Libertarianism and Morality: What a Hornet’s Nest is the NFL

Jason Sorens on Pileus commented on “a nice, thoughtful piece” about the morality of watching football by Stephanie Slade on Reason (Is Watching Football Unethical?)

An interesting point Stephanie makes in her “prostitution” analogy is:

” But we aren’t required to accept or encourage her behavior if we believe what she is doing is objectionable.”

This is the exact argument liberals are using to take away our freedoms, one by one. “I object to banning gay marriage; I will not accept a baker that refuses to make a gay wedding cake.” “I object to people getting thrown out of cars; I will not accept people who won’t use seatbelts because they fear being killed by them.” “I object to people who aren’t responsible enough to buy insurance; I will not accept an argument that they can’t afford it.” See?

In her defense she also says,

“The wrong solution, most Reason readers would probably agree, brings to bear the heavy hand of government, attempting to regulate away the danger or to end the game completely through brute coercive force.”

But how much difference is there really in a government-mandated “solution,” and one imposed by some other aspect of a society? After all, Saudi Arabia has no law against women driving. If you can’t accept a swinging fist that’s nowhere near your head, then you can’t truly say you’re a libertarian.

Sorens takes this stance:

“But I agree that there are some moral obligations that have nothing to do with respecting rights, like being kind and considerate to people, acting with beneficence toward those whom one can help, and, yes, respecting one’s own body and mind. If it’s immoral to do heroin, then a fortiori it’s immoral to play football, because football does much more damage to the mind than heroin, and the mind is what really gives us personhood and moral worth.”

Hera again, a liberal socialist stance creeps in. What is immoral about doing heroin?  One the surface, a single act of taking heroin has no moral content. The danger of heroin is the “slippery slope”: it can quickly alter the user’s mind to cause him to act in ways he would not without the drug, and those ways often result in a higher instance of the user bashing other people’s noses (stealing to get the money for his next fix, abandoning his job to do have it). So it’s a bad example to begin with, and holding it up against football is a false comparison, too boot. Playing is a player’s job: he’s not paying to do it, and he’s not going to play hookey from it in order to play it.

He goes on to say:

“Would you watch a consensual gladiator show in which someone is killed? Or would you think it barbaric and wrong? If a gladiator show is barbaric and wrong, why not a football game?”

Is it wrong to jump off a cliff wearing a wing suit? How about climbing a mountain for the sake of achieving it? In watching football, at least a good chunk of society gets a benefit (entertainment) from it, with very little cost (cost of ticket/running the TV, minor diversion of medical resources that the NFL pays for). But thrill seekers (yes, they post videos to YouTube, but the vast majority would still do it if there were no recording equipment) engage in an activity that provides few benefits to others, but runs the risk of incurring a high cost (rescuers retrieving them from remote locations, critical body trauma without pre-arranged medical support) to people who gain no benefit for the successful completion.

Personally, I have no moral objection to two people who agree, of their own free will, to battle without quarter to the death. My only issue is whether or not it is truly free will, as we can all find stories of people taking outrageous risks out of financial desperation or physical force, opportunistic third parties trying to manipulate the outcome for their own gains, or more subtle powers of compulsion.

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This entry was posted in Stop the planet, I want to get off!, Uncategorized, Who's Nose, Who's Fist? and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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