Discussion point: Extreme behaviour in libertopia

I woke up Sunday morning to the Sky papers review and they were talking about “double splashes”, “blurbing” and the other editorial techniques used to apportion prominence to stories on the newspapers’ frontpage. A few of the papers were criticised as having assigned the wrong amounts of space to Amy Winehouse and the Norwegian massacre. Surely a single death should not rival the death of 92 people for attention but I know how the newspapermen feel, I’ve been struggling this weekend with trying to decide how to cover these stories here, or even whether to do so.

The gun rampage in Norway presents an opportunity to rehearse the arguments for gun ownership. This was not a typo. I don’t mean gun control. I mean that in the 90 minutes it took for officially sanctioned gun owners  to arrive from Oslo, a privately owned weapon should have been brought to bear on the gunman. Norway values guns for hunting and sports, but owning a weapon for the purpose of self defence is not generally permitted. Utøya island is privately owned by the social-democratic Workers Youth League who hold the summer camp there, and one supposes they hold it regularly. Shouldn’t large numbers of politically connected children regularly staying in one place be protected by an armed adult? I cannot, especially today, think of single reason why not.

Despite the sickening violence of this news, the above is straight forward to argue, and I had no trouble penning this defence of libertarian policy and feel passionately that this is the right reaction. The other story splitting the newspaper editors was the untimely death of Amy Winehouse and I think it is exactly because this is a much smaller scale of tragedy  that it rivals the Norwegian shootings for our attention. The death of 92 people by one hand is so horrible that it defies emotional comprehension, but in contrast the death of one person seems to defy rational analysis and I have considerable more trouble with this one.

Having listened carefully to numerous arguments about drug legalisation a quick summary of the position seemed the order of the day, and I set about sourcing quotes from John Stuart Mill. When it came to it  however much sense there is in the theory, when you are confronted with an actual person who’s face you recognise, it is difficult to stick to that rational assessment. I find myself sympathising, would you believe it, with those politicians who are unwilling to legalise drugs despite all the evidence prohibition is failing.

Both of these stories represent a single individual taking an extreme decision and following through on that decision to the bitter end. Most people, sensibly, consider that it would be better if such extremes were caught by a safety net provided either by the state or by cultural norms. Shooting is a clear case of force requiring the most efficient kind of intervention, and we should celebrate the fact that we have the policies to enable that intervention and redouble our efforts to argue for that solution. Amy Winehouse though, represents a hole in the libertarian safety net. It appears, at this point, that the people around her failed to persuade her out of drug taking and prohibition was ineffective at stopping her from getting them. In a libertarian utopia, we would not have any prohibition and the same people might still have failed to save her.

In libertopia, 92 children could still be alive, but the iconic singer would still be dead. Is this good enough?


  1. Simon

    The death of Amy Winehouse happened when drugs are illegal here so I don’t see how it creates an anti-legalistion argument. Ultimately she chose her own life path and there is nothing wrong with that.

    She didn’t want to go to rehab, remember?



  2. Legalising drugs could have the impact of taking someone’s life. The difference with legalising gun ownership is the perpetrator is not asked to explain your actions if you kill yourself.

    With gun ownership, individuals are still answerable to the law for their actions involving the use of their gun. But by legalising drugs, it seems like a level of responsibility will go away to produce an unacceptable outcome for society as a whole.



    1. This is moral cannibalism. You are implicitly asking the drug taker to keep himself alive for the good of “society”. Who is society and by what right can you expect that?

      Incidentally, by banning drugs you are also creating the perfect circumstances for the creation of dangerous impure drugs in black market underground laboratories. So you expect people to keep themselves alive, while also making it easy for them to die accidentally. I don’t think this will help the cannibals get fed.



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