Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Judging a judgment call

Last summer I overheard a snatch on Dennis Prager's radio show regarding a farmer who was imprisoned for shooting a house burglar.

What bothered me was not what was said, but what was assumed. The callers seemed to focus on what they would have done had they been in the same situation as the farmer. But that misses the point.

One of the unspoken assumptions in this whole debate, and one of the most dangerous assumptions in this debate, was the assumption if I would not make the same judgment call as the farmer, then that justifies his imprisonment.

This is a huge leap of logic. We are often faced with difficult ethical decisions in which we have to make a snap judgment. The idea that we should start to criminalize someone else's judgment call just because it wasn't the call we'd make—or imagine we'd make—is a very perilous and precarious extrapolation. The fact that I may think what you did was wrong does not automatically imply that you should be jailed.

It many cases, it's really none of our business. We can debate whether the farmer used excessive force in shooting the burglar, but frankly, it's really between him and the burglar, and unless an action is way over the line, a third party shouldn't be taking sides.

The very fact that reasonable people can disagree over this issue goes to show that it should not be a matter in which the state ought to intervene. Whether I approve of his choice of action is a separate issue from whether I should sanction him for his choice of action. I wasn't there. Suppose he felt threatened by the burglar? Why should we be giving the burglar the benefit of the doubt?

But this is typical of the liberal mindset. For all their talk of privacy rights, liberals are professional busybodies. They think that everyone's business is their business. They think there should be a public policy on every form of private conduct.

I'm not a libertarian. But when we start turn a judgment call into a felony, when we begin to penalize an action over which reasonable people can and do disagree, this is fanatical and tyrannical, and should be opposed at every turn and step of the way.

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