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Thursday, January 15, 2004
CASTRATION II: No Right Turn responds here to my previous criticism of his attitude to castration for sex offenders.

I'm not sure if we're getting closer to being able to discuss this productively or not. I hope we are, because, NRT is actually a lot of fun to argue with, and, even though we often disagree on substance, someone whose opinions I have a good deal of respect for. (An admission I'm sure will earn me black marks from the more extreme members of the right wing blogosphere.)

The difficulty arises because NRT often seems to support a position that says government can't ever interfere with rights, no matter what the benefit, and even if that benefit results in lesser total rights violation. NRT's commentary sometimes seems to obscure this, but it's crucial to remember that we're dealing with two sets of "rights" here, not just one: the right of children to be free from molestation, and the right of paedophiles to refuse medical treatment. Because of this, in order to argue against compulsory libido-reduction therapy a priori, you need to either say:

(1) that the right to refuse medical treatment is more important than the right to be free from molestation; or

(2) that neither right is necessarily more important, but that rights function as side constraints on action, so that government cannot interfere with rights, even when that would lead to a lesser total rights violation; or

(3) that neither right is necessarily more important, and rights do not function as side constraints on action, but, because governmental authority is so easily abused, it should be illegitimate for government to interfere with rights under any circumstances, even to guarantee the rights of others (effectively a slippery slope argument).

I'm not really sure which position NRT supports. I think (1) is wrong, but it's something we can probably argue about. I think (2) is philosophically incoherent: if NRT's respect for the right to refuse medical treatment is based, as he claims, on the argument that

Human rights (and, to a lesser extent, preference-based consequentialisms) are ultimately based on the idea that individual autonomy - "the capacity to be one's own person, to live one's life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one's own and not the product of manipulative or distorting external forces" - is valuable.

then my response is that, unless you're claiming that the children asked for it, the right to be free from child molestation is pretty damn important too.

I have a little more sympathy for (3) - I do think there's a danger in allowing governments to limit rights willy nilly. However, I think that this can be overcome by requiring a very high standard of proof before allowing rights violations. An absolute prohibition on any governmental intereference with rights isn't necessary.

However, it's possible that an a priori prohibtion on chemical castration isn't actually what NRT is arguing for. despite all the hyperbole about treating people like animals, this statement suggests that may be willing to limit rights in some circumstances:

the respect for autonomy on which a liberal society is based necessarily entails that ... punishments or preventative measures should interfere as little as practicable with a criminal's autonomy. [emphasis mine]

Under this approach (which comes closer to that used by the courts under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act) what is a permissible limitation then becomes open to argument - which is all I was claiming to begin with. In fact, it may be the case that libido reduction therapy isn't particualrly effective unless it's voluntary, and we probably want to look at alternative systems, such as allowing sentence reductions for those who undergo voluntary castration. But these possibilities should at least be investigated, not automatically dismissed as beyond the pale.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
AND ANOTHER THING: The typical right wing response to the whole foreshore and seabed issue never fails to frustrate me. It's not special rights, it's the same damn property rights that everyone else gets.

But maybe they've got a point. Lefties do generally seem more sympathetic towards upholding the property rights of Maori than those of middle class white males. If I wasn't so tired, I might try to establish an actual case of inconsistency, perhaps by comparison with farmers "stolen" carbon credits. But it's late, so I'll leave it as just a hunch for now.
DOES NO RIGHT TURN ACTUALLY READ THINGS HE LINKS TO? I sometimes find myself supporting a particular position for little reason other than that the people who support the opposite position are stupid and annoy me. (Indeed, despite it’s logical flaws, this probably isn’t a bad decision proxy in many cases.) I wonder whether something like this is behind NRT’s apparent must-not-be-tough-on-crime-even-when-it-makes-sense attitude.

In a recent rant entitled “Civilised countries do not treat people like animals” NRT lambastes Phil Goff for considering castration for serious sex offenders, calling it “needless barbarity”, designed to pander to the hang ‘em high brigade, and painting it as only a step away from amputations for thieves.*

This might be understandable if Phil was actually proposing physical castration. But as the story makes clear, what he’s actually talking about is the use of libido-reducing drugs – so-called “chemical castration” - which cuts a little less close to the bone than NRT’s hyperbole might suggest.

Of course, if forced upon people, then this would still be a prima facie breach of the the right to refuse medical treatment etc. etc., but if the treatment is effective in reducing reoffending (which is what Ministry officials are looking in to) then there’s a pretty good chance of it being a justifiable limitation of that right. Though this would also depend to some extent on the side effects the drugs might have, pace NRT, a free and democratic society could easily choose to wear a bit of libido reduction if it stops kids getting raped.

Now, while NRT will probably accuse me of resorting to this tired old line, or dismiss me as part of the so-called “hang ‘em high brigade”, it’s important to note that my opinion has nothing whatsoever to do with the vindictiveness NRT thinks characteristic of the HEHB (and which I’ve argued against previously as an illegitimate consideration in the formation of public policy). In fact, libido reduction therapy (as opposed to NRT’s fictional castration) seems a pretty unlikely candidate for HEHB support. It sounds too much like giving men who beat their wives anger management counselling: just the sort of “soft option” that gets real retributivists fired up about how our justice system is too lenient. Which of course, is what I like about it: it’s aimed solely at stopping kids getting raped, not at unecessary punishment.

Now NRT has refused to answer this question before. But it never hurts to try: "Why (assuming the proposal would work) aren’t we allowed to limit rights to save children?" NRT constantly mocks libertarians for their blind worship of private property rights, and yet appears to uphold a sex offenders right to his libido as inviolable. If it doesn't work, or the drugs lead to horrible flesh eating diseases, then fine, don't do it. But why rule it out a priori? I don't get it.

* Some Muslim scholars claim that physical punishment is often more humane than imprisonment, arguing that prolonged deprivation of freedom is a worse thing to have to bear than the relatively short-lived pain of lashes or amputation. As unappealing as this might seem, it’s not completely without merit. Some studies have suggested that most amputees adjust fairly quickly to their situation without significant reduction in well-being, while many people never adjust to prison.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
A BELATED WELCOME: to a couple of new NZ blogs that have popped up over the holiday period Bad Politics and Propaganda News Network are worth a look. A website devoted entirely to RadioNZBias seems a little over the top to me - not because I don't think that Radio NZ is biased, but because I think it fairly obviously is and a website devoted to proving it seems kind of like a constant string of reminders that the sky is blue. Oh well, whatever pushes your buttons. Hopefully someone listens.
NZPOLS CONTINUES TO ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS: The Greens have no morals. Free marketeers are nice and cuddly. At least that's the verdict of the most recent in the string of Herald Summer polls:

More than 45 per cent of Green voters admitted sowing their non-GE, organically grown oats outside of their relationships.

In contrast, not one prim and proper Act voter has apparently had an affair, although to be fair, 6.3 per cent somehow weren't sure.

Other explanations are of course possible: Greens might just be willing to admit to things that ACT supporters aren't, or maybe ACT supporters just can't get any. I'll leave you to judge the likelihood of the alternatives.

Thursday, January 08, 2004
THOSE DAMNED IMMIGRANTS: The Herald has published the results of a survey showing that most New Zealanders are quite happy with our country the size it is thank you very much, and that all those damned immigrants should go back where they came from. KiwiPundit and OtherPundit have already commented on some of the interesting demographic breakdowns, which among other things suggest that it’s not the stereotypical red-necks driving this result.

Nonetheless, regardless of the degree to which “racism” can be implicated in our apparent aversion to foreigners, I suspect there’s a good deal of myopia involved in many people’s reactions to the survey questions. NZPundit was griping a while ago about how, as a country we need to start making some tough decisions as a country if we want to ensure decent living standards for the New Zealanders of the future. The decision about how big our country should be is one of those tough decisions.

Like most other people I know, I’m rather fond of New Zealand’s vast expanses of unsettled country, the close-knit nature of New Zealand communities and a whole lot of other perceived benefits that flow from having a relatively small population base. Smallness is a part of the New Zealand national identity: we like playing the underdog, and the whole David-vs-Goliath thing gives us a convenient excuse when we don’t win enough gold medals at the Olympics.

But there’s also a fair amount of evidence to suggest that New Zealand’s small size, coupled with our distance from other countries, is one of the biggest brakes on our economy, hampering innovation and the achievement of economies of scale that would make us more internationally competitive. (See e.g. here and here.) There are a variety of ways of trying to mitigate these problems: the government’s current approach has been to focus on specialising in a few key areas like biotech and ICT. But another option would be to deliberately target population growth – indeed, some have gone so far as to suggest that we should set ourselves the goal of doubling our population in the next decade or so. (Contrast this with current demographic predictions that our population will plateau at below 5 million people.)

Of course immigration isn’t the only way to do that – we could pursue more pro-natalist policies to up the birth rate instead. And certainly before we launched into a massive immigration drive, we’d need to make sure that we had the systems in place to ensure that immigrants could adequately integrate into New Zealand both economically and socially. Moreover, there’s evidence to suggest that while larger populations may be associated with economic growth, the process of rapid population growth tends to have a negative effect. Nonetheless, when thinking about the issues of immigration and the size of the New Zealand population, we need to think about more than just whether we have an emotional attachment to being small, or (for some of us) whether we don’t like Asians.
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