In a previous post, I considered the question: How can people who prefer safety to freedom coexist with people who prefer freedom to safety?
I discussed a way in which a political party could directly provide single-payer services to the people who want them, instead of focusing on gaining control of government in order to ‘provide’ them even to people who don’t want them.
Today I’d like to consider a related question: How can people who want to follow different moral codes coexist with each other?
A good first step would be to consider the current penal code, separating violations into three different categories: sin (transgression against God), vice (transgression against oneself), and crime (transgression against someone else).
Of these three, only crime is a proper subject for law, because that is the only category for which we can hope for anything like universal agreement, and the only one for which enforcement is warranted. People can work out their sins with their clergy, and work out their vices with their therapists or friends — things that are best done outside of the criminal justice system.
And once we’ve categorized things properly, what then? For crimes, we would proceed as we always have. But for sins and vices, I’d like to propose adopting what I call the ‘casino model’ of morality.
It turns out that in at least two states (Pennsylvania and Missouri), you can place yourself on a ‘voluntary exclusion list’, which prohibits you from entering or gambling at any of the casinos in the state. If you’re caught in one of those casinos, you can be thrown out, forfeiting anything you might have won while you were there.
The beautiful thing about this is that by placing yourself on the list, you don’t prevent anyone else from gambling, if that’s what they feel like doing.
So it seems natural to ask: Why couldn’t we extend this model to sins and vices, like recreational drug use, prostitution, and so on?
What if you could sign up to be excluded from these kinds of activities, and punished if you’re caught engaging in them, while leaving everyone else free to live their lives according to their own moral codes?
This kind of thing wouldn’t have been feasible a generation ago. It would have required too much manpower for surveillance — sort of like in the Stephen King Story ‘Quitters, Inc.’, where company agents follow you to make sure you’ve actually quit smoking.
But now we have internet-enabled body cameras, nanny cams, smart phones, body function monitors, and new technologies being created every year.
As monitoring technology gets smaller, smarter, cheaper, more reliable, and more ubiquitous, there is less reason to stick with a model in which, because a subset of the population wishes to have its activities restricted, it’s necessary to place restrictions on everyone else.
Without claiming to have ‘the answers’, but just to give you a sense of what I’m talking about, anyone who wants to be excluded from engaging in gambling or prostitution could wear a heart monitor and a GPS tracking device. Any time his heart rate climbs above a certain threshold, a person — or a program — could check to see where he is. If he’s at a racetrack, or in a casino, or in a hotel room (with someone other than his wife), private security agents could be dispatched to deal with the situation.
Or someone who wants to be excluded from the use of certain drugs could submit to random drug tests, or wear something like a diabetes monitor, which checks for the presence of those drugs, rather than checking blood sugar levels.
It really just comes down to this: If you believe that you need to be threatened with punishment in order to live the way you think you should, you can do that without trying to use government to force your neighbors to live their lives according to your standards. And they can return the favor.
To sum all this up, if we exclude national defense, right now, we use government for three major functions:
If one major party privately handles redistribution of property (in order to fund the services that its members want), and the other privately manages the detection and punishment of sin and vice (in order to provide the disincentives that its members want), then everyone in those parties can get what they want, right now, without any of the friction inherent in trying to impose government ‘solutions’ to problems that many people think aren’t actually problems at all.
And as a felicitous side-effect, government can be restored to its proper size, and its proper mission.
It’s not like this is a new idea. It’s really just implementing Rabbi Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.’
To think about it another way: If you’re in a tug-of-war, letting go of the rope allows you to move in the direction you want, rather than in the direction others are pulling you.
All of which is to say, the only thing standing between what progressives and conservatives want, and their ability to get it — right now, with no screwing around — is their own stubbornness.