Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Argue Carefully!

There is another smoking ban proposal on the table. Libertarians would do well to craft their responses carefully. From the Indy Star:

State Rep. Charlie Brown wants to make it illegal for Michael Echols to smoke in a vehicle with his kids.

Echols, however, doesn't think the Indiana General Assembly has any business telling him or any of the state's other smokers how to raise their children or when and where they can light up.

"That's like going into my house and telling me I can't smoke in front of my kids," said Echols, who lives in Indianapolis. "What I do in my own car is my own business. I'm totally against this."

Now, I doubt Echols is a Libertarian. He's probably just the average Hoosier smoker who is incensed that government is looking to police the inside of his car on behavior he engages in. Either way, there is a great danger of sounding like you encourage smoking in a confined space occupied by children.

It's hard enough to argue successfully against laws that are 'for the children'. Add cigarette smoke to the mix, and it's a tough one to win. Here's the mentality defenders of liberty are up against:
Brown said he believes in protecting children who can't protect themselves.

"I recognize and accept the fact that many people think there's too much intrusion of the government," he said. "But in this particular case, if the youngster has no other option, the government needs to step in and provide protection and a safety net for children."

I urge the defenders of liberty to really think carefully before spouting off on this. Any time you argue in such a way that another can come to believe that you think harming someone else is a great idea, liberty loses the argument. Too many already think that government action is the only defense because parents aren't looking out for the best interests of their kids. Please don't make it worse by letting people like Rep. Charlie Brown and other nanny staters think you believe its your right to happily bring harm to your children. They will denounce liberty all the more fervently, and point to libertarians as some kind of evil. I was reading the comments after the Star article and was shaking my head. Well-intentioned defenders of liberty are merely telling nanny staters that their intrusions are right, because liberty is too mindless to be enjoyed.

So, to the parents who smoke: Why would you intentionally subject your kids to smoke? What kind of weak selfishness is that? You are the adult, so show some adult discipline. Smoke after your get out of the car, or at least when they aren't in it. You do have choices here.

Then, think of Voltaire, who was great at summarizing similar issues. To paraphrase, I don't think it's a great idea to smoke with the kids in the car, but I think that government hyper-policing of our behavior in our cars is a dangerous thing- perhaps worse than the problem it seeks to fix.


Andrew Kaduk said...


For what it's worth, I figured I would give you a taste of my opinion on this topic.

The "smoking ban" hullabaloo has never been (at least to most thinking folks), nor will it ever be a discussion about the "right to smoke." It may be this to smokers, and to avid non-smokers, but to the rest of us, it has always been a discussion of private property rights. This is not to say that "the right to smoke" vs. "the right to breathe clean air" hasn't been thoroughly played-out...but these are not the primary foci of the debate for many of us. That being said, I have always felt that the state has absolutely zero jurisdiction when trying to restrict individuals' participation in perfectly legal activities on privately owned property. The state does, however, (IMHO) have legitimate jurisdiction over public property such as roads. By virtue of our current system of government, we give them this authority when we give them their jobs. This is why there can really be no substantial argument against seatbelt laws, cell phone usage restrictions or smoking in or on public thoroughfare and/or property.

However annoying we may find some of this nanny-state rubbish, there is absolutely no "grey area" (or at least there shouldn't be) between public property and private property. It is black and white. Like any other laws governing public property, the State is justified in making provisions for the safety of the public. If we feel that nanny-governing is out of control (I certainly do), we need to change legislators.

In this instance, I cannot think of a single, rational American who can make the argument that forcing children to be exposed to thousands of carcinogens via second-hand smoke is a good idea and should be protected. At the core of the cultural Libertarian philosophy is the belief that liberty should be limitless, providing an individual's liberty cannot be enjoyed at the expense of another's. I contend that this proposal does not conflict with this philosophy.

Mike Kole said...

Andrew, that was very well said. Your final paragraph really nailed it. Liberty does not come at the expense of another. I think a lot of libertarians lose sight of this, and it shows in the poorly crafted arguments I see and hear.