Victimless Crime (Peter Espeut)

by Peter Espeut

In a letter published in The Gleaner of December 29, 2011, Neville Duncan puts forward the moral justification for homosexuality, promiscuity, sadomasochism, drug addiction, suicide, and much more.

He writes: “Each individual has the basic right to do anything with her/his life that s/he chooses, including damaging oneself by using alcohol and drugs, just as s/he has the right to damage oneself with sugar, tobacco, religion, promiscuous sex, mysticism, suicide, etc., so long as s/he does not initiate threats, force or fraud against any other individual.

“… No sexual act between consenting adults can objectively be illegal, even if the acts are physically or psychologically harmful to the consenting individuals (such as injurious homosexuality, masochism, sadism, etc.).”

In philosophy, someone who supports this position is called a libertarian because s/he believes that the inherent freedom of individuals is to be interpreted in a particular way.

Duncan continues: “Let it be clear that the core battle is not merely for women’s rights, minority rights, rights of the elderly, rights of children, rights of ‘gays’ – the battle is and always has been for individual rights. When individual rights are fully protected, then everyone’s rights are protected.”

Decriminalise them

Libertarians believe that all laws criminalising victimless offences should be removed from the books. Duncan asserts: “Let it be clearly understood that only acts of force, fraud or coercion that violate individual rights of non-consenting people can be objectively illegal. … A review of all our laws, including the law on buggery, using this principle of protecting the rights of individuals is imperative.”

Libertinism, which is gaining popularity in Jamaica, is illogical and self-contradictory. There are many angles from which this may be shown, but with limited space let me begin by looking at the basic principle of libertinism: “Each individual has the basic right to do anything with her/his life that s/he chooses, including damaging oneself.”

Under libertinism, there would be no illegal drugs, since people should be free to use ganja, cocaine, methamphetamines, or whatever they feel to use. Duncan says as much: “The State, in misguided Christian sanctimoniousness, in using force to prohibit drugs … is … morally wrong …”.

Would Duncan deny that the use of many psychotropic drugs leads to physical and mental deterioration? These ‘free’ persons would then clog up the hospitals, at great expense to the State and to the taxpayers, who would be compelled to treat them. Does this not restrict the freedom of others? Doesn’t the rest of society suffer when resources which could be used for the common good are diverted to treat drug addicts?

Would Duncan deny that many drug addicts turn to theft and robbery – often inflicting bodily harm in the process – to get money to buy more drugs? This increases societal insecurity and instability, and requires the State to expend more resources in crime fighting, and in the courts.

Libertarians make an artificial dichotomy between the individual and the group: allowing individuals the freedom to damage themselves does damage everyone in the group if the collective has to pick up the pieces. Duncan’s assertion that “when individual rights are fully protected, then everyone’s rights are protected” is platitudinous and false.

Where do we draw line?

Duncan himself supplies a second critique to libertinism. He writes: “Let it be clearly understood that only acts of force, fraud or coercion that violate individual rights of non-consenting people can be objectively illegal. Non-consenting people always include children, for they are unable to give valid or informed sexual consent because (1) they have gained neither knowledge nor experience to assume responsibilities for the physical and psychological consequences of sexual actions … .”

The principle applied here by libertarians is that persons who have “gained neither knowledge nor experience” cannot assume responsibility for the physical and psychological consequences of their actions; such persons must be prevented from taking actions which may have negative consequences upon themselves.

But why apply this only to children? There are people of all ages who have “gained neither knowledge nor experience” about all sorts of things, and hurt themselves and others in the process. Would libertarians make Ponzi schemes legal because people should be allowed to throw away their money if they wish?

In several parts of the world, libertarians fight against seat-belt and motorcycle-helmet laws because people should be free to take their own risks. Libertarians want people to be free to end their own lives (and presumably to seek help to do so) because it’s their life.

Libertines want the full legalisation of homosexuality, abortion, prostitution, gambling, drugs, public nudity, pornography, bestiality, blasphemy. Is this the kind of Jamaica we want?

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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