I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—or at least quote ol’ Lysander Spooner again. This is such a good reminder of what, to a large degree, should constitute an actual crime. It’s important, because right now it’s marijuana, once it was booze, and tomorrow it could be the herb supplements you take, the political material you like to read etc. Oh, and a propos (do I use a propos correctly?) to the previous blog, too…

In 1875, US Constitutional expert Lysander Spooner wrote:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime—that is, the design to injure the person or property of another—is wanting.

Some of those old fellas were pretty clever. Nevertheless, I seem to recall reading Mr Spooner died rather broke which, when you think about it, is how we all die anyway. Or at least how it is the day after.

Anyway, here’s to love, individualism and community,



3 Responses to “SPOONER-FED WISDOM”

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    Yes, you use “a propos” correctly; however, according to our friends Merriam and Webster, only in French is there a space between the “a” and “p.” If you intended the phrase to be in English, it should be “apropos.” Unless—you maverick you—you are interjecting a French phrase. Then it should be italicized, as you have done. However, as you usually don’t italicize them, that now brings up a consistency issue concerning your “moi”s… As I’ve said, when you get a bunch of editors together, we can put geeks to shame…or to sleep.

    On a more serious note, while I agree with Mr. Spooner’s definitions of crime and vice in principle, I’m troubled by them in practice. Yes, we all have the right to hurt ourselves in any manner we choose, but at what point does vice become crime? Addicts are no less culpable in the injury their vice inflicts on others than the person who habitually walks around with their finger on the trigger of a loaded gun with the safety off. The majority of addicts are quite aware of the collateral damage their vice is causing.

    When I read Mr. Spooner’s words and just let myself feel them, the phrase “Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness” trouble me deeply. What then do you call a woman with a red and purple bruise the size and shape of her coked-up husband’s hand clearly visible on her throat? Would Mr. Spooner consider her the husband’s “property”? With all due respect to Mr. Spooner’s point, this and similar incidences are not to my mind simply errors made in search of one’s happiness.

    And then there’s the money. Drug misdemeanor charges create tremendous revenue with court fees and fines. Lawyers earn a fortune defending clients from these lesser charges. And then there are court-approved counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. How would they replace that never-ending stream of clients? Humm? Could this be part of the problem?

    I’m against prohibition, consider marijuana in the same league with alcohol, and agree the current system is broke, but where vice ends and crime begins has to be very clearly delineated. Is the responsible use of cocaine and heroin vice? But then even the responsible use of alcohol can escalate to physical violence frighteningly fast. I don’t for a second think I have any answers to this; far from it. I don’t even know that there is an equitable compromise, but the current system is so rife with graft and misery that obviously something has to change. Let’s hope it’s not the innocents who suffer for that change.

    Love to you and those you love.

  2. I’ll tell you what, I’ve had a wild and crazy day, and it sure is fun to get your lovely thoughts. By the way, in my opinion, most of those things you have mentioned are in fact a crime.

    I think the sentiment is this: not causing harm to others (hitting someone+crime, theft, property damage etc+crime) is not a crime, and, I think Spooner suggests, do not make more crimes than are necessary, and are crimes. Twenty million people arrested for marijuana. Twenty million crimes that Spooner, I think, would say, at least a percentage of, are not crimes.

    I may add that it should be a crime to take between 1 and 7 billion dollars a year from tax-payer to enforce non-crimes! That stealing is not a vice—garl darn it, it’s a crime!

    And lovely Karen, I certainly feel for and with the sentiment and the truth of your hesitancy around the question/statement. But for me it’s a bit like free speech. That means standing up for the right of people to say things that I personally despise.

    The State is a curious thing, whatever it is, growing in all directions with more fines, more incarcerations, more enforcement, more legislation (the incarceration rate in the freest society in the world is insane), and people still play outside less. Hmmm.

    But hitting a person possibly because you’re coked up and doing coke (and I have no affinity for drugs!) are two different things. I think it’s important we don’t let our emotions and the moral heat of this problem blur what we’re saying. There is SO much vehicular homicide via alcohol. In my heart, if not my head (or vice versa, maybe), I think the drinking driving limit would be interesting at .01 or .02. I don’t know why people have to drink when they socialize, and why one is expected to, or expected to bring alcohol. I say come with a 24 pack of hugs, but that’s just me. I find nothing more intoxicating then people I love, like, and good conversation.

    But hey, I’m NOT everybody! But you’re a dream.

    Thanks for your beautiful thoughts, heart and mind,


  3. [...] when the exchange of goods are not manipulated by the state or by corporate monopoly, when the difference between a vice and a crime is understood, when government and business are not interchangeable, when church and state are [...]

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