I Call That a Concession–the Best I Ever Had

Remember Jason Brennan’s loud, proud, and rather idiotic declamations against me at BHL on the subject of police brutality?

Memory refresher: I wrote this post on the subject of non-compliance with government anti-disease-spreading orders. Brennan responded (with Phil Magness in tow) by mischaracterizing my view and defaming me at BHL. In full anticipation of the fact that he would eventually regret his posts and delete them, I copied and pasted them into the comment section of my own post on the subject. I rebutted his claims in some detail, twice, and got no answer from him but a few cheap, embarrassing, off-topic polemical jabs.

If you now go to BHL, you’ll find his April 8 post quietly deleted. Brennan’s BHL posts now go from February 19 to April 9, 2020.  If you click the link for the original post, you get : “Page not found.” Page not found because page not there. Page not there because page deleted. Page deleted because page inconvenient for PR purposes. The louder they are, the more discreetly they delete themselves.

I get it, Jason: I can see why you’d want to delete what you wrote from the public record in sheer embarrassment at its existence. In fact, I saw that from the outset. That’s why, as you wrote your posts, I copied all of them and decided to treat them as keepsakes. As you delete them, I’ll re-blog them here. With full credit to you, of course. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I wrote them.

Meanwhile, I haven’t deleted anything that I’ve written. Why would I? I have a healthy respect for the historical record, and have nothing to delete. But I have plenty more to write. Perhaps this combination of facts will teach the great avatars of statistical rigor, Jason Brennan and Phil Magness, the difference between two basic mathematical operations: addition and subtraction. I learned it in grade school. They can learn it now.

13 thoughts on “I Call That a Concession–the Best I Ever Had

  1. Isn’t it funny how these folks need to spend so much time protecting their reputations?
    I learned as a child: if you want to save face; stop shooting your mouth off.
    I keep copies of their posts also.

    sean s.

    Liked by 1 person

      • What’s funnier is the time and effort they spend attacking the reputations of others.

        I don’t know how funny this is, though. Brennan, Magness, and the rest of the AIER frat boys represent the future of public libertarianism in the United States. I don’t know how or why, but they’ve got all the donor money.

        I wish I could smile about the egg on Brennan’s face, but this will be swept under the rug, where it will rest alongside Jeffrey Tucker’s long history of racism. This isn’t funny at all. Just like that (*snaps fingers*), libertarianism is back in the racist-crank-guru wilderness.

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        • I wouldn’t put it that way. It seems too pessimistic to me, and I say that as a non-libertarian.

          For one thing, I don’t put Jason Brennan in the same category as Phil Magness or Jeff Tucker (or for that matter, Magness in the same category as Tucker). For all of the bad blood between us, I’m the first to acknowledge that Brennan is generally an excellent philosopher, and has done some very good work. He has some very strange blind spots, and some very large defects of character. But one can read much of his work with great profit, and I have.

          I have not read very much of Magness’s historiography, so I can’t comment there, but it’s well respected, so I assume by default that there’s something to it. What I have read is his stuff on adjunct justice and higher education. It has a superficial cleverness about it, but most of it is egregiously devoid of common sense. Still, it can’t simply be waved away.

          Tucker is just an all-out idiot in a category of his own. He just consistently serves up crap, day-in and day-out.

          The distinctions matter because they help to explain AIER’s strategy, which is the same as the strategy adopted by many similar groups. Look at the staff of AIER. It doesn’t really fit your description:

          https://www.aier.org/staff/

          That’s not a bunch of racist cranks. Whether you agree with them or not, Baird, Boettke, Davies, Hanke, White, and some of the others are all highly respected, well- regarded scholars. They’re mixed in indiscriminately with people like Tucker and Wright, who produce ideologically-inflected garbage. And people like Magness, who fit both descriptions–respected scholar, and producer of ideological garbage.

          I suspect that Brennan himself understands this. He correctly sees himself as (for the most part) above producing ideological garbage. But his attack on me really was ideological garbage, and was written in the service of a producer of ideological garbage, Magness. Hence the need (after a bit of reflection) to delete it. I sympathize.

          Anyway, the issue, as I see it, is subtler than your formulation suggests. It’s not that AIER is some outfit of nothing but racists or cranks. It’s that AIER is an outfit in which the respectable people give cover to the cranks. If you look closely at libertarian organizations, you’ll see that this is a recurring pattern. Good people tolerate bad people under the cover of intellectual diversity, when what they are actually doing is setting up a good cop/bad cop routine in which the respectable scholars give cover to the ideological thugs. I have objected to this for about 25 years, and have always been regarded as a crank for it. But once you pay attention to it, you begin to see it everywhere. In the case of Objectivist organizations, it was essentially an explicit strategy: good scholarship was there to give cover to bad scholarship, all for the cause. The “leaders” of the Objectivist movement (if one wants to call them that) were always under the impression that the good scholarship would somehow altruistically pull up the bad, when what happened was that the bad pulled down the good.

          As for why the donors donate to such institutions, well, consider AIER’s relationship to American Investment Services, an investment company. AIS is a fully owned subsidiary of AIER.

          https://www.americaninvestment.com/

          However you cash that out (so to speak), it’s not as though AIER is going to employ scholars openly hostile to Wall Street, or even hostile to the Wall Street Journal:

          https://www.aier.org/article/a-tribute-to-the-wall-street-journals-editorial-page/

          I would adopt, as a working hypothesis, that though AIER owns AIS, AIER is the ideological arm of AIS. It exists to serve the perceived ideological needs of entities like AIS. Such entities need both respected scholars and thugs. One of those will not suffice to fight the ideological war they want to fight.

          For whatever it’s worth, I think the same of the relationship between Koch and IHS, or BB&T and the Objectivist movement. In my view, the libertarian movement is driven less by racist cranks than it is by corporate capitalism. The racist cranks are just there for the free ride. They are more prominent because they are more repulsive. But that doesn’t mean that they drive the movement.

          I guess this is nothing to smile about, either. But I have a pretty sick sense of humor. Then again, I’m 51 and about to lose my job. There will be time enough for you, grasshopper. It takes a lot of crying to laugh as hard as I do.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Irfan;

            I almost missed this: “In my view, the libertarian movement is driven less by racist cranks than it is by corporate capitalism.

            I think that’s right. From my observation, Libertarians seem to be fallen anarchists because they’ve fallen in love with property. They seem to own enough stuff (or aspire to) that they want a State to help protect it all. But not more.

            And this: “[they were under] the impression that the good scholarship would somehow altruistically pull up the bad, when what happened was that the bad pulled down the good.

            Is this a variation on Gresham’s Law?

            Good luck with your job.

            sean s.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Not being a philosopher, I cannot make any comment about the intellectual prowess of Brennan, Magness, Tucker, or AIER.

          What strikes me is the implication of Dunning Kruger: intellectual achievement requires humility. Wisdom (imho) is best described as a deep appreciation for one’s own ignorance. What I see from libertarians is little wisdom. That observation is only anecdotal, and of course lack of wisdom is not limited to libertarians; but it does seem to be more pervasive among them than many others.

          As for me: the deep well of my ignorance is unfathomable.

          sean s.

          Liked by 1 person

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  3. A general point about your comments on using force against people who refuse to social distance (since this is your most recent post on it): there’s no obvious cut off line between aggression and non-aggression once you accept exposing someone to a virus as aggression, because, covid19 or no, every time you go near a person you are potentially exposing them to potentially infectious diseases, e.g. the flu, meningitis, etc. You don’t seem to acknowledge in your posts the issue of proportionality.

    We are, of course, still talking about externalities, not really aggression, unless people are intentionally sneezing at you in an effort to get you sick (in legal terms, negligence would be the better term). And there is obviously a continuum from someone standing by you at the bus stop in the pre-coronavirus world, which imposes a non-zero but – I’m guessing you’d agree – sufficiently negligible cost to you that their freedom to walk by you should be (or should have been) respected, and someone walking by while holding a grenade with the pin pulled out and his finger on the safety lever. Now, you might argue that the line that separates the realm of ‘sufficiently harmless to warrant no intervention’ and ‘treat them as if they were physically attacking you’ lives somewhere between the threat posed by the flue/meningitis/etc. during normal times and the threat posed by coronavirus today, but that’s not self-evident. I can’t help note the irony in saying this given your attitude toward libertarianism, but the question of ‘epidemiological’ aggression vs. nonaggression is not binary as you present it.

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    • This is the relevant passage from my post in its entirety:

      There is no moral reason why we must leave social distancing to voluntary persuasion or agreement. If we make unenforceable suggestions, people will flout them, as they already have. Those free riders aren’t just creating some morally neutral or equanimity-compatible “externality”; they are aggressing against others by an epidemiological version of Russian roulette–where a bullet in the chamber means critical care hospitalization or death for others (or oneself, come to that).

      Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims. And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation. We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them. If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them; if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.

      We shouldn’t let epidemiological free riders aggress against us, simply because the causality they use involves a disease vector rather than firearms, knives, or brute force. Whatever the precise mode of causality, the refusal to engage in social distancing is a clear rights-violative boundary-crossing–whether culpable or not, whether reckless or intentional. What applies to the enforcement of laws against other rights-violations, applies here–the same procedural rights, but the same resolve to stop aggression in its tracks, rather than appease it, excuse it, tolerate it, pretend that it isn’t there, or re-describe it so that it “goes away.” The predictable result of such evasions is that more of us will go away.

      This is the first part of your first response:

      there’s no obvious cut off line between aggression and non-aggression once you accept exposing someone to a virus as aggression, because, covid19 or no, every time you go near a person you are potentially exposing them to potentially infectious diseases, e.g. the flu, meningitis, etc. You don’t seem to acknowledge in your posts the issue of proportionality.

      I used the word “aggression” to refer to those who flout social distancing norms, not simply to those who happened not to follow them for whatever reason. To “flout” is openly or defiantly to disregard a norm. In the present case, “flout” ranges over a wide variety of cases. But here is a clear instance of flouting:

      https://nypost.com/2020/04/02/crowded-hasidic-funeral-held-in-brooklyn-despite-social-distancing/

      Here is another:

      https://www.freep.com/story/news/nation/coronavirus/2020/05/15/whitmer-capitol-protesters/5197839002/

      I regard that as aggression. And I would regard it as aggression if they had any communicable disease (communicable, at least, by open air transmission in crowds). There is no obvious “cut off line between aggression and non-aggression” in cases of flouting social distancing in these circumstances because every case of flouting is a case of aggression. There is no need for a “cut off.” You say: “…because, covid19 or no, every time you go near a person you are potentially exposing them to potentially infectious diseases, e.g. the flu, meningitis, etc. You don’t seem to acknowledge in your posts the issue of proportionality.” Simply going near someone when you have a communicable disease is not necessarily a case of flouting a norm. It could be non-culpable. So I wouldn’t call it aggression.

      You’re wrong that I didn’t acknowledge the issue of proportionality. If you read the post carefully, you’ll see that I was very careful to do so. I used the word “flout” when I was referring to cases of flouting. What I said about “flouting” was not meant to apply to different cases. The explanation for that is my adoption of a principle of proportionality.

      In the first few sentences of my second paragraph, I discuss those who refuse to follow social distancing norms, not those who flout them. There is some overlap between flouting and refusing, but I took refusing to be a lesser offense. Flouting involves open defiance; refusing covers that, but also includes covert defiance, recklessness, carelessness, weak-willed free riding, etc. I don’t describe these people as “aggressing.” I describe them as initiating force. You can initiate force without aggressing. All you have to do is to cross a relevant sort of normative boundary. If my car hits your car after skidding on black ice, I have initiated force against you without aggressing against you.

      To drive the point home about aggression, I then discuss the most violent criminals in the non-epidemiological context. We don’t cut them slack. My point is that we should cut no more slack to the most violent criminals of the COVID-19 variety.

      But then, we don’t cut slack to less violent criminals, or non-violent criminals. We treat them with proportionately less harshness, but not with leniency. It doesn’t follow that because we treat murderers and rapists as extremely dangerous, and deal with them accordingly, that we treat armed robbers and ordinary batterers as not that big a deal. Or for that matter, swindlers, embezzlers, burglars, drunk drivers, reckless drivers, etc.

      The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of COVID-19 social distancing violators. I didn’t happen to say this explicitly in the original post, but I deliberately wrote it so as to accommodate this point. The worse the offense, the more dangerous; the more dangerous, the more harshly the initial point of contact with the police. If a COVID positive person with a gun uses it to spit on you, you treat that one way. If someone who could be a carrier is screwing around in a park in violation of social distancing rules, you treat them differently. I’m only spelling out with painful explicitness what was implicit all along, and should have been obvious to almost any reader (except Jason Brennan and Phil Magness).

      In any case, if a person commits a legal offense (whatever its severity), is then legally stopped, then defies a legal order to stop, then initiates force against the officer doing the stop, so that the officer escalates force to subdue the subject, and yet the subject still doesn’t stop resisting, so that the officer keeps escalating force (simply with the aim of subduing the subject and no more than that), and yet the subject still doesn’t stop, but himself escalates his resistance…at some point in that sequence, the officer is justified in drawing his weapon and shooting to kill. “Drawing his weapon and shooting to kill” is a redundancy. Standard operating procedures hold that when an officer draws his weapon, he ipso facto shoots to kill. There is no such thing as drawing a weapon without intending to shoot, or intending to shoot without intending to kill. The presumptive target is the subject’s center of gravity, where all the vital organs are, and a few shots with a standard police revolver can be presumed to kill. It doesn’t matter what the original stop was for. It could have been for murder or rape, or it could have been a traffic offense, or anything in between. If the stop was justified, but the resistance is not, and the resistance escalates after justified responses to it, then at some point, the resister invites death.

      If Jason Brennan or Phil Magness disagree with this, I invite one of them to try to physically take me down while I resist and see what happens. Armed with nothing but a kitchen knife, I could end their life in a few seconds. Armed with nothing but my elbows and knees, I could put either of them in the hospital. I remain curious to hear from them what they think an officer should do if faced with a non-compliant subject with an attitude like that.

      Brennan has conveniently deleted his answer. It was: give them summonses. Right. What if you try to give me a summons, and when you hand it to me, I slice the veins of your wrist, then sever your carotid artery? Then what? What if, as you lean in to give me the summons, I grab your testicles, crush them, take your weapon, and blow your head off? It’s worth asking people like Brennan and Magness what planet they think police stops occur on, and involving what kind of people. It’s well and good for them to lecture me about the terrors of encounters with the police, encounters I’ve had since the age of seven. But I’ve also had encounters with violent criminals–people with guns, with knives, and with the desire to use them. Such people are not much more amiable than the worst cop. So far, weeks after the original post, I have not heard a single word from either of them that qualifies as even remotely responsive to anything I said–unless deleting one’s post qualifies as a response.

      My acknowledgement of the issue of proportionality is implicit in my very description of the case. I went out of my way to describe a case in which the stop is made on reasonable suspicion of an offense, but the subject is not just uncooperative in some vague or ambiguous sense, but engages in a determined, iterated series of force escalations against the officer. I did it precisely because I don’t need their sanctimonious lectures to know that cops provoke resistance at the scene. I’ve seen them do it. Nor do I need their instruction to know that there are ambiguous cases. Nor do I need their instruction to know that cops engage in brutal malfeasance or abuse. I described a case in which none of those was relevant. Brennan loves thought experiments, but he can hardly deny that the kind of stop I am discussing actually happens in the real world. If he doesn’t, he’s out of touch with reality. Such stops are the bread and butter of policing. They happen everyday in just about every jurisdiction. Someone is stopped. There is reasonable suspicion for the stop. They resist. Force is escalated. They keep resisting. Usually the resistance ends before there are shots fired, but not always.

      Regardless of the highly theoretical, thought-experimental considerations that Brennan discusses in When All Else Fails, in the real world of police encounters, in the modal stop, it pays to know one’s rights and defend them to the hilt, but not to engage in physical resistance to the police. This is too obvious to normal people to require much explanation. It only needs to be explained to academics who know enough about policing to be able to shoot their mouths off, but not enough to really know what they’re talking about.

      I understand that you’re raising a general point rather than defending Brennan or Magness. I think I’ve answered your general point, but there is no way to discuss the general point at this point whether clarifying the (deliberate) distortions they’ve introduced into the discussion. Which is why I have.

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  4. Here is the second part of your response:

    We are, of course, still talking about externalities, not really aggression, unless people are intentionally sneezing at you in an effort to get you sick (in legal terms, negligence would be the better term). And there is obviously a continuum from someone standing by you at the bus stop in the pre-coronavirus world, which imposes a non-zero but – I’m guessing you’d agree – sufficiently negligible cost to you that their freedom to walk by you should be (or should have been) respected, and someone walking by while holding a grenade with the pin pulled out and his finger on the safety lever. Now, you might argue that the line that separates the realm of ‘sufficiently harmless to warrant no intervention’ and ‘treat them as if they were physically attacking you’ lives somewhere between the threat posed by the flue/meningitis/etc. during normal times and the threat posed by coronavirus today, but that’s not self-evident. I can’t help note the irony in saying this given your attitude toward libertarianism, but the question of ‘epidemiological’ aggression vs. nonaggression is not binary as you present it.

    The problem with the term “externalities” is that it refers indifferently to the (non-internalized) consequences of an activity that are rights-violative and those that aren’t. My point is that disease-spreading is a rights violation, an initiation of force–sometimes aggressive, but not always. Whether aggressive or not, whether culpable or not, whether malevolent or not, it’s a force initiation. So now, let me take your cases in turn.

    A person at a bus stop who spreads any airborne infection is violating my rights, as long as “infection” implies “illness” and “illness” implies harm. The harm may be low, as in the common cold, or higher, as in the flu. It may be unwitting and non-culpable, as in the case of someone who doesn’t know they have a cold, or culpable, as in the case of someone who knows and couldn’t care less who gets it (or someone who repeatedly refuses to get the flu shot). But if there is harm, there is a rights violation, except in cases where the risk has clearly been assumed by voluntary consent. If the harm is sufficiently minimal, their freedom should be respected in the sense that they shouldn’t be on the receiving end of enforceable law enforcement action. I use that odd phrase because sometimes the police are called in to adjudicate disputes of common courtesy, where they don’t literally have enforceable jurisdiction, but try to mediate disputes on the borderline of law (I just saw one the other day in my neighborhood). Such a dispute could easily arise at an urban bus stop. If you keep coughing and sniffling, and get too close to me for comfort, I am obviously within my rights to move. Suppose I can’t move (it’s too crowded), but you cough without covering your mouth. I can certainly demand, by right, that you cover it. That is not a mere request. It’s a kind of citizen’s order, just like my telling someone to back off if they get in my face.

    Can I take your hand and put it there? No. But do I have a right to your putting it there? Yes. This is not a matter of mere courtesy. It’s a right. For prudential and epistemic reasons, it is not a good idea to make it a matter of formal law enforcement, but that doesn’t change the normative point I’m making.

    How exactly one draws the lines may be difficult, and would require a journal article, not a blog post. But I think my view is clear enough for present purposes. It’s my view that infection spreaders of any kind are rights violators, as long as the infection causes illness, i.e., harm. The harms in question vary, as do the justifiable responses to them. But that doesn’t change the fact that when you give someone a cold, you violate their rights. Likewise when you give them the flu, or give them an STD, or give them COVID19.

    I guess I don’t see the irony here. Incidentally, I have another discussion of this issue in my more recent post on dentistry, #59 in my series.

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  5. My takeaway from this exchange is that neither “aggression” nor “force” are useful concepts in this context. It is better to rely on “harm” and “risk”; which must be evaluated in the light of real circumstances (including those pesky externalities); the risk from Covid-19 is not merely how lethal it is in isolation (the harm), but how lethal it is to some populations and how it can overwhelm existing healthcare systems.

    Individuals can decide what risks they are willing to subject themselves to, but the libertarian argument is actually a defense of the idea that individuals get to decide what risks to subject OTHERS to. That is not a right individuals have.

    sean s.

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    • I sort of agree, and sort of disagree with that. It’s complicated.

      Let’s take the concept of “harm” as basic and taken-for-granted. If so, a “risk” is a harm of relatively high probability, relative to some benchmark. But we need to distinguish risks that arise from human agency, and those that don’t. Put the latter aside.

      Suppose we focus on risks that arise from human agency. Now we have to distinguish the ones that impose an undue/unjust/unfair (etc.) risk on others, and those that don’t. Again, put the latter aside.

      The question then becomes, what counts as a wrongful imposition of a risk? An imposition, as I see it, has to cross some prior boundary. That suggests that we’re entitled from the outset to a certain freedom from the risks imposed on us by others. Once a risk crosses the relevant boundary, it violates the freedom of the person whose boundary has been crossed.

      The concept of an initiation of force is useful here because it captures the sort of act whose performance wrongfully imposes a boundary-crossing risk, as contrasted with a risk that just happens to be there, or a risk that’s there but not imposed, or a risk that’s imposed but not wrongfully. Aggression then becomes a force-initiation of a particularly malevolent kind, i.e., culpable force initiation involving an angry, malevolent, possibly violent motive.

      So while the concepts of harm and risk are crucial, I think they need the concepts of force-initiation and aggression to yield the relevant moral or political prescriptions.

      My view implies that there is a certain baseline of freedom-from-risk from which we’re all entitled by right. A given individual can waive those rights, and assume higher risks if he sees fit. But apart from such a waiver of freedom or voluntary assumption of risk, others have an obligation not to cross our boundaries by imposing risks on us.

      The hard philosophical question is how to define the boundary, or threshold such that crossing it is a wrongful imposition of risk. I don’t think libertarians have ever resolved this, but I don’t think anyone else has done so, either. It’s just a difficult, unresolved problem. Here’s the entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

      https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/risk/

      The entry is pretty inconclusive.

      That said, I don’t think there’s any way, libertarian or otherwise, to avoid defining a single standard of “freedom of risk” from which some might dissent. If I insult you, I put your self-esteem at risk. But I don’t think there’s such a thing as a right to be free of risks to one’s self-esteem. By contrast, if I have COVID, and breathe on you, I put your immune system at risk. But I think you do have the right to be free of my breathing the SARS-CoV-2 virus on you.

      Those are very simple cases, but the contrast implies that things can’t be as simple as saying “everyone gets to decide the risk to which they’ll be subject.” We need a prior account of everyone’s objective entitlement to be free of risks; given that, people can either stick with their original entitlement or waive it as they see fit. If we all got to decide which risks we’re willing to accept–if things were simply a matter of will all the way down–we’d end up with a stalemate. My feeling of risk to my self-esteem might imply that I need not wear a mask. Your sense of risk to your immune system might imply that others must wear a mask.

      The underlying dilemma here is that it’s very difficult to fit risk within a rights-based conception of politics. But it’s also problematic to give up on either the importance of risk-assessments or the concept of a rights-based politics. The philosophical intractability there is what explains the political stalemate we’re now facing. That said, some things remain clear. There’s no right to spread a serious disease, or put others at risk of it.

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      • Irfan; let me break my reply up into four parts.

        1. Are “aggression” or “force” useful terms in this context?

        The concept of an initiation of force is useful here because it captures the sort of act whose performance wrongfully imposes a boundary-crossing risk, as contrasted with a risk that just happens to be there, or a risk that’s there but not imposed, or a risk that’s imposed but not wrongfully. Aggression then becomes a force-initiation of a particularly malevolent kind, i.e., culpable force initiation involving an angry, malevolent, possibly violent motive.So while the concepts of harm and risk are crucial, I think they need the concepts of force-initiation and aggression to yield the relevant moral or political prescriptions.

        Actually, I think you have it backwards. You define “force” in terms of behavior imposing unacceptable risks of harm, and “aggression” in terms of “force”. So “harm” is the fundamental concept, and it can be given moral or political valence without any reference to “force” or “aggression”. Risk combines the harm in question and its likelihood.

        Replace “initiation of force” with “infliction of harms” and you have the same thing without the dead weight of semantic indirectness.

        2. What are actionable harms?

        Regarding, “If I insult you, I put your self-esteem at risk. But I don’t think there’s such a thing as a right to be free of risks to one’s self-esteem.

        We agree; but this points to the problem; we should NOT “take the concept of ‘harm’ as basic and taken-for-granted.”. An essential question is: which harms are unacceptable and actionable by a community and which are not? Individuals may have a right to act against a harm they experience or are threatened with; but not to the point of inflicting a harm severe enough to warrant communal prohibitions. We agree that damage to one’s self-esteem is a harm the community would rarely-if ever need to act on. Insults may draw a response from the insulted; but if that response is disproportionate, the community will have to step in. One cannot be allowed to reply to words with bullets.

        So, what “harms” are actionable by the community, and which are not?

        My positions is that the only harms a community/state should be concerned with are: unnecessary 1) physical injuries, 2) financial deprivations, 3) infringements on liberty; or
        4) credible threats to cause any of these harms.
        Of course, one could make a career out of disputing whether some harm were unnecessary or some threat credible; lawyers will always have work. But that’s no worse than where we are now.

        3. Risks as applied to the question of rights

        “Risk” is certainly a nontrivial concept; there are contexts in which a risk could be a GOOD thing. Dictionaries and sites like the SEP don’t determine the meaning of words; they merely report how words have been used. Maybe we’re using “risk” and “harm” wrong.

        Some professions define the term for their “internal” use; and inadvertently create an understanding of wider value. In my line of work (project management) a risk is any uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a significant effect.

        The degree of risk is determined by its probability and the weight of the harm/benefit it could cause. The harm caused by a meteor strike could be enormous, but the probability is infinitesimal; so the risk from meteor strike is generally considered insignificant.

        Without adequate precautions, transmission of SARS-CoV2 is highly likely, and the risk of illness or death is significant. So that risk is significant enough to justify the steps we’ve been enduring.

        Unfortunately, as you noted, there is no universally recognized boundary between acceptable and unacceptable risks. Any standard will be too rigorous for some and too loose for others.

        This is a classical political problem: who decides and how? Whatever is decided; it remains a fact that an optimal decision will please no one. That’s just how humans are.

        4. Individual assumptions of Risk

        Individuals may define a boundary for themselves (what risks they are willing to tolerate) but they cannot impose that boundary on others. Such a privilege is as abusable as anything.*

        We need a communal decision regarding where that boundary lies, and ensure that decision is “posted” (notice given). After that, individuals have two duties: to not subject others to impermissible risks, and to accept their responsibility for assumed risks.

        You wrote that, “… things can’t be as simple as saying ‘everyone gets to decide the risk to which they’ll be subject’. … If we all got to decide which risks we’re willing to accept–if things were simply a matter of will all the way down–we’d end up with a stalemate.

        This is true, but I think you mistake this for my position from my earlier comment (which I conclude because of the quotation marks you used.) What I wrote was, “Individuals can decide what risks they are willing to subject themselves to”. The difference is subtle but important.

        We all get to decide what risks we will subject ourselves to because then we are the “aggressor” against ourselves”. But we cannot have the right to decide what risks we’re willing to accept because that would make us master of other people’s rights. We have the right to object to anything we want to object to; but we cannot deprive others of their rights just because we’ve decided we don’t like them. No one can have any rights unless the rights of all have firm, fair limits.

        sean s.

        * I’m told “abusable” is not a word. I think it should be. If that’s a problem, then substitute this sentence instead: Such a privilege is can be abused as much as anything.

        Like

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