Imagine somebody tells you that two consenting adults should not be able to trade, say, drugs or sex for money. He tells you that it’s in their best interest not to trade such things. Drugs aren’t healthy, he says, and sex workers may catch diseases.
But he doesn’t stop there: it’s not just a recommendation. He says somebody—usually the government—should forcefully prevent people from conducting such trades, and punish them by putting them in metal cages if they do. This, he claims, is also in their best interest, because without this threat they might trade anyway. (Note that this false conclusion became inevitable because of his incompetence alone: coercion is not the only way to ‘get’ others to do something. Persuasion is the peaceful alternative. But it requires competence at dealing with others, which coercion does not, so coercion always seems easier to the incompetent.)
Does he stop there? No. He argues the government should force independent third parties who have nothing to do with drugs or sex to finance this violent paternalism through taxation; that it should likewise imprison those who resist that force, and murder them when they try to escape. This, he argues, is in society’s best interest. After all, imagine a world in which people are free to use and fuck for money! We could never have that. Some things are worth protecting, violently if necessary. So he claims.
In short, he goes from
1) People shouldn’t use drugs; to
2) People should be forced not to use drugs; to
3) They should be put in metal cages when they resist that force; to
4) Other people should be forced to ensure there’s no drug use; to
5) They, too, should be put in metal cages when they resist force
It’s hard to overstate how much pessimism and violent thinking is necessary to get from one step to the next. Between every step there are moral and logical gaps that cry out for an explanation.
The first step alone rests on the mistaken assumption that we should make other people’s business our business. People are forced to learn to do this as children when school turns them into altruists. Note that altruism, as Ayn Rand explains in the video in that linked post, does not just mean helping others when one can and wants to. Instead, it means being forced to help others; that one must always put one’s own needs below the needs of others. As a result, one believes that others have a claim on one’s own life—and, by implication, that oneself has a claim on others’ lives. The result: everyone has a claim on everyone else’s life. (If that sounds inconsistent, that’s because it is.)
How does our hypothetical lover of violence get from “people shouldn’t do x” to “people should be forced not to do x”? He must be very committed to the altruist lie.
How does he get from there to “people should be put in metal cages when they resist force”? Again, it seems to take a special dedication to altruism.
Perhaps the biggest logical and moral gap is between steps 3 and 4—that, for some unexplained reason, others should be forced to pay for all this—and then, again, in step 5, that they should be forced to pay for it with their life if not with their money. Altruism is surely part of the explanation here again.
Now, why does it never occur to him that there is another way—persuasion—to get people not to trade* drugs or sex? Because he’s a pessimist: he does not believe that persuasion is possible or desirable, which is a special case of thinking that progress is not possible or desirable. Why does it never occur to him that it’s not his nor anyone else’s job to police other people’s peaceful behavior? Because again, he’s an altruist. He believes that other people should be controlled, and that he himself should be controlled as well. And, being the imbecile that he is, his only tool for enforcing control is punishment.
So punishment is a sign of pessimism on the part of the punisher. It’s a mechanistic rule for dealing with a problem absent some new knowledge that would need to be created first. It puts the onus completely on the victim of violence to create knowledge and absolves the perpetrator of that responsibility completely. The victim is forced to create knowledge for how to avoid future force—not necessarily for how to do what he’s told—while the perpetrator creates no new knowledge. If they cooperated, on the other hand, they would both engage in creativity. They may solve the problem in such a way that they’re both happy. Moreover, if they do this often enough, with many different people, they may get better at problem-solving with others, and it will get easier.
Societies that employ punishment to control their citizens are deeply pessimistic. Both the left and right are guilty of this: the left when they try to, say, force masks on people, and the right when they wage their “war on drugs”. There’s always a way to solve problems in such a way that everyone involved profits. It may be hard to find at times, but finding solutions to common problems is a skill that can be developed. And when persuasion fails, our standard assumption shouldn’t be that the other party “won’t listen to reason” or fails to see the “manifest truth"—we should entertain the idea that it’s because we need to get better at persuasion. I’d like to see both governments and parents entertaining that idea more.
* When I say “trade sex” I mean “voluntarily exchanging money for sex”. I don’t mean sex trafficking.