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February 13, 2006


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The Law Fairy

Wrt the Save Toby website, I was first directed to the site quite a long time ago, and, call me macabre, but I thought it was hilarious. The authors' humorous intent, though clearly sardonic to the casual observer, is belied by the fact that the deadline to save Toby from execution has been extended numerous times since the website and later book were first published.

As far as self-harm blackmail goes, I think it tends, generally, to fall into one of three categories (unless it is, as above, not serious): 1) the blackmailer means to achieve some social good, as with hunger strikers; 2) the blackmailer lacks the discipline to see the threat through (probably most fall into this category); or 3) the blackmailer has some degree of mental illness or depression (e.g., "if you dump me I'll kill myself"). It seems to me that only this last form of blackmail is socially problematic. With the first, some social good may be achieved. With the second, the problem ends up resolving itself. With the third, however, harm will actually be caused one way or another; either one party's free choice is infringed upon, or one party causes harm to him or herself. However, such mental illness is not a problem specific to these blackmail approaches; indeed, such emotional blackmail can be a cry for help. Others might simply carry out the threat without warning. Viewed this way, in fact, emotional blackmail may actually be a net positive for society.

Thus, I agree with you: legally barring this form of blackmail is not a good idea.


how can you justify or legitimize animal 'rights' without dipping your hand into metaphysics and having to argue on the basis of "soul" and "animal spirit."

after all, the only way we got rid of the "soul" in ethics and law was by arguing on the basis of "humanity." You clearly can't extend "humanity" to animals. So what will you do: argue on the basis of an essential animal spirit?

The Continental Op

I'm reminded of the scene in Blazing Saddles where Cleavon Little holds the lynch mob at bay. (http://www.filmsite.org/blaz.html)

The Law Fairy

eteraz -- one common argument for animal rights, even from the perspective that animals do not have souls, is that cruelty ought to be curbed in all its forms. Empirically speaking, there is a demonstrated link between serial killing and cruelty to animals. Thus, to protect animals may in some sense be seen as promoting human temperance, which is a good thing whether or not animals go to heaven.


I love the Kelo point but it leaves me unsure as to whether eminent-domain-for-Toby is metaphorical or real. If real, why can't the blackmailer simply line up hundreds of Tobys (using the eminent domain revenues to purhcase the next one if you want to be fussy about the details) and threaten to kill them one by one in order to make the government's position untenable?

Alternatively you might suggest that a private party could offer to buy the Picasso or the Toby so that there is private eminent domain available for art or animal life, perhaps. Again, though, there is a boundless extortion problem.


eteraz - I don't know whether animals have souls. I do know that animals suffer pain, and that this pain imposes substantial welfare losses on the animals themselves and on the humans who identify with them. Avoiding that pain strikes me as a perfectly plausible basis for both animal cruelty laws and regulation of the livestock industries. You don't need to equate one suffering puppy with one suffering child to get there.

Saul - I suppose you're right. The costs to the government of condemning property can be high, potentially high enough to thwart destruction-prevention uses of eminent domain. This strengthens the argument for legislative quick take provisions in these circumstances or perhaps shifting attorneys' fees where the state has to condemn valuable property in order to prevent its destruction. Of course, if the bunnies are all acquired at once, then there's nothing to stop the state from condemning them all in one fell swoop.

Stephen E. Sachs

I'm glad to see that my comment has sparked such a discussion -- I've just posted a short response on my website, at http://stevesachs.com/blog .


Just because they kill and eat this rabbit, doesn't mean that it will be done inhumanely. We kill thousands of animals every year in this country for consumption. Just because these guys threaten to eat an animal if we don't buy their books, doesn't mean that we are looking at animal rights violations. Get real, people!

And if someone wants to torch his Picasso, let him. It's his property! Or do we not have property rights in this country any longer? If that is so, then your lives no longer belong to you, but to the state! My life belongs to me and I can do with it what I choose. I will be a slave to no man.

Don't you realize that ALL rights are really property rights? My life, my work, my mind...all my property.

Brett Bellmore

Let the Picasso burn, or *pay* the price. No painting has nearly as much value as the property rights you're proposing to compromise to save it. Our liberties are much more important than any work of art.


Saying you can do what you want with your property is just too simple. There isn't necessarily less of a harmful externality when a person burns a Picasso than there is in a more typical nuissance situation (e.g. noise pollution), right? If you burn your Picasso, future generations lose it forever. That could be worse than violating your "liberty." You're making a very dubious empirical claim, Brett. Would you really say that the government could not regulate pollution created by private companies?


Animal cruelty laws typically prohibit "needless killing" of an animal. See, e.g., Ohio Rev. Code s 959.13(A)(1). If the Save Toby people are to be taken seriously (I believe it's a joke), the statements on their web site suggest that their acts would amount to needlessly killing Toby. (Toby is a perfectly good companion, but we're killing him because people haven't paid us enough money to keep him alive.) Humanely slaughtering an animal can be cruel under these circumstances.


"Humanely slaughtering an animal can be cruel under these circumstances."


Circumstances have nothing to do with it. It's how it's done that counts. A dumb animal has no clue about the circumstance and, therefore, is not subjected to any mental cruelty.

And the word "needless" is so damn ambiguous, I can't believe that lawyers would have ... uh, never mind, yes, I do see why lawyers make laws such as these afterall. Since the word "needless" will need to be proven in each case that comes before the court, it is only good business practice to write ambiguous laws.


"If you burn your Picasso, future generations lose it forever. That could be worse than violating your liberty."

Bryson, you're a nutcase! Or maybe you just don't understand what liberty is? Or maybe you're just too young to know better? You've prbably never lived in a country where you are practically enslaved. You've had it too good here in America. Why don't you go live in for a year, then come back here and tell us how liberty is not as valuable as a stinking painting. You are warped! Do you not realize that millions of people have DIED fighting for their liberty. DIED!!! Would you die for a painting? If so, please kill yourself now ,or else I will burn my Picasso.

Freaking morons like you just don't understand that LIBERTY = LIFE.

A painting may be more important that your liberty (because you don't have much of a life), but NO painting (I don't care who painted it) is more valuable than MY liberty!!!

Kimball Corson

Liberty for what? Is our freedom to destroy what is our own a priceless liberty and essential to or equivalent to our life, as Bob suggests, admonishing Bryson. Help me here because I seriously doubt it and believe Bryson is right in the instance. Is it free speech to destroy the Picasso or free what? The right to be foolish? The right to act irrationally? The right to deprive posterity of its due out of sheer orneriness or foolishness, so you are not burdened with having to keep the Picasso, sell it or give it away? Should the property right in a valuable asset be defined to go so far? I think not, especially without good reason.


You might consider toning down your comments and stopping the ad hominem attacks on fellow commenters. Also, the exclamation marks aren't conducive to your being taken seriously.

The Law Fairy

Bob -- it's *legislators* who make laws, not lawyers. Funny how quick people are to blame lawyers when it's the politicians who are at fault, if there is any fault.


Liberty isn't an all or nothing thing. We balance liberty with other important things all the time. For example, you aren't free to kill another simply because otherwise your freedom would be diminished. With respect to personal property, zoning laws and nuissance laws limit what we can do all the time (or, limit what we can do without liability). It's just dubious to say that "[n]o painting has nearly as much value as the property rights you're proposing to compromise to save it." If everyone else in the world values a Picasso a lot, then it might be worth it to limit what you can do with it. I simply see (and, I think most people would agree) limiting someone's ability to destroy a really valuable work of art (which creates negative externalities on others) as a fairly mild infringement on liberty. Now, if nobody cares about a painting, the legal rules should let you burn it. It's also obvious that not allowing someone to burn a painting is different than enslaving someone. Maybe you meant to imply that there would be some kind of slippery slope, but that would just be a debater's trick here. It doesn't follow (and is just plain far fetched) that limitations on what property you can destroy will eliminate all or most of our liberty.



Fair enough, and I apologize. I guess one shouldn't drink beer and write at the same time, lol.

Now, Bryson,

"you aren't free to kill another simply because otherwise your freedom would be diminished."

Well, duh. I never said that liberty allows me to kill another. Obviously, that would infringe on their liberty. Supporting liberty doesn't mean that I support "doing as I please" without regard to other's property (which includes their lives). Of course, liberty is exercised within the confines of property rights.

"If everyone else in the world values a Picasso a lot, then it might be worth it to limit what you can do with it."

So, if everyone else likes my Picasso, then I don't really own it. A lot of people like my car and it's worth $40,000 or more, so is my car also not really my property?

Or would you suggest some price level? Say, if any item has a value of over $1,000,000, then the "people" own it. It cannot be owned by an individual. Is this what you are suggesting?

Or are you suggesting that we all take a vote, and if the majority likes something, then we take it from the individual owner? Or maybe, even better, in the case of the Picasso, the owner must keep it displayed in a National Art Museum?

"It's just dubious to say that "[n]o painting has nearly as much value as the property rights you're proposing to compromise to save it."

Well, I disagree with this statement. I cannot believe that a painting, or any property, is more important than property rights. If it is my property, I may dispose of it as I see fit, as long as I do not infringe on the property rights and liberties of others (this is where zoning laws come in). But pictures don't have zoning laws. Zoning laws are for land, there is a difference. We were talking about a picture, not real estate.

But, go for it. Once property rights are destroyed, no one will take care of anything. There will be no pride in anything. People do not take care of things they don't own. If you think property rights should be weakened, look at countries without property rights. Nothing but poverty, because without ownership, nobody creates anything because nobody can keep anything.

"It's also obvious that not allowing someone to burn a painting is different than enslaving someone."

I didn't say that. I said that without property rights, all that we are (our lives, our work, our production, our land, our stuff) is for others to own. If others own me and mine, then I am a slave. The painting is just a thing. Property rights are me. I hold myself above things. I am sorry you do not hold yourself above things.

How about that? Did I tone it down some?

The Law Fairy

Wow, Bob. You sure are making a lot of generalizations.

I think Bryson's point, and it's a good one, is that property rights are not absolute. You impliedly concede this by noting that your liberty cannot infringe on others' liberty. Bryson seems to be proposing an approach to property rights that takes into account the negative externalities of using our property in certain ways. For instance, assuming you find libel laws unproblematic (though let me know if you think this is incorrect, and we ought to be allowed to go trashing people's reputations left and right without a worry of legal retribution), these constitute an infringement on liberty rights (or a property right, using your vernacular, which apparently deems *every* right a property right). You're not allowed to use your property -- i.e., whatever writing tools are at your disposal -- to impose negative externalities on the target of your slander. Legislators have (sensibly so) determined that the negative externalities associated with certain kinds of harmful and untrue publications outweigh whatever psychic benefit the slanderer might derive from being allowed to use her property thus.

The Picasso example is actually quite similar. If you and others who fail to appreciate the inherent value in important works of art decide to buy all the Picasso paintings and destroy them, future generations will not appreciate the meaning and beauty of his work. This damages his reputation, as people will not be able to deem him a good painter; everything of value that he produced has been lost for eternity, thanks to your efforts. In fact, the injury is even more extensive than the injury of slander, because future artists will be less likely to create important works, knowing that they could easily and callously be destroyed. Thus, society is robbed both of Picasso's works and of the next Picasso's works. Art as a whole is harmed, and artists are harmed. They now have less to contribute to society and may turn to less productive pursuits, like establishing the next McDonald's mega-chain. All because a skewed calculus was used to determine that denying someone the right to destroy something of broad social value was as bad as, oh, telling that person he couldn't leave his house after 6:00 pm.

The car example is a non sequitur. You show me how your mass-produced cheap ($40K doesn't even APPROACH the value of an original Picasso. Don't make a mockery of fine art) car with dings and stains has ANY broad social value, and then we can engage in the externalities calculus to determine if your car is worth saving from destruction.

Interesting, too, that you claim that people will not care for property if they don't have whole and total control over every use of it, when *you* are the one who wants to destroy these things.


Bob - Yes, I appreciate the civility of your most recent post, and I bet other commenters do well.

Brett Bellmore

The world will not come to an end if a Picasso, or even all Picassos, is destroyed. Which is just as well, as they aren't eternal; They WILL be destroyed, sooner or later.

I've got a nice oil painting hanging in my bedroom. Chances are you've never heard of the artist, (Toni Taylor) or seen a print of it, but I assure you that it's technically superior to most of Picasso's works. Aside from Picasso being the object of an irrational fad, his paintings have no greater value than the prints you might buy at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

The world faces no shortage of art, even of the highest quality. Would that the same could be said of freedom!

The Law Fairy

Brett -- two questions just begging to be asked:

1) You say Picasso's art is nothing to be impressed by and that quality art abounds. On whose determination of quality do you base this statement and what are that person's qualifications?

2) Wouldn't freedom, too, then have a qualitative dimension? I can't recall who said that freedom without morals is worthless (huge paraphrase, obviously), but whoever did was a wise person indeed. Freedom as a free-standing concept sounds pretty, but without a clear definition and backdrop, it's just as meaningless as "art." Total anarchy is just as valueless as totalitarianism.

Kimball Corson

Brett writes:

"The world will not come to an end if a Picasso, or even all Picassos, is destroyed."

I respond. Is this the test? If so, the world won't come to an end if all of us are destroyed. Indeed, it might enjoy some relief, even a hay day.

Brett writes:

"I've got a nice oil painting hanging in my bedroom. Chances are you've never heard of the artist, (Toni Taylor) or seen a print of it, but I assure you that it's technically superior to most of Picasso's works."

I respond: Art is not judged on 'technical superiority.' It is judged on artist concept and imagery agaist the context in which it arises. The market, which reflects the collective wisdom of all of us, prices Picasso's a more bit ahead of Taylor's, I do believe. Your analysis is not even in the ball park.

Brett writes:

"The world faces no shortage of art, even of the highest quality."

I respond: This is sheer nonsence, Good art is scarce and the prices of it reflect that, bandwagon effects or not. Art of the highest quality is scarcest yet. By what absurd analysis can you conclude otherwise? And how did you acquire this "wisdom" that all of the rest of us somehow missed?

Kimball Corson

Bryson writes:

"I simply see (and, I think most people would agree) limiting someone's ability to destroy a really valuable work of art (which creates negative externalities on others) as a fairly mild infringement on liberty."

I think most of us can support that statement. Note that the negative externalities impinge upon present and future generations as well, the key reason for limiting freedom of destruction here.



So, if you were to discover the cure for AIDS, you would be okay with the state taking it from you in order to benefit society?

Remember about 2-3 months ago when a man named Andrew Stimpson in England cured himself of AIDS. It was believed that it was his natural immune system that held the cure. Of course, it is now assumed that he never had AIDS and that his first 4-5 tests were all false positives (sounds iffy). Anyway, the authorities wanted to study him, but he declined. So, the authorities were considering forcing him to donate his body to science for the "good of all."

Now, would that violate his property rights to his own body?

Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing. - Calvin Coolidge

As far as this Picasso goes, art is subjective. Different kinds of art go in and out of style all the time. Artists also go in and out of style. Tastes change. The majority consensus changes. Majorities are not always right. Remember the tulip craze in England. Well, tulips today don't cost 5,000 pounds anymore. Who knows, tomorrow Picasso may be classified as a fraud. Who knows? Some people like Picasso, some people like Michealangelo and DaVinci. (I am in the latter group.) But if we are to let individuals own this art, then they must have full ownership rights. If you don't like it, then have the government or some museum buy them all. In other words, actually do something about it, but don't support laws that make exceptions to property rights. We either own our property, or we don't.

Personally, if I owned a DaVinci, and some government passed a law that said I couldn't do with it what I wished, I would burn it immediately to keep it from people that I believe do not deserve to have it. Yes, I am spiteful.

Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; it is a positive good in the world.
- Abraham Lincoln

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