IRRATIONAL LAWS?

Another question that constantly arises about anarchistic social organization is the degree to which different communities will create or maintain unjust or irrational rules. What would stop an Islamic community from imposing Sharia law, or a particular group that wishes to raise their children communally, or have multiple spouses, or ban the wearing of red clothing?

This is of course possible, but there are several tendencies within an anarchic society that will discourage and eliminate such obtuse practices in the long run.

First of all, though, it is important to understand that there is no real solution for this in a statist society – assuming it is not a dictatorship. As long as we do not aggress against others, if a group of friends and I wish to get together and live in an enormous house, share all our property and live in some polyamorous hippie flesh-pile, there is nothing illegal about this in a statist society. As long as our children are fed, cared for and educated, we can all choose to live common-law and raise our children collectively if we want.

Similarly, if a group of Muslims wish to live according to Sharia rules, and everyone voluntarily accepts these rules and lives by them of their own free will, there is very little that a stateless society can do about that either. Since governments only have violence and propaganda to maintain their rule, they can only send SWAT teams in to break up communes, or tanks and helicopters to dismember religious groups – but very few of us would applaud that as a reasoned and positive response to the challenges of varying beliefs within society.

Economically, a stateless society is fundamentally characterized by an inability for particular groups to violently offload the costs of their preferences onto others.

If you are part of a group that wishes to invade Iraq, for instance you will have to find a way to fund that yourself – you will not be able to print money or tax others to pay for your preferences. Do any of us truly believe that the chicken-hawks in the current political administration would have decided to commit genocide against the Iraqi population if they had been sent the multi-trillion dollar bill for the evils they contemplated? Would any purely private financial institution have funded such a monstrous invasion? Of course not – war is impossible without taxation.

The most economically efficient legal system is the one which extends reasonable resources to prevent problems before they occur – and then sits inert until someone complains about an injustice.

The DRO system is wonderful at preventing problems, since it inherently contains all sorts of red flags for potential criminal behavior, as described above. What do I mean by saying that it will very likely sit in an inert state?

Let us look at gambling as an example.

Gambling – though obviously potentially addictive – is a voluntary transaction between adults. In any reasonable legal system, where there is consent, there can be no crime. A man may complain if he loses his shirt at a roulette table, but he cannot claim that he was the victim of force or fraud.

If we understand this, we can see that there is an enormous difference between a proactive and a reactive legal system. A reactive legal system waits patiently until it receives a complaint about an injustice – then, it leaps into action to provide justice.

A proactive legal system sends armed men out in waves, ferreting and rooting around in society in order to capture and punish adults interacting in a voluntary and peaceful manner. This kind of legal system is an ugly stepchild of the Spanish Inquisition, and arises out of a hysterical form of aggressive moral puritanism, generally religious in origin. In this kind of legal system, an absence of force or fraud is not enough to allow people to escape moral condemnation, capture and punishment. These “voluntary crimes” tend to revolve around mind-altering substances, gambling and prostitution, and are often instigated in a statist society by women who find out that they have married the wrong men (the Women’s Christian Temperance Union etc.)

Activities which certain people find distasteful are ferreted out and punished not because the participants find them evil or immoral, but because others do. The man who smokes some vegetation, gambles some money, or pays for sex obviously is not the criminal complainant –

neither is the person who sells him weed, casino chips or sex. Instead, it is others who wish to wreak their moral vengeance upon such transgressions.

Mencken once wrote: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” As a philosopher, I do not counsel or believe that drugs, gambling or visiting prostitutes is a recipe for long-term happiness and wisdom – but I also understand that unwise or ill-considered actions are not solved by the initiation of violence.

The insertion of this “third party” into a legal system – the entity that brings charges in the absence of complaints by any individuals in a transaction – is very, very expensive. Can you imagine how expensive it would be for a computer company to send someone over to your house every time you wanted to install a program, to make sure you got it right? Compare this to the cost of your average reactive tech support call center – it would be hundreds – if not thousands – of times more expensive.

There are many people who find it highly objectionable that other people enjoy taking mind-altering substances – how many of them would be willing to fund the true cost of their outrage themselves?

In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Agency budget for 2007 was over $2.3 billion. If we imagine that there are perhaps 25 million taxpaying adults in America who are virulently anti-drug, would they remain as virulently opposed to drugs if each of them received a bill for $100 a year?

What about the approximately $100 per year that it costs to incarcerate the resulting prisoners, and the $100 in other law enforcement costs? Overall, the war on drugs costs over $20 billion a year — $800 for each of the 25 million taxpaying adults who find drugs so objectionable.

How many of these people would find themselves somehow magically able to manage a “live and let live” attitude towards drug consumption if they were sent an $800 bill every single year? Can we imagine that 50% of them would drop out? If so, then the remaining 12.5 million people would be sent a bill for $1,600 – how many of them would drop out that this rate? Half? Very well – then the remaining would be sent a bill for $3,200 – and so on, until the last man to be sent the bill for $20 billion somehow found it in his heart to avoid the bill by embracing tolerance and compassion.

The “drug war” (which is a war of course on people, not drugs) would inevitably collapse if those who found drugs so objectionable actually had to pay for their moral outrage themselves.

Similarly, enforcing Sharia law requires just such a proactive legal system, which is horrendously expensive relative to a reactive legal system. How long would such religious intransigence last if the fanatics had to pay for their mania themselves, and faced competition from perfectly functional legal systems that charged one tenth the cost?

Proactive legal systems are prohibitively expensive, unless the costs can be violently extracted from others. In this way, we know for certain that proactive legal systems would have a very short lifespan in a stateless society, and that the natural justice of reactive legal systems would very quickly become – and remain – the norm.

What is commonly called “culture,” in other words, is most often little more than a set of violently subsidized and irrational prejudices.

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