If one has to live in a society or environment where the State is in control, what acts should be prohibited? Of course, prohibition may not work (all one has to do is look at the distribution of illegal drugs in the marketplace); however, for some reason or another (whether it's about control or just good intentions with a lack of critical thinking) "we the people" (or the State) thinks it's at least worth trying to prohibit certain conduct or things (again, without thinking of the negative consequences).
In Vices Are Not Crimes, written way back in 1875, Lysander Spooner applied a critical thinking process where he endlessly questioned the State's prohibition laws. He understood what we similarly see today: that prohibition does not work. But he also saw a variety of other problems with prohibition.
For example, Spooner realized that inherent in any prohibition law is hypocrisy. If the State prohibits the possession or use of one type of conduct or thing, in order to be consistent, it must also prohibit ALL types of conduct or things.
But what about all the other stuff that the State prohibits that doesn't harm the person or property of another? You know, like possession of marijuana or possession of a firearm by a convicted felon? (both felonies that often carry punishments of more than 10 years in jail - which we, as taxpayers, pay for btw). Well, Spooner calls these prohibitions vices. But in contrast to crimes, which harm another person, vices are "acts by which a man harms himself or his property." In other words, the State MUST intervene in order to "help" a person from himself! (and actual violence towards himself or others is not even required).
So what are some of the examples of vices? Spooner provides a short list:
- Tobacco chewing;
- Opium eating;
- Corset wearing;
- Waste of property;
- Avarice (greed); and
Interestingly enough, many of these vices are still viewed as vices today (in other words, not much has changed; in fact, many of these vices were discussed by Aristotle many many years ago).
A quick Google search of additional vices results in a tubmblr page and include:
- Secrecy; and
Now, there are likely many more vices. But these are just a few.
Recently, I tried to come up with a modern list of vices more comparable to Spooner's "smoking," "gambling," and "corset wearing" examples:
- Using social media;
- Playing video games;
- Rap music;
- Cellphones; and
- Wearing skinny jeans.
But when I took a step back after thinking about these examples, I started thinking about judgement. (Interestingly, I couldn't find that vice on the tumblr list of dozens of vices). Then I started to think about my role in defining vices - I mean, who am I to say what a vice is? Who is Spooner? Who is tumblr? (the one possible exception would be Chuck Norris).
Exactly how do any of the above prohibited items cause harm to oneself? And what about the examples of conduct? In other words, what's wrong with a little bit of aggression or pride? What about video games and skinny jeans? (well, wearing skinny jeans could be a vice - I mean, just think about the harm caused to both your crotch and reputation!).
Of course, the examples above shouldn't be prohibited as they are not crimes, but they aren't necessarily vices either. It's just conduct. And they are just things. Who am I to judge what is considered "harmful" as applied to someone else? Hell, most people (including myself) can't even think critically about what is harmful to themselves individually.
Now, this thinking doesn't change the definition of crimes. It only discards the notion of vices. Thus, "acts by which one man harms the person or property of another" should still be prohibited (even though the prohibition will still not end such harmful conduct). Not only because it violates the "natural rights" of man (whatever that is), but it just makes sense.
Accordingly, the State can begin to discard the current prohibitions of drugs, firearms, etc. And if not, people must demand that everything - including all the vice examples above - be prohibited.
Well, don't look now, I think I see thousands of lobbyists heading to Washington, D.C. right now! I guess Congress will just have to find a way to be back in session. After all, there's money to be made!