Many who champion government involvement in people’s lives and decisions purport to do so to protect the weak, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the less “privileged,” and the more vulnerable members of society. That last category was illuminated by a couple social media encounters I recently had.

One, a rather repulsive headline at the Huffington Post that reads “North Korea Proves Your White Male Privilege Is Not Universal,” refers to the sad tale of Otto Warmbier, who was arrested while on a visit to North Korea, apparently beaten severely and repeatedly during his 17 month captivity, who was recently returned to the US while in a coma, and who died from the damage inflicted upon him while he was there.

The other, an argument about drug legalization that spawned from a report that cocaine, heroin, methadone and MDMA were found in Carrie Fisher’s system during a post-mortem toxicology analysis. This report was served up as anecdotal “proof” that legalization of hard drugs is a bad idea. Regular readers know my position on the War on Drugs, and by subscribing to this site you can get a copy of my short e-book on the subject, so I won’t delve into that debate here. Instead, I’ll share one drug warrior’s comment from that discussion:

Giving others the sanctioned opportunity to mess up or destroy their and others’ lives is NOT ‘freedom,’ it is the denial of society’s responsibility to not harm the less intellectually, morally and emotionally fit among us.

This, obviously, stands the concept of “freedom” on its head, and casts it as a shirking of responsibility to others. Or, more specifically and germanely to this article, “certain” others.

What’s the connection between Mr. Warmbier and the “less intellectually, morally and emotionally fit” that the drug warrior felt we were responsible for? Dumbness. Frankly put, and without any disrespect meant for either Mr. Warmbier or his family, one has to be a dummy to go to North Korea nowadays and do something that would get one’s self locked up there. We can see it as naivete, as idealism, or as some other practical failing that doesn’t imply intellectual weakness (and I have no reason other than to believe that Mr. Warmbier was an intelligent man), but even smart people do dumb things.

All around us, we see activists and big-government types (politicians, bureaucrats, public-interest groups, etc) demand that government intervene in our decisions in order to keep people from harming themselves. When challenged about whether people should be left alone to make their own decisions, these activists will trot out the “vulnerable” bit, which is code for “we have to protect the dummies from themselves.” The thing of it is, though, that no one dares identify specific dummies in order to act on their behalf. They’re loath to tell someone “you, yes YOU, you’re too stupid/ignorant/foolish/irresponsible to manage your own life, so we’re going to do it for you, whether you like it or not,” because they’ll be (justifiably) shredded by fusillades of social media and public forum bombardment. They don’t have the guts to openly name the dummies on whose behalf they wish to act. They are quite happy to name the purported dummies on whose behalf they have no desire to act, supposed dummies they feel need to be told are dummies. These would be the deplorables, the bitter clingers, conservatives, republicans, and, yes indeedy, libertarians.

But, they scold these folks in order to knock down opposition to their plans to protect “their” dummies, not to protect them from themselves.

Because they won’t name the dummies, because they know that doing so will backfire on them, they choose to burden everyone else with their do-gooding ways. They cast a wide net, quilt an all-smothering blanket, and produce thousands of motherhood laws that clog up our lives, waste our time, burn our money, and drag us all down. Despite all that, despite the ubiquity of “there oughta be a law” types under every rock and behind every corner, ready to leap out and save dummies from themselves, dummies still find ways to do dumb things.

So, when intervention fails to create the perfect world, when some ingenious or inventive dummy finds ways to harm himself despite the nannies’ best efforts to date, more nannyism is required. Rarely is it considered that, perhaps, it’s impossible to nanny the world into perfection. Or, that their nannying might be wrong. Or, that their nannying might infringe of individuals’ pursuit of happiness. Or, that it might simply be wrong to insist on managing others’ lives via prior restraint.

Then there’s the “burned hand” aspect of nannying. A single negative experience can be more effective than a thousand attempts at prior restraint in teaching someone good ideas and bad. Doing something that turns out wrong not only serves to dissuade one from doing it again, it provides experience beyond the act itself, and trains the brain to recognize other potential negative outcomes.

Back to Mr. Warmbier. Shouldn’t a proper social justice warrior have prevented him from going to North Korean in the first place? This brings me back to the title of this essay, an obvious play on the “… for Dummies” series of how-to books. Clearly, those who believe in state intervention on behalf of others feel that individuals of purportedly poorer judgment are more vulnerable to the predations of the real world, so that broad-brush/universal restrictions on behavior by government are proper. Why, then, isn’t it proper to forbid an individual from going to North Korea, given the obvious risks involved?

Liberty must include the freedom to make mistakes, otherwise it’s not really liberty. The notion that freedom can coexist with prohibitions on individual behaviors that do not infringe upon others’ rights is nonsensical, and no assertion that society has a responsibility to regulate (by force) the lives of the “less intellectually, morally and emotionally fit among us” can make it less so. It’s nothing more than condescension and rationalization of the selfish desire to control other people’s lives.

Here’s the irony. All such an assertion does is declare that some members of society have more power and greater rights than others. Social justice purports to tackle that injustice, the injustice that the wealthy and the “privileged” identity groups may have a better lot in life. Such a lot can be the result of individual effort/achievement, of accident of birth, or of luck. But, in all such cases (excluding rent-seekers and other such parasites), it’s not due to outside coercion or the brute force of government. Social justice welcomes the application of government force in order to… wait for it… declare that some other members of society have more power and greater rights than others. It serves to enshrine that power in the hands of a select few, a few it chooses. Via force if need be. The fact that the nannies believe that such inequality of power is better when it’s in the hands of the “correct” people only makes it worse.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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