Posts tagged ‘libertarianism’

Friday 13th

A Red Umbrella - the symbol of sex worker solidarity

Every Friday 13th Maggie McNeill asks people to speak out in support of the decriminalisation of sex work and activities surrounding it. Those who have read this blog for long enough or follow me on twitter will have realised by now that this is something I support wholeheartedly.

Why the support? Obviously as a libertarian I see no reason why consensual contractual interactions between adults should incur the wrath of the violent state but there is more to it than that. I’ve previously mentioned that I’m known to enjoy the kinkier side of life. This includes activities that the anti-sex wing of the puritans who seek to rule our lives would prefer wasn’t available to be seen. That’s not the whole story either.

Several years ago (exactly which year I can no longer remember) I once provided sexual services for cash, trying (very badly in hindsight) to play the dominatrix to his submissive.

There have also been a couple of moments in my life when, if things had happened very differently, survival sex work could well have been a necessity. For me it may have been the path not taken but others have had to walk it and some will have suffered as a result of activities which could have made it safer being outlawed.

We in Great Britain (note I do not say UK) are fortunate in that prostitution in and of itself is not illegal – however activities such as brothel keeping (which stops sex workers grouping together for their own protection) are. This is not the case in other countries. In the so-called ‘Land of the Free’ prostitution is illegal and rescuing ‘victims’ is big business for both law enforcement and charities. Sweden pioneered what is now referred to as either the ‘Swedish Model’ or the ‘Nordic Model’. Under this approach the customers of sex workers are prosecuted. Northern Ireland is following this route and the Canadian government, after their Supreme Court struck down all of the laws surrounding sex work because it ruled them harmful, is trying the same even though the government there admits it is likely to be only a matter of time before another challenge in the Supreme Court produces the same result.

New Zealand has shown the way forward. It would be nice if the rest of the world followed.

Whither Scotland

The campaigning is done, the pollsters have retired and the people of Scotland are voting. We shall know the outcome tomorrow.

Personally I think they should go for it. Accept that they will suffer some short-term pain whilst telling two levels of politicians to take a very long walk off a very short pier.

However, if we are to believe the opinion polls, the outcome is too close to call. Are they accurate though? We all know that people lie and/or change their mind and my gut feeling is that, in the end, they will opt for the devil they know rather than uncertainty.

Whatever the result, unless it is a resounding ‘no’, the UK is going to have to make some changes across the course of the 2015-2020 parliament – whether that is negotiating the break-up of the union or substantial changes to how the UK is run.

I don’t though trust politicians or civil servants to do either very well. If it is to be independence, I foresee 18 months of blazing rows between Westminster and Holyrood as each side argues over who gets the CD collection. If not then I expect them to fudge the issue of federalising the UK as much as possible to ensure that all power remains in the centre.

If they do fudge then all they will have done is kicked the can down the road – and I’m not sure the electorate will stand for it, not this time. English nationalism, a generally dormant thing, seems to be stirring and I suspect things could get ugly if it is felt that the politicians have got it wrong. That is not something I want to see.

What I would like to see (but realise won’t happen) is for one of the main parties to grit their teeth and vote for Christmas by promising in their 2015 election manifesto that pretty much everything bar foreign policy and defence will be devolved down to at least the city or regional/county level. Let the major population centres take control. Let county hall or the parish council be more than a glorified talking shop. Decentralise everything.

Sure, there will still be far too many politicians for my liking but it is a step on the road to each person being their own independent nation rather than citizens of an arbitrary set of lines on a map.

Whether the Scots vote for their freedom or not, change is coming. These are truly interesting times.

Smaller Government?

There is a rumour going around, apparently first articulated in the media by Harriet Harperson in a column for the Standard, that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) might be shut after the end of the Olympics.

It probably isn’t true but on the off chance that it is, I for one would welcome it as but a small step on the road to smaller government.

Being a minimalist libertarian, I obviously don’t think that this goes far enough.

My ideal, for starters, would be the closure of every national governmental department with the exception of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The rest can all be devolved down to nothing higher than county or city level. Once their powers have been pushed down that far then the local populations can decide what they want to keep, what to scrap and what can be done independently of government (much of it I believe). This should encourage trade and healthy competition between the regions to the benefit of all.

Why though spare the FCO and the MoD? Because so long as the concept of the Nation State still exists, they have a role which I’m not sure can be dealt with at a lower level*. I’d like to see the end of the Nation State – and thus the elimination of the need to have the FCO and the MoD – but until such time as this happens I’ll put up with them. The income for this rump of national government can be paid by the counties/cities on a fixed amount per head basis with the Prime Minister/Foreign Secretary directly elected with mandate to do no more than protect our interests internationally**. If s/he wished to change this, it must be put to a vote – as must their annual budget before any money is handed over.

The only other possible exception – i.e. I’m undecided about it – is some form of trans-county/city crime agency but its powers would have to be limited least we end up with an FBI/Homeland type agency.

Updated: to add the acronyms at first use and another footnote.

* No doubt there will be an anarcho-capitalist (Obo?) along to tell me I’m wrong about this. :)

** And not launching wars of aggression, obviously.

When is a public place not a public place?

When it is in Orlando apparently.

On Tuesday Ambush Predator shreded, in her usual inimitable manner, a Comment is Free article about a charity called Food Not Bombs who have discovered that laws, no matter how crap, still apply to them.

Obviously the sight of a such an obviously lefty organisation finding themselves in hot water with the State – a construct it appears most of them appear to support – over a matter of obeying silly laws which they and their fellow travellers are all to happy to foist onto the rest of us is obviously a matter of general hilarity. What I do not find so funny however is the underlying law.

In 2006 the City of Orlando amended Chapter 18A of its City Code to add the following section:

Except for activities of a governmental agency within the scope of its governmental authority, or unless specifically permitted to do so by a permit or approval issued pursuant to this Chapter or by City Council:

(a) It is unlawful to knowingly sponsor, conduct, or participate in the distribution or service of food at a large group feeding at a park or park facility owned or controlled by the City of Orlando within the boundary of the Greater Downtown Park District without a Large Group Feeding Permit issued by the City Director of Families, Parks and Recreation or his/her designee.

(b) It is unlawful to fail to produce and display the Large Group Feeding Permit during or after a large group feeding, while still on site, to a law enforcement officer upon demand. It is an affirmative defense to this violation if the offender can later produce, to the City Prosecutor or the Court, a Large Group Feeding Permit issued to him/her, or the group, which was valid at the time of the event.

(c) The Director of Families, Parks and Recreation or his/her designee shall issue a Large Group Feeding Permit upon application and payment of the application fee as established by the City. Not more than two (2) Large Group Feeding Permits shall be issued to the same person, group, or organization for large group feedings for the same park in the GDPD in a twelve (12) consecutive month period.

(d) Any applicant shall have the right to appeal the denial of a Large Group Feeding Permit pursuant to appeal procedure in Section 18A.15 with written notice to the Director of Families, Parks and Recreation and with a copy to the City Clerk.

To me a park is a public space, generally maintained by the local authority which is paid for by local taxation, and is available for all to use without fear or favour. Heck, even Wikipedia agrees. Given this I consider any government body restricting what can and can’t happen in such a free space to be overstepping its authority.

Free space is free space, no matter whether the person using it be the lowliest beggar or the Queen of England. It is for the use of all persons and none. Thus imposing restrictions on an activity in a public space simply because you have issues with the people who might turn up violates the basic operating principle of free access.

The only time the government should consider interfering is if the organised activity actively interferes with the enjoyment of others using the park to the extent that the park is unusable. And yes, before anyone says it, the organisers of any event should (of course) be responsible for policing the area that they were operating in so as to ensure that it is left in a usable condition for the next person(s). If they don’t then the authority would be justified in going after them for the clean-up costs.

Until then they should just stay out of the way.

Possession

Apropos nothing, the thought occurs to me that our politicians apparently have a problem with us owning things – or at least things which they consider to be bad for us – and that ownership of such things is punished by measures ranging from the financial through to the draconian.

Take some examples:

  • Handguns: 5 years imprisonment
  • Knives: A fine of up to £5,000 and up to 4 years in gaol
  • Child pornography: Prison sentences of up to 10 years for the ‘most severe’ cases
  • Extreme pornography: Up to 3 years in jail and a maximum £5,000 fine
  • Drugs: Potentially unlimited fines and prison terms of up to 7 years

And that’s just the big ticket items. I’m sure I could turn up other examples of items that the government has outlawed ownership of if I fancied spending time hunting through the deep recesses of English law.

But what exactly is the benefit to society of these bans? Does restricting public ownership of any of the items on the above list make us, as a society, safer in any way?

The message that is apparently being sent to us, the public, by our politicians is that we aren’t to be trusted. That everyone owning a handgun or carrying a knife without what the police and CPS consider good reason is a potential murderer; that everyone who likes their pornography kinky is a potential sex offender; that anyone who has pictures of child abuse which they were not themselves responsible for is a potential kiddy fiddler and that everyone who takes drugs is going to do cause a problem (without necessarily indicating what that problem might be).

I find that idea repulsive. I didn’t like being treated like a child by my parents when I was in my teens (and I like it even less now when my mother tries it) so I certainly don’t want those people we elect to ‘serve’ us to treat me in such a manner. It is not up to them to determine what I might own because someone, somewhere might not do so responsibility. Such an approach, to me, smacks of convicting everyone of a thought crime and is thus intolerable.

My safety is first and foremost my own responsibility, not that of any government. By attempting to assume that role government is saying it knows best and such an approach only diminishes me. The only safety that the government should provide for the people that elect them is at the macro level – ensuring our borders against invasion and providing resources for assistance abroad if so required.

Likewise, what I watch and what I look at is no one else’s business. No crime is committed by me viewing an image however distasteful they may be. If the images feature individuals who are deemed not to have given their consent those who performed the acts and were present when they occured are the ones who should be prosecuted, not those who watch it second or third hand.

As for drugs, will anyone argue that that war wasn’t lost even before it begun?

Making ownership of anything a crime is simply another method of controlling us, another leash on our collars. It is what we do with those possessions that should count.

No sex please, we’re British

Political lobbying group and some time parenting site Mumsnet has been forced by its members to back track on its support for censoring pornography on the web. Needless to say this hasn’t pleased the new Conservative MP Claire Perry the “won’t someone think of the children” authoritarian nut job who is apparently the current cheerleader in parliament for such a scheme.

Why the change of heart?

It seems that pressure came from two directions. Firstly, the more technically savvy members threw their children’s toys out of the pram over the site’s bandwagon jumping, pointed out that as a result of the law of unintended consequences the site itself could well be filtered and downed tools – an action that resulted in no technical support for those in need. Secondly, a few members mentioned the obvious issue: that it is not the job of the state to raise children.

Strangely the second one didn’t appear to fly with one of the site’s founders:

“I think there have been some really valid points about workability raised here but the “this is the thin end of the wedge on censorship” one doesn’t make sense to me. We already censor loads of things in the name of child protection on the internet and elsewhere. Of course there are valid concerns about where you draw the line but you can’t deny that we do draw the line already all over the place – we censor illegal images, we rate dvds, we have a tv watershed.”

Who, unsurprisingly, completely misses the point. Don’t want young children to see pornography on the internet? Then don’t let them have a computer, x-box etc in their bedroom. Set up an account for them on the computer in the communal area that has proper filters in place to stop them seeing it. Don’t know how to do that? Then ask a friend, neighbour etc. Use some bloody initiative rather than expecting the state to act as backstop for your stupidity!

/takes blood pressure tablets and calms down.

Ahem.

Eventually however Mumsnet did decide that perhaps it had acted too hastily and the same person who posted the previously stupidity said:

“We are not going to back any solution… what we are interested in is protecting children online. However, everything we do on Mumsnet is a conversation and our opinions evolve with our users.”

Translation: We got our fingers burnt and next time we will talk to the membership before leaping on any passing bandwagons.

We aren’t of course out of the woods as yet. The government, in the shape of Culture Minister Ed Vaizey as well as the aforementioned Clarie Perry, is already talking to ISPs about getting them to filter the web. Perry, writing in the Telegraph, explains that she would like to see “a home network level ‘opt-in’ filter for internet porn”. Additionally the head of Ofcom (that government quango) said that, “given the technological convergence, if the ISP industry does not come up with a workable opt-in solution, regulation may be the only answer”.

Safermedia – a Christian charity (fake charity status unknown) also campaigning for internet filtering – said about the proposals:

I am surprised that parents would be critical of the campaign because the idea is to help parents. If internet users have to opt in to view pornography parents don’t have to worry about protecting their children from it… I think there has to be censorship to protect children. If you’re over 18 you won’t be censored [under the proposals]”

For crying out loud, when will you fools get it? You’ve recently been berating various countries like Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia for closing down the internet in order to try and stop anti-government protesters. You frequently complain about China locking down the internet and employing an army of thousands to police content as well as companies such as Google who have bowed to the regime there and acted as censors.

Even after all of that you want to employ similar tactics in this country? And all because of the emotive rallying cry of “Won’t someone think of the children”. In the name of the children we have the Criminal Records Bureau, the Independent Safeguarding Authority and others. Have they made children any safer from the paedophile that would otherwise be living under every bed and stalking the corridors of our schools, youth centres and any other place where children might go? No, of course they haven’t. All those bits of paper have done is ensure that innocent people are dismissed from their jobs and that children are being taught to fear all adults.

Can such a scheme even work? Well the Australian government under Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have been trying to do the same for some years now without success (as yet). It has been dogged by controversy with banned sites so far including such horrors as a dental practice and various education sites – quite amusing given that Stephen Conroy, the idiot charged with trying to implement the scheme, has said that it would be “100% accurate”. An opinion poll has suggested that over 90% of the Australian public don’t want the scheme and even children’s charities out there have dismissed it as a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

In the end though it is not about the children – that is just a convenient hook to use and one that can be hard to argue against without being smeared as someone who supports child pornography and other such nonsense – but about control. The internet, allowing the rapid dissemination of information, is a threat to governments around the world regardless of how democratic they appear to be and for that reason they want to place limits on it.

Such behaviour must be resisted at all costs.

Beefless

An ‘And finally’ piece on a radio 2 news broadcast yesterday concerning a small football club Gloucestershire football club, intrigued me.

The club in question, Forest Green Rovers, have taken the step of banning red meat from the menu – not just for the players but also for staff and fans. With regards to the former it was as a result of nutritional advice but it was decided to extend the policy to the entire club grounds. So far, so entirely up to the club. Their property, their rules.

It is the justification and the fluff added to the BBC piece that raises eyebrows.

The club chairman, Dale Vince (a vegan), said:

“If red meat was not good enough to feed our players, then it wasn’t good enough for our staff, fans and visitors too.”

Really? I can perhaps see that there is a performance reason why a sportsman might avoid red meat but why extend to same logic to those who aren’t?

“At its worst it means once every two weeks watching a football game without being able to eat red meat.”

Translation: ‘Suck it up, you murdering carnivores’.

“Anybody that really needs it can bring a ham sandwich or something if they wish – that’s no problem.”

Well at least you aren’t into confiscating someone else’s property.

The Vegetarian Society (no agenda there then) added their two pennies worth:

“A diet lower in meat, particularly red meat, and higher in plant-based food is lower in fat, higher in fibre and higher in trace minerals.

“Anything the British population as a whole can do to reduce their reliance on meat has got to be positive.”

Sod off. I’ll eat what I bloody well want to and people like you tend to put me in the mood for a large, medium rare fillet steak with chips and mushrooms on the side.

On Max Mosley, Sex and Privacy

The FT on Friday carried an interview with the former head of the FIA, Max Mosley, ostensibly to discuss his case in the European Court of Human Rights regarding the right to privacy – a follow up to his victory in the High Court against News Group Newspapers Limited.

As I’m sure most of us remember the case made headlines thanks to the ‘unconventional’ nature of the sexual acts that were going on and the Nazi imagery which the News of the World falsely claimed was present – imagery which of course had added spice given who Mosley’s father was.

Although I personally couldn’t care less what Mosley – or anyone else for that matter – does for pleasure so long as all of the parties involved are willing participants it would seem that I am in the minority. The old adage that ‘sex sells’ is still a true one as, for a country with a supposedly liberal attitude to sex, there is indeed a good deal of school yard tittering that goes on whenever someone is revealed to have tastes that extend beyond the missionary position with the curtains closed and the lights out. The only weird thing to me is the prurient fascination with what other human beings do for pleasure – though I suppose it can probably be considered second- or third-hand voyeurism.

Our interviewer here seems to be of the majority persuasion however as she candidly admits that one of the questions she wanted to ask was ‘Why was MM drawn to S&M?’ Is the question even relevant given the matter at hand? No but it doesn’t stop her asking it or indeed trying to draw a link between his BDSM activities and his slightly odd childhood. Kudos to Mosley though for managing to respond to the attempts to define his activities as strange in a matter of fact way

I think it’s like being homosexual. It’s a quirk in your character. People have to be adult and simply say, well it’s sex and sex is very strange. Even ordinary sex is either very funny or disgusting, or both. That’s how it is, we’re animals in the end.

even though he says later on that

It’s embarrassing to talk about. I feel that sex should always be private. If people hear that so-and-so does such and such, the reaction shouldn’t be: Oooooh! It should be: Oh, for God’s sake that’s sex, don’t even discuss it.

Although not agreeing with Mosley that sex should be a taboo subject I am, as I have said, in agreement with him when it comes to not being interested in what strangers do for fun. The only time it is relevant is when they are guilt of hypocrisy by saying one thing and doing the opposite.

Not though content with letting sleeping dogs lie Mosley has filed an application with the ECHR claiming that his rights where violated because the News of the Screws did not have a legal duty “to notify him in advance in order to allow him the opportunity to seek an interim injunction and thus prevent publication”.

This is where I have a problem.

I can see why, given the media in the UK, people would want a strong privacy law. But does the problem entirely lie with the media? There is apparently no shortage of prominent or ‘famous’ people who are willing to invite the press into almost every aspect of their lives (often in return for money) because they want the resulting publicity that it brings. Can we therefore fault journalists for taking the logic step of digging into the lives those in similar positions who aren’t media hungry because they believe – rightly it seems – that such stories are wanted by the section of the populous what care X, Y or Z get up to in their private lives?

Does then an individual have a right to privacy, to not have salacious details of their lives that they did not themselves reveal spread across various newspapers and magazines? No, I do not think that they do. A privacy law means that state force is being used to suppress information – however irrelevant it may be – and that goes against Libertarianism as I see it.

If a publication however prints false or malicious allegations then the subject of their hatchet job has every right to sue. The only shame is that it is can be expensive and time consuming to do so as a recent piece over on Anna’s and some of the comments it generated showed.

In the long run the only way I see things changing is when people finally grow up and stop encouraging such behaviour by not purchasing the papers and magazines involved.

Given the falling circulation figures for the dead tree press it seems we are, perhaps, heading in the right direction.

A rose by any other name…

Amongst the many reasons to detest our former governing party was their propensity to tell people what they should be eating, drinking, thinking and doing. Their exit was greeted with a sigh of relief and the thought that such Nannying tendencies would be a thing of the past. Those of us who thought that (and I have to include myself in this) were wrong. Nanny is still there but has been renamed. Rather than hectoring us, our new government wishes to ‘nudge’ us.

Meet Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago, co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness and an economist who, as a leading exponent of ‘nudge theory’ has been advising David Cameron and his Orwellian sounding ‘Behavioural Insight Team’.

Nudge theory is described as being ‘libertarian paternalism’ and is, according to Wikipedia, about

help[ing] you make the choices you would make for yourself — if only you had the strength of will as well as the sharpness of mind. But unlike ‘hard’ paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aims only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.

Well, they have the paternalism bit right, that’s for sure. All they have described is the process by which parents (should) raise their children without mentioning the inevitable discipline that is required when the boundaries are pushed too far.

One problem though – people who we legally consider to be adults are not children and thus should not be treated as such. Any attempt to skew my decisions towards something I don’t want to do is infringing on my freedom of choice. If I want to buy a round, eat food that isn’t health, donate my organs, give to charity or smoke I’ll bloody well do so because I want to – not because a politician such as Oliver Letwin has decreed that he would like to see me doing so.

This is not Libertarianism and can’t be. Libertarianism allows people to make their own choices (so long as they do not mean violence to another) and accepts that this will result in some mistakes being made. This is normal behaviour and is part of the how humans have learnt over the last x million years. You can advise that something that it is not a good idea but you can’t in anyway force them not to do it by removing that option.

Paternalism is control by another name. It is about reducing the level of choice available to someone simply because a busy body who thinks they know best has decided that some choices are ‘bad choices’ and that they should therefore be taken away.

The new government may have whitewashed Nanny and given her a new name but do not be fooled. She is still there, in the background, determined to interfere with and control the population and she must be resisted at all cost.

Charity begins at…? Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, the Government’s spirit of giving seems to be in full swing this festive season. Not content with our money, it is after our bodies as well.

Yes, all right, before the howls of anguish start, I am being slightly dramatic.

Anyone who has had to fill in a D1 form to obtain a new or alter details on their existing driving licence will be aware that for quite some time now there has been a section to allow you to indicate that you would like to join the organ donor register. Completion of this section has been entirely voluntary.

But not any longer – or not after July 1st anyway. The Public Health minister, Anne Milton, has announced (news report only I’m afraid, I haven’t been able to find her actual statement) that from then on anyone filling out the form will have to indicate one of the following responses:

  • Yes I would like register on the NHS Organ Donor Register;
  • I do not want to answer this question now;
  • or I am already registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

It might not seem like much of a change, indeed the second answer is perhaps much the same as skipping over the section completely. The problem is that this change is forcing people to give a government mandated answer – and there isn’t a ‘No’ option. My organs are my property and it is up to me what I do with them, not for the state to reduce my say in the matter to a choice of “yes; already have done; ask me again later”.

It isn’t even a one time answer. Legally one has to notify the DVLA of every change of address as well as renewing the photo card portion of the licence every 10 years and then there is every extension when you get past 70. Each time the state gets to nag you again. Each time the question and the possible answers may change. How long before mission creep means that every person who wants a driving licence is automatically enrolled on the organ donor register?

Over the top? Not really. The likes of the BHF would like to see organ donation become an opt-out thing where everyone is included unless they say otherwise. That to me is tantamount to an organisation declaring that it owns your body unless you choose to take that ownership back and is completely unacceptable. The choice should always be mine to make. Anything else is unacceptable force by an outside agency and should be opposed.

And before anyone complains, I am not against organ donation. I am simply against the idea of someone else making the decision for me.