A Few Thoughts on the “Why-Should-I-Care-What-Anyone-Else-Does-if-Noone-Else-is-Harmed?” Argument
By Ken K. Gourdin
A poster of something of a libertarian bent at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion [sic] said he voted for the measure legalizing recreational marijuana use in Washington state, maintaining that resources expended combating illegal drug distribution and use could better be utilized elsewhere, and implying that people should be allowed to use marijuana if they wish. I responded:
But here’s the problem with the “let’s-not-waste-more-resources-attempting-to-enforce-the-unenforceable” argument: Even if one is absolutely correct that marijuana is harmless, the “why-enforce-the-unenforceable” argument is equally applicable to other drugs … which are not so harmless: Cocaine? Heroin? Methamphetamine? Do we simply throw up our hands and legalize everything? Libertarianism sounds really good, but it requires maintaining the fiction that actions which have been deemed illegal “wouldn’t hurt anyone else” who does not engage in them, and however appealing it might be to posit the existence of such a vacuum on a theoretical level, it doesn’t hold up in real life: Practically no such action “doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
This poster compared abortion with illegal drug use, saying that those who wish to engage in the latter should be allowed to do so, since they’re harming only themselves, while those who undergo abortion are harming an innocent third party (the fetus). He wrote:
… Abortion is committed against a third party, the fetus, who is an innocent party. If I take a drug, it is me, myself, and I that I am doing it to. Non-equivalent cases, rongo. But you may ask, “But what about your friends and family who will be affected?” My response is “What about them? Will you force me to conform to their will in all cases? Or is my life my own?”
So the fetus didn’t choose the abortion, that’s why innocent third parties are relevant when it comes to abortion, but all of the sudden become irrelevant with respect to drug use? Why? Again, for libertarianism to work, you have to posit a vacuum (one that seals a person off from the rest of humanity who allegedly makes choices which affect only himself) which doesn’t exist. No one’s life is his or her own. One’s choice to use drugs (or any of myriad similar choices) never affects only himself. Those adversely affected by one’s choice to use drugs (and no matter who he is, there are always such third parties) didn’t choose the negative consequences which are bound to befall them either.
I don’t particularly want to continue to exist in this “Groundhog Day” existence of mine in which I left a job answering phones, endured the emotional, mental, intellectual carnage of law school, graduated against all odds, and now … am back answering phones, either. I don’t have a lot of friends. I haven’t confided the way I feel about my lot to many people outside of a couple of my closest family members. I could say, “Well, they really don’t know what I’m going through. They don’t really know how bad it is for me. And even if I forfeit certain opportunities by doing myself in, and even if they’d miss me in the short run, so what? We’d all get over those losses eventually, anyway. Even at its worst, the life to come still has to be better than this. And my desire to escape such an existence, and what I want, outweighs any drawbacks which might ensue from my choice, to myself or others.”
Should I do it? The libertarian position says, “Why not?” I don’t have a wife! I don’t have kids! My coworkers and superiors might miss me … for every second of the fifteen minutes it would take them to select my replacement! Our recruitment manager or our human resources manager has a resume on her desk or in her files (they’re both women) right now from someone who is every bit as qualified (and probably more qualified) to do my job than I am! Goodbye, $40K-plus in student loan debt for that useless law degree (death is the only way to escape repaying student loans; they’re not even dischargeable in bankruptcy)!
The pluses do seem to greatly outweigh the minuses, and, after all, it’s my life and my choice!
Another poster, noting the pessimistic vein of my post, wrote:
… I hope what you wrote was largely a thought exercise to make your point. In any case, know that a lot of us value your contribution to the board (even those of us who disagree with you on some things!), and miss your voice when you take breaks like you did recently. I know that interaction over the internet isn’t the same as in person, but this is a good place to get support from a variety of folks. Take care and believe that things will get better! …
I wouldn’t worry too much about it. No matter how much a part of me … and at times, it’s a huge part of me … might want to, I’m not going to do anything drastic. To borrow and slightly alter something the inimitable Major Frank Burns of M*A*S*H infamy once said, “I believe in the sanctity of human life … no matter how ugly or disgusting it gets.” (He was talking about marriage.)