We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

[W]hen you pull a gun the implication is that you will use it. All subsequent actions proceed on that basis. When you raise your interactions to that level here in Wisconsin you should bear in mind that Wisconsin is a concealed carry state. You better be prepared to play for the stakes you wager.

– Samizdatista Midwesterner, discussing the implications of coercing people into ‘doing the right thing‘ with threats.

29 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • PersonFromPorlock

    When you pull out a gun the implication is that you’re willing to use it, not that you will, an important distinction.

    At any rate, this discussion is descending into Drama.

  • That really depends, PfP.

    When a person indicates they will kill you if you do not comply with their wishes, one either complies with their wishes in the unverifiable hope they will not kill you anyway, or you do something to change that state of affairs, such as, for example, two to the chest and one to the head if you get the opportunity, in order to remove the threat. Often complying is indeed the only sensible thing to do… for example, generally when threatened by a policeman, acquiescing will result in you not getting shot. Generally.

    When being threatened by a civilian stranger, the context is likewise rather important… a homeowner whose house you have broken into threatening to shoot you also probably will not shoot you if you comply, as they probably already would have started blasting away, if they were actually predisposed to shoot, rather than just arresting you or at least driving you off.

    A housebreaker making the same threat however to a homeowner, well I would say an assumption they intend to kill you regardless is a safer bet in the absence of other information and your actions should be determined accordingly.

    Or some guy demanding you risk your life by jumping in a river to save someone else, well, my inclination would be to try and kill them first if I got the chance regardless, even if I *did* intend to try the rescue, as who knows how such a person would react even if you tried, and failed, to rescue the person in the river. I am willing to kill anyone who is threatening to kill me, if I am given the opportunity… if I actually do make good and try to kill them first, well that rather depends on the context.

    The mere hope he MIGHT not actually shoot you really isn’t that important unless you have some additional information that suggests assuming they do not intend to shoot you regardless even after you comply with their wishes. That is not an assumption I would make lightly or by default.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    No PfP. Using a gun requires first – acquiring a gun, second – carrying it, third – drawing it and holding it in a way it can be used, and last – pulling the trigger. I accidentally introduced some ambiguity with the word “use”. To correct my error, drawing the gun is using the gun, the implication is that you will fire it. Assuming so is justifiable when planning your personal safety.

    By the time that step is reached, the person has gone through a long and involved series of steps in which all that remains is a fraction of a second’s work to complete the act of shooting somebody. There is no implication of willingness, they have already demonstrated that unequivocally. The simple act of pointing a gun at somebody with your finger in or near the trigger guard demonstrates a willingness to kill. Not implies, demonstrates*. That they will complete the process by pulling the trigger is implied. Willingness to kill is demonstrated, not implied. It is only pulling the trigger that is implied.

    Statistics are poorly reported for gun “brandishing” in the US. What is clear is that brandishing is extremely effective as a means of forcing compliance. It is effective because it is properly assumed that failure to comply with the gun holder’s demands will result in getting shot. Both house breakers and home defenders understand this.

    Also, FWIW, (and I invite correction from the many knowledgeable people who frequent this site) in most states, even concealed carry states, gun brandishing is a crime with the onus the defendant to demonstrate just cause.

    *Intended or not. In a gun safety class I took, the instructor described an unfortunate case where a person answered a door with a gun in one hand pointed at the door. The act of using their other hand to work the latch, combined with their state of nerves, caused a sympathetic contraction of their gun hand. They accidentally fired through the door hitting a not-hostile person. Brandishing a gun is not even a little bit benign. I was taught “finger outside the guard” but now I understand they are teaching “finger on the frame”. Once you draw a gun you have raised the stakes to life or death.

  • Paul Marks

    Even if the threat of murder is justified (and I am not saying that it is) – the fact that it Mr Bowman’s STARTING POINT (the first thing he thinks of doing – not trying to convince the person to jump in the lake, not even offering money, just straight to the threat of murder….) is interesting.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I may be wrong, but I take this whole argument to be about state coercion, not private individuals forcing their version of virtue on unwilling others.

    My more serious point was about Drama: babies drowning, people falling off mountains… the reality is that state-coerced action is mostly about paying money to the state so that the state can do with it as it will, or doing or not doing something the state considers beneficial or harmful. Conflating state-coerced action with an incipient gunfight is seriously overwrought when the likely penalty is a fine rather than death.

    I have no trouble with the idea of forcing someone to act if a life seems to be at risk; and I have no trouble with yielding to such force in those circumstances. Save the life, then straighten the morality of it out later: that’s what criminal charges, civil suits and elections are for. But in a world which is mostly humdrum, this wild waving of rhetorical guns is just silly.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    Unfortunately, PfP, history shows that rhetoric left unchallenged has a way of being normalized into accepted practice. What despot has not begun his campaign with heart breaking hypotheticals and rhetorical flourishes? First they define a villain, then they isolate the villain, then they attack the villain. In this case, the villain is anyone who refuses to work for the greater good, the ‘hero’ is the brownshirt taking ‘the law’ into his own hands.

    This is not (if what I have heard from Paul and from Perry’s source is accurate) and never was about saving babies. This was from the start a justification for violence to achieve ‘the greater good’.

    I think by focusing on the specifics (babies and mountain hikers) you have missed the deeper point being advanced. Bowman’s presumption is dangerous and must be vigorously challenged on principled not emotional grounds. Placing the dichotomy between state violence force and private violent force is a mistake. The dichotomy is between violent force and consent. “The State” can always find thugs to do some things ‘off the books’.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PfP’s comment reminds me of the original scenario, which was that someone sees a baby drowning in a puddle but, “perhaps because of disability,” cannot rescue the child himself.

    Does he have the moral right (in libertarian theory, that is) to attempt “to force someone else, at gunpoint, to rescue the baby”?

    1. He does NOT have the right to take the life of the other stranger in order to save that of the baby. That’s flat.

    2. By the terms of the hypothetical, the first guy cannot rescue the baby himself. This is a crucial point.

    2. The baby and the stranger have equal rights to their own lives.

    3. Contrary to several commenters on this issue, it is not clear from the hypothetical whether the first guy would actually shoot. This is a branch point in the logic of the analysis: a) he would actually shoot, b) he wouldn’t but would only threaten; and we can’t know which so can make no assumption. (Only the disabled guy knows for sure.)

    a) He does NOT have the right actually to shoot. Already covered in Point 1. (Also, where would be the sense of it? Unless there were lots of b)passersby and he wanted to send them all a message: Rescue that child OR ELSE! , he’d just wind up with two dead people, not one.)

    b) If he won’t actually shoot, does he have the right to threaten, credibly, to do so? (A person might well threaten to shoot somebody but have no intention of actually doing so, contrary to some commenters; indeed the gun might not be loaded, or might even be a mere non-working mock-up of a gun. Such as the well-known hand in the jacket’s pocket, with finger pointed, simulating the existence of the gun.)

    (What the passerby might choose to do given the threat is simply not at issue. It’s the morality of the disabled one, not the stranger’s alternatives, that we’re discussing.)

    In such a case, the stranger is being coerced into giving up a portion of his life in order that the baby will not lose its life for good. Furthermore, by the hypothetical, the implication is that very few people would be in danger of losing their whole lives: the baby is in a puddle, not a stream, river, lake, or ocean. Admittedly some “puddles” are more like ponds right after a flood or flooding rain, but most people can tolerate 6″ of standing water for at most perhaps 2 minutes to rescue a drowning child. Thus the stranger would be losing at most 2 minutes out of his life.

    Of course, the original scenario doesn’t tell us of possible dangers hidden within the water. That means there’s a variable which is not known to us, and which may or may not be known to either the passerby or the stranger. But there’s other stuff we also don’t know, such as, for instance, that the “stranger” is well-known to the disabled guy, being his son, whom he knows is a good-fa-nottink. There’s also a possibility that the disabled guy is the baby’s dad. In the real world, such questions do have a bearing on how the moral calculus goes.

    The fact is that the disabled guy IS in the position where ipso facto he is going to play God–it’s inevitable. He has a ploy that might save the baby’s life, although it’s far from unobjectionable. If he doesn’t try it, he honestly believes the baby WILL die. If he does try it, he’s transgressed our moral code.

    This kind of extreme situation is why there is Just War theory, and why there is a reasonable argument (as opposed to the “liberal” pro-abortion Nazis) to be made both for and against abortion.

    . . .

    This is an example of the fact that “life is an engineering discipline,” not an exercise in pure mathematics; so, just as in the real world there is no such thing as perfect mechanical efficiency, so there is no such thing as a moral code that can meet all situations with both perfect justice and perfect benevolence. There are always trade-offs.

    Here is a relatively common one: You “know darn well” that X is regularly abusing some housemate–spouse, parent, child, simple roommate–it matters not. Do you “call the cops on him”? If you do, you are only getting the state to interfere where you’re not up for doing so yourself. Quite a few people on libertarian-conservative boards say they would go over there themselves with a two-by-four, for a frank exchange of views with the abuser.

  • Julie near Chicago


    The baby scenario was “mentioned in passing”; and it doesn’t specify whether it was the disabled guy’s first approach, or whether he’d tried reason or emotional persuasion first. I don’t think we can automatically assume that he didn’t. However, I’m just trying to be “fair” to the hypothetical disabled one. In fact I think it’s beside the point to the main analysis. The sort of thing that might be considered a “mitigating factor” in a trial.

    Mid, regarding your remarks at 9:30 p.m.: I agree perfectly with your first paragraph.

    Your second paragraph is quite true, but it also is the lead-in to the third paragraph, and there I disagree with you, as follows.

    It’s not a question of “missing the deeper point.” According to the original posting,

    “The most disturbing moment of the day was in Bowman’s session when he mentioned in passing the “standard” justification for welfarism….”

    (Boldface mine.) He’s specifically saying that welfarists use this argument to justify governmentally-forced welfarism, that is, to make the Welfare State a logically and emotionally plausible and appealing system.

    Surely we all get that.

    But the hypothetical is of crucial importance in its own right and would be even if there were no such thing as “government” or “the state.” Indeed, the main difference between the neighbor-vs.-(alleged)-abuser and the Govt-vs.-(alleged)-abuser is that because of the confluence of several factor, the Govt has far fewer effective limits on what it can get away with doing.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    the Govt has far fewer effective limits on what it can get away with doing.

    And by extension, by choosing who to prosecute and who to reward,

    “The State” can always find thugs to do some things ‘off the books’.

    Coercive violence as a social institution, which is what the literal hypothetical is endorsing, is the desired outcome of this mindset. The dichotomy really is between violent force and consent. Their goal is to break down the boundaries between individuals by any effective means.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – interesting.

    And it need not involve a state as such.

    For example, a figure in the United States that the radical left (including the so called “libertarian” left) greatly admire is the late Saul Alinsky.

    Alinsky did not learn his tactics from Herbert Marcuse or A. Gramski (they were not available in English back when Alinsky was young) he learned them from the CHICAGO MOB in the 1930s (Organised Crime – Frank Nitti and so on).

    Now “the Professor” (as Alkinsky called Frank Nitti) did not express himself in the complex language of Mr Bowman’s dear academics (Frank Nitti spoke in English) – but he was not some sort of grutting animal, he (and the other Mobsters) were thinking men.

    They justified their extortion tactics (which Saul Alinsky and others, such as J. Jackson of “Operation Rainbow”, used in politics – “give money to our organisation or will orgainse protests, boycotts and so on) on the grounds that the businessmen were exploiters (labour theory of value?) and that they (the mobsters) were the true helpers of the poor (taking a percentage for themselves).

    Now these “socially useful elements” (the Mafia) were NOT Marxists – but their thought had practical elements in common with Marxist thinking. As does that of the “libertarian” left.

    The move in American unions from vague (Mafia style) thinking, to more orthodox Marxism (as has happened since the ban on Marxists entering American unions was lifted by the AFL-CIO at the end of the Cold War) was only to be expected.

    And the “libertarian” left will (most likely) go the same way – and join the Marxist parade. After all it is the logical conclusion to the road of thought they are on.

    The hostile relationship between the Republican party and Organised Crime (including the unions) shown by the lives of such people as Governor Thomas Dewey of Nee York State or Mayor R.G. of New York City, can be explained with ease by Marxist thought.

    The Republican party is the party of businessmen and women (of the “capitalist exploiters” – with some exceptions such as the Harrimans of the Union Pacific Railroad who were Democrats) so it is natural that Republicans (mostly) have a deep level of hostility in relation to Organised Crime (the “socially friendly” elements) compared to the generally (certainly NOT all Democrats) more complex and understanding relationship between Democrats and Organised Crime. Although Chicago (where the Democrat Machine and Organised Crime are basically part of the same thing) is an extreme example (and it should be remembered that the last honest Mayor of Chicago was a DEMOCRAT – back in the mid 1920s).

    The classic sterotype of the Republican, walking down Mainsteet with a Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other (and YES a business account book in the back pocket) still has more than a grain of truth. Like Marshall Earp and his brothers walking to face the “Cowboy” gang (responsible for robbery, rape and murder on both sides of the American-Mexican border).

    Just having the Bible, without the pistol, does not work – as Mr Tunstall and Mr McSween found (in seperate incidents) when the Murphy-Dolan gang came for them in New Mexico.

    Although that does not automatically justify the lawless revenge of “Billy the Kid” and his “Regulators” in New Mexico (although the did wear badges, and claimed to be acting for the law, “details” modern Hollywood leaves out), or the “Vengeance Ride” of W. Earp (and others) after both Virgil and Morgan Earp were shot from behind on dark nights in Arizona.

    It is interesting to note that several of the people that W. Earp faced in Arizona had previously been in the Murphy-Dolan force in New Mexico – including people who (laughingly) BOASTED that they had never been “stupid” enough to face an armed man from the front (concentrating on killing unarmed people or shooting from behind – much like the Mafia killers of later times in cities such as Chicago).

    Mr Bowman is young and strong (his reflexes will be much better than mine)- but I wonder if he would face an armed man face-to-face.

    Would he take that walk down Mainstreet?

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – nothing in the above should be taken to endorse taxes on imports, a national bank, or internal improvements.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – a more recent example would be your own example would be your own example of Athens Tenn.

    Which side would be the “libertarian” left be on?

  • Steve Skubinna

    This is all about Han shooting first, isn’t it?

  • Deaf Smith

    Personally if a babies life needs saving and I just must have the help of another gent in order to save the babies life, yea I might try to persuade him with my roscoe. BUT, I’d never actually shoot him as, well what good would that do if he’s dead?

    Now about pulling hoglegs on other people. I live in Texas and CCW or not alot of people pack. Might start a war you didn’t intend on being in by such actions. This is why small time hoods rob convenience stations. They know the attendant won’t have a gun cause the company policy prohibits it.

    But woe be you if you stick up a mom-and-pop store. No guarantees they won’t be armed and inclined to shoot.

    And most stickup artist wait for people coming out of places where weapons are prohibited. Such as bars. See, late at night near honkie-tonks you read all the time where people are stuck up. Same for places where booze is sold (but that’s a maybe cause CCW in Texas is allowed in places where you can buy booze but not consume.

    Also hospitals and places that ban CCW are spots where hoods fish some for late night victims. In fact any ‘gun free’ zone, late at night, are favored.

  • Ernie G

    PFP: “When you pull out a gun the implication is that you’re willing to use it, not that you will, an important distinction.”

    Thinking deep thoughts about implications and drawing important distinctions are beside the point. The simple fact is that pointing a gun at someone is a felony: assault with a deadly weapon.

  • RobinGoodfellow


    Have to disagree. Perhaps the quote should have been, “When you pull out a gun the inference is that you’re willing to use it.” You don’t base your strategy on what another man is willing to do, but what he is capable of doing. If a man pulls a gun on me I will assume his intention is to shoot me, and I will act accordingly.

    Oh, and thanks for waking up Samuel T. Coleridge.

  • Andy Freeman

    > then the likely penalty is a fine rather than death.

    That’s a distinction without a difference. If you don’t pay the fine, they send folks with guns.

    My rule is that I’m unwilling to let govt demand something of someone if I’m not willing to shoot my own mother if she wouldn’t comply with that demand.

    That’s the only reasonable rule because every one is “someone” (for example, many are someone else’s mother) and at the end of the day, govt’s demands are backed up by “or we’ll shoot you”.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Late to the discussion here, having found it via INSTAPUNDIT. Julie near Chicago makes the following point:

    If he won’t actually shoot, does he have the right to threaten, credibly, to do so? (A person might well threaten to shoot somebody but have no intention of actually doing so, contrary to some commenters; indeed the gun might not be loaded, or might even be a mere non-working mock-up of a gun. Such as the well-known hand in the jacket’s pocket, with finger pointed, simulating the existence of the gun.)

    I would note as a retired Peace Officer that the essential point here is the belief that there is a credible threat in the mind of the person being threatened. A finger in a coat pocket and the statement or implication that it is a gun constitutes the crime of “assault with a deadly weapon”. It does not matter if the wielder of the finger is a saint. It is legally the same as pointing a loaded gun or waving a sword in their face. The law, and rationality, makes the assumption that if someone is doing this, they are threatening your life, and you have the perfect right to protect yourself with everything up to and including deadly force. The mind set of a criminal or of a thug is not relevant. The actions are.

    The probable mindset of the person threatened would have been, I have to rescue this baby, but first I have to defend myself from a deadly threat.

    Mention was made of the Mozambique Drill in the article referred to. I differ on one key point. I favor .45 caliber to .40 caliber … theoretically, of course.

    Another angle in the scenario mentioned. If you manage to disarm the gun wielder, you still cannot go rescue the baby leaving the gunman behind your back as an ongoing threat who may have another weapon. Therefore, you have to definitively take him out of the equation before proceeding, in order to rescue the baby. The means are open, but they have to be quick. It could involve his own weapon. But if there is a deep body of water nearby, he can go into it.

    As to the question of dealing with known domestic abuse raised by Julie near Chicago; been there, done that. Before I was a Peace Officer. Little sister was abused, but across the state. She came to my town, and filed for divorce. Waste-of-protoplasm, soon-to-be ex showed up. We had a … private … meeting. I was armed [with a blade on my hip that stayed there]. I convinced him that if he laid a hand on her at all, I would rearrange his internal organs. And yes, he would have been justified in regarding it as a threat, but not an immediate one. And to be honest, he was a bully who would only fight someone helpless and he believed that I was a man of my word. In other cases, I have helped get the abused wife into the system and the abuser in jail. You do what is appropriate at the time.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Paul Marks

    No it is not about Han shooting first.

    The character Han Solo knowns the person he faces has hostile intent.

    In that situation it is shoot first or you will get shot.

    With the Mr Bowman thing it is – threaten to shoot, in order to get the (random – and innocent) person to obey you.

    Totally different.

    The “libertarian” left are not like Hans Solo – they are more like the Emperor.

  • Julie near Chicago


    You’re back! YEA !!!! :>)

    I’d like to remind everyone that this whole discussion is about the MORALITY, not the LEGALITY, of the hypothetical “cannot’s” attempt.

    1. The issue can be discussed purely in terms of the “libertarian moral code,” which is in fact a work in progress; part of the function of boards such as this is to try to discover, or invent, a code which is logically consistent and with which all of us can agree. (This will be unsuccessful, if history is any guide, but it’s one of the most worthwhile things one can do just the same.)

    2. The issue can also be discussed from the angle of trying to decide where to draw the line between what our moral code(s), in their present state of imperfection, tell us is “just,” and what our moral code(s) also tell us might be injustice in one regard yet justice in another.

    . .

    But we might also ask, Is this the right, or the best, way to cast the question? One can argue that two aims of morality are at odds. The one is the injustice of commandeering the stranger at, by implication of the scenario as presented, little or no risk to the stranger and a few minutes at most of “enslavement” (if he allows himself to be coerced); the other is the morally repugnant buying of “clean hands” according to one aspect of the moral code, at the expense of the baby’s life — by failing to employ every strategy available to try to save that life. This too constitutes “playing God,” which is why I hold that the CANNOT guy cannot avoid “playing God” in this particular situation.

    Either way, one plays God. The stranger’s life or the baby’s?

    Either answer can be extended to provide an endorsement of all sorts of atrocities, whether by individuals, “private” groups, or governments.

    “Clean hands,” for instance, is not an argument against a people’s self-defense, nor is it an argument against stopping the Saddam regime’s (it was NOT just Saddam–some of his underlings, as for instance his psychopathic sons, were apparently far worse).

    In the hypothetical, Ayn Rand (stolen tomato) and Natalie (“Thinking on a Mountainside”) and some other clear-headed people have got it right, I think. Save the child (or guy on a mountainside) from death via temporary commandeering/enslavement of a stranger, by coercion, and then confess to the crime and take the punishment (as long as it’s proportional).

    Better to take a part of a human life than a whole one (as in abortion); and also as in use of property without permission, which is the same thing, especially if the property is destroyed in the process (the tomato, which is eaten).

    These judgments too have to be part of any moral code which we hope to satisfy the constraints of life in the Real World.

    Reality does sometimes present us with lose/lose situations. This one is lose/lose/lose.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Having read the Last Ditch posting, here is L.D.’s clarification of Bowman’s position, at least as L.D. understood him to say (boldface mine):

    ‘Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute suggested that the standard libertarian approach to presenting our ideas appealed only to ourselves. If we wanted to win hearts and minds, we needed to reason from public benefit – even (shock, horror!) “social justice”, in order to justify ourselves. He had no personal problem with this, as he was a libertarian only because he believed it would lead to the greater good of the greatest number and would benefit the poor.

    Given this, I join those who disapprove strongly of Mr. Bowman’s views.

    (Posted also at “So what is a person to do …”:

    http://www.samizdata.net/2013/04/so-what-is-a-person-to-do-when-another-wishes-to-make-them-do-the-right-thing-at-gunpoint/#comment-334238 )

  • Midwesterner

    Julie, what if I fail? Let’s say it is in a pond, not a puddle on a sidewalk *. A stranger has threatened to kill me if I don’t rescue the baby. Am I to enter the water to save the baby not knowing if this stranger, who is going to murder me for not attempting the rescue, is mentally or morally stable enough to acknowledge and tolerate my failure?

    I think not. There are now two lives on the line, both mine and the baby’s. To jeopardize oneself trying to please a lethally armed and possibly unhinged person is an unwise decision. When you (the person threatening my life if I don’t do your bidding) place my life on the line along with the baby’s, you better realize that you have added your own life to the equation as well. My goal is to eventually leave the scene alive, not in a bag. That has to remain my number one priority.

    At the point you threaten my life, you become an impediment to rescuing of the baby. You are now a dangerous hazard that must be dealt with before beginning the rescue. That was my point when I said “You better be prepared to play for the stakes you wager.”

    This is not a topic to be taken as a rhetorical exercise. About a mile from where I sit, a small boat capsized while two men were out fishing on a lake. A local man who saw what was happening attempted to rescue them. All three died. They weren’t far from shore. That was a voluntary rescue and the man attempting didn’t plan on dieing. Sure, saying the baby was laying in a puddle makes the hypothetical seem an easy call. But it is not. There are now two people’s lives in danger, one from the pond or puddle, one from the unhinged crazy with a gun. And FWIW, my default assumption is that anybody waving a gun and threatening to kill people is an unhinged crazy and the only question is, “is this their normal state?” Answering that question has to be deferred because at the moment they are a danger to everyone around them.

    Instead of imagining yourself as the person with the gun making a reasonable demand, imagine a stranger pointing a gun at you and demanding you perform a rescue. What this hypothetical is really stating is that (since you will only threaten to kill the ‘bad’ people who don’t do the right think ‘voluntarily’) is that it is okay to kill bad people who don’t ‘do the right thing’ ‘voluntarily’.

    Either way, one plays God. The stranger’s life or the baby’s?

    No. If the passerby dies, it is the headcase with a gun playing God. If the baby dies, it was a negligent guardian playing God. If the headcase with a gun is also the negligent guardian, then he is playing God twice (both the baby and the passerby). You are imagining a false equilibrium. There is a right and wrong answer in this situation. But “For the Children …®” has proven a very effective way to block clear thinking and get otherwise rational people to bow to authoritarian mandates. This hypothetical is just another example of that ploy.

    * Beware of any example that bases a ‘proof of concept’ on a ridiculously flawed hypothetical. It is always done as a foot in a door to advance an argument that would be instantly recognized as wrong if it were presented as the proponent intends to fully exercise it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mid, I understand what you’re getting at. But in the first place I am talking about the hypothetical presented and the morality of the CANNOT guy’s act. Nothing to do with how the stranger acts or what he thinks.

    Yes an attempted rescue can go wrong. In fact it’s not that uncommon.

    Yes the CANNOT guy DOES “play God” if he chooses not to try every possible ploy to save the baby. He chooses between taking a bit (probably) of the stranger’s life (yes, at risk of his own, as you and others note–) and allowing the baby to die despite the fact that he could have tried something.

    The possible price for him is his own life, or the possibility that the stranger through some horrible and highly unlikely misfortune is killed or maimed. And in any case he will be called to judgment one way or another.

    Where did the “negligent guardian” come from? We have no idea how the baby got there. For all you know this was in the aftermath of Katrina and both the parents are dead. For all you know there was a car crash, the dad ended with the use of his arms and hands but his legs are pinned in or under the car and the baby went flying.

    You do NOT get to change the terms of the hypothetical. If you want to argue about a scenario which is in only some respects similar, and from a different point of view at that, say so; but don’t fault others’ arguments because they deal with the case at hand.

    Finally, “He had better be prepared to play by the stakes he wagers”: I quite agree, and so do many of us. That is why we say that if we were the CANNOT guy we would confess (or plead guilty) and take our punishment. And, we would also know that our own lives were at risk if the stranger were minded to shoot us because he, understandably, felt mortally threatened.

    – – –

    The fact that some people take an argument about some scenario, pretend that the argument can be applied to completely different circumstances, and use moral and emotional manipulation to argue for unjust action by government says nothing whatsoever about the rectitude of the original conclusion(s) regarding the original scenario.

  • Midwesterner

    There is a reason you are compelled to defend such an elaborately and carefully contrived hypothetical from even minor deviations.

    Because it is wrong.

    When the slightest change breaks it, that proves it is nothing more than an emotional rationalization.

    Your case is nothing more than “I can threaten to kill anybody who doesn’t do what I think is right”. With narrow and precise stipulations, you have a case that appeals to the emotions, specifically the urge to condemn “heartless” people. That is all your case is, an appeal to emotions. Nothing more.

    Life has risk. You are defending simple coerced redistribution. You even say its okay because you will only steal a little and the passerby has a lot and the baby only has a little. You of course are the redistributor deciding who has “enough” and can afford to give a little and who is deserving to receive it.

    Your argument is profoundly wrong on every level. Why this baby? Why stop at this baby? Are you going threaten to kill the passerby if he lives in Kansas and the dying baby lives in Uganda? Are you only going steal a little bit of his life to save the Ugandan, or Bangladeshi or any other dying child? Why is the cause of the baby’s fate a forbidden factor? Why does the physical distance between the passerby and the dying child make a difference? Maybe the child is dying of starvation and the Kansan has food. If there are a lot of passersby, maybe you only get a little help from each of them with your gun? “From each …, to each …”?

    What stops you? When will you run out of dying babies to help? If threatening people’s lives to make them help can save babys’ lives, when and why would you ever stop?

    There is only one correct answer to this situation and that is to seek only consensual help. If you don’t believe anybody will, then you are telling us more about your values than of the people you set yourself in judgement over. Having worked for a donation funded third world health and relief agency, I met far more people than I can begin to name that have spent their lives all over the world voluntarily providing help, medical, technical, educational, all kinds of help to people in desperate straits. Virtually all of the ones I know were supported either by donations or their own funds or both. My observation both personally and looking at national patterns is that the people most likely to invoke force to help others are the least likely to provide it themselves unless forced.

    This is wrong. It is not just wrong when extended to bigger problems. It is wrong on larger scales because it is philosophically and morally wrong in principle. It is wrong morally. It is wrong tactically. It is wrong by utilitarian measures. It is rationally wrong. It is just plain wrong.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fine, Mid, I’m a horrible evil person because I believe that are lose-lose situations.

    Situations where there IS no unobjectionable answer.

    And because I do insist on working on the given problem and not on some other one that you would prefer.

    One last thing about the hypothetical. “If [I] don’t believe anybody will [help the baby without coercion]” perhaps I’m where there’s little chance of anyone else’s happening by within the few minutes before the baby is dead (car crash on lonely mountain road?), or I’m in a stampede situation (Independence Day, or … and because I’d already asked this guy once and I know time is of the essence. Could it be that the problem is not my immoral character but your lack of imagination?

    Others have pointed out here and there in these discussions the reasons why the hypothetical situation, purely as hypothesized, is radically different from the Welfarist argument.

    Your last argument seems to me to come down to saying, “If you don’t see it my way, that proves you’re a bad person!

  • Midwesterner

    It is your arguments that boil down to “because I am right and this bastard won’t do what I know is right”. The body of your defense has not been to defend the principles, extrapolations and consequences of your actions, it is to ever more rigorously defend and refine a very narrow situation that allows you to use force. If it were scientific research, it would amount to redesigning the experiment to give you the ‘right’ answer.

    I asked:

    Why stop at this baby? Are you going threaten to kill the passerby if he lives in Kansas and the dying baby lives in Uganda? Are you only going steal a little bit of his life to save the Ugandan, or Bangladeshi or any other dying child? Why is the cause of the baby’s fate a forbidden factor? Why does the physical distance between the passerby and the dying child make a difference? Maybe the child is dying of starvation and the Kansan has food. If there are a lot of passersby, maybe you only get a little help from each of them with your gun? “From each …, to each …”?

    What stops you? When will you run out of dying babies to help? If threatening people’s lives to make them help can save babys’ lives, when and why would you ever stop?

    You said:

    Others have pointed out here and there in these discussions the reasons why the hypothetical situation, purely as hypothesized, is radically different from the Welfarist argument.

    On the strength of your statement, I searched three threads for the references to the welfare argument and missed them. Please either link the relevant comments or provide your own explanation. Certainly I don’t recall any answer to the question I asked above. They are not even mildly different. Substitute food to the starving for air to the drowning and it is indistinguishable in any way but time lapsed.

    You said:

    Your last argument seems to me to come down to saying, “If you don’t see it my way, that proves you’re a bad person!“

    Don’t worry. I won’t shoot you for it, that’s your method. 🙂 I’ll only use violence to defend against violence.

    Just out of curiosity, would you shoot a medical care provider if they had the means to save a baby with expensive surgery but wouldn’t do it without payment? That is a serious question. Specifically, why not? And don’t change the hypothetical by magically dealing with the money problem. There is no money and no hope of any. How is that case fundamentally different?

  • flataffect

    I’ve been watching Fox’s The Following and it drives me nuts how the FBI and cops keep getting shot and usually killed by the bad guys, a terrorist cult, whenever one was told by an officer with a gun to drop his own, they could get away with refusing to obey and playing for time until they could get the jump on the goog guy by moving, pulling some other weapon(s), When an officer pulls a gun and tells you to drop your own, place you hands behind your head, etc. If you don’t obey immediately you should get shot and disabled as a threat. Especially when there is a history of murders by the bad guys. It drives me nuts. They use traitors and plants among the police and FBI. They take hostages. THEY are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. If you give an order you’d better be ready to pull the trigger as soon as he makes a false move or refuses instructions. We’ve watched one good person after another get killed or wounded because they gave an 0rder and didn’t follow through, giving the bad guys the chance to get away and continue their evil. Not only is this stupid and self-defeating, but it’s really bad writing and drama, as well as downright annoying, because it reminds me of the fecklessness of our foreign policy and handing of terrorism, being hamstrung by our own legal systems.

  • Paul Marks

    I continue to believe that what really matters to these people (the “libertarian” left) is the pleasure of pointing the firearm and giving orders – everything else is (eventually) of far lesser concern to them.