Category Archives: Individual Rights

A Thought Experiment: Fraternity Initiation Gone Horribly Wrong


I would like to conduct a little thought experiment.

It seems that quite a few people have very strong opinions about the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Some of you see this as a race issue, others as a police issue (cops either almost always have halos or devil horns), and a few see this as the human tragedy it truly is. Some believe that there simply isn’t enough proof to bring charges against the six police officers. They are being railroaded and overcharged some say (I would like to point out that overcharging non-cops and railroading non-cops in the justice system is an everyday occurrence). I would like to remove these variables and see if we come up with a different conclusion if we change the actors.

Let’s say that instead of six cops putting Freddie Gray in a paddy wagon its six fraternity brothers (of any race you wish, but let’s say they are all of the same race…use your imagination) from the (fill in the blank) chapter doing an initiation. At this point in the story, our analogue for Freddie Gray is a pledge who wants to join this fraternity. Let’s call him Jim.

Are you with me so far?

Now that we know who the actors are let’s continue…

Several of the fraternity brothers find Jim and start the initiation process. They put Jim in hand cuffs and call the rest of the fraternity brothers who eventually pull up in a van. As they begin to put Jim in the van, he begins to panic.

“I can’t breathe, I need my inhaler!” Jim says.

The fraternity brothers ignore Jim’s concerns and proceed to put him in the back of the van.
Jim sits on a bench with both his hands and feet cuffed but not restrained in a seat belt. The van peels out down the road. Jim is bouncing around the van. Whatever else happened inside the van remains unclear. Did the fraternity brothers get a little too rough with him? What caused Jim’s neck injury? Was his injuries sustained just from bouncing around with his hands and feet bound?

We don’t know for sure.

The driver stops the van and checks in on Jim. Clearly, Jim appears to be hurt but the driver offers no medical attention, shrugs, and returns to the driver’s seat.

After driving a few more blocks, the van stops to pick up a second fraternity pledge. Jim, no longer really “into” being a pledge says at least twice that he needs to be taken to a hospital or at the very least, dropped off. Jim is having difficulty breathing. The driver again ignores Jim’s pleas and obvious medical needs.

What happens next remains controversial. Some news outlets say the other pledge witness Jim trying to injure himself! A day or two later, the person claiming to be the other pledge says that he was being misquoted and said that Jim did not try to injure himself. Even more news stories claimed that the original story was true and the second story was false.Dr. David Samadi writing an article for The New York Daily News writes that an injury of that type being self-inflicted is “highly unlikely.”

After driving around a bit more the van stops again. Jim is on the floor and unresponsive but the frat brothers again decide not to take him to a hospital or offer any kind of assistance. Still bound at his hands and feet and still not secured in a seat belt, the van makes its way to the frat house.
When the van finally stops at the frat house, the driver notices that Jim isn’t breathing. The frat brothers finally come to terms with just how dire the situation is and dial 911.

Jim is transported to the hospital via ambulance. About a week later, Jim dies of injuries to his spine.

In the autopsy report, the cause of death is ruled a homicide.

In the weeks that followed Jim’s death, there were all sorts of rumors about his character. He had been arrested several times – mostly drug offenses. Stories on social media also claimed that Jim had sustained the spine injuries in a car accident prior to the fraternity initiation and had a surgery to repair the damage (this story turned out to be false but many people still believe it to be true). Furthermore, the toxicology report revealed that Jim had heroin and marijuana in his system.

Now that these variables are a little different, is there anyone out there who is going to tell me that in such a scenario these six frat brothers would not receive at least some of the following charges?

-Manslaughter by vehicle (gross negligence on the part of the driver – 10 years)

-Manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence on the part of the driver – 3 years)

-False imprisonment (the remaining five frat brothers – 1 count each)

-Manslaughter (1 count for each frat brother)

Based on these findings by the DA, would you say these frat brothers are being over charged? Should they be charged at all? Jim was alive and well before the frat brothers picked him up. Now he is dead. Something happened while he was under the control of the frat brothers.

And what about Jim’s arrest record? (Note: arrests are not the same as convictions) What about the toxicology report showing heroin and marijuana in his system? Assuming this is true, does this somehow absolve the frat brothers of any wrong doing, at least partially? If so how?

Final question: is your conclusion to the above scenario similar to the real life Freddie Gray case? If not, why not?

As to other ancillary comments about the protests, riots, or other cases…post those elsewhere as they are not relevant to this discussion.

Free Speech Aside, Why We Must Defend Those Who Draw Muhammad

Callimachi free speech aside

Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest’?”

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi asked that question on Twitter at 8:08 p.m. on May 3, within hours of gunmen opening fire at a “draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas.

It is tempting to answer Callimachi’s question dismissively. Speech needs no why. Freedom of expression is its own raison d’être.

That is in fact what I believe.

I am a freedom fetishist.

But perhaps we have strayed so far from our classically liberal tradition, become so complacent inside the bounds of our own civility, that we must deign again to explain the why of it.

Free speech aside, why depict Jesus Christ floating in urine? Why paint the Virgin Mary splattered by dung and surrounded by hovering vaginas? Why fake an interview wherein Jerry Falwell confesses to losing his virginity with his mother? Why produce the musical The Book of Mormon?

Free speech aside, why does anyone, ever, do or say or think or draw or write anything profane or blasphemous or provocative or controversial or impolite or mean-spirited or harsh or unkind?

Do only certain answers to that question justify the exercise of such freedom? Insulting to Christianity 15-0505

I sit as I write this in a crowded coffee shop. The tables are small and closely spaced. There are men seated at the two tables on either side of me. All three of us have matching disposable cups of overpriced coffee sitting precariously on the edges of our small tables crowded beside our silver laptops.

There is no way for me to turn my laptop to prevent them both from seeing the screen. After reading the Wikipedia entries for the artwork I mentioned above, I peruse galleries of Charlie Hebdo covers looking for examples of images targeting Christian and Judaic ideas.

Ideas. Not people.

CircumcisionI wonder to myself, what do these men sitting so closely beside me think of these images? By now, they have surely glanced over and seen them on my screen. What meaning have they ascribed to them, to my perusing of them here inside the narrow confines of this crowded coffee shop?

I find my mind flowing back through the years to another table in another time. It is more than a decade and a half ago. The table is bigger, square instead of round. In a lunch deli, not a coffee shop, and not at all crowded. I am having lunch with a friend. It is before the days of smartphones. We are reading different sections of a shared newspaper.

An article captures my attention. I summarize it aloud for my friend. A couple struggling with fertility sought help from a fertility clinic. Ultimately the wife was implanted with embryos that were successfully fertilized using her eggs and donor sperm. A baby was born.

Only there had been a mix-up with the donor sperm used by the clinic. The baby does not have the right look to her parents’ way of thinking.

Her skin is too dark. Her hair is too kinky.

The parents are suing. The article closes with a quote in which they insist they are not racist.

“Right. We aren’t racist,” I mimic, sarcastically. “We just don’t want this baby. For entirely nonracist reasons.”

My friend snickers. We both get it. We are young and smug and sure of ourselves, signaling our mutual membership in the best of all possible tribes. We start riffing off each other, back and forth, mimicking all the things we imagine people blissfully unaware of their own contrivances say in such circumstances.

We’re not racist. We just don’t think the races should mix.

We’re not racist. This is about the children.

We’re not racist. We have black friends.

A man at a corner table looks up from behind his own newspaper and frowns at us.

Jerk. I immediately assign him to one of those other, less desirable tribes. One whose members remain fatuously assured of their enlightened values right up until the moment they are handed that baby. The swaddled bundle of Other that forces them to confront the things they had until that point been able to deny existed inside their own minds.




Does he think we are the—?

Did he misunderstand? We were only…

What? I struggled to think of the right words to describe what we were doing.

Making fun.



I am fifteen years away from knowing what Charlie Hebdo is.

Poe’s Law is not yet a thing.

All of sudden I see how the view might look from his table. I am no longer sure which of us belongs in which tribe. Which of us is blinded by our own contrivances.

It is not always obvious.

It is not always possible to find a single objective truth in satire, in mockery, in fiction, in art. It is not always easy to define the line between the thing mocked and the mockery itself. Between racism and the illustration of racism. Between targeting ideas and targeting people. To avoid the place where laughter collides with conscience. To know if we are punching up or down.

To avoid the inherent limitations of the views from our own tables.

But it is in those moments when self-doubt obliterates contrivance that paradigms shift. It is in the moments when we finally sense the chinks in our own armor of righteousness that we fully appreciate the limitations of our perspectives. It is where we straddle those lines that cannot be drawn that real debate occurs and social change is worked.

There is inherent value in the speech that drives us to the place where the curtain is pulled back.

And that is why.

As Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors, writes on his Steam Thing blog:

It’s possible, of course, to see the antiracist message of one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as no more than a cover for an underhanded relishing of the racist imagery deployed in it. Parody usually does participate to some extent in the energy of what it parodies; that is one of the risks it runs. Humor is not pure. It speaks to us through our flaws, as well as speaking to us about them—envies and hates, as well as greeds and lusts—and it can’t exist without the license to work with dark materials.

Last year at the University of Iowa, a visiting professor created a sculpture of a Ku Klux Klansman papered with articles about racial tension and violence over the last 100 years. Some people complained that it was racist, and the sculpture was removed. Its creator, Serhat Tanyolacar, intended the sculpture to confront the comfortable assumption that our racial frictions are all safely in the past.

Can one of these interpretations be pronounced objectively correct to the exclusion of the other? They are like conjoined twins—one good, one evil—and you cannot kill one without killing the other.

And that is why.

If the message cannot always be nailed down, neither can the direction of the punch, though that was a criteria for meritorious satire recently advocated by cartoonist Gary Trudeau. An LGBT couple denied photography, floral or catering services will undoubtedly perceive the balance of power differently than the Christian business owner bankrupted for expressing religious values that amount in others’ eyes to politically incorrect discrimination.

Which side controls the narrative about campus “rape culture?”

Does Paul Nungesser have more or less power than Emma Sulkowicz?

Are the targets of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical barbs victims, as Trudeau suggests, or are they oppressors, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others might argue?

[T]o portray an institution that mocks any religion’s sacred cows as villainously “punching down” ignores that religious institutions are very much part of the power structure and have been throughout history.

When you’re challenging the gods, and those who claim to speak for the gods, you are always punching up.

Can we say with certainty that Charlie Hebdo’s (alleged) punching down in France does not help people like Raif Badawi punch up in Saudi Arabia?

Like shifting sands, our perceptions of the balance of power change from setting to setting, issue to issue, moment to moment, always influenced by the view from our table. If we refrain from swinging except in the clear cut cases, satire is sidelined precisely at those moments when we stand on the brink, when social upheavals make the scores too close to call.

And that is why.

But it is not all.

Circumscribing speech based on the sensibilities of out-groups marginalizes and infantilizes the members of those groups. It treats them as children who must be shielded from the harsh confrontations that members of other, more superior groups might be expected to handle. As David Frum noted in responding to Trudeau:

It’s almost as if he thinks of underdogs as literal dogs. If a dog bites a person who touches its dinner, we don’t blame the dog. The dog can’t help itself. The person should have known better.

In this manner, Trudeau and his cohorts would return fierce debate to the exclusive province of those—white, male and Judeo-Christian—who by dint of their power and privilege can be expected to handle such heady and taxing matters responsibly.

Out-groups are not comprised of children. Nor are they homogenous. Among their many victims, extremists who call themselves Muslims kill moderates who also call themselves Muslims. Is Charlie Hebdo punching down against the latter—or punching up on their behalf?

People of good faith can reach different answers.

And that is why.

Finally, and here is the crux of it, we cannot make the world safe for the people who would punch up unless we find it our hearts to defend those who will use the same freedom to punch down.

I used to differentiate between government censorship and private consequences for unpopular speech. It was the wrong distinction. The meaningful difference is between non-forceful responses to speech—firing, boycotting, bankrupting, and shunning, all of which are fair game—versus forceful responses, which never, ever are.

It is not functionally different whether the thugs suppressing expression are the official ones we call “government” or a renegade band of religious zealots. If we give in to the latter on the theory that they are somehow exempted from the resistance we would put up against the former, the zealots simply become a shadow government of censors.

We are no less unfree.

Bosch Fawstin's  winning entry in the Garland, Texas "Draw Muhammad" contest.

Bosch Fawstin’s winning entry in the Garland, Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest.

If we want freedom to exist for the Raif Badawis of the world, we must defend its exercise by the Pam Gellars.

The peaceful way to do that, to render violence counterproductive to its own ends, is by mirroring the speech that would be suppressed. Even when it is offensive. Even when it is blasphemous. Even when it is rude, childish, stupid, unpopular, pointless or unnecessarily provocative.

Even when we don’t agree. Especially then.

And that is why.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:




Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote of the Day: Baltimore 2015 Edition

what ifI’ve been thinking quite a bit about the situation in Baltimore and the very state of our culture. This Facebook status update I came across yesterday is very worthy of repeating here.

I really wish people would stop posting Freddie Gray’s criminal record, as if that makes him deserving of having his spine broken while in police custody, killing him. You can’t claim to be a supporter of constitutional rights, yet care nothing of Freddie Gray’s rights. This brother was no less deserving of his life than any white collar criminal. I don’t support rioting & looting, but I also won’t support those who think his life was worth less than the next person, or that he got what he deserved. He was the victim in this case, and his record is irrelevant… – Talitha McEachin

Agreed. Unless Freddie Gray presented a presented a threat to the lives of the police officers while he was in custody*, the police had no right to use the force they used that ultimately ended his life. Whether he was arrested one time or a thousand has nothing to do with how Gray was treated.

*Of course at this point, we don’t really know what happened while Gray was in custody. This is yet another argument for the notion that each and every moment the police are interacting with a suspect that these interactions should be recorded and made available (eventually) to the public. There’s simply no excuse for this not to be the policy of every police department in 2015.

Yes, There Really Are Two Americas. Look At How Different The South Is


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the War Between the States. The Northern states, fighting to preserve the Union and (later) to end slavery, defeated the Southern states in a war that resulted in over 600,000 dead.

The war all but ended the concept of state soverignty as the question of secession was decided on the battlefield. The war also gave birth to concept of American nationalism as Americans began to consider themselves as American before being a citizen of their state.

However, America is probably now divided more than it has been in decades. The nation seems to be hopelessly gridlocked politically. Meanwhile, the culture wars are in full swing with social justice warriors going to war against traditionalists and libertarians. There really are two Americas.

What explains the division? I argue that culture and region probably provide the best clues to the division of America.

The Economist had an excellent article earlier this month describing how the South is still culturally different from the rest of the country. Why is that the case?


The dividing line is actually religion.

Religion is a better explanation of southern exceptionalism. The civil war divided most of America’s Protestant sects, says Mark Noll of the University of Notre Dame. Both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches split into northern branches, which opposed slavery, and southern branches, which did not. Even after slavery ended, theological divisions persisted. In the north, which saw mass immigration from all over the world in the decades after the war, Protestant churches had to find some accommodation with Jews, Catholics and, eventually, non-believers.



In the South the share of those born outside America (which was low to begin with) actually fell after the civil war. New migrants moved west or north but rarely south. Because of this, southern churches could hold more traditional views without challenge. Those tented revival meetings that were such a feature of southern Protestantism were not intended to win converts so much as to purify and strengthen beliefs that were already there.



The Southern Baptist movement, which is strongly associated with the “values voters” who favour the Republicans, has its origins in support for slavery. Southern Baptists have long since updated their views on race, as the many black Southern Baptist pastors attest, but the movement’s social conservatism endures. And southerners are unusually observant: Utah is the only non-southern state where church attendance is as high as in Dixie.



Southerners are also known for being fiercely individualistic. As the rest of America becomes more secular, it should be no surprise that the region still strongly believes in the Protestant work ethic and tends to be more supportive of limited government. They’re also willing to forgo a large portion of the safety net because religious charities will largely step up and fill the role.

Another interesting thing about Southern culture is how it tends to leave its mark on surrounding cultures. There are reasons why in particular heavily Catholic south Louisiana, pre-dominately Catholic Hispanics in Texas, and the Catholic Cuban-American community in Miami are more conservative than Catholics in New England and the Midwest. Those Southern values of individualism, hard work, personal responsibility and family values have rubbed off on those communities.

Here’s an interesting map from The Economist article.

Courtesy: The Economist

Courtesy: The Economist

A lot of the orange on the map corresponds to the red state/ blue state maps on presidential elections. The more secular states tend to vote Democratic while the more religious states vote Republican. The views on abortion and gay marriage also tend to align with religious viewpoints.

As you can see, America is deeply divided between a more religious and ironically more individualistic South and Midwest and the more secular coasts. Could the differences between these two Americas lead to secession and civil war? Who knows.

Now, I don’t believe you have to be religious to be moral and that all religious people are moral. But I do believe that a free society only survives when it’s populated by a moral people. The purpose of this post is not to pass judgement on anyone’s religious beliefs.

Let me close with something. We have quite a few non-religious and atheist contributors here who believe in free markets and secular values. I value them all and I’m proud to call them friends. I also know they’re the exception, rather than the rule among secularists. Most atheists generally lean to the left and conservative and libertarian atheists tend to be the exception than the norm.

Here’s an exit question: do you think many secularists replace religion with a belief in the state and social justice and that’s why they’re hostile to limited government? Let us know in the comments.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
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