Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What does aggression mean?

Spreading peace and unity serves as a catalyst for the Redemption. This is also reflected in Parshas Mishpatim, for the purpose of the laws placed in the category of mishpatim is to increase peace.
-- The Rebbe's sicho on Parshas Mishpotim

Recently, I have been trying to make sense of the basic axiom of libertarian creed: the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). The Principle states that it is wrong to initiate aggression. But, as my rabbi has once noted, it is not aggression if the force was used not against your property.

Thus, seemingly, reliance on NAP forces one to have a good definition of property a priori. I have been trying to find and justify one recently and make sense of the popular libertarian justifications for property according to different logical systems, but so far, the most straightforward a priori concept of property for me remains intuitive. Which is not straightforward at all.

But, I had an epiphany tonight that I may have been going about it the wrong way. Or not the only possible way. What follows is a portion of an e-mail I wrote to my rabbi. I am not fully convinced this is the right approach, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to think out loud.

Imagine we play a game called "Don't Be an Aggressor". The rules of the game are:

1. We have a resource about which we are in conflict (both of us claim it as our own).

2. One of us gets labeled as an aggressor (and loses the game) if he does one of the following:
a) he initiates violence (or threat thereof) to force his claim 
b) he uses deception (e.g., fraud) or cover of ignorance (e.g., nighttime) to take hold of the resource and run away 
c) he doesn't seem willing to come to a resolution of the claim in a reasonable time (e.g., he holds on to the resource indefinitely and never shows up to court and just hides behind his armed walls, or he uses the above rules to prevent the other disputant from taking control of the resource under the threat of being labeled an aggressor) — there may be an arbitrary time limit imposed by a local custom or some other factor 
d) in one variation of the game, if the time ran out, per c), both of us have lost (the situation deteriorates into "might makes right", and both are labeled aggressors, or the one who gets the resource is labeled an aggressor; he gets the resource at the price of social and/or ethical disapproval).
3. Once someone has become an aggressor (in a-c), the other disputant can use either violence or deception to take control of the resource, and he is not labeled an aggressor. So, for instance, if someone tries to take the resource from me by trickery or cover of the night, or pulls out a gun, I can pull out my gun and shoot him — and I am not an aggressor.

Also, people in the society can help me. (This assumes that the society watches the situation from the outside and sees clearly who initiated violence or deception or dilly-dallied until the time ran out. And that people in the society agree to play this game.)

This means that we are forced both to agree whom the resource belongs to. It doesn't matter how we do it. We can both actually agree after discussing it with each other. We can each hire a third-party arbitrator or each get our own rav, with both rabbonim picking a third one (it was also done this way, lehavdil, in the "Wild West"). We can flip a coin. We can divide the resource. But the point is that we have to come to resolution peacefully (and, remember, time is ticking as per 2c).

The point of the game (and of NAP) is not to assign property "justly", but to assign it b'darkei sholom -- peacefully. It assumes that initiation of violence is the wrong way to prove the justice of your claim. The game doesn't mean you can't have an a priori conception of property or justice based on whatever convictions, but you have to convince your opponent of it peacefully, or come to some sort of negotiated compromise, or leave it to a third party to arbitrate between you. But you just can't force your claim through aggression.

By the way, the government loses because: 1) it proves the justice of its own claims with threats of violence, 2) it is its own arbitrator according to its own rules.

I am not saying that this approach does not have holes and there aren't things to be worked out here. We may need to create more rules, etc. But I think I may be onto something here... I am also not saying I agree with the above. I am just trying to make sense of the different views to see whether I agree or disagree with them.

Also, this may be just one aspect of aggression and NAP. The other may be making claims on resources that have already been claimed (without having other claims beforehand). Or claiming resources unjustly (according to universal intuitive concepts of justice). Etc.

Another point is that one might think that libertarians hold freedom as the highest value. And that's foolish because it's not the only or the highest value. But the above analysis shows that libertarians (at least anarcho-capitalists) hold darkei sholom (peace) and justice to be the highest values. Freedom is the extension of those principles.

And I don't think that's quite so foolish.

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