Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Coming soon ...

So the month is over and I should soon be back to a regulated lifestyle better befitting my geriatric status. The interlude ended appropriately. After seeing off Only Girlfriend, Brother-in-Arms and the Terrible (but Infinitely Adorable) Two at 4 a.m., I went back home for a short snooze before my flight to Delhi. Only to sleep through the alarm and be awakened by a call from Jet Airways asking where I was. My watch said 6:30. Take-off time. I’d missed the flight.

They put me on the next flight. At no extra cost. Hear ye, hear ye – be it known by these presentments and avouchments that I totally heart Jet Airways.

On a (slightly) more cerebral tack, one conversation sticks in my memory. Said conversation was under the watchful and rather wary gaze of Dipankar and Prashant, a pair of ace baristas­ who ply their skills in the CafĂ© Coffee Day in the Infinity Building out in Sector V. (I can recommend the Grande, especially with three shots of cream.) Since I’ve started recording my gratitude, let me also mention that they were very polite the first couple of times we dropped by, gathered our coffees and walked outside without paying. Of course, we were only stepping out for a smoke, but it is testimony to their savoir faire that they did not emit outraged squawks. After all, it was close to 2 a.m. Within a couple of nights we were regulars and they had us down pat, right down to the re-heat and extra servings of whipped cream.


So, the conversation. Marijuana is outlawed in the USA. For no good reason except that the pharma majors are scared witless of the hit on their market share if it could be bought over the counter. Makes sense. I have to read up on that. From there, a discussion of human motivation and government. How stupid is it to outlaw prostitution? Wouldn’t it be much better to legalise and regulate it? Wouldn’t it make a dent in violent crime, in the spread of HIV? Have to read up on that too. By extension, a lot of stuff that's outlawed in the name of morality would actually be pretty innocuous and healthy if it were legal and regulated. Covers practically every possible situation between consenting adults, though there are grey areas where such activities cause physical harm to either or both parties.

Meantime, what do YOU think?

24 comments:

Tabula Rasa said...

Covers practically every possible situation between consenting adults, though there are grey areas

ha! nice title, is what i think.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Prof, you're getting predictable.

J.A.P.

Puranjoy said...

I agree whole-heartedly. Govt shouldn't have any business meddling in the affairs between two consenting adults.

Kuttan said...

You are absolutely right, making something illegal doesn't necessarily stop people from doing it, it just drives them underground. That makes it more riskier for parties involved and renders them prone to exploitation by others.

Priya said...

I'd say, no fun wonly then! And why hassle the poor policemen, baba? Constitutional niyei himshim khachhey abar Prostitutional! Just put Marijuana, condom and shake it Shakira, I say! :D

nehaj said...

I agree..being a very junior psychiatry resident in the US, I've already seen Xanax and pain medications doing more harm than marijuana could ever hope to, even when its laced with cocaine and dipped in embalming fluid. Now if only I could become the head of the FDA. As for prostitution, just ask the Govt of Netherlands.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Puranjoy, not necessarily consenting adults either. Amit on INdia Uncut raises the issue of abortion.

Kuttan, simply put, bad stuff is so much more fun. Legalising it makes it tame.

Priya, high fives.

Nehaj, I should visit Amsterdam on a fact-finding mission? Watch this space.

J.A.P.

Phantasmagoria said...

Aw. We like how you are expanding your mind and um cream intake. Now will you get down to a real post.

satanbug21 said...

didnt know dipankar and his gang had this talent too...

three ayes on the " Picking up coffee and walking outside"...they are understanding..very much so...

ArSENik said...

I consider myself a liberal with an intrinsic locus of control. So, I would want the government to legalize MJ and prostitution, laying emphasis on inherent goodness, total freedom and other such hippie-like ideals. However, that would mean that I should be cool with relaxed gun control laws too, but that would just be overestimating the intelligence of the good people here, which means that a hippie can never be a cynic, no? Oh, why do you force me make attempts at thinking, JAP and confuse me so? And for that, I am going to blogroll you.

amit varma said...

Just chanced upon this post, JAP-da. As it happens, I'd written a couple of pieces on this subject ages ago:

Don't Punish Victimless Crimes

The Matunga Racket

panu said...

guild of seamstresses... think Panu... think of the guild now!


Ah if life was allgood and marijuana could be legalized!

It is not. Deal with it.

iz said...

I'm that paranoid-high type anyway. Legal or illegal I get screwed!

WHAT'S IN A NAME ? said...

The moral hassles regarding 'legalization of prostitution' are what is of prime concern. In a country where a 33% reservation for women in Legislatures has to wait till eternity to get ratified, 'consenting adults indulging in paid sex' will be as alien a concept as the Sahara is to the Eskimos. I read somewhere, " For emancipation of women in India, we first need emancipated men". So very true. What do you think, Sir ?

Vivek Kumar said...

"Covers practically every possible situation between consenting adults, though there are grey areas where such activities cause physical harm to either or both parties.

Meantime, what do YOU think?"

If you are really going for the 'consenting adults' argument, you would have to drop your hesitation about those grey areas.

If a cannibal, say Mr. Varma, is willing to pay a price to eat the flesh of Mr. Prufrock (who is willing to accept the price), then there is no grey area and the Government has no business to outlaw cannibalism. Mr. Prufrock would have to pay service tax though (or would it be VAT?).

Prepare for cannibalism, that's what I think.

amit varma said...

"If a cannibal, say Mr. Varma, is willing to pay a price to eat the flesh of Mr. Prufrock (who is willing to accept the price), then there is no grey area and the Government has no business to outlaw cannibalism."

That is correct, Vivek. And I'd love to hear the moral basis for forcibly preventing such a transaction between two consenting adults.

As it happens, and as JAPda would remember, this is an old blog discussion we've already had...

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ph, I hear and obey.

S'Bug, concentrate on logistics.

Arsenik, that theme is developed farther below.

Amit, I read those. I’m not much known for original thought.

Panu, druther make my own world.

Iz, you must lead such an exciting life …

WiaN, we need sensible people as distinct from morons.

J.A.P.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Vivek, Amit - this is where you libertarians are way ahead of me.

It's stupid to make suicide a crime. But suppose a man, in depression, tries to jump off a roof. Suppose this man is the sole bread-winner for his family of 7 (or 17 or 27). If the man kills himself, said family may have no recourse but to (a) depend on the state or (b) resort to crime. Would the state then be justified in trying to stop the man from committing suicide?

Take Two. I have this kink where I like to bite the heads off live pigeons. I claim the pigeons love it too. Should the state stop me? Or invest in research to ascertain whether the pigeons DO like it?

Or another one. You're an extreme masochist. You like pain to the point where it cripples you, but you stay alive to savour the pain. You become a cripple. A burden on your family and/or the state. Should the state deprive you of the right to masochistic pleasure?

(Please note that I haven't even started on gun control and the USA ...)

J.A.P.

amit varma said...

"It's stupid to make suicide a crime. But suppose a man, in depression, tries to jump off a roof. Suppose this man is the sole bread-winner for his family of 7 (or 17 or 27). If the man kills himself, said family may have no recourse but to (a) depend on the state or (b) resort to crime. Would the state then be justified in trying to stop the man from committing suicide?"

I think the family is justified in stopping the man, and talking him out of it. Some things can be handled by society and its mechanisms, and the state should have no role in it, unless coercion is involved.

"Take Two. I have this kink where I like to bite the heads off live pigeons. I claim the pigeons love it too. Should the state stop me?"

That depends on whether the state considers a pigeon to have rights or not, a subject on which even libertarians may differ. As of now, the Indian state doesn't. So you should be free to do it, unless the pigeon belongs to someone, in which case you're infringing on his private property.

There is an old ethics thought experiment: assume you're okay with people eating chickens -- what if a man buys a chicken, takes it home, has sex with it, and then eats it? Should the state step in? My answer, obviously, would be no: we cannot allow for the yuck factor alone to determine laws, if no rights are being infringed.

"Or another one. You're an extreme masochist. You like pain to the point where it cripples you, but you stay alive to savour the pain. You become a cripple. A burden on your family and/or the state. Should the state deprive you of the right to masochistic pleasure?"

The key phrase there is "burden on your family and/or the state." You have no obligation to be supported by taxpayers money. Apart from that, why should the state step in? Sure, the family can deal with you on a private basis, but that negotiation or relationship should be free of state interference, unless coercion is involved and someone rights are infringed on.

"(Please note that I haven't even started on gun control and the USA ...)"

Please don't. I just came off a grueling discussion on an email group where I supported gun control. Kindly don't fit all libertarians into one little slot of a stereotype!

Vivek Kumar said...

@Amit: I have no moral basis to offer. I wasn't being sarcastic actually. Honestly, we are on the same side this time :)

@JAP: In real life, I may not be too far ahead of you actually. And I doubt if Amit is either. It's just that he is responding to a certain set of incentives, change those and you might have a Comrade Varma on your hands :)

As far as debates go, once you have set the premise of "consenting adults", you just have to be prepared to accept cannibalism (and much more). As Amit said, the "yuck" factor does not figure in this equation.

There is indeed the question of the costs to society. For example, if the individual has derived any benefits from the State (for which he hasn't paid directly or indirectly), can he still be allowed to harm himself? And what about the intangible benefits he has derived from the society?

The answers to these questions would lead you to different degrees of libertarianism (Amit accepted the family's locus standi, e.g.).

Take your pick, I suppose.

amit varma said...

Vivek, fair enough. I don't get the bit about "responding to a certain set of incentives," though. I'm just espousing a certain set of principles, which are anchored in individual rights. They might seem contingent to you, but they're not. So no Comrade Varma, sorry!

As for the locus standi of the family, the key thing to note is that I'm against coercion of an adult in any form -- even by family members.

Also, Vivek, you say:

".. if the individual has derived any benefits from the State (for which he hasn't paid directly or indirectly), can he still be allowed to harm himself?"

Unless the benefits he has derived are explicitly contractual, the state has no rights over him -- and in the case of a contract, the state's rights are limited to what is set out in the contract. My right to self-ownership, for example, is absolute, as long as I don't infringe on a similar right of anyone else. For the state to assert a greater right over me than myself is akin to slavery -- it's outrageous.

I'd written about this in some more detail here.

I'd be glad to discuss this in greater detail if you guys want, but let's shift it to email.

Vivek Kumar said...

@Amit: The bit about incentives was just a joke (well, mostly). I recalled something you had written about incentives. I wasn't doubting your commitment to your understanding of libertarianism.

About an individual's debt to institutions like Family and State.. well, the very existence of these institutions has an implied contractual basis (not legal, but social).

Whether and how these contracts are enforced, and to what extents.. varies from family to family and State to State. Where one's views lie on such a spectrum would probably define where he/she lies on the libertarian spectrum.

Like I said earlier, we can pick where we want to stand (once we grow up).

JAP and I seem to trail you (our day jobs indicate that much), and you probably trail the Anarcho-libertarian populace.

I won't infringe your e-mail space. You seem to be quite busy in general, and this discussion is not terribly urgent :) Your blog covers enough ground as it is!

Vivek Kumar said...

To prevent any misunderstanding: when I said "once we grow up", I meant adults in general (as opposed to kids, who have no choice in such matters). Not Amit/JAP or anyone else in particular.

amit varma said...

Ouch, my apologies if I'm taking jokes seriously and reacting to them!

Sigh, yes, implied social contracts are such a gray area. We could go on forever.

For the record, you and JAP would never be 'infringing' on my email space. It is one of the great tragedies of my life that the government servants I happen to know via blogging are such fundamentally decent sorts. Where is a self-respecting libertarian to direct his outrage? :)