Category Archive: Justice

  1. Equality and Respect: How You Are Equal to Hugh Jackman

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    Being equal in the eyes of the law is something most if not all can agree on, but do you think governments should strive to assure at least a minimum level of equality in certain aspects of life? For example, everyone should have free drinking water, basic health care or some other necessity? Professor Aeon Skoble tackles these issues in this Learn Liberty video. Let us know what you think in the comments.

  2. Trans Freedom

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    With Caitlyn Jenner dominating headlines and actress Laverne Cox’s pivotal rise, now is the perfect time to address gender freedom and its role in a free society. With that in mind, Learn Liberty is introducing a new three-part video series called Trans Talks, which explores transgender rights and features University of Illinois professor and transgender advocate Deirdre McClosky.

    In the first video of the series below, McCloskey argues that both transgender individuals and those associated with them are made more human by the transitioning experience. So is the viewer of this series. Check out the first video in the series below.

  3. In Defense of Affirmative Consent

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    In September, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 967 in to law, requiring colleges in California to adopt certain policies dealing with campus sexual assault in order to maintain their eligibility for state funding. One of the most controversial requirements of the bill was a mandate that campuses adopt a policy of “affirmative consent” for sexual activity.

    According to the law,

    “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

    Some commentators, such as Reason’s Cathy Young and George Mason law professor David Bernstein, have criticized the law’s requirements as overly demanding, and a symptom of “moral panic” over campus hookup culture.

    But there’s certainly nothing objectionable in the idea that consent ought to be consensual. And there are good reasons for thinking that a policy of “affirmative consent” is an improvement over previous understandings of what genuine consent requires.

    Consider the old slogan of those opposed to sexual assault: “no means no.” So far as it goes, this is a true and important principle of sexual morality. If a woman says “no” to a proposed sexual encounter, then that should be taken as a denial of consent, not as a challenge to the man to ramp up his seductive “game.” If a man continues to kiss, undress, or touch a woman who has said “no,” he is morally guilty of sexual assault, whether or not he has used physical violence to subdue her, and whether or not she has used physical force to resist him.

    But even if “no means no,” this clearly does not entail that the absence of a “no” means “yes.” To see this, consider the following cases:

    Intoxicated: After consuming a significant amount of alcohol in A’s presence, B passes out on the couch. A then undresses B and has sexual intercourse with her.

    Afraid: A and B meet in a bar and go back to A’s apartment. B rebuffs A’s advances. A smiles at B and says, “Look, you’re alone with someone you don’t know, who’s much bigger and stronger, and, for all you know, has beaten and raped several women. Maybe I’m not as nice as I seem.” B is very frightened by A’s remarks and does not resist A’s advances.*

    Incapable: B is a 19 year-old woman suffering from a severe intellectual disability, with an IQ of 59. A is aware of B’s condition, and begins to play a “touching game” with B, involving mutual undressing and touching of genital areas. B engages in this activity without protest.

    In none of these three cases does B say “no.” But neither does B give valid consent. In Intoxicated, B is completely unconscious and unaware of what A is doing. In Afraid, B has a reasonable fear that A will use physical violence against her if she does not go along with his demands, and in Incapable, B lacks the mental capacity to give valid consent to sexual relations in just the same way that a child does. In all three cases, then, A engages in sexual activity without B’s valid consent, and is morally (and probably legally) guilty of sexual assault.

    It was consideration of cases like this that led many reformers to conclude that “no means no” was inadequate – not wrong, exactly, but not the whole truth, either. Consensual sex requires more than just the absence of a “no.” So, rather than a policy based on “no means no,” these reformers thought, we need a policy of “yes means yes.”

    But this is where things started to go wrong. For some people drew the conclusion that the problem with cases like Intoxicated – an all-too common occurrence on college campuses – was that B never gave explicit consent. Thus, the Office of Violence Against Women, a subsidiary of the US Department of Justice, writes on its website that “[s]exual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient” (emphasis added). And some reputable organizations and individuals have interpreted California and New York’s affirmative consent policies as enacting a similar requirement.

    But if “affirmative consent” policies are interpreted as requiring explicit consent, and indeed as requiring that such consent be “ongoing throughout a sexual activity,” then those laws really would be, as some critics have charged, indefensible. Should a couple who has been dating for two years and who have had sexual intercourse hundreds of times really be required to obtain explicit verbal consent before each and every sexual encounter? Should they be required – like students were under the justly ridiculed Antioch college policy – to obtain a new statement of consent for “each new level of sexual activity,” with the stipulation that “body movements and non-verbal responses such as moans are not consent”?

    The answer to both questions is obviously “no.” Genuine consent is vitally important, and there really is a serious problem of sexual assault on college campuses, mostly stemming from the prevalent use and abuse of alcohol. But we can admit that consent is crucial without concluding that consent has to be explicit.

    Properly understood, “affirmative consent” means that a person has engaged in some form of outward behavior that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that she is an active and voluntary participant in sexual activity. That behavior could take the form of saying the words “Yes, I would like you to have sex with me.” But that’s obviously not the only form it could take. Valid consent can be implicit as well.

    What counts a valid token of implicit consent will vary from context to context. Still, it is reasonable to suppose that in most circumstances, B’s pulling A into bed and undressing him would count, as would B’s smiling, moaning, and kissing A in response to A’s undressing and caressing her. A lot will depend on the history between A and B (although California law is certainly correct to state that a prior history of sexual activity is not sufficient to constitute consent), their reasonable expectations, and the particular nonverbal cues they use to communicate. But even if it can be hard for an outsider to correctly interpret such subtleties, surely no one with any experience of intimacy would doubt that this kind of nonverbal communication and consent is not only real, but totally commonplace.

    Thankfully, as Slate’s Amanda Hess noted, nothing in California’s law can reasonably be read as requiring explicit consent. Indeed, in the process of crafting the law, legislators actually deleted from the bill language that warned that “relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding,” indicating that they wanted to allow room for ordinary, implicit consent.

    Anyone concerned with the rights, dignity, and physical and emotional well-being of college students should regard policies that insist upon the consensual nature of sexual activity as vitally important. And while laws like California’s that require “affirmative consent” can – and have – been misinterpreted in ways that undermine rather than promote individual autonomy, both the philosophical foundation and the text of those laws are sound.

    * I borrow this example from Alan Wertheimer’s excellent book, Consent to Sexual Relations, and highly recommend that work to anyone interested in diving deeper into the legal and philosophical issues surrounding this fascinating and important topic.

  4. New Whistleblower Reveals “The Drone Papers,” Detailing Pres. Obama’s Covert Drone War

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    A “Second Snowden” leaked a cache of secret documents that has put the CIA’s and United States military’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) back into the spotlight. Drones have been used post-9/11 to carry out lethal strikes on those deemed enemies of the United States – even if the strikes take place outside of a declared war zone.

    Armed drones were first used by George W. Bush in 2003 and have been President Barack Obama’s “weapon of choice” since his first days in office, according to The Intercept. But the public’s knowledge of the drone program’s inner-workings has been extremely limited. That may be changing thanks to the newly released documents.

    As the use of drones has intensified over the years, the number of questions surrounding the program have increased. What intelligence is used to determine the targets? Who makes the decision to carry out specific drone strikes? Does a military with a power drone program make us safer?

    In this video, George Mason University economics Professor Bryan Caplan argues that having an army is perceived as a threat by other countries, causing them to feel angered or provoked. As a general rule, he says, being better armed doesn’t make you safer, and can even have the opposite effect.

    While Prof. Caplan made his argument in regards to our traditional notion of the military, the same questions and principles could be applied to the borderless “War on Terror.” What do you think about the use of drones for counterterrorism operations? Let us know in the comments.

  5. My Path to Open Borders

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    This excellent post by Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, was originally featured at OpenBorders in January of 2013. Below is an excerpt.

    I changed my mind about proper immigration policy in my senior year of high school. The impetus, as usual for me, was not first-hand experience, but abstract argument. After reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I became a vociferous libertarian. Given this orientation, I converted to open borders as soon as another libertarian pointed out that free immigration is just free trade applied to labor. If memory serves, Murray Rothbard’s Power and Market, chapter 3, section E was the pivotal discussion for me.

    Still, I was too factually ignorant to grasp the enormity of the issue. I saw no reason to take immigration restrictions more seriously than, say, steel tariffs. I didn’t realize that immigration restrictions are far more onerous than trade barriers on steel. I falsely assumed that illegal immigration to the U.S. was pretty easy. I didn’t realize that the labor market is by far the largest market in the world – roughly 70% of national income. I didn’t realize that immigration restrictions trap hundreds of millions of people in Third World poverty.

    The corollary, of course, is that I didn’t realize that open borders would drastically change every aspect of our society. Basic economics says that free immigration would drastically increase global wealth and drastically reduce global inequality. But basic psychology says that visibility of the remaining poverty and inequality would sharply rise. (The sobering implication is that even if open borders works as well as I expect, many First Worlders will angrily call it a disaster).

    Given my ignorance, I was able to intellectually embrace open borders without taking the issue seriously. In high school and college, I spent far more time debating epistemology than immigration. When I tried to convert others to open borders, my main empirical argument was to point to America’s experience with virtually open borders in the 19th century. If free immigration was great then, why not now?

    For the rest of this article and more great resources on open borders check out OpenBorders. What do you think about America’s immigration policy? Are you an advocate of open borders? Let us know below!

  6. What Does It Mean to Be a Libertarian?

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    Libertarians have a unique perspective on how government force should be used. As Jeff Miron, Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University, points out in this video, libertarians consider using government force to coerce others into action to be immoral. This is what separates them from other philosophies which are more permissive when it comes to using the force of government to achieve economic and social goals. Take a look at the video, and tell us what you think in the comments!

  7. Quote of the Day: On Coercion and Equality

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    Today’s quote is brought to you by none other than F.A. Hayek from his book The Constitution of Liberty:

    “If one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable. But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”

    This quote encapsulates much of the classical liberal tradition of toleration in that it rejects the use of coercion to attempt to make people equal. Our individual differences and preferences are what make our society pluralistic, and attempts to create equality through government fiat deny individuals their autonomy and often lead to negative, unintended consequences.

    Aeon Skoble discusses the idea of coercive attempts at creating equality in the following Learn Liberty video, “Equality and Respect.” Let us know what you think in the comments!

  8. Inequality For Some

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    At tonight’s presidential primary debate, the topic of income inequality is almost guaranteed to come up. The widening gap between the rich and the poor is shaping up to be one of the defining themes of this election cycle. A recent, high-profile documentary called “Inequality for All” makes the case that this is a foremost social problem.

    In the video below, George Mason economics professor Tyler Cowen explains that income inequality is not only a national issue but also a global one. And because of recent income growth in countries like China and India that has lifted billions of people out of poverty, income inequality is actually falling worldwide.

    Cowen points out that the very globalization that may contribute to income inequality nationally has had the opposite effect globally. As we grapple with this issue at home, we should be careful not destroy the engines of prosperity — globalization and free trade – that have improved the lives of billions abroad.

    But don’t expect this nuanced view of inequality to be mentioned by presidential contenders. “Inequality for some” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.