Tuesday, November 03, 2009

In which I burst a bubble


I've been meaning to take up Kent McManigal's challenge ("convince me I am wrong") for some time, but something always seems to come up. Until now. So here we are.

First, Kent's proposition:

I believe we each carry with us a "me-shaped bubble" of our own personal property. That personal property bubble remains intact no matter where we are. It consists of your body, your clothing, and the space between the two. No one can claim ownership of me and eliminate my property by posting a sign. Property rights don't overlap, and no one, under any circumstance, can trump your right to your own body, and that includes what is inside your clothing, as long as it doesn't make an appearance or "leak" out (like radiation or viruses).

I am not going to, nor should I, ask every property owner if I am allowed to enter his property "whole" when the property is open to the public or if I get an invitation. Do I also need to ask if my private thoughts are acceptable? My underwear? My brand of deodorant? Not one of those things is any less dangerous to someone who is not attacking the innocent than is my gun. It is a dangerous precedent to single out guns as the only thing that we need to declare to everyone, everywhere we go, every time we step out our front door.


Second, Kent's proposition, stripped of its straw content:

I believe we each carry with us a "me-shaped bubble" of our own personal property. That personal property bubble remains intact no matter where we are. It consists of your body, your clothing, and the space between the two. No one can claim ownership of me and eliminate my property by posting a sign. Property rights don't overlap, and no one, under any circumstance, can trump your right to your own body, and that includes what is inside your clothing, as long as it doesn't make an appearance or "leak" out (like radiation or viruses).

I am not going to, nor should I, ask every property owner if I am allowed to enter his property "whole" when the property is open to the public or if I get an invitation. Do I also need to ask if my private thoughts are acceptable? My underwear? My brand of deodorant? Not one of those things is any less dangerous to someone who is not attacking the innocent than is my gun. It is a dangerous precedent to single out guns as the only thing that we need to declare to everyone, everywhere we go, every time we step out our front door.


All of the straw material is right, or at least interesting in its implications ... it's just not applicable. I've never heard anyone make the arguments that Kent's trying to refute. Since I'm not making them, I see no need to refute his refutations.

Here's the simple argument versus "the bubble." Yes, for what it's worth, you possess that "ownership bubble" -- and if you want to bring it onto my property, there are precisely two ways to do so: Under conditions acceptable to me, or as a trespasser.

Or, as I put it to Ken Holder many moons ago, and as dramatized in the final panel on page 33 of the graphic novel edition of L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach:

If I own a store, and I inform you that you may only enter the store naked and riding a pogo stick, then you're free to either strip down and mount up, or to not enter the store. Entering the store clothed and on foot is a violation of my property rights. By definition, if you are clothed and on foot, you are someone to whom I have denied permission to enter my store.

It's my property you're wanting to bring your bubble onto, remember? I set the conditions for use of my property -- if I can't, then it's hardly honest to pretend that it's my property, is it?

If you don't like the conditions I've set, you're free to not meet them ... and to not come onto my property. There's no violation of rights involved -- coming onto my property isn't something you're entitled to do by right, nor is it something I'm forcing you to do.

In general, it's reasonable to assume that a condition must be clearly stated in order to be a condition. If I don't say "no guns on my property," or post a sign to that effect at the property line, there's no question of you being forced to "declare to [me]" in advance that you're armed, any more than you have to tell me that you took communion at St. Agnes last week because it just might be that I only want Roman Catholics on my property, even though I haven't mentioned it or put up a "no dogs or Baptists" sign at the front gate.

Now, all of this is entirely separate from some other important questions, such as the question of trust. In my opinion, if you don't trust me to be on your property armed, you don't, or at least shouldn't, trust me to be on your property at all. Nor, I think, would I trust you very much if you imposed such a condition. On that much, I suspect that Kent and I are very much in agreement. But this distrust violates no one's rights -- nobody's being force or required to do anything, and the issue of trust is one everyone can and should take into account when making their decisions as to what to do.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Three Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide
Some graphics and styles ported from a previous theme by Jenny Giannopoulou