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The presumption of liberty

My attention was drawn to an article about a harmless Australian eccentric who was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the authorities.

The gentleman who was harassed, a certain Mr. Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, had removed the fare chip from a train travelcard and had it implanted in his hand, thus allowing him to access the train system without needing to carry the card — he could wave his hand over the card reader instead. No allegation was made that he had defrauded the Sydney transit system in any way. He paid his fare, he was just using a chip implanted in his hand instead of into a plastic card.

However, the humorless martinets of the prosecution service decided to go after him anyway, even though he had obviously done no harm to anyone. Why? Presumably because we now live in a society where the implicit rule is, that which is not explicitly permitted is forbidden. Never mind that he’d paid his fare, never mind that no tangible harm was done to anyone or anything, it annoyed them that someone might do something they found peculiar, and so they set forth to crush that behavior.

(Mr. Meow-Meow’s fare chip was cancelled, by the way. This, to me, seems like a breach of contract, and possibly even a theft, as he had paid legitimately for his travel, and his money was taken without recourse.)

The assumption in any civilized society society should be this: that which harms no one is legal, and should not be subject to punishment upon the arbitrary and capricious whims of humorless prosecutors who decide to find something irritating for no important reason. Laws should be few, clear, irredundant, and should exist only to deal with actual interpersonal conflicts in which one party has actually damaged another and not merely offended their sensibilities. It should never be possible for an official to decide to crush someone merely because they find them vaguely distasteful in some manner.

Indeed, any official who decides to do such a thing should, in turn, themselves be guilty of an offense, for they have proposed to use the weight of the courts not to restrain a malefactor but to deprive someone of their freedom.

The presumption should always be that things which harm no one are perfectly legal. The fact that your neighbor doesn’t like your haircut, or the music you prefer, or the fact that you like keeping your proximity chip in your hand rather than in your wallet, or that you eat strange food or enjoy sleeping at the wrong time of day should never be an offense, and indeed, society should vigorously and mercilessly prosecute those who would interfere with the liberty of others.

Mr. Meow-Meow won his day in court this time (although he found himself forced, unaccountably, to pay court costs when he had caused no one any harm), but I fear that the presumption of liberty in the Anglosphere has long since been forgotten. It is long past time to resurrect it, and vigorously.

21 comments to The presumption of liberty

  • Mr. Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow

    With an epic name like that, I would indeed expect him to be out on the bleeding edge of something.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    I should have emphasized something else in the above. Eccentricity is not a crime, and the safety of eccentrics is the safety of all. If the liberty of eccentrics is safe, then the rest of us can also be assured that our liberty is also safe.

  • I should have emphasized something else in the above…

    On the contrary…

    If the liberty of eccentrics is safe, then the rest of us can also be assured that our liberty is also safe.

    Which was always why the ‘English eccentric’ is something of an archetype, for it is rooted in the liberty to be different.

  • Molly

    What is the collective noun for a group of Perrys? A flock seems inappropriate for such individualists. Perhaps an ‘Individuality of Perrys’? 😆 😀

  • Mr Ed

    Perry M,

    I am sure that our friend, ‘Chip’ to his mates no doubt, has committed some heinous IP ‘crimes’ like by using the chip in his own body, he has violated the ‘design rights’ of the card designer, and he has usurped their intellectual property. He has probably violated some crime around misuse of the transit system by not presenting a valid ‘card’, but only a chip which releases the credit on demand.

    Now if a dutiful judge had a wicked sense of humour, he would have ordered ‘Chip’ to be electronically tagged as part of his sentence. Should not we all be chipped like dogs? We would then be able to scan one another’s chips for health records, social credit and make all our transactions in a cashless utopia.

    It turns out that Britain’s NHS has been putting people down like dogs with opiate overdoses, in one hospital alone, it is reckoned 456 people were done away with over 11 years, but it started under Mrs Thatcher, so she’s to blame. So here in the UK, there is no presumption of liberty, nor of life, when one is dealing with the State.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Thank you for expanding my vocabulary with the term “irredundant”– a word which incidentally my old copy of ‘Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language’ unaccountably overlooked.

    In the Utopia I would love to see, any lawmaker who voted for a law which was not demonstrably irredundant would be publicly flogged outside the Chamber in which she committed her offence, and then given the old Greek City State treatment of exile to whatever foreign jurisdiction would accept her. One can dream!

    Of course, in that same Utopia, there would be no ‘regulations’ put in place by faceless bureaucrats — citizens would be subject only to laws personally signed by individually accountable elected lawmakers. And any judge who dared to legislate from the bench would get the death penalty. Dreams can be so wonderful!

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Thank you for expanding my vocabulary with the term “irredundant”– a word which incidentally my old copy of ‘Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language’ unaccountably overlooked” — the term originated in mathematics, and I am using it in the precise sense that it appeared there. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/irredundant

  • NickM

    Fuck ’em. It really is that simple. anyone who persues this sort of law is a sad cunt. In a sense the crime is the punishment. They deserve mockery of the highest order.

  • pete

    Maybe the cancelled contract said something about always carrying the card on trips and not damaging it.

  • Dalben

    I can see that initially they might have thought that he had some new kind of fare jumping scheme, since there was no visible card. But once they figured out what was going on, it was probably just a case of once you arrest someone you don’t wan to let him go without some kind of charge.

  • Michael Jennings

    Maybe the cancelled contract said something about always carrying the card on trips and not damaging it.

    It clearly did. On the other hand, being in breach of that aspect of the contract doesn’t make you guilty of fare evasion.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Maybe the cancelled contract said something about always carrying the card on trips and not damaging it.

    It clearly did. On the other hand, being in breach of that aspect of the contract doesn’t make you guilty of fare evasion.

    And the judge noted that they did not choose to charge him with defacing the card, which he clearly did, but with fare evasion, which he clearly did not do. That said, charging him with defacing the card brings up the question of damages, and under the circumstances, I cannot see how anyone could believe the damage was worth more than the price of one card, which is to say (at current costs) a sum too small to make worth the time of any court. “De minimis non curat lex” is a doctrine for a reason.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    Tolerance of eccentricity is the first test of a civilisation (that I would want to call my own).

  • Fred the Fourth

    There’s an old old short story or memoir which includes an incident where a child (narrator) notices the unusual behavior of a fellow passenger on a train. Something like requesting his chicken roasted instead of boiled, and having a single stateroom. (An older, more innocent time.) After relating this story to the elderly aunt who collects the boy at the station, the aunt gently admonishes him that the “gentleman” was “eccentric”, not “strange”. “Eccentric” you see, because the gentleman was wealthy.
    As ever, only the poor need fear being sanctioned for their strangenesses.
    (It’s been several decades since I read that item. Chalk up all errors to memory.)

  • Paul Marks

    I agree with you Perry M. – this is an outrageous case and reveals the bureaucratic mindset.

    And making the man pay legal costs when he did not bring the case and was shown to be innocent of any crime – is another outrage. Sadly a common one.

  • Patrick Crozier

    And recent, too, I believe.

  • Michael Jennings

    And the judge noted that they did not choose to charge him with defacing the card, which he clearly did, but with fare evasion, which he clearly did not do. That said, charging him with defacing the card brings up the question of damages, and under the circumstances, I cannot see how anyone could believe the damage was worth more than the price of one card, which is to say (at current costs) a sum too small to make worth the time of any court. “De minimis non curat lex” is a doctrine for a reason.

    I have not the slightest disagreement with any of this. Charging him with fare evasion was both stupid and wrong. And involving him with the court system in any way was absurd.

  • Mike Borgelt

    I have thought for some time that anything not prohibited was compulsory in Australia. There is no presumption of liberty in Australia and I suspect there never has been.
    Ask any Australian aviator about the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and its predecessors.

  • Felipe Grey

    I know a few Perry’s and they are all quite fond of a tipple. I think a a ‘Case’ of Perry’s would be most apt.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I think you are forgetting he obviously must have offended someone, surely, that’s all you need in todays world to be fined or jailed, someone somewhere _must_ have been “offended”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Surely one ought to offend six impossible people before breakfast.

    (Though not perhaps before coffee.)

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