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Argumentum ad Baculum

November 16th, 2005 · 5 Comments

One of the things that irritates me out of all proportion about smoking banners is the self-righteousness with which they push their proposals to bully others into catering to their preferences—at its most nauseous when it involves painting the non-smoker as a put upon victim. You’ve probably heard some cretin insist that when he walks up to a bar where the owner has decided to permit patrons to smoke— where people clearly are, in fact, smoking—and decides to walk in anyway, it’s the smokers who are “imposing” on him. Often, he’ll even cite that popular encapsulation of Mill’s harm principle: “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.”

In my less Buddhist moods, I find myself thinking that a poetic reply would be to punch those people square in the face, then remonstrate them in a sort of shocked, scolding tone: “You know, your right to swing your head ends at my fist!” Motion is relative, after all.

Tags: Law



5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Matt McIntosh // Nov 16, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    I do believe you’ve just stumbled into a refutation of the negative/positive liberty distinction.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Nov 16, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t say “stumbled” if you’re talking about the basic Coaseian point–it’s not as though the thought had never occured to me before. And I don’t know that it’s really a “refutation” either, so much as a demonstration that the negative/positive distinction only makes sense against some background of rights assignments. If the point is that “negative liberty” won’t do as a foundational concept, because you need some independent moral ground for the rights assignments upon which “negative liberty” is parasitic, then, well, sure. But the next move is to demand the justification, not rest with that limited counter.

  • 3 Rasselas // Nov 16, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Sometimes I think journalists are slightly overinvested in debates about smoking and drinking, like when they venture beyond tales of their own coolness to fantasies of violence.

  • 4 Gil // Nov 17, 2005 at 2:57 am

    You have Buddhist moods?

  • 5 Roach // Nov 22, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    It’s funny you make that point, because that’s essentially Ronald Coase’s point. That even the “no physical invasion” principle is not sacred. That in a world without transaction costs, initial entitlements would not matter and goods would end up with their most valuable user, including “goods” like enjoying a smoke free environment.

    My problem with the smoking crusaders is that it’s not an either/or thing now. Nothing stops any restaurant from going all smoke free now, and restaurants in particular often do. People that like to go to bars, though, often like to smoke.

    That said, nothing in the liberty principle per se prevents the regulation of nuisances with third party effects, whether it’s pollution, loud music, or cigarette smoke.