance.

I have no idea what the DC medics would do, but they have the reputation of being the shittiest EMS system in the country.

I've had this sort of call before, although not with SWAT help/interference. People call quite frequently for us to "do something" with a family member they say "ain't ackin' right," or "not takin' they medicine."

My response is usually to explain that mental illness alone is not cause to drag someone to the hospital against their will, nor is refusal to take their psych meds. For me to circumvent their free will, there has to be credible evidence that they are an imminent threat to themselves or others.

The cops usually tell them the same thing.

Kristophr said...


When the person making the suicide threat escalates to violence, the medics will back off instantly, and throw this to the police.

Tam: Voting for Ron Paul is initiation of force ... you are authorizing him as your elected representative to legislate. And stop using those government funded streets and government monopoly utilities! XD

Matt G said...

Tamara, one of the reasons that I respect you so much is that you are able to make yourself look objectively at this issue, and yourself, to at least question if there's a flaw in your logic.

Whatever conclusion that you come to, I like that you did this. I chatted with AD for a bit on it last night, in fact.

bob r said...

Consider an example: You own a Stradivarius violin. Many people consider the existence of the violin to be of value to them -- even though they don't personally own it.

You tell another person you will destroy the violin is said person doesn't do something you want done. Extortion? Certainly. A crime justifying other people taking action against you to prevent you from carrying out said thread? Not even remotely.

I fail to see the difference between that and threatening to commit suicide. So I say Bobbi is right but that her assertion is irrelevant to the situation.

Anonymous said...

To Ambulance Driver: Well, I can respect that. I still don't completely agree with you, but I can respect your convictions.

And apparently they skipped the hospital part entirely and went straight to the jail.

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating debate...but you know, now looking back several decades, I am rather glad my friends didn't agree with my right of self ownership one particular night. Did they violate my right to do what I wanted? Rather. And I am glad they did so.
Having said that, I am also glad that they handled it/me in such a way that no government tag was placed around my, metaphorical, neck to remain for the rest of my life because of few months at age 18. That is what I don't like. The possibility that someone will forever be labelled incompetent even though the chain of events that caused the decision is no longer relevant or possible.

Anonymous said...

I can see some logic here:

1.) People who threaten suicide to get their way are not acting rationally.

2.) People who are acting irrationally may act out in violent, unpredictable ways.

3.) People who are acting irrationally and may act out in violent, unpredictable ways need a light tazing and a trip to the romper room.

Anyone who threatens violence against themselves or anyone else is trying to coerce others into doing their bidding. Coercion is BS, and is the mark of an uncivilized person.

This is, of course, very different then voluntary check out when facing a terminal condition. This should never be done as a threat or action against others, but should be a fairly private, individual affair. It should be planned so as to guarantee the safety of others, and to be considerate to those who will have to clean up the aftermath... if possible, a sufficient gratuity should be placed somewhere for the inconvenience of the coroner/EMTs.

MickHavoc said...

Ya'all think too much. I'm going shooting, then I'm going drinkin