swimmerguy's picture

I know I'm somewhat biased on this point, being gay, but I've always been a big fan of Autonomy.
There are some people who base their values on Maximizing benefits and minimizing harms, or Responsibility, or Care, or Fairness, but I've always been into Autonomy.

Well, I also really respect Responsibility, knowing you have to do things, owning that and doing it, I respect nothing more.

But, besides that, I just like free choice. I say legalize drugs, alcohol, sodomy, bestiality, incest, polygamy, I don't care what satanic orgies people are having.
As long as someone is doing something that doesn't negatively affect anyone else, it seems absolutely ridiculous to me that someone can be thrown in jail for that.
I've always been pro Autonomy, but as time has gone on, I've shifted more and more that way.

The only punch I pull is with children. Yeah, make drugs and alcohol legal and everything, but say no one can use them if they're under 18.
I love choice of people, but it's better to be informed choice. Of course, some people will never have informed choice, but that's their uninformed choice to make.

I don't know why I wanted to mention it... When I thought of it there seemed more to say... I guess it's just that simple.


elph's picture

That Word: Autonomy

It has a nice sound to it... it just rolls off the tongue...

But... what should we (as a society) do when one's practice of autonomy prevents others from pursuing theirs?

Should there not be laws that preclude one's behaving in a manner that negatively impact the overall welfare of others?

I suspect that the concept you're championing might be better described as objective morality.

Question: Is there no danger of unrestricted autonomy for all evolving into anarchy?

swimmerguy's picture

Was I not clear?

If your "autonomy" prevents someone else from pursuing theirs, it's not autonomy, and you shouldn't be able to do it.

EVERY SINGLE THING WE DO affects the overall wellfare of others. If I play video games, I'm using power, which comes from coal, which is polluting the air everyone else is breathing. Sometimes there will be general affects on society, but that's not anything new, it's always been there.

I don't understand your question. Autonomy does not beget anarchy?

No one escapes from life alive

elph's picture

Indeed... You Were Clear!

How could I have missed...

"As long as someone is doing something that doesn't negatively affect anyone else, it seems absolutely ridiculous to me that someone can be thrown in jail for that."

...and anarchy was seen to be the likely consequence in a society that did not have laws restricting full autonomy in cases of where such laws are needed to protect the welfare of others.

Lesson learned! ;(

And... acknowledging Max's contribution (below) and your response... I can offer only an apology for my poor reading. Although... I do prefer the concept of objective morality in place of autonomy.

Uncertain's picture

I disagree

Chad, you're a smart guy so I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and not sugarcoat crap and engage with you directly.

I'm certainly a guy for autonomy as well, but don't you think there are limits? The thing is autonomy is valuable but it should not be absolute. Broadly, there are two reasons why states can legitimately limit autonomy. The first is to prevent harm from others, the second is to prevent harm to to the self. The latter is a bit more controversial, but just think about it for a second.

For the former, I'm going to ask you, if I'm going to kill someone is that legally (or morally) within my autonomy to do so? I hope your answer would be no. Similarly, the list you mention potentially harms others. Many drugs are banned not simply because it harms the individual, but because they harm others such as increasing incidents of abuse, assault and crime in general. For things such as beastiality, it really depends whether you believe animals are legitimate rights holders. The fact that I can't kill you, is that my liberty only extends as far as other people's rights can impose a duty on me. So if animals have rights, then correlatively you have a duty not to hurt them. Some other people might go down the track of appealing to emotions such as 'ew disgusting', but those arguments are weak and I will not entertain them. The fact that I can put my penis anywhere but not in a chicken is the same as me having the liberty (or autonomy) to put my knife anywere except in your chest. Of course, why we should give animals (or people rights) is fitting for another discussion. Even this harm principle applies to polygamy, because the state believes the most stable and beneficial unit in society is a monogous relationship. It has health, economic and emotional benefits, and polygamy as an opportunity cost thereby imposes cetain social costs onto society if it was chosen (similar to the use of marijuana which looks like it doesn't harm other people, but it arguably reduces productivity which is a social cost - similar case goes towards criminalising suicides). The important thing is to look at the big picture of harms.

The other reason why states limit autonomy is preventing harm to the self (this is called paternalism). Like I said, this is a bit more controversial, because each person has a different conception of a good life. The threshold of intervention should therefore be very high. However, this is usually justfied on three grounds. Information gaps, addiction and rationality. The first also applies to your example of drugs. Many individuals don't know what is harmful to them, so society pre-emptively discourages those behaviour. Even if an individual is educated on those risks, then the second point comes in, which is that they may want to stop but unable to because of their addiction. In those cases you can argue that the person is no longer even acting autonomously. This is why we have restrictions even on 'legal' drugs and gambling such as advertising laws, sales laws and quality cotnrol. Finally, even if a person is informed and does not give a shit about their addiction, then their rationality can be called into question. It is when the state believes the individual is not making worthwhile cost benefit assessments, usually discounting future costs. That's why governments tax you for compulsory superannuation schemes, because they believe people can't make rational choices to mitigate future costs when you retire. Similary this applies to certain drugs as well. Another example, autocannibalism is illegal in most countries, because the state believes it can preserve your future autonomy better by preserving your arm which you intend to eat, which you will probably regret in the future and therefore not be considered a rational choice to make. Furthermore (sort of the fouth reason), there are also restrictions in contract law which include the minimum wage and not being able to contract yourself into slavery, because power structures would allow exploitation if autonomy was absolute (think sweatshops and prostitution).

The key thing to remember is that state intervention is not always an evil thing. Autonomy should not be absolute because the state often takes it away only to 1) preserve it in the future, 2) protect/promote your autonomy and 3) protect/promote others' autonomy. Your autonomy only exists because there are limits on others from taking it away from you.

swimmerguy's picture


That was longer than my journal, I think. I'll address your points in order then.

Yes, there are most definitely limits on autonomy. Every single law we make takes away some sort of freedom or choice we have. I don't have the right to kill you, you don't have the right to kill me. That's fair to me.

I mention that I support autonomy to the point where it doesn't directly affect other people. How they say in my Health classes that drugs affect everyone you know, if I'm killing myself with drugs, and you're devastated about that, I'm not doing anything directly to you. Any pain you take will be your own, maybe connected to me, but a part of life all the same.
And yes, there are problems with making drugs legal in that they do lead to problems with hurting people in abuse cases and general crime, but that doesn't affect what I think. Making drugs legal wouldn't be any new thing. We have alcohol legal, where it's legal to drink it, but it's illegal to drink it and then drive, or abuse someone while drunk. It's simply the risk you take in getting drunk or high. If you don't want to be hurt by a drunk or addict, avoid them.
And bestiality is not the same as murder. You could give a scientific assessment to a turkey and find it is not self aware. Therefore it cannot be aware of suffering and has no rights. There are monkeys I would say it could be called rape if you abused them, as they are self aware. It might have to be just like made illegal for self aware species.
I'm still firm on polygamy. Yes, monogamy has benefits to society, but it's not directly harming anyone else to be polygamistic. And by that logic, you could put lazy students and homeless people in jail. If you're going to a party instead of going to work or school, that's technically a deficit to society. But, more strikingly so, it's a deficit to you, and one you can take. Society makes it's own choices, and society is made of people making their own choices. Many things we do negatively affect society, and that's just the way it is. We're here to have fun.

I totally believe that they should have health classes about drugs and stuff. Let people know they're bad. Don't let children use them.
But let responsible adults who know what they're doing use them. Cover them with warning labels, make sure people know exactly what they're doing. And if they decide, it's their own grave they're digging.
Addiction is a problem. But, the solution is not to put addicted people into jail. It's to help them. I believe that for the most part, only they can seek treatment. If they sign the papers for rehab, then they no longer have the choice. But, if they don't want to go to rehab, despite people asking them to, I don't believe it ethical to make them.
Unless, that is, they harm someone else, or OD, or something else that takes away their awareness. Then, put them into a treatment program, and help them, instead of punish them. Punishment is just fucking STUPID.
Rationality is another problem. You could test someone to test if they are pshycologically sound. If they are, then even if they're irrational, we have no right to force them to do anything. People have a right to be irrational.
Self mutilation, well that's a little uglier. I still say they should be able to do it. In todays society, you can make much smaller mistakes, like 12 year olds receiving nude pics of classmates and registering as a sex offender? A little less than intentionally eating your arm. Hell, getting put in jail for autocannibalism could screw up your future life just as bad as actually doing it. I think people should be able to make stupid mistakes, and sometimes they're bad stupid mistakes.
And there should be laws about exploitation, if you don't want to work for that little, but you should be able to work for as little as you want, as long as you want to. I'm a big fan of minimum wage.

On most of these points, someone doing something like shooting heroin is not taking away autonomy or anything away from anyone else.

No one escapes from life alive

Uncertain's picture

Well, i can't leave that post unresponded

While you did mention that you would only allow autonomy unless it directly harmed other people, you also said you would legalise all drugs for adults, so my discussion didn't focus on your disclaimer but more on the compatibility of your claims. The thing is most currently illegalised drugs do harm other people notwithstanding of course that they'd exaggerate things a bit in health class. Amphetamines are often associated with assault and murders. Even non stimulant drugs can lead to addiction which either harms the family financially (usually at the expense of their children), or stealing and assault. The reason why alcohol and smoking are legal is because their threshold of harm is a bit lower. I inferred three responses:
1) we should just have regulations
2) if it harms others, then I wont allow it anyway
3) just avoid the drunks

On the first point, there are too many responses. I will focus on two. The first one is sort of a principled issue. If you think laws can legally ban drink driving because it is certainly a harm, don't you think the same logic applies to banning other drugs which you admit leads to crimes because crimes are similar to drink driving because it harms others? Regulation and blanket bans are not inherently different things, it is only a question of the threshold of harm. Secondly, is more a practical issue. Regulation is simply harder. Currently banned drugs would require a lot more regulaton than alcohol. This raises fiscal problems. Furthermore, the onus would be on you to have a regulatory system that can mitigate all the harms of currently illegal drugs. The thing is blanket bans are simply easier, because it is fiscally less demanding, and because the state simply cannot predict exceptional circumstances to deliver proportionality all the time (of course the state does try sometimes, such as our judicial system). Also remember, not everyone is a 'responsible' adult.

On the second point, see the first sentence of first paragraph.

On the third point, I think when you weigh the rights of a drunk who might assault a normal citizen and a normal citizen, it's a no brainer. The responsibility shouldn't be shifted to innocent people to avoid them. I also think this weakens your argument, it's almost like you admitted that they will hurt people and regulations will fail and this is the last resort. Mind you, if you legalise all drugs it won't just be drunkards who want to punch you and fall over, for stimulants like amphetamine it includes spikes in domestic abuse, aggravated assault and murder.

Also, please don't make it seem like I advocated a punitive system. In nowhere did I say that. Of course it is the status quo, but I think the type of appropriate corrective justice is an independent issue from your claims on autonomy. This is because rehabilitative justice isn't mutually exclusive with the banning of drugs. So you can have all your wonderful benefits of rehabilitation but also ban drugs. In fact, I find that more logical than to legalise all drugs and rehabilitate them later. You admit crimes and addiction are two problems. So... oh wait that's why we banned them. If you will the ends of less addiction and crime then you necessarily wills the means.

Similar point, you also say people should be able to make mistakes and learn from them. Again, that's not mutually exclusive with banning drugs right? It's also contradictory. You want them to learn from those mistakes, knowing they are dangerous with all the warning labels, but you don't want the state to ban it. I think the state has the moral obligation to discourage certain behaviour when you have already conceded them to be so harmful. Like, why intentionally leave them the option to fuck up when you can reduce those options in the first place? Also, some choices are irreversible. You can't grow your arm or take your life back.

I don't want to make this too long, but you have two other points on beastiality and polygamy. I kind of anticipated your response. I knew this would become a discussion about animal rights so that's why I said 'why we give rights to animals is fitting for another discussion' because the issue is too complex. I will say this though. I think your conception of why we give animals rights is too narrow. You purported awarenes as a basis for rights as a truism. However, there are many other reasons why we give rights to people, such as being able to feel pain (see Peter Singer) and because it is in their interest (see Mac Cormick), which can be extended to animals. The point is, if awareness is the basis why we give rights then you have to be consistent with humans too (what about disabled or people in a coma, can we rape them? what about babies who might not have awareness? what about if someone is unconscious can someone and molest them if they are never 'aware' of it?), you need to demonstate why your conception is the best.

As for polygamy, I knew you'd bring up other activies which are not conducive to society's productivity. The thing is laws can act in two ways, to encourage or discourage behaviour. When we refer to legal polygamy, we are talking about a legally sanctioned form of union that deserves tax breaks and other legal benefits. When you mention legalisation, we're specifically talking about this extra legal sanction with legal benefits. Of course we're not going to ban polygamous relationships. And no, we're not going to ban people from partying. But neither is the state going to subsidise you each time you want to party your head off. That's the difference.

And no, we don't criminalise lazy people. Unless you live in Singapore or some Nordic states which means you get a fat tax... because oh wait, it actually harms others from burdening the healthcare system (just like if you legalised drugs)! The point is direct and indirect harm doesn't really matter.

The point about the minimum wage is that you cannot legally work for under that wage, even if you want to. Yes, there should be laws about exploitation, but no, indivduals cannot opt out of the minimum wage. You can't have it both ways. If you do then it's no longer the minimum wage and it no longer prevents exploitation because nike can now pay the single mother 70cents an hour because she's desperate... get it?

This is getting too long... so I'll leave it at that.

swimmerguy's picture


This is getting intense.

Most of my debates focuses on marijuana, as it is by far the most common and probably the least severe drug out there. But, for the point of consistency I have to include the heavier ones like amphetamines.
I don't know the exact effects of amphetamines, I've never tried them or seen them tried, or researched them. I should look into that sometime...
But, from what we read in our health books, alcohol was included in 75% of domestic abuse cases.
From the little I know about meth, which know is mostly pulled out of my ass, I don't think that meth causes things like domestic abuse or anything else, but it does cause nasty trips in which someone will not sleep for 8-15 days and have hallucinations.
It seems to me to be more of a personal harm drug. I don't want to stress this point overmuch, but I bet everything meth does, alcohol can do just as much if not more, being of course more common. If they are a financial burden to the children, they are under no obligation to support a tumor to the family. They can have them commited, or stop supporting them until they agree to get help.

I say this again, it is not just drunk driving that is the problem with drinking. It is the drinking, for some, like my parents, makes them giggly and loose with their words and actions. For others, it makes them angry and abusive. Drinking is a potential danger to society. So is having the right to bear arms, as is in our lovely US constitution. If people banned guns, it would most likely block all sorts of crimes. Most crimes deal with guns. But, it is put in our constitution that people have a right to carry them, so we don't have a right to block it. The same goes with drugs and alcohol. They are dangers to society, yes, I admit that. Society would be better without them.
But you have to be aware that they exist and have to be dealt with, which brings me to your other point.
In the US, I forget, it's something like over 50% of people in prison, a million or two people in prison, are there because of nonviolent drug offenses. That is incredibly impractical, much more so than simple regulation. We do it with cigarettes, and sure, it doesn't work that well, but fuck, neither does illegalizing drugs. Obviously, if the prison population is going up with drug offenses and not stopping, the fact that drugs are illegal is notwithstanding with most people when they want a joint.

There are a reason true democracies don't work. For one, it is impractical for people in the US to vote on every single issue that needs voting for. But, for another, most of the general public are simply stupid and don't know anything about the issues they are voting for.
Which is why it makes sense to send people who know what they're doing and who's job it is to make laws, off to make the laws.
But it doesn't make sense to me when people are making decisions about themselves. We should do our very best to make sure they do know exactly what they're doing, but making an optimal society is not in my opinion what the government is for.
As can be gathered from various countries, like China, they are focused on creating an optimal society, while sacrificing personal freedoms.
I say what's the point of having an optimal society if no one likes living in it?

On the 3rd point, I say that it is the responsibility of the citizen to avoid dangers. If you are walking down the street in daylight surrounded by people, you cannot expect to get assaulted by a meth addict.
However, if you are in a big city at night with no defense looking down every dark alley in every slum, you are kinda asking to get attacked. Not all drug addicts, but the dangerous ones, are all at the fringes of society where it is easy to avoid them with common sense.

On your next point, I don't see the point of banning something and then not punishing for it. If you just force every drug addict you see into rehab, they'll probably just come right out after a few meals on public nickel and start smoking hash again. You punish so they don't do it again, and to give them justice. Of course, a punitive system is not the answer to this problem either, I think...

Really, I might, MIGHT, support the banning of drugs if we could really pull it off. But tons of people still use drugs, then get punished for it, which I think is foolish. People make stupid decisions, and I believe they have the right to do so. The person who will end up on the street addicted to meth was most likely a screw up long before they ever saw the stuff.

I'm tired now, and still have a lot to do, so I'll mostly skip past the things on beastiality and polygamy, as they are unrelated. You have certainly given me things to think about for them, though, so I thank you for that.

And, finally, about minimun wage, I admit that was a poorly formed opinion. I shall yield here.

No one escapes from life alive

ferrets's picture


goodness you guys, write a book ;D

More people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, my friends, that is true perversion.
-Harvey Milk

MacAvity's picture

First let me say: I agree

First let me say: I agree with swimmerguy on all counts, but he took all my arguments so I am deprived of the chance to write a long rant of agreement.

Second, I find it incredibly refreshing to read such a focused and intelligent debate. The counterarguments as well as the original argument were intelligent, and well riposted. Not that there aren't ever intelligent debates here, but this one struck me as being particularly focused and intelligent. Thank you all for giving me new faith in the ability of people to think and to have informed opinions.

Uncertain's picture

read my follow up post

read my follow up post

MacAvity's picture

Yes, exactly. Both sides

Yes, exactly. Both sides have excellent arguments. Usually I see an argument and see at least one side as having a less-than-excellent argument. In this case I happen to agree with swimmerguy, but his arguments are better than most of those with which I agree, and yours are far better than most of those with which I disagree.

One thing I can add, though, is in regard to polygamy. You said something in regard to the benefits married people get and how those should not be extended to polygamists. But consider also the benefits extended to people in polygamous relationships that are not legal marriages: If a man has children by all of his multiple wives, all but one of those wives is considered a 'single mother' and receives all the benefits involved therewith. This is, in many cases, how a family with several (unemployed, of course) mothers and one father manages to survive on the earnings of one man.

Another point in regard to polygamy: Many polygamous communities now, because their marriages are not considered legal, do further illegal things such as the marrying of underaged and/or non-consenting girls. These situations would likely be lessened if the marriages were not already illegal in themselves.

My proposed solution to this: Have no such thing as legal marriage. Leave marriage up to the religious leaders and the ships' captains. If a marriage-like legal arrangement must be made, let it be made between however many people of whatever gender as long as all parties are consenting adults.

Uncertain's picture

I see the benefits to single

I see the benefits to single mothers as an issue to do with social welfare. It has nothing to do with legalising polygamy, which is promoting it as desirable alternative alongside monogamous marriages. Just because we provide benefits to single mothers doesn't weaken my argument because the two are non-related. I can support BOTH the social welfare AND not support a legal and marriage-like sanction of polygamy. Also, if anything, you could say because those single mothers already get welfare support they require that sanction even less.

On your second pont about polygamy, first that's a cultural excepton not something intrinsic to polygamy itself. I'm not averse to people having multiple partners, and many people do. But if you're in a culture (and a comparatively small one at that) that also forces underage women into marriage, then that's a specific issue that needs to be addressed about that culture. Minority cultures is not an argument. There are limits on cultural and religous practices already when they come in conflict with human rights. The more logical path is to simply illegalise that behaviour instead of modifying laws that would affect everyone else. Also, mind you we are talking about western liberal democracies so those cultures are a minority. If you want to bring up Islamic practices, many Islamic states already legalise polygamy so your point doesn't apply.

Another reason why that logic is flawed is the 'effectiveness argument'. Because the law doesn't stop all polygamy how about we just legalise it for accountability? No. We. Shouldn't. Criminal laws don't stop all murders so should we legalise it to make it more accountable? Same logic. Accountability doesnt't apply when something should be illegal, because the risk is supposed to discourage you from committing the crime in the first pace.

I'm not responding to the last point. Interesting proposal, some parts I like but too much to say. I have to go to uni now.

MacAvity's picture

Hmm... The debate has

Hmm... The debate has degenerated, on both sides. I should have seen it coming, I suppose. That's just what happens when each side is convinced it's right, no matter how good the other side's argument might be. But really now, what is your argument against legalising polygamy? That it's wrong? I doubt anyone here would actually make that argument, considering as how we all oppose the 'same-sex marriage is wrong' mentality, which isn't so very different. That it provides the benefits of legal marriage to those who should not have them? I think I countered that pretty well with the point about the benefits of single-motherdom to the legally unwed wives. And your riposte 'because those single mothers already get welfare support they require that sanction even less' is inadequate: if they had 'that sanction,' they would no longer receive the welfare support.

And as to what you call the 'effectiveness argument,' your murder analogy is not viable either. Murder victims do not consent to being murdered. Polygamists would consent to their marriages. The difference is significant, I think. And they would have to consent, or else they couldn't do it, unlike now, when they just do it illegally without always regarding consent. Incidentally, if you're about to raise the question of murder with consent of the murdered (id est, euthanasia), yes, I think people should have the right to choose their mode and time of death in a well-informed way.

But even if valid points are still being exchanged, we have certainly stooped to lower than we began. 'I have to go to uni now' - what is that? University? You are telling me that you are in university and I am in high school, ergo you are right and I am wrong? I am guilty of the same petty squibbling show-offery with the use of 'id est' and 'ergo' - I use Latin phrases, exerting my own pretence of mental superiority. Mudslinging, is what it is.

This is one of those arguments that nobody will win. We're all too convinced of our own infallible logic. From here the debate can only degenerate further, declining, spiralling ever downward into a tirade of insults and vain counterpoints. And yes, this paragraph does sound like an avoidance of inevitable defeat, but that's not what it is. All I mean is, I've met your type of debaters before, and come pretty damn close to being one of them myself, so I know that this argument isn't going anywhere good if it continues. It was good in the beginning, though. It even gave me a moment of optimism and faith in people's ability to argue. But that faith has gone and I am back to the opinion with which I started: people (and I most definitely include myself as one of them) are arrogant, narrow-minded know-it-alls.

Uncertain's picture

About the uni thing... how

About the uni thing... how do I possibly know whether you're in high school or not? What's with the inferiority complex? I'm simply giving you a reason for not responding to your last point so you DON'T think I'm rude for stopping my post halfway. Well, looks like someone really took that the wrong way. If anything, I respect high schoolers just as much, from the fact that I know Chad (swimmerguy) is only 14 and I'm debating him 'like-an-equal' if you will.

And you completely missed my points. But you probably think I missed yours too. So let's just stop here. Just don't try and pretend you've got the moral high ground. I can separate the person from the argument. I didn't make any personal attacks (you just think I did). You did. I actually offered you arguments just like I did to swimmerguy. The only difference is I was challenging your views.

Get this. I actually respect people enough to DISAGREE with them. I think that's probably the most respect you can give someone instead of falling back on personal attacks and rhetoric about how your opponent's 'arrogant' and putting them in a box because you think you 'know' them. Hypocrite. You don't know me. Get off your high horse already. Have a good think about it.

MacAvity's picture

Now, see, mudslinging. We

Now, see, mudslinging. We both do it. I'm not taking the moral high ground, I'm saying we're both guilty. I was saying the argument had degenerated already and was bound to degenerate even more. As it has now done. So go ahead and take the final word if you want. I'm done.

elph's picture

After My Initial Gaffe... Let Me Add This Closing Credit!

I am confident that Chad had no idea that his quite innocent choice of autonomy as the next topic upon which to unleash his inexorable quest to understand all that he sees and feels would generate a discussion of such intensity and quality as this!

I'm also quite sure that Chad never expected that this would prove to be his First Anniversary contribution to Oasis...

But that is indeed what it has the day! :) :)

Happy Anniversary, Chad

Max, many years earlier, made his initial contributions here on Oasis with quite similar intellectual vigor and wanderings of discovery.

It's great to have you back!

And, MacAvity (relatively new contributor)... your contributions are also welcomed and appreciated...