Saturday, August 23, 2008

Open Letter to Diana Blaine

Dr. Blaine,

I recently came across your story in the Village Voice (disclaimer: nudity) and wanted to say I support your right to post topless pictures online, regardless of your position at USC. After reading a few posts on your website, though, I was disappointed to find that you do not hold a strong position in support of property rights. Clearly defined property rights, after all, prevent a majority from imposing their will on individuals.

Posting those photos in your own home, for example, is beyond the reach of majority control (assuming of course that property rights are respected). It is your house. You have the right to post whatever you'd like. Likewise, if the neighborhood grocer felt so inclined he could let you post them in his store (again, assuming property rights are respected). It is his store. He makes the rules. But, in your situation, we are talking about something very different.

When things are owned in common, WE must decide what is permissible. By WE, I do not mean all of us, of course; only a majority is necessary in a democracy (and only a majority of representatives in a representative democracy!). As I am sure you can see, this means one group gets to tell many individuals what is and is not acceptable.

Fortunately in the US we are not merely a democracy. Our constitution was design to protect folks like you and I whose actions or ideas might come under attack from the majority. But a constitution is only moderately successful at binding the hands of power-hungry politicians. And political actors dominate the decision making process when things are owned in common.

What we need, then, is more private ownership and more individuals insisting that private ownership be kept out of the public sphere of decision making. We may not be able to reduce the public sphere completely, but every bit reduced means less area for majority rule to be imposed.

Thankfully, USC has not yet bowed to public pressure (and it doesn't look like it will). But we should really start questioning a system that allows otherwise uninvolved individuals to call the shots. I say "otherwise uninvolved" because they are involved in one sense: they pay taxes. Their tax dollars make them co-owners and grants them a seat at the decision making table.

Don't get me wrong, though. A private university would have every right to fire you on the spot for your personal actions. After all, they can make the rules as they see fit. But since ownership is not mandated by the state through taxation, individuals with one set of preferences (freedom of speech, academic inquiry, and the right for teachers to expose their breasts online, for example) can start one university while others can start a university with an entirely different environment (and folks like you and I can stay the hell away from there!). The best part: we don't have to fund those we disagree with (And I believe you would support this idea since you wrote "Can taxpayers be protected from having their money spent to support religious indoctrination? No, not since Bush renamed their conversion attempts 'charitable.'"). To the contrary, universal systems mean universal rules.

As long as we accept a system of public ownership, we will have to accept the decision making process that accompanies it. Sometimes this means we can inflict our will on others. Sometimes it means we are forced to go along with the group, despite our convictions. But it doesn't have to be this way. Wouldn't we prefer a more peaceful system? Can't we cooperate with communication and mutual agreement instead of force? I think so. And I hope you will give this system a little thought as well.

I have posted this letter on my blog and look forward to your response. You should know in advance that I intend to post any relevant correspondence. I do not intend to be malicious or take your words out of context; I just want to make the content of our conversations available to my readers in hopes that everyone will learn a little from the exchange in ideas. I hope you will participate in this endeavor.

Take care,

William Luther

1 comment:

Will Luther said...

Upon re-reading I think it would have been more clear if I had said this:

The enforcement of "[c]learly defined property rights, after all, prevent a majority from imposing their will on individuals."

Hopefully Dr. Blaine will overlook this omission and recognize the point as it should be.