Analog Dilemma: PainPosted By: Barry Belmont


The world no longer experiences pain. Stub your toe, skin your knee, bump your head. You won’t feel anything close to what you would have called pain.  You’re also pretty sure the world doesn’t experience anything akin to the normal psychological pain it once did. Threats of violence seem laughably impotent.

This is because the people no longer have bodily destruction either. Cut off a toe, rip the skin off your whole legs, cut off the top part of your head. It’ll all grow back. Instanteously. Bam, ploop, there it is again. Shoot someone in the face and even before the smoke clears, there’s their face again.

People only die natural deaths. Old age, perhaps a few cancers. There’s was once a claim that someone choked on their food and died, but this seems unlikely as recent studies have shown that thanks to the new situation of the world, tissues (such as lung or heart or brain) don’t die the way they use to in people. In short, humans can no longer kill other humans.


Does this mean we get to “harm” others, now? If I can cut off your hand painlessly and literally before you could even blink, your hand is whole and there again, do rights against bodily harm go out the window? Assuming I could, what if I stabbed you through the chest and left the blade in you, is this some how worse than if I stabbed you and taken it out? Is it better? Am I invading your property in any meaningful sense? Are bodily rights actually utilitarian in nature? That is, is pain and the limitedness of the body the necessary and sufficient conditions for dealing with all situations pertaining to it? What about rape? Would there be such a thing as rape? What does consent even mean if no one can be harmed? Does psychological harm account for something? Is it then alright to rape those people without the ability to suffer from psychological harm such as the mentally handicapped? If no harm can come of it, what is wrong with rape? Are bodily rights just natural rights? Where do they come from? Who gets them and who doesn’t? For instance, why do human beings get these rights and not animals? Can wars now be fought for fun in our world if, when bombs are tropped and napalm sprayed, no humans are harmed? Is it depressing to think of a happy war in which no one is hurt or exhilirating? Since people don’t drown (they don’t drown do they?), will they move into lakes and oceans to live? Will they scale the highest peaks to escape the wars now fought with the glee of a summer water fight?

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Comments Posted in Analog Dilemma
  • Abby
    Why does the experience of pain matter in a decision to violate another person's property?

    A person's body is still their property even if they can regenerate instantly. By cutting off a hand, you are still violating an individual's choice to do what they will with their body. You are taking away the choice to keep their hand attached or remove it themselves with a hacksaw later that evening.

    On a slightly related, but tangential note, Laws of Nature (that you referenced above) as I understand them and as Locke described them, come from pre-civilized man and the state of freedom that he enjoyed in nature. This meant that "no one ought to harm another in life, liberty, or possessions." Since man's needs for survival became less idyllic and more desperate as they evolved, should the 'rights' that he enjoyed in that idyllic world evolve as well?
  • What does it mean to violate someone's property rights if their property is infinite? That is, if you can't tell your property has been harmed, where's the harm?

    Or even more basically, what's the harm in the violation of property rights? Where is the harm located in trespassing or in cutting off someone's constantly regenerating hand?
  • Barry, don't be ridiculous, what it means to violate infinite property is the same as what it means to violate finite property. If you steal a penny from a pauper, and then from a septillionaire, you have committed the same offense against both men. Harm is always harm, even if it is infinitesimal and completely ignored, you have still violated natural rights.

    The penalty for this violation is based on what society deems appropriate. If the septillionaire shot the thief dead, he would be scorned and penalized himself. If he truly did have an infinite pile of money, it is unlikely he would care about such trivial thefts (all thefts being trivial at this point), but they would still be stealing. His natural rights being violated, he does he have a right to penalize thieves if he chooses.

    Unless your world of painless has flourished into a communist utopia, there exist property rights as we understand them, and they must still apply to human bodies (if not, slavery would be prominent. Slaves cannot feel pain after all). Therefore, if you start lobbing off limbs, maybe nobody will care. However, if someone does, there should be a framework to penalize you, as they have a right not to get a limb chopped off. Much as now, you have a right to reject a wet willy, despite its assured hilarity and painlessness.
  • You have missed my point entirely. I am saying what *makes* the violation of property rights bad? *Why* is stealing bad?

    The answer, ultimately (though one may choose to dress it up in a lot of philosophical, high-falutin language), in the fact that property is finite. Since property is finite, the loss of it means that there is the chance that it cannot be regained. If someone can actually lose something and be affected by that loss, there is harm.

    Thus, your claim, that stealing from someone poor and someone rich is the same crime is ludicrous. It may be the same action, perhaps even deserving the same punishment, but it is not the same crime. Make it more realistic. You steal $1000 from a janitor, you steal $1000 from his boss, Bill Gates. Who do you think *hurts* more? Why?

    Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that Gates' wealth approaches the infinite, at least more so than the janitor?

    And where are you getting this notion of "natural rights"? Who gives them? Who gets them? Who says?
  • Your answer is flawed, stealing isn’t wrong because it takes away something that cannot be regained, it’s wrong because the thief is violating my right to own things in the first place. No matter how much I have, even if it’s infinite, stealing from me is still in open violation of this right. It’s saying, “You do not deserve to own this thing”.

    Where does this right come from? Well, to use your own explanation for the existence of property rights, I am taking them “as a given, but which [are] defended at length by Rothbard, Hoppe, Friedman (both of them), Molinari, von Mises, etc).”

    In the case of the rich and poor man, that’s exactly the same crime. If you enter how much the crime hurts me into the equation, then surely Bobby Fitzinger should have been executed in 1st grade for breaking my favorite toy, because that hurt a whole bunch and I cried. How much something hurts simply cannot be a condition for how bad a crime is.
  • Indeed it is your answer which begins from flawed premises. My answer given during my anarcho-capitalism lecture, which you have quoted, for where property rights come from "as a given, but which [are] defended at length by Rothbard, Hoppe, Friedman (both of them), Molinari, von Mises, etc)" is actually one based on the limitedness and finitude of property.

    If you had taken the time to read the original sources, pretty much all of those above mentioned (with variations and some differences opinion) agree that one of the foremost attributes necessary for the existence of property rights is the fact that property is limited. Because the world and every ownable thing on it is currently finite (even if vastly large) there must exist property rights. Why? To protect that which is finite in and of a person. This is, in essence, to protect the very finiteness of human beings themselves. Thus, to protect people.

    And yet I reiterate: if a person cannot be harmed, then what is the harm? You keep saying, it's bad, it's bad, it's bad. You can't ever, ever, ever violate property rights. Ever. Period. And I ask you, why? Why not? Why are they inviolable?

    And to point once again at your flawed example, you seem to believe that stealing $1000 from the janitor is the same as stealing $1000 from Bill Gates. But this is wrong. When you steal from the janitor, you're basically stealing, let's say, 1/10 of his wealth. Whereas with Gates its something like 1/1000000. Gates feels something like 1/100000 of the pain of the janitor (even less with the law of diminishing returns!).

    Your initial premises are wrong and I believe you need to recognize the overall importance in the underlying presence of pain in a worldview.
  • Abby

    You are contesting that since humans instantly regenerate and can no longer feel the pain of any physical affront then the rights of private property no longer apply?

    The fact that I heal immediately or regrow fingers does not make my resource infinite. I am the ONLY source of my body parts. Therefore the resource is finite. If I want to isolate myself in 10 ft deep in a snowbank in the arctic, where no one can find me, I can take myself and my resource out of the market.

    Rothbard and Locke both talked about the ownership of private property and how it is created: homesteading (mixing labor with land/resource) or voluntary exchange.
    Locke specifically states in his 2nd Treatise of Civil Gov't that "Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to but himself"

    Since my body is an example of private property, I have:
    1. Exclusive use of the resources (repeatedly popping out my eyes for a modern art piece)
    2. Exclusive right to the services of the resources
    3. Exclusive right to delegate, rent or sell any portion of the property or rights.

    However, in a world with infinite resources (however impossible) is private property necessary?
  • I understand where you both are coming from. I do, I really do. And you have made a valid point concerning the fact that you are the only source of your property (and I believe this idea has merit), but just because you're the only source does not, in anyway, mean something cannot be infinite.

    The line, let us call it A, seen here "___", is the only source of all points from line A. No other line can provide the good "points from line A". However, there are infinitely many points on that line. It is the same with constantly regrowing body parts.

    And I am aware of what Rothbar and Locke have to say on the matter. Indeed, it was what they had to say that lead to me posing this dilemma. You can't just say "homesteading" creates ownership of private property. *Why* does it do that? *Why* do we own ourselves?

    *What* makes us the owners of ourselves?

    And yes, Abby, "in a world with infinite resources (even if those resources are from your body) *is private property necessary*?" That is the question.
  • Abby
    Or are Natural laws equivalent to Laws of Nature? No one invented gravity or created the separate states of matter. These Laws were discovered. So are Natural Laws and rights not created or invented, but discovered?
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