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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13401/defending-the-blackmailer/

Defending the Blackmailer

July 28, 2010 by

What exactly is blackmail? Blackmail is the offer of trade. It is the offer to trade something, usually silence, for some other good, usually money. FULL ARTICLE by Walter Block

{ 253 comments }

michael July 28, 2010 at 8:06 am

Block has discovered the perfect intellectual method to justify any morally repugnant behavior. Taken together, his articles in support of creepy and antisocial activities form the bedrock of a new kind of human being, one entirely without scruple or concern for others.

Such people should have an island somewhere, all to themselves.

Enjoy Every Sandwich July 28, 2010 at 9:50 am

On the contrary, the article raises an important question: by what moral principle is blackmail “repugnant”?

Whatever principle you cite, will you apply it in a principled and consistent fashion? e.g., are economic boycotts “morally repugnant behavior”? Or are you just going to apply your “principle” to activities you don’t personally approve of?

michael July 28, 2010 at 10:57 am

You know of no ethical or moral reason to consider blackmail, that is, a scheme to inflict distress on others for monetary or other gain, to be repugnant. That would be a complete statement.

Michael A. Clem July 28, 2010 at 11:53 am

You miss the point–what did a person do that they could be blackmailed for? Is it morally repugnant to punish someone else’s morally repugnant behavior by demanding cash payments instead of reporting it to the police? Perhaps you would be happier if law enforcement officials handled the situation instead, but you fail to explain what exactly is wrong with blackmail in itself.

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

“Is it morally repugnant to punish someone else’s morally repugnant behavior by demanding cash payments instead of reporting it to the police?”

Yes. I dont think cops are necessary if most would join me in simply shunning all people who go into dirty, stupid businesses.

michael July 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

M Clem, I suppose I’m not surprised at having to spell all this out. I’m beginning to grok the way you fellows think.

First, the concept of blackmail has nothing to do with whether the deed in danger of being exposed is illegal. It may merely be embarrassing to the person being blackmailed. That’s why Dave Letterman was cornered by a potential blackmailer who threatened to expose his tryst with a subordinate. He though Dave would so not want such an outcome that he’d pay really big bucks to keep it secret.

Instead Dave chose to blab it all on camera. And in fact this peccadillo wasn’t all that bad. In our culture such events go under the category of ‘dating’, not abuse of an employee.

The core concept is that I will do something very bad to you if you don’t pay up. In this light, blackmail is precisely the same crime as mugging. In the one case, I will shoot you if you don’t give me the money. In the other, I will expose secrets you would very much like to keep covered up.

The blackmailer is certainly morally repugnant. It may also be the case that the blackmailee is as well. He may be a child molester, or an income tax cheat, or a secret member of the Nazi Party. But that would be another story.

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Hate to mess up your propaganda there, but, I just disagreed with Clem and partly agreed with you. We’re not nearly all the same, hack.

What about the Communist Party, degenerate?

michael July 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm

If what you’re saying is that you’re not a Social Darwinist, I applaud the sentiment. I actually didn’t think you were– but I think the general emotional appeal of this website attracts such people, with its elevation of the profit motive above all others.

The CP? Not many among us still belong to that fossil organization. And those that do, I suspect, are proud of the fact. Maybe in 1952 they could be blackmailed. Today, I think not.

If one of our esteemed political figures were found to be a secret toe-licker, though… THAT would be a blackmailable offense.

Dave Albin July 28, 2010 at 3:59 pm

So, where exactly do you draw the line with free speech? Why do you get to draw it for me? Why does your moral standard apply to me?

Seattle July 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm

So anyone who does anything someone else doesn’t like is morally repugnant?

I find your ideas very offensive!

*hauls you off to prison*

newson July 28, 2010 at 11:35 pm

michael says: “…this website attracts such people, with its elevation of the profit motive above all others.”

this is a deliberate mischaracterization. this website elevates freedom (including financial) above all other motives. you’ve been gracing the blog for long enough to know this, so i can only conclude that you’re being disingenuous.

J. Murray July 29, 2010 at 6:04 am

newson -

No, michael is correct. However, libertarians also are aware that profit isn’t a matter of coming out with more cash on hand than before. Profit is merely the simple fact of being better off after making a free decision. What michael doesn’t comprehend is that when I go to the store and purchase a HDTV that isn’t not only the store that profits, I profit as well. If I freely decide to spend time with my family, I profit. If I freely decide to sit at home all day playing video games, I profit.

With the TV, I valued the television more than the money, therefore, I gained value in the transaction.

With the family interaction, I valued the interation more than the time required to obtain it, therefore, I gained value in the transaction.

With the sitting at home in my boxers playing video games all day, I valued the leisure more than the time required to engage in it, therefore, I gained value in the transaction.

In all those situations, I either lost or didn’t obtain any money. In michael’s simple mind, I didn’t profit. However, I say I did profit because, in the end, I am better off for having made my own decision, free of coercion.

The only bright spot is that people like michael haven’t figured out what real profit is. Because if they did, those same people would decide to tax it.

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:16 am

You guys can really get carried away with things.

“So, where exactly do you draw the line with free speech? Why do you get to draw it for me? Why does your moral standard apply to me?”

Dave, I don’t draw a line with free speech. You’re free to say anything, even if it might offend me. And I’m free to call you out if I disapprove of your own beliefs. That’s kind of the way free speech is.

“So anyone who does anything someone else doesn’t like is morally repugnant?
I find your ideas very offensive!”

Seattle, morality is in the eye of the beholder. I commonly get accused of immorality here, and always think the accuser is off base. If you want to blackmail people, go right ahead. But be prepared for some societal disapproval.

*hauls you off to prison*

I don’t recall saying that someone should be hauled off to prison. I did offer this, though:

“Such people should have an island somewhere, all to themselves.”

Finally, newson:

“this is a deliberate mischaracterization. this website elevates freedom (including financial) above all other motives. you’ve been gracing the blog for long enough to know this, so i can only conclude that you’re being disingenuous.”

I have indeed read quite a body of opinion here, and I note that there is some variation among you in individual opinions. But my impression is that the center of philosophic balance here is toward a person’s freedom to gain at the expense of others, without the intervening hand of a government that tries to impose equity on the transactions that occur between the strong and the weak. I would consider that standard for human commerce (that the strong and the weak should be allowed equal latitude to be able to dominate the field) to be Social Darwinism. No doubt you wouldn’t.

One might legitimately say that no, he doesn’t think the strong should always prosper over the weak, but that everyone should play on the same, level field. The problem with that is that the House always wins. The rich, powerful and organized easily beat the little guy, every time. And so, at this point in history, I’m sort of on the redistributive side of things. I see old wrongs needing to be righted first, before true freedom can commence. And the way I see that leads many among you to think of me as being some sort of Communist.

At any rate, not a “deliberate mischaracterization”. An opinion freely offered.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 9:45 am

And the rich, powerful and organized easily get ahold of the State, every time, and beat the hell out of the little guy in ways you apparently don’t understand.

Huntsmen July 28, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Michael, Rothbardian ethics is just an exercise in rights reductionism. Empathy and broader social context isn’t taken into account. Don’t be surprised if Rothbardians come off as sociopaths and social retards.

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm

And Michael’s (and yours presumably) rights “explosionism” has done wonders for Michael’s inferiors, hasn’t it? Nothing like incredible ignorance, a boat load of empathy and trillions of confiscated dollars to fix up a society real good.

michael July 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Funny, I thought the essay was a way of subordinating ethical ways of viewing behavior to strictly monetary perspectives governing behavior. That would seem to fit with the general views being espoused here, that what one owes to one’s fellow man is nada, if a buck is there to potentially be made.

So you’re saying that Block was NOT implying that it was perfectly all right to engage in blackmail, so long as one stood to gain by it? Good. I would hope not.

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Well see, the thing is, you almost never know what any of these articles is really about. There’s this thing called “confirmation bias”, look into it. Oh yeah, and you’re also a total asshole.

Dave Albin July 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

“broader social context” – why don’t you enlighten me. I need someone to steal from me and use it to create a life playbook that I can follow to prevent my demise…

newson July 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

michael and huntsman, birds of a feather

Bala July 29, 2010 at 12:13 am

I haven’t been following huntsman, but michael and birds???? They are very closely related :)

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:23 am

You said a mouthful, Huntsmen. The world Rothbardian ethics seeks to create is certainly not a just world. It’s a world where strength and skill beats other virtues. Above, I describe it as the world of Social Darwinism, only slightly updated.

I still come back to this evocative description of F. von Hayek’s moral and ethical principles (from Wikipedia):

“Hayek disapproved strongly of the notion of ‘social justice’. He compared the market to a game in which ‘there is no point in calling the outcome just or unjust’ and argued that ‘social justice is an empty phrase with no determinable content’; likewise ‘the results of the individual’s efforts are necessarily unpredictable, and the question as to whether the resulting distribution of incomes is just has no meaning.’ He regarded any attempt by government to redistribute income or capital as an unacceptable intrusion upon individual freedom: ‘the principle of distributive justice, once introduced, would not be fulfilled until the whole of society was organized in accordance with it. This would produce a kind of society which in all essential respects would be the opposite of a free society.”

To me this sums up the Austrian position nicely.

Russ July 29, 2010 at 7:40 am

Rothbardians don’t believe in a world without charity for the truly needy; that’s more of a Randian thing. Rothbardians merely believe that charity should not be forced by the government, and that redistributive programs steal money from its rightful owners.

And if social Darwinism is bad, reverse social Darwinism is worse. Why should those who are stupid, weak or lazy have enforceable moral claims on those who are intelligent, strong and hard-working? From a purely Darwinist point of view, it’s a sure-fired way to drag all of society down to the lowest common denominator.

michael July 29, 2010 at 9:30 am

“Rothbardians merely believe that charity should not be forced by the government, and that redistributive programs steal money from its rightful owners.”

So, then, if there’s a lifegiving drug that I need to survive, and the manufacturer determines that it should cost me $12,000 each month to have access to it, I should not then appeal to the government to offer me an option of joining a nonprofit health plan to help pay for it? I should just choose among the for-profit plans or die?

I pay my taxes willingly for access to such services, so my taxes are not stolen by the government. If you choose not to, you should probably opt out if the club. Macau and Brunei beckon you!

Russ July 29, 2010 at 9:57 am

“So, then, if there’s a lifegiving drug that I need to survive, and the manufacturer determines that it should cost me $12,000 each month to have access to it, I should not then appeal to the government to offer me an option of joining a nonprofit health plan to help pay for it?”

By “nonprofit health plan”, I assume you are talking about ObamaCare (I don’t have anything against private non-profit insurance providers). The problem I have with this is that the ObamaCare plan will necessarily take away my tax money to fund it, even if I would prefer to opt out and only pay premiums to a private provider. This double-paying will eventually crowd out the private insureres from the market, just as it crowds out private schools, so that only the wealthy can afford decent health care, just like only the wealthy can afford decent education for their children now.

In other words, your bleeding heart causes you, by a knee-jerk reaction, to espouse policies that will actually hurt those you supposedly care so much about. As per usual.

“I should just choose among the for-profit plans or die?”

When the Founders said that we have the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, they did not intend that to mean that you have the right to steal other peoples’ money and use it to pay for your health care. Eventually, we all die. It sucks, but it’s part of life. It does not give anyone the right to steal what other people have earned to postpone the inevitable.

“I pay my taxes willingly for access to such services, so my taxes are not stolen by the government.”

Well, of course, if you are a net consumer of tax revenue, rather than a net provider of same, then you would think that it’s a great deal! If you were a net provider, you might not agree.

“If you choose not to, you should probably opt out if the club. Macau and Brunei beckon you!”

I was born in the US, and I see no reason why I don’t have a right to live here, simply because I don’t want to have my money taken from me by a “club” of thieves who are numerous than people like me. Might doesn’t make right. Neither does counting noses.

Bala July 30, 2010 at 2:39 am

Russ,

” that’s more of a Randian thing. ”

I beg to differ. Rand has written on charity and its place in a free society. It’s not very different from what you have described.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 3:05 am

Rand’s definition of herself being “charitable” would be something like saying that if you made absolutely sure that you could save a drowning person without risking your own life and could provide good arguments to that effect and convince her with them, *then* you may proceed to the victim’s aid without being ex-communicated from Rand’s psycho-cult.

Please ask Bala to explain to you how Randians are not libertarians, Michael.

Bala July 30, 2010 at 7:28 am

mpolzkill,

Here’s what Rand said in an interview.

************************
My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

[From “Playboy’s 1964 interview with Ayn Rand”]
**************************

So there!!!!

Bala July 30, 2010 at 7:30 am

mpolzkill,

Here’s more

******************
The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.

It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others—a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal . . . .

To view the question in its proper perspective, one must begin by rejecting altruism’s terms and all of its ugly emotional aftertaste—then take a fresh look at human relationships. It is morally proper to accept help, when it is offered, not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e., when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such.

“The Question of Scholarships,” The Objectivist, June 1966, 6.

The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own hierarchy of values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness.

To illustrate this on the altruists’ favorite example: the issue of saving a drowning person. If the person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him only when the danger to one’s own life is minimal; when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it: only a lack of self-esteem could permit one to value one’s life no higher than that of any random stranger. (And, conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one’s sake, remembering that one’s life cannot be as valuable to him as his own.)

If the person to be saved is not a stranger, then the risk one should be willing to take is greater in proportion to the greatness of that person’s value to oneself. If it is the man or woman one loves, then one can be willing to give one’s own life to save him or her—for the selfish reason that life without the loved person could be unbearable.

“The Ethics of Emergencies,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 45.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 8:39 am

Bala, I already know these handful of fig leaves. I was just hoping you would explain to Michael that Randians are not libertarians.

Bala July 31, 2010 at 5:23 am

Figleaf, huh? For what? Why is it a “fig-leaf” and not a reasonable position? Who is the cultist?

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Michael,

“I pay my taxes willingly for access to such services, so my taxes are not stolen by the government.”

It’s quite apparent that you are not willing to pay for access to such services. You want other people to pay for your services. If you were willing to pay then you wouldn’t balk at private insurance premiums, which more accurately represent payment for services.

Do you have the right to force others to pay for services you aren’t willing to pay for yourself? I would say no. It’s not like health insurance is a public good, so you can’t even use that argument. When government gets involved in providing non-public goods then taxation quite clearly crosses the line into theft.

I would however disagree with anarcho-capitalists that all taxation is necessarily theft. It depends on whether public goods truly exist and that is debatable.

Tom Rapheal July 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm

The more important thing, whether you find it repugnant or not, is if blackmail should be illegal. Clearly, Block has made a very strong case for it to be legal.

Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it should be illegal, that is how a totalitarians mind works.

Bala July 29, 2010 at 6:39 am

…. and michael is a totalitarian at heart.

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:28 am

I’m cut to the quick, Bala, to think you think of me as a totalitarian.

And Tom: as blackmail is an injury cunningly inflicted by one person on another, if we are to consider that to be a non-tort situation (that is, one from which the courts will not guarantee redress) there’s only one logically consistent position to be taken. The blackmailee must have the freedom to kill his blackmailer without fear of prosecution.

Otherwise low and contemptible behavior will have the advantage.

Bala July 29, 2010 at 6:38 am

Why is blackmail morally repugnant? Incidentally, blackmail is NOT “a scheme to inflict distress on others for monetary or other gain”.

It is true that the aim of the blackmailer is to attain monetary gain. It is true that it may cause distress to the person being blackmailed. But the intent of the blackmailer is not to “inflict” the distress.

The blackmailer is just saying “If you do not give me money, I will reveal this information that I have and which I am well within my rights to reveal”. The blackmailer clearly sees more value in the money than in revealing the information. The blackmailed clearly sees more disvalue in the revelation of the information than in the loss of money to the blackmailer. In other words, he values the concealment of the information more than the money he would have to pay the blackmailer. If that were not so, the attempt at blackmailing would be a miserable failure. “Distress” is not caused by the blackmailer but by the blackmailed person’s estimate of the consequences of such a revelation on his personal/professional life.

Now that I have explained this, could you please explain why blackmail is “morally repugnant”? By what moral standards is it repugnant?

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:36 am

“Now that I have explained this, could you please explain why blackmail is “morally repugnant”? By what moral standards is it repugnant?”

That is something I sincerely believe you would never understand.

If you had the opportunity to totally ruin some other human being, in a transaction from which you stood to gain, you similarly would have no moral qualm. It would just be business, exactly the same as when one insect devours another.

You are the person I referred to at the top of the thread, when I said that such people should have an island to themselves someplace.

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 7:42 am

That is something I sincerely believe you would never understand.

And logic is something you wouldn’t understand. But we established that long time ago.

Michael A. Clem July 29, 2010 at 12:16 pm

So, people who do bad things should not be punished? Or they should only be punished by the “lawful” authorities? What is particularly wrong with ruining the life of a child molester, thief, or murderer?

Bala July 29, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Oh michael,

Surely I am not beyond redemption, am I? I asked a straight question and have not got any answer, leave alone a straight one. So, I shall repeat my question sans my explanation.

Could you please explain why blackmail is “morally repugnant”? By what moral standards is it repugnant?

Convince me and you shall have a believer. If you don’t trust this statement, ask mpolzkill. He will tell you how I changed my position from pro-IP (a product of my Objectivist background) to anti-IP and from pro-government and anti-anarchy (for similar reasons as above) to “anti-government and at least ready to discuss anarchy if not an anarchist already” when the reasoning forced me to.

So, please give it a shot.

Bala July 29, 2010 at 8:01 pm

” If you had the opportunity to totally ruin some other human being, in a transaction from which you stood to gain, you similarly would have no moral qualm. ”

Hey birdbrain….. This situation could refer to any of innumerable business situations where one person’s business success leads to another’s downfall. Why should I have any moral qualms about attaining my business success just because it leads to the downfall of another? Please explain the moral standards. I am an Objectivist (at least I claim to be one) and would be completely shaken by a strong moral argument.

Russ July 29, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Bala,

Ruining a person economically through fair competition and ruining a person’s reputation are two different things. Granted, if the person truly did the thing that leads to the ruin of his own reputation, then it’s partially his own fault.

As for getting an argument for why blackmail is morally repugnant, good luck. You’re probably not going to get one. The reason is that the issue is a very visceral one, and if somebody has a strong visceral reaction against something, he probably doesn’t consider a rationale for that reaction necessary. For instance, I consider child molestation to be morally repugnant, even if the child supposedly consented and liked it. If somebody asked me for a justification for my position, I would reply that it is self-evident, and anybody who doesn’t understand that is also morally repugnant.

Bala July 29, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Russ,

While I do understand your position, my main difference of opinion would stem from the fact that I consider morality too to be a product of man’s rational mind. As I see it, most ideas that go in the name of “morality” do not constitute a moral framework at all. I definitely do not see diktats of any kind emanating from any source as “morals”. The reason is simply that I see “morals” as a hierarchy of values that guides man’s actions in the face of choices. Man fundamentally being a rational animal, his only human way of choosing his values and forming them into a hierarchy is by the use of his mind. So, a proper morality or a code of values usable by a human being is by definition and necessity a rational one. The reasoning involved in developing a moral framework is, of course, inductive (I am sure you will understand why that cannot be discussed on this forum :) )

That said, taking the specific example of “child molestation”, I do share the feeling that it is morally repugnant. However, I think I do understand why I feel so. It is because of my concept of individual rights, specifically of the rights of children and my understanding of what constitutes “harm” to children. Child molesters are people who have no idea of what it is to be human, in particular to be a child and have descended to the bestial level. They have no concept of individual rights and have chosen the path of violation of the rights of others, that too the most vulnerable of people. This is demonstrated in their acts of child molestation. I see no problem in treating them as the beasts they are. They cannot claim any protection on the premise of “individual rights” because they themselves do not recognise the principle of individual rights.

In effect, I am saying that it is possible to have a rational discussion of that which appears morally repugnant and if we are not, it only means that the issue is not one of morality. That’s all I am trying to bring out by attempting to engage michael on this issue.

Russ July 30, 2010 at 11:49 am

Bala wrote:
“…my main difference of opinion would stem from the fact that I consider morality too to be a product of man’s rational mind.”

You’re right, that is our main difference. I don’t believe that values can be arrived at through reason. I believe that if I value Y, and if X leads to Y, then it is rational to do X. In other words, I believe we can use reason to determine how best to achieve that which we value, but I don’t believe that we can use reason to determine what we value. I guess I’m going to Objectivist hell. *grin*

Peter Surda July 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

I guess I’m going to Objectivist hell.

Thank god, I was worried what kind of company I’ll have there.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I’ve been trying to piece this together for years, Russ (while studiously avoiding Ms. Rosenbaum’s pulp novels): I think that we are already in hell and we are Satan’s minions.

Lots and lots of company, Peter.

Bala July 31, 2010 at 12:08 am

Russ,

” You’re right, that is our main difference. I don’t believe that values can be arrived at through reason. ”

I do and that’s the next level of difference. I also think this difference stems from the difference in our understanding of the concept “value”, of the concept “man” and how man forms the concept “value”.

As I understand it, “values” are that which we act to gain or keep. At the same time, I would add the point that man is not born with a predetermined set of values. Every human being makes a choice of what to value and places all these values in a hierarchy.

But how does man “know” what is of “value” and what is not? Man’s knowledge, including of “values” starts from the percepts he receives from reality. It is inductive reasoning applied to the perceptual material received through our senses that enables man to form the concept “value” and compare values.

That said, I also think that the crucial difference between us is not in this but in the standard that we have chosen to value that which we value. I don’t know yours and will speak only for myself.

As I understand it, no valuation and hence a hierarchy of values is possible unless one has a standard of value. It is the standard that gives us the ability to measure and place in a hierarchy. I have chosen my life as my standard of value (that’s what makes me an Objectivist) and placed it highest on my hierarchy of values. Everything else is evaluated relative to this standard.If my life is my standard of value, it is possible for me to apply inductive reasoning to place different values in a hierarchy by assessing their contribution to the enhancement of my own life. I do not claim that I will make no errors in valuation, but the process is one of reasoning. That which contributes more to my life goes higher up in the hierarchy. Newly encountered objects of value are constantly being compared with already arranged values to figure out where to place them in the hierarchy. Existing values move up or down depending on the ever changing (and hopefully improving) assessments that I make.

” believe we can use reason to determine how best to achieve that which we value, but I don’t believe that we can use reason to determine what we value. ”

That’s my point. How do you get to “know” what to value and how to value one thing against another? I am saying that too can be rational.Please note the emphasis on the “can”. I am not saying that it is by nature rational. People can choose other means of deciding what to value. For instance, I could observe what my parents value and decide to adopt the same set of values. I guess that’s what we call “tradition”. I could observe what a lot of people (in addition to my family) in my social setting value and decide to adopt the same set of values. That, I guess, is what we call “social mores”. This is the “imitator” (I am not passing judgement but just identifying it by a name keeping in mind the process involved. The person is imitating, isn’t he?) way of choosing one’s values.

There are other ways – the “random” method, the “intuitive” method and maybe others I am unable to identify.

My main point (and Rand’s, as I have understood it) is that the rational method of choosing one’s values is more likely to consistently lead to the enhancement of one’s life and of one’s happiness on this earth in this life that we have than the “imitator” method and the other methods as well. The reasons are simply that
1. The rational method exposes you to just your errors (which you are always ready to live down) while the “imitator” method exposes you to the dangers caused by the errors of others. “Random” methods expose you to the dangers caused by carelessness. “Intuitive” methods have their own pitfalls because intuition has its limits, limits far tighter than those of rationality.
2. The rational method definitely places your own life at the apex of the value system. The same cannot be said for the imitator method or for the others.

So, as a human being making the choice to live and do whatever it takes to live as happy a life as possible, I have chosen the rational moral framework over the imitator and other moral frameworks.

So, the rational code of morality is not a given but a choice to be made. We may all make our choices, but we also have to face the consequences of our choices. The “hell” that you mention is not a mythical one but all the avoidable and undeserved pain and suffering we go through in this only life that we have.

I believe I have only 1 life. My goal is simple – enjoy it to the maximum extent possible. To do so, it is absolutely essential to avoid undeserved pain and suffering. Hence, I don’t see an alternative either.

Peter Surda July 31, 2010 at 6:14 am

Bala, what if your desires cannot be fulfilled simultaneously? For example, if the choice was between being right and being popular? How can you rationally decide which desire to prefer? You can’t. The decision requires a subjective factor.

Bala July 31, 2010 at 7:32 am

” what if your desires cannot be fulfilled simultaneously? ”

Who said I am trying to get every whim satisfied? Who said I am fighting reality? I will choose the desire that is of greater value to me.

” For example, if the choice was between being right and being popular? How can you rationally decide which desire to prefer? You can’t. ”

Oh no!! I can. In any case, your question shows that you haven’t comprehended that being “right” means acting in my own long-range rational self-interest. If what is “popular” is not what is “right”, it is not in my rational long-range self-interest. Therefore, the choice presents no problem.

At another level, I need to decide which is of greater value to me – the outcome of doing the right thing or the outcome of being popular. The standard of value is once again my life. That which enhances my life more will have to be the choice. In any case, it will turn out to be the “right” choice because being of greater value is what would have made it the “right” choice in the first place. You seem to forget that my morality is the morality of self-interest. There is no conflict between the “right” thing and that which is in my best interests.

I fail to understand which part of this is difficult to comprehend or subjective.

Peter Surda July 31, 2010 at 8:05 am

Wait wait wait. Don’t make unnecessary assumptions.

In any case, your question shows that you haven’t comprehended that being “right” means acting in my own long-range rational self-interest.

I already explained previously that you eventually die anyway, so for a sufficiently long “long-range” you are left with zero options. You need to use your own subjective preferences to give all those terms (“long-range”, “self-interest”) meaning. They do not have a meaning outside one’s person.

Let’s rephrase the problem so that you get it. Let’s say you discover something new and have a desire to utilise that discovery. However, attempting to utilise it will alienate yourself from society. So you have a choice between living as a hermit while utilising your discovery, or living in a society, not utilising your discovery. Each of these choices leads to satisfaction of different needs, but you cannot achieve them simultaneously. So, now back to the question: which of those choices is rational? My answer: it depends on preferences of that person, which are subjective.

Bala July 31, 2010 at 10:22 am

” Wait wait wait. Don’t make unnecessary assumptions. ”

What makes you think that if you scream ASSUMPTIONS, the other person has made assumptions? This is the most hare-brained way of arguing that I have ever seen.

” I already explained previously that you eventually die anyway, so for a sufficiently long “long-range” you are left with zero options. ”

I have not explained it to you previously but this is the most stupid argument I have ever heard and will ever hear. Death is inevitable DOES NOT MEAN either that man’s actions are aimed at dying or that they OUGHT to be aimed at dying. Incidentally, this is what your use of that point implies. It only means that I factor in the limited time I have to enjoy this life into my choices. It is a datum in my decision-making process.

It is because I am mortal and more importantly, know that I am mortal that I act to sustain my life. I know that if I fail to act, death is what will result. In the present moment, I have chosen life over death. Hence, I act to sustain life and fight death.

Yes. Death is inevitable, but I fight it to the extent I can. I make choices that are aimed at postponing it for as long as possible. I eat healthy. I sleep well. I stay fit. I do not pick up habits that affect my health adversely. I take insurance so that i can handle medical emergencies better. I get my check-ups done regularly so that I prevent problems or catch them early before they become the cause of my ‘earlier-than-possible’ death.

As a rational human being, I also know that I can act ONLY as long as I am alive. I am in a position to “value” only as long as I am alive. I have to choose only as long as I am alive. So, the period beyond my death is of no consideration to me beyond the effects of my actions prior to my death on those who I value when I am alive. I would not want to die knowing that I have harmed people I value because I would die unhappy.

Your argument by reference to death is therefore the most idiotic ever possible. Incidentally, since when did you start subscribing to the “In the long-run, we are all dead anyway” philosophy?

Acting to sustain my life does not mean acting without taking into consideration the fact that as a human being, I am mortal. In fact, it is mortality that gives value to time. It is mortality and the knowledge of possible mortality that forces me to act. It is mortality and the knowledge of mortality that forces the need to choose. Concepts such as “better off” and “worse off” can have no meaning to an immortal being. An immortal being that knows it is immortal (though how it will know, I can’t figure out) has no reason to act or choose other than arbitrary whim.

” You need to use your own subjective preferences to give all those terms (“long-range”, “self-interest”) meaning. ”

The only “subjective preference” I can see is the preference for life over death. Beyond that, it is all rational and leading to the enhancement of life.

” They do not have a meaning outside one’s person. ”

How does that make them subjective?

” Let’s rephrase the problem so that you get it. Let’s say you discover something new and have a desire to utilise that discovery. However, attempting to utilise it will alienate yourself from society. So you have a choice between living as a hermit while utilising your discovery, or living in a society, not utilising your discovery. Each of these choices leads to satisfaction of different needs, but you cannot achieve them simultaneously. So, now back to the question: which of those choices is rational? My answer: it depends on preferences of that person, which are subjective. ”

This is truly as idiotic as it can get. Specifically this.

” and have a desire to utilise that discovery ”

“Utilise” means apply it in the service of my life. Applying it in the service of my life means to enhance my life and its quality and quantity. It will of course depend on whether I see greater value (through rational assessment) in living in the society or utilising that discovery. It also depends on my assessment of whether I am doing “right” or “wrong” by utilising that discovery. Incidentally, that comes full circle to “enhancing the quality and quantity of my life”. If so, I act to utilise the discovery. Else, I don’t. I wonder why this is very difficult for you to grasp.

Peter Surda July 31, 2010 at 11:10 am

Bala, surely you must be pulling my leg. Don’t you see all the contradictions in your claims?

Death is inevitable DOES NOT MEAN either that man’s actions are aimed at dying or that they OUGHT to be aimed at dying.

You miss the point. The point is that if something is unavoidable, you cannot use it as a distinguishing criterion for your decisions.

I know that if I fail to act, death is what will result.

Given enough time, death will be the result anyway. So this is a pointless sentence.

I make choices that are aimed at postponing it for as long as possible.

Ah, so now you make a completely different claim. You are now claiming that the decisions are based on which choice leads to longer life. But are you sure this is the criterion that takes precedence over the others? You would choose a longer life over a shorter one no matter what the other circumstances are? A life in slavery, for example, instead of dying while fighting for freedom? Another problem is that certain actions have a chance of resulting in your death. Let’s for example assume that you have two choices which have a different distribution probability of death. Your analysis shows you that both lifespans can be represented as a gaussian distribution, one of which has a higher mean value but lower variance. Which one do you pick? The one which increases your chances of dying sooner but also of living longer, or the one which gives you a higher chance of living to a moderate age but lower chance of reaching high age? There is no objective answer, it depends on your preferences, whether you are risk averse, what your goals are and so on.

Your argument by reference to death is therefore the most idiotic ever possible.

It is a reductio ad absurdum argument. It is designed to test one’s assumptions. Calling it idiotic works against you, not against me.

The only “subjective preference” I can see is the preference for life over death. Beyond that, it is all rational and leading to the enhancement of life.

You have not defined “enhancement of life”. Is it something else than fulfilling your desires? Because desires are subjective.

It will of course depend on whether I see greater value (through rational assessment) in living in the society or utilising that discovery.

Merely because a thought process includes rational assessment does not mean it is objective. How else would you evaluate it, than by which result makes you happier? The only objective part is where you analyse which means are suitable for which ends. But the selection of ends are your own. They cannot be defined from the outside.

Let’s say it is possible for you to fly to another star system, alone, but you cannot come back. This is a type of my previous example. How do you choose whether to go? By asking yourself, if seeing something noone has seen before makes you happier than seeing other people. There is nothing objective in either of these ends.

Bala July 31, 2010 at 12:11 pm

You miss the fundamental point that for a living being, the question of “to live or to die” is an existential question. To live is to exist. To die is to cease to exist. The hallmark of a living being is the striving to remain alive for as long as it can. Why is this so difficult for you to comprehend?

In any case, I think have had enough of you. The more time I spend talking to you, the more precious time I am losing. I have come to the conclusion that I am better off going on with life than talking to some one who does not understand life and what it means to be alive. I could just as well be speaking to a machine. Maybe I am speaking to one. Goodbye.

Peter Surda July 31, 2010 at 1:28 pm

The hallmark of a living being is the striving to remain alive for as long as it can. Why is this so difficult for you to comprehend?

You are merely repeating yourself, leaving open questions. Do you not understand them? Do you not know the answer? Ah, I see. For believers, unlike for falsificationists, questioning the core of their beliefs or admitting the unknown is an emotionally painful experience, so they choose to flee.

In any case, I think have had enough of you.

Avoiding cognitive dissonance, just like it was prophecised :-).

Russ July 31, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Bala wrote:
“But how does man “know” what is of “value” and what is not? Man’s knowledge, including of “values” starts from the percepts he receives from reality. It is inductive reasoning applied to the perceptual material received through our senses that enables man to form the concept “value” and compare values.”

I disagree here. I agree that perception and inductive reasoning tells us that certain things will further our core values, but I don’t agree that they tell us anything about our core values themselves. For instance, perception and induction tell us that food is necessary for life. You might say that they thus tell us that we “value” food. But we only value food because it furthers our real core value, continued life. If we didn’t value life, then we wouldn’t value food. And perception and inductive reasoning can’t tell us to value continued life.

“I have chosen my life as my standard of value (that’s what makes me an Objectivist) and placed it highest on my hierarchy of values. Everything else is evaluated relative to this standard.If my life is my standard of value, it is possible for me to apply inductive reasoning to place different values in a hierarchy by assessing their contribution to the enhancement of my own life. I do not claim that I will make no errors in valuation, but the process is one of reasoning. That which contributes more to my life goes higher up in the hierarchy. Newly encountered objects of value are constantly being compared with already arranged values to figure out where to place them in the hierarchy. Existing values move up or down depending on the ever changing (and hopefully improving) assessments that I make.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, except that your core value, or what you call your standard of value, is not something that can be derived from deduction and/or induction. Is is something you simply take as a given. Why do you take it as a given? I think that subjective emotional and instinctive causes come into play here.

“My main point (and Rand’s, as I have understood it) is that the rational method of choosing one’s values is more likely to consistently lead to the enhancement of one’s life and of one’s happiness on this earth in this life that we have than the “imitator” method and the other methods as well.”

My argument is that the rational method is fine as far as it goes. It is, I think, the best method of determining what will best further your values; that is, what will get you what you value. But it is not really a method of choosing one’s values. The rational method cannot do that, because it assumes that a standard of value already exists, which you are trying to further. It cannot tell you what your standard of value should be.

Bala` July 31, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Russ,

” And perception and inductive reasoning can’t tell us to value continued life. ”

I think we’ve had this discussion before on the “is-ought” dichotomy and came to the same point. I agree with you on this. Like I said there, all other values are contingent upon the rather arbitrary and pre-moral choice of valuing continued life. If you do not value continued life, there is no rational morality possible.

But then isn’t staying alive itself a choice for man? Hasn’t every man who is alive already made the prior choice of staying alive and thus valued continued life? If he hadn’t and isn’t valuing continued life, wouldn’t he be dead by now? So, isn’t the fact that we are all alive indicative of the point that we have all chosen continued life over death?

” I think that subjective emotional and instinctive causes come into play here. ”

Possible. Choosing to value continued life is fairly arbitrary. However, I don’t think it is instinctive. Man is one of the few (probably the only one) who can choose to end his life at any time. Man has no “instinct” to keep him alive. Maybe looking at the reasons otherwise normal people (by this I mean people who are not permanently or temporarily mentally deranged) end their lives or take action that risks ending their lives.

In simple terms (just taking a few obvious ones), it is when the pain (not necessarily physical) of living exceeds a limit that the person is not able to bear, when life does not hold any more prospects for happiness or when circumstances are such that only life of a certain kind that has the potential to cause immense pain and suffering that normal people choose to end their lives or take action that risks their own lives.

That’s like saying ‘I’d rather die than live like that”. In this sense, it is a rational choice. Different people’s pain limits may be different, for instance, but that only makes it subjective in the sense that different people may decide at different thresholds. The threshold still matters. The choice is not arbitrary and whimsical.

” The rational method cannot do that, because it assumes that a standard of value already exists, which you are trying to further. It cannot tell you what your standard of value should be. ”

I don’t disagree. But the consequences of choosing something other than continued life as the standard can also be worked out rationally.

So, my point is that a rational moral framework is possible and preferable IF and ONLY IF you are choosing to value continued life over death. Since death is irreversible and optional for human beings, any person alive at any instant has chosen continued life over death. That includes every one of us here.

Bala` July 31, 2010 at 11:20 pm

” Ah, I see. For believers, unlike for falsificationists, questioning the core of their beliefs or admitting the unknown is an emotionally painful experience, so they choose to flee. ”

Garbage. Read my reply above to Russ. The ‘belief’ is based on the primary choice of continued life over death. The rest is a consequence of that choice that we make every second of our lives. So, my theory does not say that men MUST choose life over death. It says that IF they choose life over death, taking one’s own life as the standard of value is a rational choice. Why? Because anything else contradicts the choice of continued life over death. The rest follows.

We know to handle our “cognitive dissonance”. We do it by reminding ourselves of our primary choice – of life over death – and then working forward to the present moment. The dissonance vanishes. But then, how is a machine to understand why a living being would choose continued life over death? After all, if you anyway going to die, how does it matter? What life in any case? It is just a set of biochemical reactions.

There is a pre-moral choice – of continued life over death. Call it “subjective”, ‘arbitrary” or whatever else you want. I couldn’t care less. You still wouldn’t understand it because you are no different from a machine. Logic is everything for you. Good for you. I think I am better off with my “religion”.

Bala` July 31, 2010 at 11:28 pm

My last post was meant for Cyberdyne Systems Model T-1000.

Russ July 31, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Bala,

First off, what’s up with the ` after your name? I assume you are the same Bala I was talking with before.

“Like I said there, all other values are contingent upon the rather arbitrary and pre-moral choice of valuing continued life. If you do not value continued life, there is no rational morality possible.”

I disagree. Any core value (or standard of value, as you put it) is pre-moral, as you call it. It’s also pre-rational. Only after you have a core value can any course of action you take be considered to be rational, or irrational. And no matter what your core value is, I think it is possible to use rationality to further that value. I will go into this further later on…

“So, isn’t the fact that we are all alive indicative of the point that we have all chosen continued life over death?”

Yes, it is. But it does not prove that continued life is our core value. It simply means that we see continued life as a way of furthering whatever our core value happens to be, since if we weren’t alive, we couldn’t do anything to further our true core value.

“Possible. Choosing to value continued life is fairly arbitrary. However, I don’t think it is instinctive. Man is one of the few (probably the only one) who can choose to end his life at any time. Man has no “instinct” to keep him alive.”

Animals can also sacrifice their lives (although whether they choose to do so is another matter). They often sacrifice their lives to protect the lives of their offspring. Now, I think it’s obvious that animals do have a self-preservation instinct, since otherwise they probably wouldn’t live long enough to reproduce. But other instincts, such as the maternal/paternal instinct, can override the self-preservation instinct. Thus, just because animals do sometimes “choose” to sacrifice their lives, that doesn’t prove that they have no self-preservation instinct at all. I think the same applies to humans. The difference is that humans can choose which instincts to listen to, rather than being driven solely by instinct. Since a choice is possible, morality is possible. With animals, since choice is not possible, they cannot act morally (or immorally). They always act amorally.

“But the consequences of choosing something other than continued life as the standard can also be worked out rationally.”

Yes, exactly. I agree completely. This means that any core value can be pursued rationally, not just the value of continued life. Death as a core value could be rationally pursued by doing something that one rationally believes will result in death, for instance. The lives of your children could be rationally pursued by doing something that one rationally believes will result in their lives being preserved, even at the cost of your death.

Forgive me for slightly rearranging your last paragraph, in the order in which I wish to logically address it:

“…Since death is irreversible and optional for human beings, any person alive at any instant has chosen continued life over death. That includes every one of us here.”

So far, so good.

“So, my point is that a rational moral framework is possible and preferable IF and ONLY IF you are choosing to value continued life over death….”

I don’t believe that this sentence follows logically from the previous one. All that the fact that I am alive proves if that I (rationally?) believe that my continued life furthers my core value, whatever that happens to be.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 1:58 am

Bala, several times I disproved your theory that one can choose life over death, since given enough time, all decisions end with death. What one can choose is longer life over shorter life. You yourself it admit it at first, but then come back to the former one. That indicates to me that you actually don’t get it. These are two distinct claims. Furthermore, I showed that even if I accept the latter condition, it is still an insufficient one to make objective decisions. A lot of decisions are based for example on your risk aversion, whether you are introverted or extroverted, phlegmatic or choleric, how much you value leisure, independence and so on. These are features of one’s personality. You cannot derive them from the outside world, they are specific to you only. If that is not subjective, then what is?

Bala August 1, 2010 at 4:23 am

Russ,

Sorry about the `. That just crept in by mistake. You said

” Any core value (or standard of value, as you put it) is pre-moral, as you call it. ”

I agree.

” It’s also pre-rational ”

I disagree. This presupposes that the choice of core values is beyond rationality. It assumes that there is something that human beings choose to value without the use of their rational faculty.

However, “value” is a concept. So, when you speak of forming a concept “value”, you will need to first address the fundamental point of how human beings form any concepts in the first place.

The Objectivist position, especially of Objectivist Epistemology, is that reason is man’s only tool of forming concepts. Even the concept “life” is formed by the use of his rational faculty. So, to claim that “value”, which is also a concept, is pre-rational is something I (as an Objectivist) see as contradictory to man’s nature.

” And no matter what your core value is, I think it is possible to use rationality to further that value. ”

I am not sure if that would be “rationality”. It would be more “logic” of the Peter Surda variety.

Daniel Coleman July 28, 2010 at 11:42 am

I don’t think Block is addressing the morality of blackmail here so much as the legality of it. As he makes very clear in the introduction to his book, his mission is not to debate the morality of these activities, but only to consider them from the libertarian point of view: that is, to consider them as activities unjustifiably banned by state coercion.

I agree with all of Block’s analysis here, and yet I also think that blackmail is morally repugnant.

ABR July 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I concur.

If individuals were to join a society that bans blackmail and prescribes punishment for violation of the ban, that’s fine by me. Michael might want to join that society.

Include me out.

Old Mexican July 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Re: Michael,

Block has discovered the perfect intellectual method to justify any morally repugnant behavior.

You’re indulging in question-begging by assuming what you want to prove there, Michael. It is not a given that blackmail is morally repugnant in itself, so you cannot argue that Block indulges in justifying morally repugnant behavior.

Taken together, his articles in support of creepy and antisocial activities[...]

Here you go again. You’re already giving it your own spin.

You know of no ethical or moral reason to consider blackmail, that is, a scheme to inflict distress on others for monetary or other gain, to be repugnant.

There are no moral or ethical standards that justify feelings, Michael. You may feel blackmail is repugnant, but since the act is non-coercive (that is, relies NOT on agression or violence), it cannot be called immoral.

The core concept is that I will do something very bad to you if you don’t pay up. In this light, blackmail is precisely the same crime as mugging.

No, that would be mugging, not blackmail. You’re conflating two different concepts.

In the one case, I will shoot you if you don’t give me the money. In the other, I will expose secrets you would very much like to keep covered up.

You’re being intellectually dishonest, Michael. Exposing secrets and shooting someone cannot be comparable; one (shooting) implies violence, a crime, whereas the other implies a non-violent act, which would be spreading the secrets. The person in question is NOT harmed by blackmail except in reputation, wheras a person that is shot is physically harmed.

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Wait a minute, Supermex, more and more I think we’re being had. Did you just see his schtick on the CP? This guy is to lefties what Dr. Evil was to cinema villains. I’ve fought 10,000 lefties and I’m really starting to think he’s spoofing them and laughing at us. Some kind of Andy Kaufmanesque performance art level nut here.

Gil July 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

No, both acts are equivalent because they give the wielder the power to coerce the other one.

Shay July 29, 2010 at 2:22 am

So is my local grocery store coercing me because they offer something so tasty that I can’t help but buy it? What’s the difference between coercion and something merely very desirable (compared to the alternative)? I’d think force is the defining factor, but I’d like to hear your version.

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:42 am

“There are no moral or ethical standards that justify feelings..”

Your comment sums things up nicely. If you want to impose your will on the world, that’s normal. But if someone else should want to impose any penalty on you, that’s coercion.

In the world you’d like to create, sure, you’re free to visit evil on the heads of others. But they will also be free to enact vengeance. If you don’t like the coercive power of the State to enforce notions you believe appeal to conventional morality (say, that blackmail is on some level wrong), I’m thinking you REALLY wouldn’t like the fate people would devise for you in a world with no law and no moral order.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 7:51 am

Exactly. It’s nice to see you accept what you’re going to get because of your agents, Clinton and Albright and 90 something percent of Dems in congress.

mr taco July 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

yet you find morally justifiable to take people hard earn money and give to collective retards

Ben July 28, 2010 at 10:04 am

Mr Block,

I’m afraid that your article misses one rather crucial element of the crime of blackmail. Under American statute and English Common Law blackmail refers to a threat of revealing information of a criminal nature about the blackmailers target. This threat of ‘menace’ usurps the criminal justice system by perpetuating the withholding of important information from the competant authorities. There has always been a presumption towards compelling persons with information regarding criminal activity to come forward, provided they are not compelled to incriminate themselves.

Thus, because adultury remains a common law crime (and is likely to become the subject of a legal proceeding) it is illegal for a blackmailer to withhold that information from the compentant authorities and to expect remuneration for doing so. However if A knows that B is a bedwetter (something embarrasing but not illegal) A is at liberty to seek to enter into non-disclosure agreement with B. Such agreements are commonplace and are entered into persons seeking to avoid embarrasment. Non-dosclosure agreements, however, cannot by law cover acts deemed to be criminal in nature.

Stephan Kinsella July 28, 2010 at 10:23 am

weak.

Colin July 28, 2010 at 10:50 am

We sure are lucky that governments are not continually making more laws and restrictions on behaviour then, huh?

I don’t like the idea of referring to law to decide a moral issue – laws change.
Say that A does have a legal non-disclosure with B, regarding bedwetting, or some other non-aggressive activity (in my opinion, adultery would count here, since it is a breach of contract, not a violation of rights).

Then say the government, in order to reduce the number of fires started by short-circuited electric blankets, makes bedwetting illegal. Are you suggesting that at the passing of this law, B becomes a criminal, and A becomes one too? Either way, A is now a criminal – either he breaches his contract, or he hides information from the “competent authorities”.

This doesn’t make sense.

Old Mexican July 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Re: Ben,

Thus, because adult[e]ry remains a common law crime (and is likely to become the subject of a legal proceeding) it is illegal for a blackmailer to withhold that information from the compentant authorities and to expect remuneration for doing so.

“Because the law says so.”

You’re begging the question, Ben.

Nigel July 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm

The author of this piece adopts a very bizarre, veiled Utilitarian point of view in justifying “blackmail” concerning non-illegal activities or behavior. The notion that the moral status of an act can be determined through a teleological thought-experiment of its effects on society smacks of Rule Utilitarianism, and even resembles Kant’s examples of the application of the Categorical Imperative. These ethical theories are completely antithetical to any system of thought concerned with the rights of the individual.

Huntsmen July 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm

It doesn’t leave much room for fostering a a system of social organization based on the division of labour and the social cooperation that Mises held in high regard so much..

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Oh, you’re a rightie.

Dave Albin July 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Again, I suppose you would like to write the rules for us to live by in our “social organization”.

newson July 31, 2010 at 11:36 pm

to huntsmen:
why should it affect division of labour? you don’t have to like someone to truck with them.

tqnism July 28, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I think that worst thing about blackmail is problem with enforcing the deal. It is often easy for blackmailer to make continuing demands and not keep his own part of the deal. Illegality of blackmail gives victim at least some protection,since now victim can make contrathreath, that he will give blackmailer into the hands of law.

BTW, sorry my English, it’s
not my native language.

Peter July 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm

But if he does that, his secret will come to light anyway, so he’s no worse off than if he simply didn’t pay the blackmailer. The (il)legality of blackmail isn’t relevant.

newson July 31, 2010 at 11:45 pm

tqnism: the would-be blackmailer could sell the story and out the “victim”, whilst still keeping legal.

Guard July 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Divulging information that can, in any way, damage another person is unethical. This principle is thoroughly covered in the Bible. An exception might be made to protect the innocent, e.g. testifying against a criminal, but even that is subject to some serious debate.
Free speech is not an adequate argument for blabbing something that can damage others. Blackmail is criminal. It is getting paid not to do something that is immoral in the first place.

Old Mexican July 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Re: Guard,

Divulging information that can, in any way, damage another person is unethical.

LIke, for instance, divulging information about politicians on the take – that certainly could “damage” the politician in some way.

Give me a break.

Guard July 28, 2010 at 9:54 pm

You are talking about testifying against a criminal, which would be to protect the innocent.
Your comment is not pertinent.

michael July 29, 2010 at 9:25 am

When a person divulges information about a politician on the take, he’s a whistleblower. Most people applaud such behavior.

When he withholds such information and then communicates with the officeholder that he will continue to withhold it in exchange for a sum of money, he crosses a line that some here profess not to see.

Allen Weingarten July 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm

If blackmail were simply a trade, there could be no problem. Yet Walter Block writes “blackmail is the threat to do something…unless certain demands are met.” He claims that releasing information is not in itself illegal, but I disagree in that *the release of information to intend harm is illegal*, and not only with regard to blackmail. (Google the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED)).

If someone exercises free speech because he wants to present a point of view, he has a right to do so, even if it inadvertently causes harm. But when the sole intent is to cause harm, the issue is not speech, but aggression. Now someone can argue that if we curtail speech it might become a slippery slope, where the person’s speech is restrained although he intended no harm. But in the case of blackmail there is no ambiguity, because the perpetrator only asks for payment because he knows that the information will cause harm.

So yes, there are laws on the books in England and America against speech that is intended to cause harm (such as has been presented in the recent case of the military funeral protest).

konteu July 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

And what if someone hates black people and wants to make a website that talks bad about black people and he doesn’t want to present a point a view but just put it there so some black person can read it and feel bad. Can he do it?

mpolzkill July 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I fully support all black persons’ rights to achieve adulthood.

Really, aren’t you looking down on black people if you think about it?

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:47 am

How could one “look down” on black people any more than by saying something like “I fully support all black persons’ rights to achieve adulthood”? Unbelievably condescending.

Let’s substitute Jews. What’s your opinion on a person’s freedom to maintain a virulently antisemitic website? Should he be free to publish, and anyone offended by that be free to find him and burn his house down? Expand on your opinion, please.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 8:05 am

I fully support all white persons’ rights to achieve adulthood, jackass. I’m thinking of all the morons of all skin hues begging for free medical sevices.

Of course. Open up the anti-Matt Polzkill site, think I’ll do anything but laugh and generally enjoy it? Hate to spell it out here, but I’d be (slightly) insulted if you thought such a thing could get to me, and so would any self respecting black adult (say Walter Williams) regarding this other hypothetical site.

There’s a few hateful anti-capitalist sites out there. Huff-Po, etc.. Think I’d beg your government to shut them down?

tralphkays July 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I like this reply Matt, good for you.

mpolzkill August 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Thanks, Ralph.

Old Mexican July 28, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Re: Allen Weingarten,

But in the case of blackmail there is no ambiguity, because the perpetrator only asks for payment because he knows that the information will cause harm.

You’re looking at this incorrectly. The blackmailer assumes the information he or she possesses is of value to the person he or she intends to blackmail, not that it will cause “harm” – he cannot know that.

Allen Weingarten July 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Old Mexican, you seem to believe that when a blackmailer tells a woman that if she doesn’t give him money, he will reveal that her child was adopted, or that she had an illicit affair, that this information is valuable to that woman? Don’t you recognize that this information is already known to her? Do you really believe that the above blackmailer thinks that the blackmailed woman isn’t aware of the facts?

Konteu, if the intent is to harm a person, it should be prosecuted. The fact that it pertains to blacks is irrelevant. It is akin to someone who batters someone, and call him a nasty name, asking to be excused because it is freedom of speech. Confounding the issue by raising irrelevancies makes it unclear what is happening, but does not challenge the view that there should be no defense for intentionally harming an individual.

I welcome Block’s challenges to what many take for granted, because he is usually correct, and always makes us think. However, permitting blackmail would encourage a hostile environment, rather than making citizens’ rights more secure.

Tom Rapheal July 28, 2010 at 9:18 pm

So speech can be a crime or not based on the INTENTIONS of a person. Help, thought police!!!

Not being excused for saying an insulting remark versus not being prosecuted for saying something are totally different things.

Blackmail is an offer NOT to harm someone.

Incidentally, what do you think of the gossip? They are worse, as Block points out, than the blackmailer because they do not give the target a chance to withhold the information…

Should gossips be prosecuted? Or should you only be prosecuted for offering NOT to spread the information at a price?

Gil July 29, 2010 at 1:03 am

Libel? Slander? Death threats? Are these types of free speech?

Allen Weingarten July 29, 2010 at 2:43 am

Tom Rapheal writes “So speech can be a crime or not based on the INTENTIONS of a person. Help, thought police!!!” Yes, INTENTIONS matter, and not only for speech, but for actions. Consider the contrast between someone who mistakenly runs over a pedestrian with someone who intentionally does so, or contrast someone who gives a patient a treatment believing it to be curative, and another who does so because he knows it will kill that patient.

Tom also says “Blackmail is an offer NOT to harm someone” as though one says ‘Let me help you to NOT be harmed, by taking your money, or I will shoot you.’

Peter July 29, 2010 at 2:54 am

Libel? Slander? Death threats? Are these types of free speech?
Libel/slander, certainly. What distinguishes a “death threat” is the understanding that it might actually be carried through — that‘s not “free speech”. Even today people often say things like “I’ll kill you if you [do such-and-such]” (or “my parents will kill me if I [stay out late, etc.]“) — it’s understood that they don’t actually intend to kill anyone; they’re just saying “please don’t [do such-and-such]” in a somewhat stronger way (the parents will probably punish the errant child in some way, but it certainly won’t be fatal) , and we don’t prosecute them for “making death threats”.

michael July 29, 2010 at 7:51 am

“Blackmail is an offer NOT to harm someone.”

No, Tom. There is threatened harm either way. The blackmailer inflicts anguish on the victim, then offers her the choice between having a personal secret become known or having to pay an undetermined amount of money to someone, possibly for the rest of her life. It is a lose-lose situation, where harm is inherent in every choice.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 8:36 am

That’s not exactly it. It’s almost always one scumbag trying get money out of another scumbag who would prefer to keep living a lie with most members of the community. If the second party was so concerned about anguish he would always act as if the eyes of God were watching him. The first party is about as reprehensible for related reasons (I could go into them I guess, but don’t feel like it), and the rest of the members of a community have an interest in abhorring his filthy business because the two parties have a damned good chance of making some widows and/or orphans out of the whole deal.

But….Spooner: “vices are not crimes”

Gil July 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

So a blackmailer has to the potential to leave a path of destruction yet that’s okay?

T’is becoming easy to see why Conservatives consider some vices to be crimes and they are probably right.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 10:21 am

You leave a path of destruction on threads, Gil, and no, it’s *not* OK. You’re just not a criminal for it.

Whenever cops get into the vice busting business they leave a far wider path of destruction, truly. Some of the cops’ bosses (legislators) tend to keep conditions so that business is always good. Evidence: what our country has become.

tralphkays July 29, 2010 at 8:31 pm

If it is harm alone that counts, why does the truth of the blackmailers statements matter? This ties into libel and slander laws as well, if I exercise my right of free speech and someones reputation is harmed, what difference does it make if what I said was true or not? A reputation consists of other peoples opinions of you, do you have a property right in the thoughts and opinions in other peoples minds? Could you sue someone for changing their opinion of you without outside influence, and if not, why not? Your reputation has been damaged either way.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 12:54 am

Tom,

Intentions have always mattered in determining whether a crime has been committed. Yes, intentions can turn speech into a crime. Think about fraud and the role speech and intent can play in that.

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 6:08 am

Konteu, if the intent is to harm a person, it should be prosecuted.

But how do you define harm? Merely because someone is put at a situation they do not like? The Austrians tend to the notion that all rights are property rights, and consequently, only property rights violations are acts of aggression. Is it so difficult to grasp the concept that being in a disadvantagous position does not mean any rights were violated?

Or, let me reverse this. If blackmail should be prosecuted, it would have to mean that a right was violated. Which right? The right to reputation? There is no such right. The right to force other people to shut up? There is no such right either.

Block is very good at reductio ad absurdum arguments. It is a pity that so many people don’t get them and resort to arguments from emotion. Maybe someone should write Defending the Irritator :-).

Gil July 29, 2010 at 6:56 am

Being put in a situation they do not like? Hmmm. . . . how is this different from being mugged again? There’s no right to freedom of speech per se. You can’t say what you like and pretend there’s no consequences. So someone can rubbish someone else around the place without consequences, yeah it’s just speech and all. I’m pretty sure if you threaten to rubbish someone’s reputation and generally wreck their life then there’s a chance that they would argue your life expectancy would be rather shortened in kind.

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 7:40 am

Being put in a situation they do not like? Hmmm. . . . how is this different from being mugged again?

So if you are unhappy, it means someone violated your rights?

You can’t say what you like and pretend there’s no consequences.

So, if an action has consequences, it means it is a violation of your rights?

I’m pretty sure if you threaten to rubbish someone’s reputation and generally wreck their life then there’s a chance that they would argue your life expectancy would be rather shortened in kind.

I’m pretty sure that if your long time girlfriend announces to you she is leaving you, you might argue it shortens your life expectancy too. Does that mean it is a violation of your rights?

What your arguments miss is a distingiushing factor that allows to make an evaluation of whether a specific action is violation of rights or not. Block presents a theory and explains how certain collections of facts evaluate within that theory to either violation of rights or not. You do not have a theory. Why should anyone listen to you again?

Gil July 29, 2010 at 10:14 am

I s’pose I would be unhappy if I was getting mugged too. Are you saying you can blackmail people and expect them not to retaliate? Suppose you expose a card-carrying Conservative man’s affair to everyone and he loses his job, marriage, custody of his children, most of his assets in the divorce, etc., and if he was to bump into you on a side street he’ll just a utter few foul words and leave it at that? No, I’m sure he’s thinking you destroyed his life and he won’t think too hard about ruining yours.

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

You’re not actually getting your argument any further. I explained to you that you are missing a distingiushing factor, but you haven’t provided it. If you expose the poor adulterer’s affair without asking money from him, would that be ok? Why?

Gil July 29, 2010 at 11:03 am

I believe you’re saying that it would be okay to expose the affair or threaten to do so because it’s not like he’s a good guy in any moral sense. I say well if it ruins his life because he’s supposed to have a clean image and the hurt to his wife and children isn’t any good then you’ll say he did the dirty deed not you and it was going to get out sooner or later. Yet I would then argue if his life is ruined and he knows you were the one who exposed the affair then he’s not going to take to kindly to you.

To put it another way it certainly is coercion from his point of view as you are threatening to release dangerous personal information in exchange for money or whatever. I believe you and others are saying it’s a moral form of coercion.

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 11:29 am

You’re not addressing the problem. You are invoking vague concepts. Why is any of what you mention relevant? If it is legitimate to force the blackmailer into jail, then logically he must have violated a right of someone (or at least threatened to violate it). Which right is this? The right to “supposed to have a clean life”? Emotional balance? His wife and children not being angry at him? No such rights exist.

So, let me repeat my original objection. You have explained how the actions of the blackmailer are detrimental to the blackmailee. You have not actually explained the relevance of payment, so we’ll ignore that. So, let me phrase what we are left with: Do you agree that if you say something that has a has detrimental effect on another person’s well being, it should be illegal?

Gil July 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Gee, I don’t believe in ‘natural’ rights let alone positive rights. There’s no right to be free from burgarly rather you make your home as hard to access as you can as well as have a strategy for dealing with burglar once they get in that would deter anyone who would dare to think of trying to rob you. (“Gee let’s not rob Peter’s house cause he’s well-armed, let rob Joe’s house because he’s a sissy.”)

It’s obvious you see blackmail as okay. To you the blackmailers makes everyone keeps their act clean let they risk find themselves getting blackmailed for their disorderly conduct.

Peter Surda July 30, 2010 at 3:14 am

Believing in natural rights is not a necessary requirement to point out problems with your argument. You are also wrong from utilitarian perspective, because you are not using the criteria you mention for evaluating legitimacy consistently. You have not provided a framework which explains why blackmail should be wrong while other actions that cause harm should be ok.

Goddard Lewko July 28, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Ever think the case that it isn’t immoral to spread information (or choose not to for a price) might have laid the groundwork for the case against intellectual property earlier? Think about it; if it isn’t inherently aggressive to disseminate information, then it’d make perfect sense that you couldn’t call it aggressive to disseminate specific types of information either, such as patents, ideas under copyright, or other such protected information.

In that sense we already knew IP was bad news within this own libertarian thought process decades ago. It just took this long to connect the dots.

Gil July 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm

By this reasoning “assault” cannot be a crime and people should be free to threaten other people as much as they like, after all, it’s just speech. If the person then decides to physically carry out the threat then they’re guilty of “battery” but until they are free to harass you senselessly.

Kabal July 29, 2010 at 3:09 am

Well, in my opinion, threat is a good signal for the threatened to arm himself and be aware of the possible assault. Better to know where it is coming from, I´d say. Problem is somewhere else, I think. In many countries, when you defend yourself with a gun or some other weapon, it´s usually you who will be prosecuted, not the assaulter (if he´s still alive). So you can not fully use the signal function of threats, because if you do and arm yourself and than in the event of actual assault you use the weapon, it´s you who is the criminal. Not to speak of tough legislative obstructions to obtain a defensive weapon.

tlpalmer July 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Be prepared to live with or pay for anything you do. If not, don’t do it.

Isn’t that what being a responsible person is about?

michael July 29, 2010 at 8:14 am

“Be prepared to live with or pay for anything you do. If not, don’t do it.

“Isn’t that what being a responsible person is about?”

Palmer: don’t you get the feeling you’re intruding on this speculative, abstractly philosophic discussion with your practical wisdom? It almost doesn’t fit.

I would love living in the world you describe. A serious flaw in the one we do inhabit is the fact that justice, to be just, should be both swift and certain. (I forget who said this, it’s not original.) And in this country it is neither. So notions of personal responsibility have come to seem beside the point to a lot of people. The lesson has not been taught.

There’s no finality. No matter how guilty you are, your ability to employ the best lawyer can get you off… or if not acquit you, at least set you up for an endless round of appeals. Plus, as you go through the lengthy judicial process you’re free to live comfortably, so long as you can afford to post bail.

And the penalties afforded under law…
“A war crimes tribunal sentenced the Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer on Monday to a prison term that will see him serve less than half a day for every person killed at the notorious torture center he commanded.
“Survivors expressed anger and disbelief that a key player in the genocide that wiped out a quarter of Cambodia’s population could one day walk free — despite being convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.” (from news.yahoo.com)

This guy, having overseen the murders of 16,000 people and personally murdered some of them, gets 19 years in prison. Meanwhile in my neighborhood a black man is serving an indefinite term in prison (21 years and counting, last I heard) for stealing a $100 TV set from a white woman.

All nice and legal. Justice should instead be proportionate to the pain that was inflicted.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 8:50 am

“There’s no finality. No matter how guilty you are”

We agree again. Look at the Clintons and Albright walking around free just like Kissinger and Cheney. Hillary is still in business and poised to murder so many more. It makes a person sick.

ogden July 28, 2010 at 9:38 pm

This is the kind of horrible article that gives us sane libertarians a bad name. Please stop hurting the cause with your stupid thoughts– someone may come here and think you’re not an idiot.

The only way to deal with blackmail is to kill the blackmailer — anyone whose ever been blackmailed knows this.

Dave Albin July 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm

You want to kill people for exercising free speech? Are you joking, I hope…….

ogden July 30, 2010 at 11:24 am

No sir. I was implying that blackmail is illegal because the only rational thing for the person whose being blackmailed to do is murder the blackmailer. I’m not making a value judgment as to if that is an appropriate role of government, but it’s far less onerous than many laws we live with.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 11:29 am

“the only rational thing for the person whose being blackmailed to do is murder the blackmailer”

Or come clean to the people he lies to.

Also, every law has the threat of death behind it. That’s why it’s crucial to have laws on only the most grave matters: assault of person and property (the same thing really). Blackmail, while a terrible thing, is not that.

Michael A. Clem July 30, 2010 at 11:57 am

Aha! The purpose of making blackmail illegal is to protect blackmailers, not their targets. Sort of like the purpose of drug prohibition is to protect drug users from themselves.

pbergn July 29, 2010 at 1:57 am

Utterly wrong.

Blackmail is a form of coercion. Author erroneously thinks that legalizing blackmail will deter more crime… Any criminal is either unaware of the potential blackmailer, and that is why he/she commits the crime, or is aware and considers him/her as a witness first, and then only a blackmailer. In the latter case a criminal will surely take counter-measured to neutralize the witness that could become a blackmailer… So the claim that legalizing blackmail will reduce crime is unfounded…

Moreover, the Game Theory suggests (Existence of a Nash Equilibrium in a Non-Iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma) that it is NOT a rational move for a blackmailed to comply with the blackmailer’s demands, since there is no way to enforce the agreement (i.e. prevent the blackmailer in the future from blackmailing again).

So, it is silly to begin with to even discuss a blackmail as a trade, since there is no way to enforce its integrity or determine its true market value (value of silence or whatever action the blackmailer offers in exchange, since the blackmailer is a de facto monopoly, since he and only he offers that product, and there is no free exchange or competition on the offered good or service)…

However, I understand where the author is coming from – he wants to justify any action of free-will that is non-violent in nature as being an act of free will, thus moral and legal…

Sadly, he chose a very bad example…

Peter July 29, 2010 at 3:03 am

it is NOT a rational move for a blackmailed to comply with the blackmailer’s demands, since there is no way to enforce the agreement (i.e. prevent the blackmailer in the future from blackmailing again).
Especially while it’s illegal! But you can, of course, just refuse to pay.

since the blackmailer is a de facto monopoly, since he and only he offers that product, and there is no free exchange or competition on the offered good or service
You could always tell someone else yourself, and have them blackmail you too :)

Seriously, there are two questions you need to answer:
1) Is it legitimate for the would-be-blackmailer to tell someone the information he knows? I.e., can he post it on his blog, or tell his neighbor, etc.?
2) Is it legitimate for the would-be-blackmailer to NOT tell someone the information? Can he keep it to himself?

If you answer “yes” to both, then it doesn’t make sense to say that “blackmail” is not legitimate. “Blackmail” is merely choosing option (2) in exchange for money. If your answer to either of the above is “no”, explain why.

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 6:28 am

Blackmail is a form of coercion.

No, it’s not. It’s utilising a stronger negotiating position in order to earn money.

since there is no way to enforce the agreement

That’s because it’s illegal. If it wasn’t, there is no reason why you couldn’t enforce the agreement just like any other. If the blackmailer breaks his part, it is him who might be required to pay damages to the blackmailee.

However, I understand where the author is coming from…

No, you don’t. Block is using reductio ad absurdum arguments to investigate the consequences of property rights.

André July 29, 2010 at 3:33 am

Maybe the article should be taken ironically, as a form of theoretical exercise. It’s quite clear that blackmail IS a form of coercion and violence, so no real libertarian can approve it. Block is trying to defend the undefendable, and he makes the point that blackmail MIGHT BE defendable from a certain perspective. I think that’s maybe all.

In medieval times – and even before – these theoretical exercises were called “suasoria” and they were supposed to broaden your mind and make you became a skilled orator.

If I can add one ironic remark myself – a sort of benevolent arrow against anti-IP libertarians – the existence of blackmail proves that information do have value and can be object of property rights. Between the characteristics of property there is “exclusivity” – that is the right to exclude others from accessing to it. So there is a piece of information, somewhere in the Hyperurinum, which is PRIVATE by nature and can even be kept secret. If people could simply live without IP protections, than blackmailing should be perceived as quite an acceptable activity by the average folk. But people naturally hate to be blackmailed – so, intellectual property is a natural right.

I rest my case.

Peter July 29, 2010 at 8:15 am

It’s quite clear that blackmail IS a form of coercion and violence

It’s neither clear nor true.

the existence of blackmail proves that information do have value and can be object of property rights

Nobody ever said it wasn’t valuable. That it can be the object of property rights does not follow.

André July 29, 2010 at 9:47 am

C’mon, we are talking about harming a person, there’s no trading involved… Harming his or her social life, his or her possibility to work or even to show up in public. It does not even matter if the information “revealed” is true or false – the consequences are catastrophic even when the rumor is merely fabricated. These are irreversible damages and they might not be undone. It’s really not different from a mobster telling you to pay – if you want to avoid an “accident” to your shop. And it’s coercion, unless the victim enjoys it. That’s quite clear to me – and unless you come up with some sort of moralistic retribution pattern, you cannot really say blackmailing is a form of trade.

And, by the way- if something is valuable, there IS some sort of owner, hidden somewhere… otherwise, you cannot stick a price to that thing.

Think about it. What does that value represent? The quantity of goods you are ready to give away in order to do something with that thing. And who is the guy you’re ready to pay? Someone who can exercise some property right over the thing itself! Otherwise, why to pay him and not someone else (possibly nobody)?

The blackmailer stumbled upon some private piece of information. A piece of intellectual property – let’s say. It might be anything. The recipe for an ice-cream that would make you thinner, or the story about how you harassed and raped your goldfish when it was small. It might even be a piece of information that does not represent reality (i.e. something false) but quite believable (I admit in such a case intellectual property rights are not involved – it’s sheer violence).

So my conclusion is – with the exception of false information – the blackmailer seems to be essentially asking for a rent in order not to trespass your IP properties. Which therefore do exist.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 10:10 am

I agree with you Andre that blackmail is pernicious, but you are abusing the word “coerce”. Your definition is one step away from applying to what many wives do to their husbands every waking hour of the day. For something to be “coercion” it must have the threat of bodily force behind it. Just look at the roots of the word:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coerce

And no blackmail victim (yes, victim) or matrimony victim (haha) is ever completely “shut up”: imprisoned. He may always admit to the community that he has been a dirtbag and repent (and a henpecked husband may stand up for himself or get a divorce. [I know, major issues]). Letterman did exacty this, many of us respected him for it and I happen to believe the public vilification his tormentor received is enough. No hypocritical government required.

Finally, I hate to be a prig, but we have all these nice words with wonderful shadings, can’t we keep them, please?

Gil July 29, 2010 at 10:24 am

Abusing the word ‘coercion’? Pfff! Geez it only means “to make people do what they don’t want to do” – even your link showed that. A homeowner coerces an intruder to leave if the homeowner is the one holding the gun yet it is not a type of a criminal coercion.

Peter July 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm

C’mon, we are talking about harming a person

Again, if Pizza Hut opens a restaurant in a town that already has a McDonalds, Pizza Hut takes some profit away from McDonalds and therefore harms them. If the residents really prefer pizzas, maybe McDonalds shuts down, and the people that worked there lose their jobs: Pizza Hut is certainly “harming” them — does that make Pizza Hut a criminal, or imply that it’s doing anything wrong at all? No.

Forget about “harming”; the only relevant question is whose rights are being infringed?

It’s really not different from a mobster telling you to pay – if you want to avoid an “accident” to your shop

Except that the mobster is threatening to cause the “accident”: something he has no right to do. The blackmailer is only threatening to do something that he already has every right to do.

And, by the way- if something is valuable, there IS some sort of owner, hidden somewhere… otherwise, you cannot stick a price to that thing.

If I pay a guy to mow my lawn, where’s the property and owner?

Pals July 29, 2010 at 5:16 am

Interesting blog.

However, a part of the argumentation that is justifying blackmail is the comparison with gossip; gossip is unavoidable whereas the blackmailer gives you a “choice” to pay for not revealing a certain secret. But personally I find that the moral considerations in the justifying of blackmail are somewhat insufficient. Nothing can be justified because there is an alternative that seems worse. Applying this form of “economic rationality” in all moral regards, which the article is, seems to be dangerous, because economy simply does not capture all moral aspects.

Gil July 29, 2010 at 10:26 am

Heck, if the gossiper inadvertedly told lies about someone else then they might get in trouble via Libertarian standards for committing fraud.

Peter July 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Nonsense.

michael July 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

Mr Block, I have the perfect theme for your next article: Defending the Pickpocket.

Think about it. The pickpocket utilizes the resources of the modern marketplace (many available pockets to be utilized). He never uses force. And he exercises personal initiative, never asking an oppressive State to lend him a hand. In fact, he’s a fervent advocate of deregulation of all conduct.

He’s the perfect entrepreneur.

Russ July 29, 2010 at 9:03 am

But, Michael, isn’t the pickpocket freeing up idle money, and by his use of the money, increasing demand and thus stimulating the economy? Despite your sarcasm, you imply that the pickpocket is bad, but the taxman does the same exact thing!

G8R HED July 29, 2010 at 9:38 am

But Russ, that’s just it – michael is not being sarcastic here.
He belives the same same thing about window-breakers – in particular that breaking windows stimulates the economy.

G8R HED July 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

From the discussion under “Catallactic Unemployment” blog post on July 9, 2010

[quote] michael July 13, 2010 at 8:28 am
Bala: I didn’t just fall off the turnip wagon yesterday; I have read the argument for Bastiat’s “broken window fallacy”. And it works only if you accept its premise uncritically, and don’t look for countervailing arguments.

Repairing broken items adds value in precisely the same way as does building new ones. In either case, the vendor replaces something that didn’t work, or possibly nothing at all, with something that does work. What you’re trying to convince me of is that the computer repair person, the auto mechanic and the handyman have no useful function. They add no value. And that’s an obvious error.

The argument that had the window never broken the person could have spent that money on something else is frivolous. We all have choices as to how to best deploy limited assets. And we may decide to have the chicken salad for lunch, as opposed to the hamburger. Likewise if we have a broken window, we may choose to pay higher AC bills until we get around to putting a board over the offending pane. Or, we can decide to fix it instead.

Jumping from the particular to the universal though, I find this approach to be a hallmark of people imbibing of the Austrian koolaid. Should they understand and be convinced of one argument, they believe that this precludes ever understanding or accepting any other argument. So prima facie, there can be no discussion. One is right, the other wrong. Spit spat.

To me, there are areas where a broken window argument can be applied. And others where it cannot. And, as a career fixer of broken things, I will have to differ with you as to whether such a career was of any value to my fellow man. Rehab work adds value.

michael July 13, 2010 at 8:38 am
Bala: On further examination I do see that something is troubling you: the fact that the window was broken by “a vandal”. This apparently changes everything, as human agency was responsible. I assume you would agree with me that if the window had been broken by, say, a tree branch or a high wind, repairing it would’ve been okay. Right?

But the vandal is really no different. Suppose instead it had been the homeowner, negligently playing with his Wii one day and breaking it with his elbow? Isn’t that still just one of those acts that happens in life? The window breaks. Then you have zero useful window. So you call the glazier, and he returns to you one useful window.

In neither case have you started with a useful window. The case under discussion posits that it has somehow been broken.

We do have one further scenario: malicious activity on the part of the glazier. Suppose business has been slow, and the person has bills coming due. So he goes out at night, breaks windows, and waits for homeowners to call him the following day to fix them. In such a case, he has first destroyed value, then come along to repair the damage. So in this transaction there has been no net gain.

This in fact used to be a trick resorted to by Amazon witch doctors. When business was slow and no one was getting sick, occasionally one would sneak out and put ugly things into people’s cooking pots. Then when the afflicted people would come to him to cure the resulting sickness, it’d be something he knew how to cure. And charge accordingly.

PS, I never did that.
[/quote]

Russ July 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

I was giving Michael the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that he was being sarcastic and did not see the inconsistency between his current sarcasm and previous earnest posts that advocate the same exact thing. But I could be wrong. Perhaps Michael is sarcasm impaired and consistently stupid?

G8R HED July 29, 2010 at 1:12 pm

…..I dunno….can one conceive sarcasm if one cannot conceive contradiction?
A sarcastic non-contradictor would be self-contradicted.

michael July 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm

“He belives the same same thing about window-breakers – in particular that breaking windows stimulates the economy.:

HED, your comment betrays an improper logical reference. It was not the breaking of windows I endorsed, but their repair. Something of a difference.

Should someone break a window in order that he be hired to repair it, no economic good has been accomplished. The window owner just starts with one window and ends up with one window– and without a sum of money he might have spent elsewhere. It is a loss. (Note to Walter Block: there is a gain to the window breaker/fixer.)

Whereas if the wind, or some vandal, breaks the window the homeowner is now without a window. To transform his condition from no-window to one-window is to increase his wealth in the amount of one window. And for that benefit a sum of money is charged, typically less than the cost of one new window, installed.

At least get my argument right.

Russ July 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm

From an economic point of view (as opposed to a moral one), it doesn’t matter who or what breaks the window, or who profits from replacing it. The money paid for the replacement goes from one member of society to another. Money has simply been transferred within society; no net gain to society as a whole has taken place here. Society as a whole is down one window, period.

G8R HED July 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I make no improper logical reference regarding your claims. I know and recognize that what you endorse is their repair and further that when you do so you completely neglect Bastiat’s lesson.

You have made no argument.
You have yet to substatiate your claim that:
“The argument that had the window never broken the person could have spent that money on something else is frivolous. ”
and
“Repairing broken items adds value in precisely the same way as does building new ones.”

All you have addressed is that windows can be broken in different ways and that this somehow has economic significance in regard to endorsing their repair.

The breaking of a window is not ONLY the destruction of what has been saved, it is ALSO the deversion of restoration resources which could have been used otherwise.

Bastiat’s lesson is lost to you. What you claim as an argument does not support, negate, or even address the whole issue of what would have been gained if the window had not been broken.

To wit – the shop owner could have both a window and the resources required to fix it AND that the glasier could have performed some other productive work to equal or exceed that of replacing the broken window.

Where in your claims do you account for these foregone benefits and how does your ignoring them constitute an argument?

I got your argument right = you have not made one.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Michael,

I think you miss the point of the broken window fallacy. There are actually people out there, like Paul Krugman, arguing that natural disasters and terrorist acts are good for the economy. They are not. The broken window fallacy is not “We should repair broken windows” but instead “Broken windows are good for the economy”.

I suggest you reign in your references to “Austrian kool-aide” till you understand the problem. Especially when the fallacy being discussed is understood by most economists of most economic schools. Even when they fall victim to it because of their illogical thinking, like Paul Krugman. A famous example of the broken window fallacy is the belief that WWII help the US economy get back on it’s feet due to war production. Paying to build bombs to drop on others is not the path to a sound economy.

Joshua July 29, 2010 at 9:24 am

You err in not recognizing that the pickpocket takes someone’s personal property while the blackmailer does no such thing. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 1:05 am

Joshua,
The blackmailer takes the personal property of his victim. Isn’t that obvious. The victim isn’t handing the money over willingly in a voluntary trade.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 2:15 am

Sure he is handing it over willingly. He prefers it to the alternative. Merely because both choices have a detrimental effect in some respect, unless one of them is a violation of rights on its own, you cannot derive that a combination of them is a violation of rights too. Absent a violation of rights, it only indicates that the blackmailer has a stronger negotiating position.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 3:46 am

By that definition the victim of a mugger also hands over the money voluntarily since he prefers it to the alternative.

Where did you get this ridiculous notion that if things are not individually a rights violation then they are not so in combination? It’s perfectly legal to fail to come forward as a witness to a crime and perfectly legal to trade for money, but it isn’t legal to take money not to testify in court.

Blackmail has all the elements of a crime. The criminal has malicious intent, the victim fears the criminal actions during the commission of the crime, the criminal positively benefits from the crime without providing any positive benefit to the victim, the criminal reduces options for the victim (doesn’t expand them as in a normal trade), the victim (or someone else) is harmed by the actions of the criminal.

If the blackmailer’s victim is being targeted over a criminal activity then the blackmailer becomes an accomplice after the fact. If the victim is being targeted over a persecuted behavior that is a natural right then the blackmailer becomes an accomplice in denying his rights by threatening to cause them to be denied. These were the two cases that Block advocated in his article.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 5:17 am

By that definition the victim of a mugger also hands over the money voluntarily since he prefers it to the alternative.

Except, of course, a crime is involved in one of the alternatives.

Where did you get this ridiculous notion that if things are not individually a rights violation then they are not so in combination?

So, logic is ridiculous? Do you claim then that rights violations are emergent phenomena, rather than, you know, actual crossings of physical boundaries?

Blackmail has all the elements of a crime.

It doesn’t.

The criminal has malicious intent,

Intent is neither necessary nor a sufficient condition for a violation of rights. Unintentional violations of rights exist too, merely the punishment/restitution are typically lower.

the victim fears the criminal actions during the commission of the crime

Fear is also neither sufficient nor necessary condition.

the criminal positively benefits from the crime without providing any positive benefit to the victim,

First of all, there are positive benefits to the victim, second of all, neither of those two conditions are sufficient nor necessary.

the criminal reduces options for the victim

He increases the options, besides, on the risk of sounding repetitive, reducing options is neither necessary nor sufficient.

the victim (or someone else) is harmed by the actions of the criminal

Neither necessary nor sufficient. All actions whatsoever are detrimental to someone.

In other words, you’re all blah blah blah and no substance.

Gil August 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

One is a crime? Both are considered crimes in many legal systems. Then again what’s stopping a theoretical PDA and a arbitration court from defining blackmail as a crime? Someone who thinks blackmail is a crime would hire the services of such a PDA and an arbitration court.

Intent doesn’t count? So attempted murder shouldn’t be considered a crime? If someone is stalking you in the hope of killing you can’t have them arrested until they begin the actual crime? If a person is threatening to kill someone you know and that other person is sick with fear then no harm has occurred as only words have been exchanged?

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

One is a crime?

I should have been more precise: one is a violation of rights.

Intent doesn’t count? So attempted murder shouldn’t be considered a crime?

Did you actually read what I wrote? I have my doubts.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Peter,

“Fear is also neither sufficient nor necessary condition.”

It is a necessary condition for establishing certain crimes. This raises the bar for establishing that someone has committed the crime of blackmail while at the same time distinguishing it from other acts. The victim must have a credible fear that that harm threatened by the blackmailer will come to pass.

Of course alone it isn’t sufficient to establish that . That’s an absurd line of argument.

Your entire “blah, blah, blah” argument is equivalent to disputing my claim to have caught a frog, that I described in detail as having two large back legs, green skin, eyes that recess, etc. by arguing individually that. Large back legs aren’t sufficient or necessary to establish the type of animal, skin color isn’t sufficient or necessary to establish the type of animal, etc.

You only address (and incorrectly so) my single paragraph which is pointing out that blackmail looks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

You still have failed to address the last paragraph. a) Walter Block chose those examples. b) He called them blackmail. c) I have shown them to be direct rights violations. Was Block wrong or not? If he categorized his examples correctly as blackmail then obviously we should not allow blackmail because it violates rights, so he is wrong. If he did not categorize them correctly then that is his direct mistake.

Block isn’t exactly known to be sympathetic to homosexuals. Perhaps he mis-categorized a clear case of extortion into the category of “non-rights violating blackmail” in order to justify his own emotional baggage.

Brian Macker August 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

I wish to correct a mistake I made here here. I was thinking of Hoppe not Block when I made the comment about sympathy towards homosexuals.

Dave Albin July 29, 2010 at 9:25 am

BTW, this and the other chapters like them are from “Defending the Undefendable”, a book from the 70′s by Block. You don’t seem to know this – I would seriously read the whole book, if I were you. Just open your mind first….

Peter Surda July 29, 2010 at 10:02 am

Defending the Moron. If they all vanished, it would be very boring.

Dave Albin July 29, 2010 at 11:22 am

Yes, but you also would not have a bunch of them in public office running our lives for us….

ABR July 29, 2010 at 11:55 am

Saying something with the ‘knowledge’ that someone might suffer harm as a result is not a crime unless the statement is fraudulent or contravenes a contract.

For example, suppose I say to my father that I’m going to marry an atheist, ‘knowing’ that the news might well give him a heart attack, hoping he’ll die, and he does. Am I a murderer? No.

Typically, a blackmailer threatens to tell a truth, not a lie. If threatening to tell the truth is a crime, maybe we should threaten to tell lies instead.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 1:06 am

If you tell someone a truth with the intent to kill them and succeed, then aren’t you a murderer also?

ABR August 1, 2010 at 3:35 am

We don’t ordinarily think of words, especially a statement of fact, as an instrument of aggression. I’ll have to sleep on this one.

Ordinarily, frying peanuts is not an aggressive act, but the oil could wander to a neighbour who is severely allergic to peanuts. In that case, the intentional frying of peanuts might be considered an attempted murder.

We don’t ordinarily think of words as having a ‘physical’ component. The medium is not particularly relevant. But I suppose if we knew more about the human psyche via the brain, it might one day be possible to make an accurate prediction as to the effect of words on a person’s health. Brain cramp in progress . . .

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 4:02 am

Words are physical, and obey all the laws of physical causation, and are always instantiate in physical representations. If you think a lie told with the intention to kill is murder then the truth told with the same intend would be too.

If I pull out a camera near a cliff and tell you to “back up, you’re safe” as a lie to get you to step off the cliff it is obviously murder. I could also however tell you the truth with the same intent and it would also be murder. For instance if you were deadly afraid of snakes and hadn’t noticed one next to you on the cliff and I went out of my way to startle you with “WATCH OUT A SNAKE” hoping you’d run off the cliff then I’d still be a murderer.

If a woman were fleeing a gang of rapists and a man who didn’t like her revealed her hiding spot, then he would be culpable in her rape. Why? Because the proximate causation of the rape was an action taken with malice by the him in revealing her location. A physical action. His lips moved, sounds came out, they traveled as waves to the criminals ears, were processed and redirected them to her location. He might just as well have driven a bus for them to her house after learning they wanted to rape her but didn’t know where she lived.

ABR August 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I agree that the camera example is a case of murder. I’m not so sure about the snake and rape examples, which are very different from each other.

In the snake example, the ‘murderer’ exploits a weakness in the victim. If we take the example to extreme — a cough will kill the victim — blinking will kill the victim — at some point it may become intolerable for a person to restrain himself in order to avoid the demise of the ‘victim’. In this particular case, I don’t think it’s intolerable. But should there be a line drawn, and who’s to draw it?

In the rape case: is the person who reveals the location of the woman a co-conspirator in rape? He’s not actively participating. The rapists have the free will not to perform the rape.

Suppose a bus driver picks up the rapists and learns of their plan. Must he refuse to take them to their destination? I don’t see where the non-aggression axiom applies.

Suppose someone, as part of a gang who plans to rob a bank, drives the getaway car. Is he guilty of robbery? Under current law, most definitely. But exactly what form of aggression has he performed? He’s driving a car.

Perhaps Dr. Block would like to write on this topic. Or has he already?

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm

“Suppose someone, as part of a gang who plans to rob a bank, drives the getaway car. Is he guilty of robbery? Under current law, most definitely. But exactly what form of aggression has he performed? He’s driving a car.”

I can’t tell if you are being serious here. He’s part of a gang that plans to rob a bank, he participates by driving the getaway car, and you don’t think he has performed an aggression? Did I understand your hypothetical? The guy just premeditated the forced taking of someone’s property and then participated in acts that forwarded the plan successfully resulting in the aggression, and you don’t think he has performed the aggression he planned to?

Certainly if he was not part of the gang that planned the robbery, had no idea what they were doing and only thought they were asking for a ride, then he isn’t guilty of anything.

Likewise if a guy is asked where Cindy’s house is with no knowledge of the rape. However if he hears of a plan to rape Cindy and volunteers to drive the gang over their to rape the bitch, then he’s a criminal.

The bus driver in your example does have a duty to act in a way to prevent the crime and/or act as a witness as a reasonable person would. This does not mean he has to put himself in danger.

pbergn July 29, 2010 at 2:34 pm

The reason why blackmail is a form of at least “compulsion”, and in many cases becomes a form of “coercion” is that it initiates credible threat of significant bodily or moral injury to the subject in case of non-compliance. That agrees with the definition of “compulsion” – when certain outcomes are made more desirable than others by the act of compulsion, and subject of compulsion is incapable of making more desirable choices.

Consider example of starving man presented a choice between a bowl of rice per diem for hard labor, alternative being starvation. While from Libertarian point of view this is a “fair” trade (i.e. labor for food vs. imminent death by starvation), since both parties have agreed on the terms, however it is evident that the starving man has been a subject of compulsion.

Now, if we agree that blackmail is a form of “compulsion” (i.e. the subject is capable of making less desirable choices, than otherwise he or she would have done), then in many cases it can be considered a form of “coercion” as well, since compulsion in many cases inevitably results in bodily injury by a proxy, such as System of Justice…

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 2:42 pm

While a bit strong, the English Nazi says that you may have “compel” (to drive), but not “coerce” (to shut up or enclose).

Gil, I’m always surprised by your ability to get on the computer and write anything at all, so the English Nazi gives you a D-

Gil July 29, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Puh-leaase! Didn’t you read the link you gave for the definition of ‘coercion’?

“2 : to compel to an act or choice -was coerced into agreeing-”

Yes a homeowner coerces a burglar. Are you going to nitpick to the point of the Latin (or whatever) origin of a word? Take “immediately” – it supposedly means “to do something fast” but really means “to not consult a mediator before doing something”. However both meanings are good.

mpolzkill July 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Yeah I’m going with the Latin and not with the corruptors. The very heart of evil is the corruption of language.

ABR July 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Pbern: would you compel the employer to pay the labourer two bowls of rice instead? Would you compel the blackmailer to keep his mouth shut?

Your use of the term ‘compulsion’ is suspicious. In the case of the starving man, how did he arrive at that condition? In the case of the blackmailer, who committed the act the blackmailed wishes no one else to discover?

Personal accountability is lacking in your thesis.

pbergn July 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

ABR:

Forcing the employer to pay two bowls of rice is ALSO compulsion, no better than forcing the starving man to work for one bowl…. Two wrongs don’t make it right…

I am trying to use the term “compulsion” to convey the notion of having limited (usually all)undesirable choices caused by external human actor (the source or sources of compulsion)…

The term “compulsion” does not carry negative connotation the way I am trying to use it.
What I am trying to show that the compulsion often can equate to “coercion”, when the limited choices include bodily injury either directly or by a proxy.

So, to be more precise, blackmail is not ALWAYS equal to “coercion”, in a sense that it results in a bodily injury, but typically it does…

Gil July 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Like mpolz you should actually read dictionary definition of ‘coercion’ and it is used in the same context and ‘compulsion’.

Michael (not the douchebag one) July 29, 2010 at 7:51 pm

I hereby threaten to not buy everyone who reads this a steak dinner.

I would think that even the dimmest person could see that this action “harms” people only when compared to a counterfactual (aka non-existent) reality where I did buy everyone a steak dinner, and only when “harm” is defined in a very specific way.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 1:22 am

What’s your point? I don’t find your “threat” to be threatening the way I would if I were a homosexual in Iran and you threatened to out me.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Nor does your threat limit my options in any artificial way. I never had the option to have you buy me dinner in the first place.

tralphkays July 29, 2010 at 8:37 pm

To repeat:If it is harm alone that counts, why does the truth of the blackmailers statements matter? This ties into libel and slander laws as well, if I exercise my right of free speech and someones reputation is harmed, what difference does it make if what I said was true or not? A reputation consists of other peoples opinions of you, do you have a property right in the thoughts and opinions in other peoples minds? Could you sue someone for changing their opinion of you without outside influence, and if not, why not? Your reputation has been damaged either way.

André July 30, 2010 at 3:19 am

I see many people tend to justify blackmailing because, they (naively) think, it ONLY matters when the blackmailer could be revealing the truth. Well, my friends, it’s not like this and it’s not that simple. How about an employee who goes to his/her boss and say “if you don’t give me a raise, I will go and tell everybody you molested me!”? This is not an academic example – things like this happen all the time. Even if the information is completely false, the risk of ruining a career and maybe even be end up in jail is quite high. And that’s “harming” in my book.

Some could say that truth will emerge eventually, maybe in court – but, after all, who cares in the end? The consequences of false rumors are equally disruptive of your everyday life, even after they have been proven false. It’s really puzzling to see people assimilating this kind of damage to the “harm” caused by commercial concurrents to each other. Personal property rights (between which there’s UNDOUBTABLY “the right to one’s reputation”) are not object of trade – read once more Rothbard on this, he was quite clear about it – because they are the prerequisite of any trading.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 3:32 am

How about, “If you don’t give me 25 thousand dollars, Mr. Small Business Owning Boss, my representatives at Dewey, Cheatem and Howe will present to the government court the fact that my co-worker once told me a dirty joke.”

Thank God nothing like that can happen under our benevolent corporatocracy.

Michael A. Clem July 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

How about an employee who goes to his/her boss and say “if you don’t give me a raise, I will go and tell everybody you molested me!”?
This is a threat, but it is a threat to tell a lie, not the truth. Blackmail is a threat to tell the truth, not a lie.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 1:02 pm

No, in mine this is the truth, an actual case I know of a threat to tell the truth. The point is the inevitable idiocy of the actual State we live under

Sidebar: My overriding idea (not very subtle, I know) is for us to always to be on the offensive. When we constantly theorize and present fantasy scenarios it gives statists grist for “Ancapistan” jokes and turns the tables for those who MUST always be on defensive.

And go ahead and say “her”, haha.

mpolzkill July 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I’m on my way out and misread your post, Clem. I tried to fix it, but ran out of time. I think it still kind of makes sense, I hope.

tralphkays July 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

You miss my point entirely. It is not that blackmail must be true to to be wrong. The consideration of truthfulness as opposed to falseness serves as a starting point only. Examine blackmail, libel and slander, they all have the same premise, a person OWNS the thoughts and opinions in other peoples minds.

tralphkays July 30, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Under libel and slander laws one has recourse only if their reputation was harmed by a falsehood, truthfully harming anothers reputation is ok. If one owns their reputation then any damage to it should be actionable, truth or lie should make no difference.

tralphkays July 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm

If you own your reputation and people change their minds about you on their own, then they have damaged your property. Are the opinions I have of other people mine, or do they belong to those people?

tralphkays July 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

It is a peculiarity in the case of blackmail that what the blackmailer threatens to do is LEGAL, it is only offering not to do it for money that is illegal. So actually harming someones reputation is entirely legal, but not harming their reputation for monetary compensation is a crime. What about enhancing someones reputation for money?

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:33 pm

“What about enhancing someones reputation for money?”
Could be a crime if it is false and induces someone to be defrauded. If you claim that the butcher has honest scales when in fact you know they are weighing heavy then you have committed a crime against those you induced to purchase his goods. Taking money for such lies gets you in deeper.

tralphkays August 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

You are right, if I help cover up a crime, I am an accessory in all cases, that is not the issue I am referring to. Blackmail involving knowledge of unsavory but legal activities has been the focus of most of this thread.

tralphkays August 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Also, in the case of blackmail involving knowledge of a crime it is not the blackmail, per se, that is criminal, it is being an accessory after the fact that is actually criminal.

Brian Macker August 8, 2010 at 9:02 am

As I pointed out and Walter Block missed.

tralphkays July 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm

A strange world indeed, it is entirely legal for me to get paid to go around and enhance someones reputation by telling falsehoods, but a crime for me to get paid to refrain from telling the truth.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:34 pm

… but it is not legal.

tralphkays August 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Certainly it is.

Brian Macker August 8, 2010 at 9:08 am

I guess you’ve never heard of laws against fraud and false advertising. You are contradicting yourself now anyway. It counts as “enhance someones reputation by telling falsehoods” to claim the butcher has the most precise scales in the business if they are in fact loaded and you know it. Of course, I’m assuming knowledge here. Because of Mens Rea it’s possible for you to be innocent if you didn’t know they were loaded, and the whole point of your claim would be moot on other grounds. You are trying to claim that knowledge counts here since we are talking about blackmail which is a case where knowledge is established. The blackmailer knows something the victim doesn’t want known.

tralphkays August 11, 2010 at 12:10 am

You continually go to examples that involve assisting in the commission of a crime, the fraud of using tampered scales for example. We have already established that the crime in these cases is not blackmail, but being an accessory to a crime. What is left is the case of blackmail involving knowledge of non-criminal but embarrassing behavior. People are hired to enhance the reputations of others on a routine basis and as long as that does not involve assisting in the commission of an actual crime it is legal, even if it is based on falsehoods.

Jay Lakner August 11, 2010 at 12:23 am

I remember the endless debate with Macker the last time blackmail was the topic.
He couldn’t give a simple and straightforward rebuttal to the following:

If act X is not illegal, then threatening to commit act X should not be illegal, and hence contingently threatening to commit act X should not be illegal.

It is absurd to make the claim that even though it is legal for you to release information about someone, it should be illegal for you to request payment for not releasing the information.

Using Macker’s logic on an extremely simple example, it is legal for me to tell everyone that he has a nose on his face but it should be illegal for me to request payment from him for not telling everyone he has a nose on his face.

Mind-boggling.

tralphkays July 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm

It is a crime for me to charge someone for not disclosing their scandalous secrets, thus preserving their reputation, but entirely legal for me to charge a third party to go ahead and release that information and destroy their reputation.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 1:53 am

Contrary to Block’s argument the legalization of blackmail against criminals makes for an environment more conducive to criminality. The criminal always has to avoid witnesses in the first place of which blackmailers are a subset. In those cases where a witness was not avoided the legalization of blackmail only enhances the criminals ability to go undetected. As Block himself argues, he now has the legal opportunity to pay for the silence of a witness. Using Blocks own train of thought, since blackmail is legal then shouldn’t solicitation of blackmail be legal and especially if it is self directed. In that case witness tampering could be easily accomplished by the criminal requesting that the witness blackmail him. After all according to Block it’s all just free speech and trade, right?

I covered a bunch of other errors by Block in this regard on a few other comment threads here on Mises.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 2:43 am

It does not sound like a sound business plan to blackmail a criminal, i.e. someone who already demonstrated his willingness to violate rights of others.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 3:03 am

Yet, that was Block’s argument. Didn’t you bother to read it?

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 4:44 am

Using Blocks own train of thought, since blackmail is legal then shouldn’t solicitation of blackmail be legal and especially if it is self directed. In that case witness tampering could be easily accomplished by the criminal requesting that the witness blackmail him.

This is of course possible, but you forget the motivational factor prior to the occurrence of crime. If there is a potential to earn money by becoming a witness, there is an increased incentive for becoming witness purposefully (e.g. spying) and doing this as a business. Due to marginal utility, the criminal will likely have to pay a lot for the silence, while the risk of existence of witnesses who can blackmail efficiently increases significantly. So the accidental unprofessional witness has probably a little effect, while the professional ones have a significant one. It is also possible for the accidental witness to sell the information to a professional blackmailer, at a discount. Altogether, this creates another risk/cost element to the activities of criminal.

I find utilitarian arguments dubious anyway, I just want to point out that you are only analysing a part of the effects rather than the whole.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm

“… increased incentive for becoming witness purposefully (e.g. spying) and doing this as a business.”

Yeah, that’s what private eyes are and it’s perfectly legal.

“Due to marginal utility, the criminal will likely have to pay a lot for the silence, while the risk of existence of witnesses who can blackmail efficiently increases significantly.”

Blackmailers don’t just blackmail criminals. When they do blackmail criminals and keep silent for money they become accessories after the fact. You are advocating criminality. Private eyes don’t have this problem.

“So the accidental unprofessional witness has probably a little effect, while the professional ones have a significant one. It is also possible for the accidental witness to sell the information to a professional blackmailer, at a discount.”

Accidental witnesses can also do as private eyes would. Go to the victim and offer to provide information in return for money.

Altogether, this creates another risk/cost element to the activities of criminal.

As someone has already pointed out. These risks are there regardless of the legality of blackmail. Someone also mentioned that criminal insiders might be more efficient at ratting out their fellow criminals, but that runs up against the objection that the whole point of a successful blackmailer is to never have to rat out anyone.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 2:11 am

I also don’t see how a blackmailer can sell what he is purporting to sell, anymore than a person can sell themselves into slavery. How can the blackmailer tell what his future self wants to do? Also how can the buyer enforce his rights in the trade? Both are problematic. The very attempt to enforce the contract would require the exposure of the information that is being kept secret.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 2:44 am

Instead of interpreting the transaction as buying silence, you can interpret it as a conditional payment.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 3:18 am

But Block’s article did the interpretation, not me. He interpreted it as buying silence. I don’t have to address every potential ridiculous argument. Only the ones presented. Why don’t you elaborate on yours? Exactly what is this “conditional payment”. What’s the condition and how can the victim possibly enforce it without a violation of the condition.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 5:05 am

But Block’s article did the interpretation, not me.

Block was quite young when he wrote the book. Maybe he wasn’t knowledgeable about the theory of contracts to that depth at that time, or maybe he didn’t want to confuse the reader.

He interpreted it as buying silence.

I did not say his interpretation is wrong, I said it is not the only one.

Exactly what is this “conditional payment”.

See http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/nineteen.asp . The correct term is actuallly conditional title transfer, my apologies.

What’s the condition and how can the victim possibly enforce it without a violation of the condition.

Where did the “victim” come from? You are attempting to confuse the matter by inserting metaphors. Merely because someone doesn’t like a situation it does not mean he’s a victim. Victim requires a violation of rights. The contract, if seen as a conditional title transfer, is that the blackmailee gives money to the blackmailer and the title transfer occurs when the blackmailer keeps his mouth shut. If he blabbers, the title transfer didn’t occur and the blackmailee can sue him for theft.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 9:19 am

Victim is the term normally associated with people who are the targets of blackmailers. It’s not a metaphor. The victim has actual losses, the money handed over to the blackmailer or the bad consequences of the act committed by the blackmailer in the event he is not paid.

The “conditional title transfer” doesn’t work. There is nothing to prevent the blackmailer from divulging the information anonymously. Any intelligent victim can see it for the sham it is. The only real purpose it could serve is to increase the credibility of the claims of the blackmailer. The minute the blackmailer receives his copy of the signed contract he can use it as leverage to increase his demands. The blackmailer has already shown a depraved indifference to concerns of justice (either for the victim, someone the victim is protecting, or someone the victim has harmed) and the expectation should be he will take advantage of this addition windfall (the establishment that the victim is a libertarian chump who thinks a piece of paper that depends on the honesty of the signers would restrict a blackmailer).

A contract is only as good as the people who sign it. It also cannot depend on a condition that is impossible for a party, or the courts, to establish.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 9:32 am

Is it ever possible for you to use logical constructions? Does it ever occur to you that you have not provided a single reason why there should be merit in your claims?

Victim is the term normally associated with people who are the targets of blackmailers.

Not in the context of our debate.

The victim has actual losses,

The blackmailee has two choices, both of which are detrimental to him. However, an actual violation of rights is absent. Just like a poor guy from an area with high unemployment has a choice of getting a crappy job with little pay, or no pay and starving. Both are detrimental, but that doesn’t mean a violation of rights is involved.

There is nothing to prevent the blackmailer from divulging the information anonymously.

Now you are talking about obscuring the violation of contract. This is not an argument. Obscuring the violation of the contract is nothing special to blackmail. Furthermore, this merely points out that the blackmailee would expect a method that allows him to verify it, otherwise he would be willing to pay only a smaller amount of money.

The minute the blackmailer receives his copy of the signed contract he can use it as leverage to increase his demands.

This only works if blackmailing is illegal. If it is legal, doing this increases his risk that he’ll get sued and end up with a loss.

The blackmailer has already shown a depraved indifference to concerns of justice

Another metaphor, “justice”. Blackmailer has no interest in “justice” or “injustice”. He has an interest in getting money. Since blackmailing is illegal now, obviously only criminals would conduct it. This is a tautology, it is not an argument in favour of illegalisation.

Let me reiterate. You have not provided anything that substantiates your claims. Your feelings are inadequate argument.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm

“Is it ever possible for you to use logical constructions? Does it ever occur to you that you have not provided a single reason why there should be merit in your claims?”

That’s a bald assertion that is easy to refute. Many of the reasons provided by others on this thread were originally provided by me in comments to prior articles here on Mises. I chose not to repeat those since others have already brought them up. Furthermore I have provided quite a few reasons in this comments section.

I’ll give an example of a reason I gave in a prior article, that someone has duplicated here and that I have again alluded to here. Allen Weingarten stated the reason as: “But in the case of blackmail there is no ambiguity, because the perpetrator only asks for payment because he knows that the information will cause harm.”

Another reason I gave was that in the case where the blackmailer is offering to keep silent about a crime for money he is a accessory after the fact in the crime. Heck, the criminal is likely to be using the money gained in the crime to pay off the blackmailer. If the blackmailer says “Give me a million dollars or I will divulge that you embezzled twenty million dollars at your job as treasurer of the church.” then he might as well say “I’m cutting myself into this crime and I want 20% of the take”.

I’m giving plenty of reasons. I’m also using logical constructs. Like showing that Block has contradictions in his argument.

How about you let me be concerned with how my end of this argument is going. You have yet to show any actual failure of my argument against Block’s position.

Me:“Victim is the term normally associated with people who are the targets of blackmailers.”

You:“Not in the context of our debate.”

There are several contexts to the debate and in each case there is some victim being exploited by the blackmailer. He is either exploiting the direct subject of the blackmailer or some other party or both. In my example of the embezzlement the original victim and the criminal are both being exploited by the blackmailer. One is an innocent victim and the other not so innocent.

Why not object to me calling the blackmailer a blackmailer since you are upset with the term victim. Blackmailer isn’t exactly a neutral term. Are you arguing that I call him an entrepreneur and his victim a business associate? I don’t think so.

The other context of this argument, provided by Block, is an innocent victim subject to persecution by the government or society.

I could bring in other contexts and still be right. For example the case where the blackmailer is exploiting the concern of a parent for a child. The example I gave last time was for the adopted child who’s biological parents are in disrepute either rightfully or wrongfully. In that case there are two victims also, the child and the adoptive parent.

One can be a victim even when no crime is involved. As in victim of a practical joke.

It is absolutely not invalid to call the person who is the subject of the blackmail a victim in this case, even if they are not an innocent victim. Since I am making the argument that they are victims that is another reason why I get to call them that within my argument. It would only be a problem in my argument for me to call them victims if I were arguing the contrary.

“The blackmailee has two choices, both of which are detrimental to him. However, an actual violation of rights is absent.”

I’ve already established that rights violations are present in both Block’s examples. In one case the blackmailer colludes with a criminal to exploit a victim by keeping quite, and in the other he colludes with the criminals persecuting the blackmail victim by divulging his secret [homosexuality].

“Just like a poor guy from an area with high unemployment has a choice of getting a crappy job with little pay, or no pay and starving. Both are detrimental, but that doesn’t mean a violation of rights is involved.”

Walter Block’s examples were not “just like” this kind of externality. There is nothing in this example that involves a blackmailer initiating a chain of events that resulted in the guy being unemployed, having a crappy job, or starving. In fact, there is only a single party in this example which hardly counts as an attempt to come up with a valid analogy.

“This only works if blackmailing is illegal. If it is legal, doing this increases his risk that he’ll get sued and end up with a loss.”

As someone else pointed out in this comment thread the legality or illegality has no effect on the blackmailers strategy. You cannot sue without risking that he secretly divulges the information at zero risk to himself. An unsigned envelop would do the trick. In fact, he may insist that you pay him without a contract or he will divulge the information. That can be part of the coercion. He could get you to sign and fax over to him and then not bother with the rest of it. This stuff is obvious I didn’t think it required explaining.

Contracts cannot protect you against someone out to cheat you. Getting money back is like squeezing blood from a turnip even when you have been perfectly honest. Just try to enforce a contract to keep secret that you’ve been cheating on the wife, or have been cheating your employer, and you will see how ineffective the courts can be. I’m not even sure either would be enforced by the courts since both are criminal in nature, and a contract can’t have a criminal element.

I hope you are absorbing these reasons and seeing the logic here.

Me:“The blackmailer has already shown a depraved indifference to concerns of justice”

You:“Another metaphor, ‘justice’. Blackmailer has no interest in ‘justice’ or ‘injustice’. He has an interest in getting money.

Isn’t that exactly the definition of a depraved indifference to justice.

Since blackmailing is illegal now, obviously only criminals would conduct it. This is a tautology, it is not an argument in favour of illegalisation.”

No, I meant a lack of concern for natural justice. The blackmailer has no right to the money he is obtaining. The money from the bank heist he is keeping quite about. The money from the homosexual he is refraining from outing to those who would trespass against him. The money he got from the adoptive parent who was only trying to protect his child.

The trade in blackmail is not like other forms of trade. In most other forms of trade the other party is gaining something he did not already have. The homosexual already knows he’s homosexual. The parent already knows the child’s biological father is a rapist and the his mother a crack addict. The blackmailer isn’t providing positive value. What he is providing is the value to be had by refraining from causing a harm.

A successful blackmailer is never selling something of positive value. Sure the wife of a cheating husband would gain positive value from knowing it but the successful blackmailer does not approach the person who gains positive value from the transaction. He always goes to the person who will pay not to divulge the information to the party who is not aware of it and would gain a positive from it. No he always gets payment on a threat to do that, and if successful never actually sells any information positively.

If a person discovers that a husband is cheating and on his wife and wanted to sell that information to the wife that is a different story, and doesn’t require that he be a blackmailer or freelance the job. If the wife wishes to know this she can already hire a private eye to spy on her husband. The blackmailer could also say, “Hey, I have information your husband is cheating and can provide positive proof to you for a fee”. But then he wouldn’t be a blackmailer, would he?

Obviously a cheated wife doesn’t benefit from a blackmailer if she doesn’t find out and in addition to that some portion of the family finances are now supporting some morally depraved leech! To pretend that this is about helping the cheated spouse, the adopted child, or the victims of some crime, is ridiculous.

Victims already have incentives for finding out whether they are being cheated and can hire informants, and spys legally. Every potential blackmailer has an opportunity to act legitimately. They need only approach a different party. Newspapers will pay for scandalous material, wives will pay for information on their cheating husbands, banks will pay to know which employees are cheating them, etc.

However the blackmailer has a deprived indifference to any harmed parties, and instead is focused on how to get the most cash. Which is likely to be via blackmail since he can share in the proceeds of any crime and can continue to leech off the victim. This is regardless of the legality of blackmail. Even if perfectly legal the blackmailer can insist that payment be made without resorting to contracts as part of the deal.

“Let me reiterate. You have not provided anything that substantiates your claims. Your feelings are inadequate argument.”

I did. You just don’t seem to be able to put two and two together for whatever reason.

I don’t know what this has to do with emotion. I explained specifically why blackmail counts as a rights violation on numerous occasions for the various permutations.

You understand that if you find a wallet on the ground that the money is not yours, right? Nor can you demand a reward for returning it. It belongs to the owner. You only get to keep it if you have made a good faith effort to identify the owner and fail. Someone who just pockets the money without making such an effort has shown a depraved indifference to justice. There is nothing emotional about such a claim. It’s just a fact.

Obviously the money the blackmailer gets is not his, and wasn’t earned by trading any positive product to the victim. He has merely coerced the money from the victim. No emotion. Just a fact. He doesn’t deserve the money, didn’t earn it, and it’s not really his. Often it is stolen money.

If I drop my wallet and someone else picks it up and sees my ID and a large quantity of cash, but decides to keep it for himself then he is stealing. If a blackmailer sees this happens and insists on taking a cut otherwise he will squeal to me then he is no better than the first guy. He too is a thief. Neither has any concern for natural justice.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 2:33 am

I also don’t follow Block’s moral and legal arithmetic when it comes to divulging secrets about persecuted minorities. The fact of the matter is that if a blackmailer in Iran exposes the truth about a homosexual then he’ll just end up dead with no benefit to the rest of the homosexual community. Even if there was some benefit to the community that is not something the victim owes them his life for. In fact, the blackmailer might as well have threatened to push him in front of a moving train.I can imagine me and Block happening to have booked the same hunting trip at which point he threatens to divulge my location to any prey unless I make a side payment to him. Worse yet threaten to reveal my location to any lions so that they can eat me. After all, doesn’t he have the right to inform the lions of my intentions? Isn’t hunting a perceived vice and his mind blackmail his method for controlling perceived vices in others?No, I think that maliciously revealing private information of members persecuted groups is tantamount to inciting a crime against that individual. The blackmailer is setting up a chain of events that they know is going to lead to unjustified harm to that individual. If a black man is hiding from the KKK and you divulge his location knowing full well the he will be lynched you are participating in the lynching. Offering to keep his location secret for money is merely a backhanded way of extorting money from him. You are threatening to lynch him if he doesn’t fork over money.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 2:49 am

If you divulge information to people who are violating rights (e.g. state pursuing anti sodomy laws, or people hunting others for their race), that can make you an accessory to the violation of rights.

You commit the same errors as the others who find the argument repugnant. If a violation of rights is involved, that is not blackmail but extortion. If a violation of rights isn’t involved, then it is merely using a stronger bargaining position.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 3:14 am

I’m not committing any errors. It’s a response to Block’s errors. Read his article. He claims that blackmail that involves such situations are on the whole beneficial to the persecuted minority. He makes a Spockian “The good of the many over the one” sort of argument and specifically in the case of a persecuted minority. He claims for he lynching of the black by the KKK “On these actions, the legalization of blackmail would have a liberating effect.” You see that persecution of the individual “does engender an awareness on the part of members of a group of one another’s existence. In forcing this perception, blackmail can legitimately take some small share of the credit in liberating people whose only crime is a deviation from the norm in a noncriminal way.”

You see by divulging the hidden location of the black man to the KKK the blackmailer also divulges his location to other blacks, thus having the liberating effect upon them.

Yes, it really is that ridiculous an argument, and I don’t even have to use the KKK and blacks to make my point. The argument rests on the assumption that homosexuals wouldn’t know about each other if it wasn’t for the help of the blackmailer in divulging their private lives to bigots. It’s that silly an argument. One of many in his article.

Gil August 1, 2010 at 3:39 am

Indeed, I believe Libertarians would argue that no one is obliged to hide anyone who asks for it. Therefore threatening to remove protection for a fee would be compatible with their legal version of blackmail.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 4:10 am

I certainly don’t believe that you are obliged to hide someone if there is a credible threat to yourself. I’m sure there are other reasons why you wouldn’t be obliged to hide them. Hiding someone and divulging their location are two entirely separate issues.

Not every libertarian is of the same opinion on every matter. There is quite a broad spectrum of belief under that umbrella. Anarcho-capitalists and Minarchists diverge on many issues yet both would call themselves libertarians.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 4:52 am

I’m not committing any errors. It’s a response to Block’s errors.

In a proper dispute, you have to argue, not assert.

He claims that blackmail that involves such situations are on the whole beneficial to the persecuted minority.

I find utilitarian arguments dubious, in my opinion Block is merely pointing out that because a situation is detrimental to someone does not mean it cannot be beneficial to others (i.e. there are externalities). The argument of opponents of blackmail is that even in the absence of a right violation, the outcome can be detrimental to someone. Block turned it around and showed that it can also be beneficial to someone. That demonstrates that the premise is wrong.

All actions whatsoever have effects which some consider detrimental and some consider beneficiary. Therefore, it is an insufficient argument for advocation of of force.

It’s that silly an argument. One of many in his article.

Block is really good at reductio ad absurdum. Calling reductio ad absurdum “silly” works against your position, not for it.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

“In a proper dispute, you have to argue, not assert.”

I did argue against Block’s position. Apparently successfully because you accepted the argument was valid against his position when you wrote, “If you divulge information to people who are violating rights (e.g. state pursuing anti sodomy laws, or people hunting others for their race), that can make you an accessory to the violation of rights.” Block argued that a blackmailer was not violating the rights of the homosexual by outing him to a oppressive society even though as he wrote, “Forcing individual members of a socially oppressed group into the open, or ‘out of the closet,’ cannot, of course, be considered a service. The use of force is a violation of an individual’s rights.” He calls the act he is talking about blackmail, not extortion.

What puzzles me about your position is that my argument also valid in the example of the blackmailer who wishes to divulge information to the brother. It is clear that the brother is violating the rights of the sister and the victim to freely associate, and the blackmailer is at a minimum an accessory to that. I think however the case is stronger than that. Someone who is the malicious and willful initiator of a chain of events with the intent to harm someone isn’t a mere accessory to a crime. We don’t hold criminal masterminds to be less guilty than those they have manipulated into their schemes. We hold them more culpable. Especially when the consequences were the direct objects of their plans.

Do you, or do you not, think that the persons with the sensitive information in these cases has the right to divulge the information? I think Block’s argument is put in a very difficult position here. He has argued these are situations where anybody has the right to divulge the information and yet admitted that forcing homosexuals out of the closet is a rights violation in the context he imagines. So which is it? In fact, he made it sound like it is a rights violation regardless of whether there was an attempt to extract money.

On the issue of externalities you need to be aware that blackmail establishes certain facts about the state of mind of the blackmailer (malice), and the objectivity of the harm caused the victim, and the existence of coercion, that are not available in other instances of externalities.

“Block is really good at reductio ad absurdum.”

Apparently not in this instance. He’s contradicted himself on the issue of outing homosexuals. He has argued in ways that are themselves vulnerable to reducto ad absurdum applied correctly (the true purpose of the method to show a contradiction). You’d think that if he was good at it he wouldn’t construct an argument that was vulnerable to it. I didn’t even have to reduce all the way to the absurd to show his argument was wrong. Something has to give here because there are contradictions in his arguments.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 11:30 am

You have an ongoing problem with vagueness. You mix things which have negative effect on someone with things which violate their rights. Both for your own arguments as well as when reading your opponents’. You also have a tendency to mix necessary conditions, sufficient conditions and things which do not correlate. Until you fix this, a debate is pointless.

Maybe for starters, let’s at least assume that there are situations that people dislike although they do not contain a violation of rights. The question for you is how do you distinguish between those, and those that do contain a violation of rights.

Brian Macker August 3, 2010 at 7:42 am

Peter,

Again, I didn’t mix them, Walter Block mixed them. It’s not my claim that all legal issues can be reduced to issues of force or fraud, or that natural rights is identical to violations of those two concepts. Maybe there are other violations.

I don’t like the kind of reasoning that comes up with a bunch of axiomatic rules, claims they are apriori, and then tried to deduce everything from there. For one, we are fallible and it is possible for mistakes to creep into our deductions. One way to prove such mistakes is to check for contradictions. I’ve found plenty here. So either the axioms are wrong or some of the deductions.

I certainly don’t think that I’ve got it all figured out but I see problems here. The axioms may be the problem or the deductions. Right now I think it is both. I think the axioms are too narrow and that the deductions don’t follow from the axioms.

Besides if you’ve every taken higher math you know about Godel proof. Which showed that any set of axioms are going to have situations upon which they cannot decide the truth, or falsehood of. So I already know that not only these libertarian, but all ethical & legal systems will have situations that cannot be decided. That’s not a specific knock against any one system unless authority claims are made based on infallibility. You are walking dangerously close to that line and Objectivists have clearly crossed it.

I’ve thought about this blackmail issue further and it is clear to me that Block is wrong. Another issue I did not cover was that of invasion of privacy. Clearly one can use force or fraud to obtain embarrassing information that one can then use to blackmail. In many cases it is going to be very hard for the courts to distinguish these cases and the courts may just decide to put the burden of proof on the blackmailer as to how he obtained the information.

I think that people have a right to certain information, such as information about crime. It think this falls outside the axioms of libertarianism as currently stated. I think that there are issues of duty that arise when you live in society. Since man is social this is not a context you can extract yourself from. So I am deducing this from the state of nature.

I have already determined that given certain conditions it is consistent with natural law to have good Samaritan laws. The same principles that brought me to that position are also at play here with blackmail, and not in any way that is obvious. It has to do with your duty to inform others of dangerous situations.

Duty can arise under a natural law system when it is clear that due to human nature a person acts as a free rider on the natural insurance that society brings. I’m not talking about insurance schemes that are artificially created, but ones that naturally arise from mere human nature.

Guess what, it’s based on the natural property of humans to have empathy.

For example, you can owe a duty to others to report crime because others, due to their empathy, will be compelled to testify truthfully on your behalf. This is an insurance scheme that you cannot fail to be a free rider on. One must in fact be living by a double standard if one accepts such help, and yet will not reciprocate. Furthermore, I think that you are actually compelled to accept such help by nature. It is in your nature to accept it even if you claim that you wouldn’t. Any reasonable person could see that. I will not elaborate further because I need to leave for work. I think that property rights themselves actually arise in this manner also, and can be partially supported on this basis.

In other words. I’ve read more about this and thought far further about it that you. I look upon you the same way you look upon the Objectivist.

Michael is not a rational thinker but his emotions are valid. Empathy, an emotion, does have a role to play not only in morality but in law. Not as broad as he wishes but it does have a role.

Peter Surda August 3, 2010 at 8:30 am

Brian,

again you are misrepresenting the problem. The problem is not that I insist on specific axioms. The problem is that you don’t have any, you do not provide a logical method of determining whether an action is a violation of rights or not. Absent that, a debate is pointless, as none of us have a method of demonstrating why their point of view should be preferred.

I am aware of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, but you are misapplying them. Even if you had two separate sets of axioms and mixed them, for example on utilitarian grounds (thereby having two theories with different area of applicability), it wouldn’t fix the problems in your arguments, since you would end up contradicting yourself anyway.

Brian Macker August 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm

“The problem is that you don’t have any”

I don’t need any to disprove Block. You keep trying to push me into a position I don’t need to be. I don’t need to supply a set of axioms. I just need to show contradictions in Block’s claims. I’ve done so. You haven’t addressed them.

I’m not a foundationalist so I don’t need any axioms. I can base my moral foundations on well tested conjecture. I believe that moral systems are survival strategies, are neither subjective nor objective in the sense claimed by others, and that the are all imperfect models of what is “right”.

When I decide to write a book (or several books) laying out my understanding of morality I’ll let you know so you can be the first to buy a copy. Meanwhile, I’m not going to lay out my entire philosophy in a comments section.

I think I’ve show more than enough to make clear that what Block calls “blackmail” (and mixes up with other things) can be outlawed as a trespass on others. The ones he was championing all had underlying crimes.

Peter Surda August 4, 2010 at 6:43 pm

You have not shown contradictions in Block’s arguments, you only showed that they are incompatible with yours. I can understand you feel uncomfortable with me pressing you on logic. Feel free to reject it, but then don’t expect anyone to consider your blabbing worthwhile of responding to. Feel free to think that illogic gives you moral superiority.

Brian Macker August 8, 2010 at 9:19 am

Peter,

Sorry that you are too dense to pick up on the contradictions when they are pointed out to you. Several other commenters saw the contradictions as I presented them and adjusted their thinking. That you don’t is your problem.

One of Blocks examples is clearly a case of accessory after the fact yet he calls it blackmail and then defines blackmail in a way that should exclude it. That’s one contradiction.

The other was his contradiction on outing homosexuals. He claimed outing involved an underlying violation of the homosexuals rights, and claims it is blackmail, and yet this conflicts with his supposed definition of blackmail as a non-rights violating activity. Another contradiction.

Your lie that I have not provided any contradictions cannot stand unless you show exactly how these are not contradictions. To quote someone who tried to pull an Alansky on me, “In a proper dispute, you have to argue, not assert.” You are merely asserting, not arguing, and what is really rich you are accusing me of your intellectual crime, ala Alansky.

Peter Surda August 8, 2010 at 9:42 am

Brian, you constantly avoid direct confrontation and divert the flow of the debate so that no clear resolution is possible. You hate admitting to be wrong, and revel in vagueness. That does not make you correct, that makes you a fraud.

One of Blocks examples is clearly a case of accessory after the fact yet he calls it blackmail and then defines blackmail in a way that should exclude it. That’s one contradiction.

The actions that you perform after a violation of rights occurred cannot make you an accessory to that violation of rights. Of course, those actions still can be a violation of rights, but for other reasons. So, you are using garbled logic.

The other was his contradiction on outing homosexuals. He claimed outing involved an underlying violation of the homosexuals rights, and claims it is blackmail, and yet this conflicts with his supposed definition of blackmail as a non-rights violating activity. Another contradiction.

Your are obviously incapable of elementary comprehension. Block did not say outing involved an underlying violation of the homosexual’s rights. That’s another of your fantasies. He said it caused harm to the blackmailee, but is beneficial of others. Block was, in my opinion, making fun of utilitarian approach by showing that it is a double-edged sword.

I suggest you go back to primary school where they teach to read.

Brian Macker August 9, 2010 at 6:55 am

Peter Surda,

“Your are obviously incapable of elementary comprehension. Block did not say outing involved an underlying violation of the homosexual’s rights. That’s another of your fantasies. He said it caused harm to the blackmailee, but is beneficial of others. Block was, in my opinion, making fun of utilitarian approach by showing that it is a double-edged sword.

I suggest you go back to primary school where they teach to read.”

Read this:Forcing individual members of a socially oppressed group into the open, or ‘out of the closet,’ cannot, of course, be considered a service. The use of force is a violation of an individual’s rights.” – Walter Block

How about you take your own nasty advice. What is amazing is that I quoted this for you before, you responded so I know you read it, and yet you still keep making the same false claims.

How about you address the reality instead of continuing to claim I’m fantasizing. Meanwhile you give me your interpretation of what you imagine Block was up to. Again with the Alinsky tactics. You fantasize and then accuse me of it.

Peter Surda August 9, 2010 at 7:46 am

I must admit I missed that paragraph, my apologies. It’s been several years that I read the book. That paragraph makes no sense to me. I’ll recheck it against the printed version when I’m back home. The only interpretation that I can think of is that the two sentences use the word “force” in two distinct meanings. Pressuring people to “out themeselves” is not a use of force in the libertarian meaning.

Peter Surda August 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm

The written book does not show the two paragraphs separately, it is just one. The wording is the same. I asked Professor Block, and he was so kind to reply that he thinks he is using the word “force” in two distinct meanings, one which denotes a violation of rights, and one which does not (e.g. “forcing people into the open”). I admit it is confusing and maybe a different choice of words might have been more suitable, but at least it shows that the argument can be clarified and there is no contradiction.

Gi August 1, 2010 at 3:34 am

Uh oh! You’re doing what mpoz was – blackmail is a type of extortion.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 4:21 am

Yes, an extortion where the harm is not directly caused by the criminal. For example, it’s not illegal to sleep with whatever girl you like. So you sleep with this girl who has a mean older brother. Not a crime on your part. Along comes Walter and threatens to tell her brother if you don’t pay him money. Which is equivalent to saying “Pay me some money or I’ll have you beaten up”.

Obviously the brother beating you up is a crime. However without the malicious intent to leverage money out of you and cause you harm it is no crime for Walter to tell the brother what you did.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 5:22 am

Which is equivalent to saying “Pay me some money or I’ll have you beaten up”.

It is not equivalent, because the latter involves options that are actual violation of rights.

You seem to to think that violations of rights magically pop up out of nothingness. Also, you do not actually explain how to determine whether an action is a violation of rights or not.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:47 am

It doesn’t “pop out of nothingness”. In this case the blackmailer has threatened to set in motion a chain of events that will result in a serious risk of a beating if he doesn’t receive money. He has coerced money from his victim. Money that he didn’t deserve.

A blackmailer isn’t going about his own business and own transactions when he does this. He is instead stepping into another persons life to violate their personal property rights. The purpose it to unrightfully gain property. The victim is forced to hand over property to the blackmailer via threats to cause the victim greater damages.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 8:58 am

It is equivalent. In fact I can word it exactly the same and be fully truthful. He says, “Pay me the money or I’ll have you beaten up by her brother by telling him that you slept with her. You know how he is. It’s unfortunate that you have put yourself in this position that I can take advantage of but Walter Block says I have a right to your money. I feel I’ve earned it by setting up a camera to watch his sister.”

Russ August 1, 2010 at 9:07 am

Brian,

Even if I say for sake of argument that in the case you postulate, the blackmail is equivalent to extortion, that isn’t necessarily the case in general. What if, instead of threatening to tell a brother who will beat the guy up, you threaten to tell a wife who will divorce him. Divorce is not a violation of rights. Therefore, threatening to set in motion the divorce is also not a violation of rights.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Russ,

Blackmail is not mere threatening. In all the examples I gave if the person had merely threatened then there would not have been the crime of blackmail. Extortion is not mere threatening to punch someone in the nose. The mere threat would be assault.

There are many different schools about how natural rights are established. One of them is based on the idea that common law discovers them by a natural process of jurisprudence. Since common law recognizes the legal concept of blackmail this isn’t just some emotional issue I have as Peter seems to think.

Natural law does not necessarily reduce to anarcho-capitalist ideology. You guys need to think outside the box.

Russ August 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Brian,

“Blackmail is not mere threatening.”

Of course. Blackmail is threatening to do something conditionally, if the blackmailee does not do what the blackmailer wants. I fail to see how this pertains to what I wrote earlier. I think you have a very good case that blackmail, in the case where the blackmailer threatens to tell something to a woman’s brother and the brother will likely then beat the blackmailee up, is morally equivalent to extortion. I just don’t think that your extortion argument extends well to the case where the blackmailer tells the wife, and the wife divorces the blackmailee.

“Natural law does not necessarily reduce to anarcho-capitalist ideology. You guys need to think outside the box.”

1) I am not an anarcho-capitalist. I am a minarchist classical liberal.

2) I don’t think that natural law necessarily reduces to any ideology.

3) I am not necessarily saying that blackmail should not be considered a crime in the wife case above. I’m just pointing out that your comparison of blackmail with extortion is not convincing in all cases.

Gil August 1, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Russ, the legal definition for extortion is when the blackmailer illegally obtained the leverage material. That’s it.

Another scenario would be a guy who threatens to beat you up if you keep wearing pink shirts. He’s made a conditional offer and if you fail to live up to it then you get beat up. Therefore you have a choice too.

Russ August 1, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Gil,

Again, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Internet. I thought extortion was just threatening to re-arrange somebody’s kneecaps if they don’t fork over the moolah. I’m not familiar with extortion as blackmail with illegally obtained info. That’s one’s completely new to me.

Brian Macker August 3, 2010 at 8:11 am

Russ, The question also arises of how the courts decide whether the information was obtained illegally. The presumption should be that a person is keeping embarrassing information private (especially if they are willing to pay to keep it secret). Obviously if you dance naked on the street and that is caught on film, or if you talk with a reporter about it, then there was no attempt to keep it private. However, an up-skirt photo, or a naked video through a peep hole, or a couples private sex tape, are completely different issues. The burden should be on the blackmailer to prove they got the information legally. The fact that blackmail is involved (like running from the scene of a crime) tends to show certain facts. Knowledge that the info is embarrassing, likelihood that others have no valid claim to the knowledge so it cannot be sold to them, likelihood that the info was obtained illegally. etc.

Russ August 3, 2010 at 8:43 am

“The burden should be on the blackmailer to prove they got the information legally.”

Hmmmmm… this seems to me to be in conflict with the principle that a person (even a blackmailer) is innocent until proven guilty. If this were the standard of illegality, the burden should be on the prosecution to prove that the information was indeed obtained illegally.

Brian Macker August 4, 2010 at 7:32 am

Russ,If someone is found with a body part and is trying to sell it then I think the burden of proof should be with the possessor that he obtained it legally. Especially if the person who it belongs to is around to complain to the police. Do you think that conflicts with concept of innocent until proven guilty?

Brian Macker August 8, 2010 at 9:32 am

Russ,

“I just don’t think that your extortion argument extends well to the case where the blackmailer tells the wife, and the wife divorces the blackmailee.”

That’s because it doesn’t.

There are multiple different forms of blackmail here, and multiple arguments against them being legal. Let’s label two of them that apply to this sub-thread. There’s Extortion Blackmail, and Accessory After the Fact Blackmail on this sub-thread. The punch in the face example is Extortion Blackmail. The divorce the wife example is Accessory After the Fact Blackmail. If the blackmailer takes the money in the latter case then he is hiding a crime being committed against the wife. She is being defrauded by the husband and he is colluding in that after the fact.

This would be a civil issue in this case and not a criminal one but it is still an issue for the courts. If the police discover a civil issue they still have the obligation to report it to the victim and leave it up to them to pursue a lawsuit. If the police discover that the husband was being blackmailed over infidelity and the wife didn’t know then they would tell the wife. She would then divorce the husband and sue the blackmailer for the return of the community property he got dishonestly from the husband.

The courts also decide moral issues that are not crimes. Not every form of fraud is a crime either so when libertarians claim that “force and fraud” define what things are crimes they are making a mistake. I know a hell of a lot about libertarianism and it is certainly better than most mainstream ideologies, but it has flaws of it’s own.

I think that these flaws should be corrected not denied.

Peter Surda August 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

There’s Extortion Blackmail, and Accessory After the Fact Blackmail on this sub-thread.

And there’s a “Brian can’t argue so he makes up stuff” thread.

Brian Macker August 9, 2010 at 6:58 am

Peter,

How about you address the arguments instead of inventing false claims about my argument style? You’ve invented your own personal form of ad hominem attack. Instead of attacking the character of the person without addressing the argument you attack the person’s argumentation style without addressing the argument.

You just lied by the way. Look at my August 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm post where I mention “accessory after the fact” and the other example of the bully brother for the “extortion” type blackmail.

Peter Surda August 9, 2010 at 8:00 am

Brian, let me reiterate what I already said.

- all the requirements for establishing whether a collection of facts is a crime you provided have been refuted as insufficient. Especially a situation that someone dislikes is a insufficient criterion. There is a clear distinction between a crime and a situation one dislikes, you are trying to dilute it.
- actions you perform after a crime cannot make you an accessory to the crime. They can, of course, still be a violations of someone’s rights, but for other reasons. The causal relationship is absent.
- Block might have made an error in choosing poor wording about “forcing” homosexuals to out themselves. I’ll recheck the paragraph agains the printed version and if still in doubt, I’ll email Block. In the meantime, let me rephrase it:

Pressuring individual members of a socially oppressed group into the open, or “out of the closet,” cannot, of course, be considered a service for them. But still, it does engender an awareness on the part of members of a group of one another’s existence. In forcing this perception, blackmail can legitimately take some small share of the credit in liberating people whose only crime is a deviation from the norm in a noncriminal way.

Your arguments make fun of logic. The main problem is failure to explain how to distinguish situations that are merely disliked by someone and situations that constitute a crime. Unless you provide an explanation for this, a debate is pointless.

Russ August 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Brian wrote:

“Obviously the brother beating you up is a crime. However without the malicious intent to leverage money out of you and cause you harm it is no crime for Walter to tell the brother what you did.”

Maybe it should be a crime to do that? After all, somebody tells the brother what Fred did to his sister, without conditions as in blackmail, he does that believing that the brother will hurt Fred, and presumably wanting that to happen. How is that not malicious intent?

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Maybe. However the courts can only handle things they can establish. They might tend not to outlaw things that are hard to prove. It’s much easier to prove the malicious intent in the case of a blackmailer.

Russ August 3, 2010 at 8:48 am

“However the courts can only handle things they can establish.”

True enough.

“They might tend not to outlaw things that are hard to prove.”

The courts don’t outlaw things. They simply determine whether or not a violation of law was committed. Granted, in cases where malicious intent is hard to prove, there would not be a good case that a violation of law was in fact committed. I can’t see a problem with that. If malicious intent can’t be demonstrated convincingly, there should be no prosecution.

“It’s much easier to prove the malicious intent in the case of a blackmailer.”

Well, really, as somebody else has pointed out, the intent of a blackmailer is to get money, not to do harm to the blackmailee. That is not malicious in the same sense as trying to set into motion events that would cause rights violations.

Brian Macker August 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Common law courts used to outlaw things.

Gil August 3, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Neither does a fraudster want to harm the fraudee. I’m sure you’d agree it may hard to prove in a court of law that fraud had been committed or the supposed victim was a smart cookie.

Brian Macker August 4, 2010 at 7:38 am

Gil,

So you don’t think that fraud harms the victim? So when some fraudster (nigerian scam artist) steals all the life savings of some retiree so that they have to live on cat food that doesn’t harm them? Come on. Of course the fraudster wants to harm the fraudee because otherwise he wouldn’t do it.

Peter Surda August 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

If you are confused about “chain of events” I recommend reading an article by Stephan Kinsella he linked to a couple of days ago where he explains how to determine aggression.

If I would to take your argument as true, also, by reductio ad absurdum, given enough time, someone will probably violate your rights anyway, so almost anything you do should be illegal. Makes no sense? Right, just like all your confused illogic makes no sense.

Brian Macker August 1, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I went through 5 pages of the blog and did not find an article by Stephan that seemed to address the issue. I doubt he’s going to have anything novel to say outside the extensive reading I’ve already done in the libertarian literature, but I’m willing to give it a read.

Jay Lakner August 11, 2010 at 2:34 am

I think this is the link Peter is refering to:

http://mises.org/journals/qjae/pdf/qjae7_4_7.pdf

Peter Surda August 11, 2010 at 3:28 am

Yes, you can also find it if you google for the title or if you look at Stephan’s homepage. The title is “Causation and Aggression”.

smithkline June 10, 2011 at 8:10 am

It is all about the defending the blackmailer. The
Painting and Decorating

is making us totally focused on the beautification of the houses and offices.

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