Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, October 08, 2012


Regarding this case, and a few others like it, where the freedom-of-speech-absolutist view that "nobody should ever be put in jail just for hurting someone's feelings/making a joke, per se", I find myself wanting to make the following argument:

1.  If the family of the murdered child concerned ever got hold of the person who wrote those things on the internet, they would be within their (moral) rights to punch him.  (Source: general and IMO convincing moral intuition).

2.  If someone did punch that person, they should be subject to some legal penalty, probably including a prison term and this would also be morally the right thing to do.  (Source: practical intuition against vigilante justice; victims of an offence don't per se have special status).

3.  Therefore, given 1 and 2, if we can regard it as a morally correct state of affairs that the perpetrator is subject to a direct physical sanction of the sort that we regard it as correct for the state to punish by a jail term, why shouldn't it be a morally correct (indeed superior, because it preserves the important practical principle in 2 and saves time and trouble) state of affairs for the internet sicko to be directly punished by the state?

Somehow I think this is a bit fast and glib, but I think it has something to it, and most of the libertarian responses seem to me to achieve the superficial consistency that makes them attractive by simply ignoring the strong moral intuition in favour of 1 above.

Edit: I think my intuition here is the one behind the common law offence of "conduct likely to result in a breach of the peace" - that the rest of us just want to go about our business and have a general right to do so without trouble and disorder caused by the rest of youse.  So if victims don't have special status, then you're not allowed to go around stirring up hatred against yourself (by acting like a hateful bastard), because public order offences aren't just offences against the specific individuals harmed; they're offences against public order.

Which raises an equally tantalising possibility that I doubt the legislators will take seriously - as more and more of our life moves online, does the concept of the public peace begin to extend there?  It's certainly an inconvenience to me when a screaming Twitter pitchfork mob gets up, and the site becomes unusable.  Obviously the inconvenience is laughably de minimis compared to anything in which the criminal law might get involved, but this seems to me like a difference of degree rather than kind.
7 comments this item posted by the management 10/08/2012 09:24:00 AM

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