Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 658, February 19, 2012

Freedom, Immortality, and the Stars. For me, that's
what the current rEVOLution is all about.

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Wanna Buy a Duck?
by Michael Bradshaw

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Re Ann Morgan's article in issue 656: "Reputations, Free Speech, and Assholery", I would like to disagree and engage in heated controversy with her on both her premises and conclusions. However, once again, I cannot. I fail to find a hole in her reasoning. Drat!

The kind of behavior exhibited by her hypothetical neighbor is not uncommon among a certain part of the population in any country. People like that have no respect for the property or persons of others. The neighbor has shown contempt for not only Ann, but also for his hunting friends; by lying to them to deceive them into respecting him for skill and sportsmanship that he does not have.

This is a case that is about more than the theft of property and its destruction. The property is more than that, as it is a family pet, and therefor a member of Ann's family. That is to a much lesser extent than a human family member, but a great deal more than an inanimate object of similar purchase cost, such as a lawn mower. This is common knowledge in cultures that keep pets. Therefor the neighbor either does not care about the emotional damage that he caused, or, more likely, he included that damage as personal profit in his decision to kill and steal the duck.

We have a clinical name for people who have no empathy for others and, at the same time, no conscience. We call them "psychopaths". We also have a name for those who derive pleasure from hurting others, especially when they lie to do so. We call them "sadists". The neighbor exhibits both of those traits in his treatment of both Ann and his hunting buddies.

If I were the moral debt assessor in this case, I would find the monetary value of the lost duck and invasion of territorial property that Ann had sustained. I would then take into account the lack of contrition and proof of sadistic and psychopathic behavior by the neighbor and apply a suitable multiplier, such as 3 or 7 from the common law or ancient precedent, to asses the monetary restitution that the neighbor must pay. I would also make sure that the neighbor understood why the multiplier was being applied. In a case like this, in which the monetary damage was so small compared to the emotional damage, the larger would be appropriate.

I do not think that any amount of restitution would have any effect on the neighbor's sadism or psychopathology. In those, we are dealing with fundamental personality, and perhaps physiological, traits. However, if he has to pay $350 for proven property damage of $50, on the grounds that the extra amount was for deterrence of future torts, which would not otherwise be deterred by normal conscience, he might think twice about committing such a tort in the future. Since he will not come to good behavior through moral calculation, let him do so through economic calculation in his own best interest.

While the restitution multiplier would not compensate Ann for her loss, it would at least be a token of it. It is often the case that such token restitutions are valued much more that the monetary amount for the moral value of the recognition of emotional loss.

As to Ann's blackening the name of the neighbor for his misdeed: I cannot find any moral or tortuous fault. There is a doctrine in the common law (and may be in statutory law, I can't remember at this late hour) that the truth is a complete defense against a charge of slander or libel. If Ann were to confine herself to the facts of both the act and the judgment, citing from the record the reasons for the large award of restitution, she should have both her partial revenge and be safe from counter suit by the "alleged person" next door.

Of course, she would also have an even more enraged and mentally unstable neighbor, but he has seen the results of his bad behavior in the past. If he has even a shred of rational self interest, and can see Ann's gun on her hip as well as her prowess in court, he might conclude that discretion is the better part of valor. And, if not, Ann has another strong defense tool if she needs to shoot the bastard later.

I have found in the past that a notebook, a pen and a .45 pistol work wonders to sooth the heart of the savage two-legged beast.

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