How Valuable is a Human Life?

May 27th, 2015   Submitted by Seth King

valueoflifeWe often hear people repeat the platitude that “a human life is priceless.” But how true is that? Maybe in some spiritual sense, where resources and time are infinite, is a human soul also infinitely valuable in the eyes of the creator. But we live in the physical world where time and resources are not infinite. And since resources and time in the real world are not infinite it only follows that the value of an individual life is also not infinite, at least in terms of time and resources. This, then, begs the question: How much is a human life worth?

The answer, of course, is that it depends. Economics 101, at least of the Austrian School, teaches us that value is subjective. Therefore, the value of each individual is subjective only in regards to that of other individuals. This is a very important subject that I hope anarchists will start to incorporate into their worldviews. Let us explore some examples now.

Imagine two people come down with some life threatening illness. The cost of the operation to save them is $50,000. One of these people is your significant other. The second person is a complete stranger. Would you pony up the money to save your lover? Since I cannot answer for others, I will simply say that I would. Yes. But if somebody asked me to pay $50,000 of my own money for some random stranger, the answer would be no. Plain and simple. I frankly do not value the lives of strangers equally to that of my wife.

Notice how I wrote above that I cannot answer for others? This is an important distinction. Many other people, when asked whether or not they would pay $50,000 to save their spouse or partner, would answer no. This has nothing to do with cruelty. Imagine two married people, well into their 90’s. A $50,000 operation might only stave off death for a few more months. The person therefore sees no point in depriving their children of $50,000 worth of inheritance to delay the inevitable.

So, since each individual’s life is only valuable subjectively to other individuals, we cannot project our valuation of an individual’s life onto others. In other words, I may value my wife to the point of being willing to lay down $50,000 for an operation, but that doesn’t mean that you would value my wife’s life to the point of $50,000.

We live in a world where every individual has a value to every other individual.

Some individuals I value highly. I would be willing to fork over large chunks of money to save certain people. Other people actually have a negative value to me.

That’s an interesting concept that most people, including many libertarians, aren’t quite ready to accept. Some people have negative value.

How do we react to people we value negatively? Generally speaking, when one individual negatively values another, they’d be willing to pay money to see them dead or incapacitated. Now, most people don’t say that, but that’s how the world works.

Think about all of the drug-warriors out there. They actually negatively value drug users so much that they’d be willing to pay for them to be locked up. What about war hawks? They negatively value the enemy so much that they’d be willing to pay for them to be killed.

And everybody has their price. If you asked me how much I’d pay to have some evil dictator killed, I might say $100. How much would I pay to see a criminal who murdered my family member? I might even pay $10,000.

As much as we libertarians like to moralize the world, it could be that we’re really just subconsciously in tune with the true costs of actions more than others. Sure, I might negatively value certain middle-easterners each to the tune of $0.01. They’re insane religious fanatics who want to enslave or kill me. But they’re also on the other side of the planet. If the federal government wants to wage war on them it’s going to cost me $0.05 per death, or about $0.04 more than I negatively value them. Would-be criminals closer to home, however, I might negatively value at $10.00 per head.

One of the problems with the state is that it removes the pricing mechanism from our valuation of the lives of others. Socialized medicine, war, police protection, etc. all force people to pay for the edcuation of strangers, the capturing and killing of strangers, etc. in ways that are out of tune with our individual valuations.

So, what can we take away from this realization? For starters, it helps me to empathize with the valuations of others. My life simply isn’t very valuable to most people. And neither is yours. Unless you bring value to others somehow, you’re not likely going to be valued. Musicians, actors, inventors, and yes, even religious leaders and politicians are often highly valued. My employer probably values my life a lot less than I value his. I’m much more expendable to him than he is to me. No use getting melodramatic about it. Simple acceptance is key.

But after you come to an honest valuation of your life in regards to others, be honest about your valuation of others as well. Next time you see some innocent get their life ended by the police, ask yourself how much you would have paid personally to save their life. Next time you see somebody who you’d like to see dead, or incapacitated, ask yourself how much you’d pay for it. What if the cost of killing them were less than housing them in prison for a long time? Is that a case for the “death penalty?”

It’s these sorts of questions that lead to other sorts of questions. Does hiring assassins make sense now? How many people would willingly pay money to house a criminal in prison if given the choice between death, imprisonment, or simply setting them free? Would prisons become work-camps for criminals to pay off restitution to their victims in an anarcho-capitalist society, or would assassination be more cost-effective? How much can a criminal expect to fetch from their
family members to pay for restitution in order to save their life? Is it reasonable to expect others to not “snitch” to save their own life? Many questions might make us uncomfortable. But anarchists should be after the truth, even if it’s inconvenient.

There are two main things that I take from the realization that the value of a life is subjective. First, there’s no point in losing sleep over all of the strangers in the world that are getting victimized by other strangers. Truth be told, I value their lives far less than I value my own. Second, since nobody in the world values my own life as much as I do, I have the greatest incentive to secure my well being. I value my life a lot. If I had children or grandchildren, there might be a case to be made that I’d rather die than give up everything I own to save my own life. But I do not. Therefore, I’d likely spend every last penny to save my skin.

The state knows this. That’s why most people prefer to pay taxes rather than go to jail. If anarchists expect others to fall on their sword for principle, they’re going to be sorely disappointed. The only way we’re going to end the state is when the risk versus reward ratio is favorable. People are not going to risk their own life disobeying the institution that destroys the lives of people they do not know or highly value.

59 Responses to “How Valuable is a Human Life?”

  1. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Good stuff! I must mention that you reference existing concepts that other people have thought about for a long time. So to not reinvent the wheel, I will point to them.

    “””Is it reasonable to expect others to not “snitch” to save their own life?”””

    Of course not, that would often be irrational, though it depends on the “punishment” for snitching and availability of witness protection programs. This is very close though not exactly a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

    I may sound pedantic, but prisoner’s dilemma and it’s variant – security dilemma are crucial to understanding the world around us.

  2. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    “””Would-be criminals closer to home, however, I might negatively value at $10.00 per head.”””

    “””What if the cost of killing them were less than housing them in prison for a long time? Is that a case for the “death penalty?”””

    I must repeat again – “justice” is probabilistic!

    You cannot prove that someone is guilty in the same way that you can prove a mathematical theorem. Even that is done by humans, so there is room for error. Someone can set you up, plant your DNA, pay off the jurors. Look up this title – “Annie Dookhan Drug Lab Scandal: 500 Defendants Face Release After Faked Drug Tests”. Annie could have been employed by a different lab, one that has input into whether someone dies.

    I am not exactly appealing to emotions here – I am saying that if justice is served 99% of the time, you probably do not want to have death penalty (which currently is more expensive than life in prison) because of the chance that YOU get set up. Your model has to get more complex – there is probability involved.

    Julie Borowski, while annoying, has very good points against death penalty. It is only 4.5 minutes long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oibQNI0PBkA

  3. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Maybe off topic, but James Corbett has made another great video (Conspiracy Theory) about Timothy McVeigh. He was not the first. I, for one, would like to see McVeigh not “executed” and pay any extra money for his life sentence. Why? Because I am convinced that we did not hear the whole story, nor am I sure that he is actually dead. I want to know who driver #2 was.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgfi1QZILxk

    I also am not convinced that we heard the whole story about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The circumstances under which his brother’s buddy – Ibragim Todashev are super super sketchy.

    I digress into the moral, rather than consequentialist side. I personally would pay extra for the cost of life imprisonment of people we believe are hard-core criminals.

    Saddam Hussein could have been a treasure trove of information that could be used against neocons who literally approved of his gasing of Kurds. He asked for permission from Washington before he started and he got that permission.

  4. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    “””If I had children or grandchildren, there might be a case to be made that I’d rather die than give up everything I own to save my own life. But I do not. Therefore, I’d likely spend every last penny to save my skin.”””

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology

    The model is more complicated – you are most likely to act in a way that maximizes the spread and survival of your genes. You poses 100% of your genes, but you are likely to die before your children do. While your kids share 50% of your genes (I think), they are the next generation. The assumption is that you will screw and reproduce like a rabbit, because this is what our ancestors did, with the complication that humans are difficult to raise and tend to die often.

    In a scenario where you have to chose who gets to live – you and/or your 1 yo son or your 5 yo child it comes down to calculations. A 5 yo is more likely to make it than a 1yo, so between those two let’s keep an older kid. However, a calculus between 2 year old and a 32 year old child may be different, because an older kid may have reproduced already. Another example is from the show M*A*S*H where in the last episode titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” a crying baby was smothered to death by its own parent, presumably with the purpose of saving a bus full of people, including the parent. Then there were cases of old people refusing to eat and then die during WW2 because they calculated that they cannot work, they are a burden, and suiciude via starvation was rational as that behavior would maximize collective survival of their genes. These calculations are build into humans because humans (and animals they descended from) were tested by evolution millions of times and had to chose correctly, or their genes would not be with us today.

    Another point I want to make is that when you speak of the cost, it is not necessarily dollars or gold, and quite often it is not. Evolution does not “think” in terms of shiny pieces of metal. Money in today’s form is not evolutionary familiar to humans.

    However, genetic material: e.g. wife with a big ass, big tits and symmetric face, food, shelter, energy, social status – these things are likely part of the evolutionary multi-currency system.

    At the end of the day it is all about energy optimization. Ideas in this post have to do a ton with energy optimization. This is a highly abstract thought that I have not yet fully developed.

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      I think this video is related to some of my thoughts – 7:49 long. Has to do with evolution, market, and how human brains work.

      Walter Block – Libertarianism Vs Socio-Biology
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6b2HBJ5wLg

      • Sam SpadeNo Gravatar says:

        Walter Block has been teaching me valuable lessons in connection with liberty. Inversely. Never hitch your wagon to the star of a libertarian guru. Never.

        When “Defending the Undefendable” was published in the late 70’s Walter became my mentor, the book my “bible”. I still consider that publication among the very top short and concise outlines to libertarian thinking.

        But this video adds credulity to Dr Block’s lesson. Because lately Block has given himself over to mini-statism. He he seems to promote libertarianism — with a capital “L” nowadays (ever since the Ron Paul phenomenon). He implies (in other videos — he soft-shoes it in this one) that “we” should all climb aboard.

        Count me out.

        What if “we” don’t “win”??? I win. That’s what. I can’t speak for you. I’d be ever bit as happy if Hillary Clinton “wins” as I would if Rand Paul “wins” (the dishonorable “prize” of grand wizard of the US Klan). More so, probably, because the pain of economic collapse may not last quite so long. Like froggy, hot h2o, etc etc etc. Sam

        .

        • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

          Ok, Sam, on mini-statism and its support by anyone, however sainted, I agree. But we can support the bulk of a thinker’s ideas without endorsing all of them. I assume you meant “hitching your wagon” as blanket approval. I found a few stupid minor ideas in Ayn Rand’s work, but the body of her work (but not her life) puts her in the top five all time great philosophers.

          • Sam SpadeNo Gravatar says:

            My angst involves political voting. I agree with my old friend, Mark Davis, who said,

            “…Working within the system means to become a part of the system.
            When you go into the voting booth, the only meaningful significance that your action will have is to show that one more person supports the state…”

            From Be Free, by Mark Davis July 10, 2005.
            http://www.strike-the-root.com/52/davis_m/davis1.html

            Just because someone is a statist does not mean s/he can’t have intelligent ideas, agreed. Dr. Ron Paul is an example. Brilliant man — quick witted, perceptive. I did not and will never vote for him (or any of his children) for a political position, because I do not subscribe to political positioning.

            Sam

  5. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Speaking of not reinventing the wheel, this post is taking a side with consequentialists as opposed to moralists. In 1981, when the libertarian party was much younger than it is today, there was a great debate between great (at least relative to me) minds – George H. Smith (moralist) vs David D. Friedman (son of Milton) (consequentialist).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9YVqZN9LJk

    I believe that Friedman has won. I will share other material by him.

    This is important because, to be frank, if Roman Skaskiw studied and understood a lot of David’s thoughts – he would not need to reinvent the wheel with his “10 things libertarians must realize” because many thoughts have already been thought, debated and said in a better way.

    Similarly, Seth, your post appears to have original thoughts by you, and yet at least some of it is rediscovery of what others have already written about.

    For example, Friedman is proposing a stable “justice” aka right enforcement agency system where communities vote with their dollars for and against enforcement of certain “laws”. I think that he though things out pretty well. It has similar ideas to yours in that everything has a cost. I will find a link and post it here.

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      Here is a relevant excerpt from David Friedman – it talks about price of a human life, among other things, and in the same sentence as price of just stuff. I recommend reading the whole book, but this was the chapter that I quoted: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Price_Theory/PThy_Chapter_ 2/PThy_CHAP_2.html

      “””This sounds plausible enough when we are talking about cars and bicycles, but what about really important things? Does it make sense to say that a human life–as embodied in access to a kidney dialysis machine or the chance to have an essential heart operation–is to be weighed in the same scale as the pleasure of eating a candy bar or watching a television program?

      Strange as it may seem, the answer is yes. If we observe how people behave with regard to their own lives, we find that they are willing to make trade-offs between life and quite minor values. One obvious example is someone who smokes even though he believes that smoking reduces life expectancy. Another is the overweight person who is willing to accept an increased chance of a heart attack in exchange for some number of chocolate sundaes.

      Even if you neither smoke nor overeat, you still trade off life against other values. Whenever you cross the street, you are (slightly) increasing your chance of being run over. Every time you spend part of your limited income on something that has no effect on your life expectancy, instead of using it for a medical checkup or to add safety equipment to your car, and every time you choose what to eat on any basis other than what food comes closest to the ideal diet a nutritionist would prescribe, you are choosing to give up, in a probabilistic sense, a little life in exchange for something else.”””

  6. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    “””And everybody has their price. If you asked me how much I’d pay to have some evil dictator killed, I might say $100. How much would I pay to see a criminal who murdered my family member? I might even pay $10,000.”””

    This is an approximation/simplification. A price can only be discovered when there is a transaction occurring. In the realm of hypothetical assassination this “price” is not defined. Some people may never agree to a deal no matter how lucrative. Buckingham Palace is not for sale, so we have no idea what it’s price is. Similarly, with paying to kill a dictator. What you say and what you pay can be very different!

    Let’s not assume that humans are rational, that they think through their decisions with an outer cortex. Very often, or more often than not (don’t have the exact %-ages) they act subconsciously and then try to rationalize their behavior to the best of their thinking abilities (abilities of many are not that impressive, as the so called “IQ” of 100 is not much at all).

    There is an expression “Let me know if there is anything that I can do for you”, you would typically say it when your neighbor’s relative dies. You say it, you feel the emotion, and yet you do not mean it. You did not literally mean anything – you meant some minor help, a hug, some sort of verbal reassurance. What people say and do can be very different. Someone might say – if I won 10 million, I would give 100k to you because you are such a good friend. Would they? The only way to find out is to actually win the lottery (not likely to happen, so the promise is pretty much meaningless).

    Also, when you ask someone how much they would pay – they are forced to think semi-rationally and use their outer cortex. On the other hand, revenge, even for a stranger is a more evolutionary familiar behavior. I do not have a reference right now, but it should not be hard to believe, that most males (old enough and not socio/psychopaths) who have heard of a brutal murder and rape of a 4 yo girl would be tempted to engage in revenge, and enjoy the process, even though there is not necessarily a $ reward for them.

    Why? Because a society where half of its citizenry are violent psychopaths would collapse – too much of the energy is spent on violence and not enough on productive endeavors. The only societies that made it are ones where the ration of human predators (“leaders”, politicians) to human prey (followers, tax cattle) is fairly low.

    While on this topic, I am entertaining a thought that some percentage of psychopathic leaders has been necessary, again due to prisoner’s dilemma – if your neighboring village/country is strong because it has a strong leader (let’s say like Putin (and for Roman, hold your smile, Ukraine is also ruled by sociopaths) ) and the rest of the villagers follow his orders (plus a small percentage of semi-leaders who make up intermediate hierarchy), and if your village is less organized or made up entirely of pacifists / free thinkers / academics / skeptics, then you will get wiped out. Your society will not make it, the hierarchical one will. The one where a small group does the brainwashing and the rest absorbs this brainwashing is strongest.

    It always amazed me how well some psycopaths in politics seem to fit their role. They thrive once they are in “their element” – it is as if they freaking evolved for it! Well, maybe they have?

    Here I am in partial agreement with Skaskiw – historically you would get wiped out by a stronger force, but things are changing pretty rapidly now. Instant video communication, different weaponry, financial inter-dependence, greater wealth leads to less need for violence. What has been going on for thousands of years does not have to continue, if the new incentives are vastly different.

    There are 7 billion people on this planet. Even if “justice” was 100% accurate, I could not name a price for most people’s lives.

    So, it is not exactly that everybody has a price, but it is not outrageous to value a human life – insurance companies do it all the time.

  7. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    “””A $50,000 operation might only stave off death for a few more months. The person therefore sees no point in depriving their children of $50,000 worth of inheritance to delay the inevitable.”””

    That would be the case if humans were rational agents void of emotions and having perfect information.

    Often you do not get a 50k bill upfront – you first sink 5k, then another 5k, and so on … rational calculation has not had a chance to occur from the start – you only start thinking about it half way in.
    In America, in 2015, you do not really have to pay hospital bills.

    Also, the grandchildren, the benefactors may not want to kill the grandma because of efficiency. They also need to be concerned with what other people will think about them. Also, credit may be available, they may think emotionally, their Christian believes may ruin their finances. There is also charity available.

    It is not like the family wipes out an Excel sheet and calculated the ROI of killing the grandma (unless they are sociopaths). However, some mental calculation is happening, but it happens on a more subconscious level.

    Finally, not everyone values their life highly. Thank of the daredevils who die young. Think of the heavy drug users. The brainwashed soldiers who dies in useless WW1 by hundreds of thousands. The brainwashed people who committed suicide because their cult leader told them to.

    Expecting an afterlife can change the calculus of the cost of one’s life greatly. Most of the people on this planet are religious. Some believe in 72 virgins (or 72 raisins, depending on how you translate 🙂 ).

    Why would millions of people die in wars they do not benefit from? Roman Skaskiw would tell you that soldiers are awesome and necessary and valued (translation: Roman is awesome and necessary and a valuable member of the society). Well, why do bees or ants die protecting their colony while not even spreading their seed? It is not only the individuals that try to survive and propagate – communities do as well. Villages without soldiers would not make it.

    Still, people do dumb things with their life all the time; they do not appear to value it that highly. Why don’t they? Because they are often driven by hormones. Because people (and animals) mutate all the time – some lose fear of heights or crocodiles and as a result – they die. Those who survived must have been more careful. However, every society kind of needs (within reason) its share of crazy daredevils – of people who would risk their life trying out a new airplane, a rocket, would even sign up for a one-way mission to mars. They may die, but collectively we are better off for them trying “stupid: things and effectively not valuing their life.

    In sum, pricing is complicated. We the humans are not as rational as we think. That also includes graduates with a Physics degree, though that is certainly not the worst case I can think of.

  8. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    “””Sure, I might negatively value certain middle-easterners each to the tune of $0.01.”””

    Let’s do some arithmetic. The war in Iraq/Afghanistan has costed 6 trillion dollars in the last decade. Divide that by 300M Americans and you get 20k per US citizen, regardless of age or capacity to earn money. About one million people (mostly civilians) have perished in that conflict, so that means that the actual cost per head to you was 20k / 1m = 1/50th of a dollar or $0.02 If you only count tax payers, it is about $0.04 per head per taxpayer. Divide that by 10 years and you get at most half a penny per head per US tax payer per year.

    It does not sound like much per head per tax cattle because there are about some 150 Million of said tax cattle.

    Certainly, the majority of the people have not thought about how much the war is costing to them. The majority does not know that there is a foreign debt that needs to be paid off and what their share is (it is huge!). These are not evolutionary-familiar concepts. Humanity has not seen long periods of peace. Last 50 years is an exception to the rule, hopefully an exception that will continue. Traditionally there was apparently no choice but war due to prisoner’s dilemma and existing incentives.

  9. KyleNo Gravatar says:

    Mr. King, it’s refreshing that you are implying that perhaps assassination markets are more cost effective that statist incarceration; of course, the larger lesson here is that everyone’s got a price tag, and those prices differ according to one’s own perspective.

    You also brought up negative value. If anything, statists are a negative value to my life, as they are constantly begging government to be even more despotic (or worse, actually making it happen). For example, I criticized Dr. John Traphagan for his recent article in The Dallas Morning News where he advocated for more “gun control” (a dramatic reading version of his article and our email exchanges is available @ http://libertyunderattack.com/lua-news.html under the headline, “Austinites Debate Gun Control”). Since Dr. Traphagan would rather advocate for the seizure of what he called “illegal guns,” that to me appears to be another step in gradual citizen disarmament, I negatively value his life, but ah, to what degree is yet another question, isn’t it?

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      It’s symmetric – they could also eliminate you. I am sure that your life also has negative value to a lot of people. Assassinations do happen, by the way, but not all the time. They are expensive, and most people are not willing to pay the price.

      In game-theoretic sense, cooperation makes more sense than fighting, even when you are not perfectly happy. By the way, in India people try to avoid confrontations with neighbors at all costs, even if they have to bolt in some anger. The alternative – fighting – is worse. Not only do they get to waste energy and resources, they may even get their own ass kicked.

      I may be speculating here, as India is not the only country that is densely populated, but I think overcrowding has shaped the way their culture has evolved.

      • JohnNo Gravatar says:

        Collectively killing a random Pakistani dude via a drone may have little individual cost per taxpayer, but also little retaliation (that we can measure at least). Trying to kill Putin – that is a different matter. You might get your ass nuked.

        Haha, this is why Roman Skaskiw is a Keyboard Ranger and is not running to the front lines of Eastern Ukraine – his chances of being killed there are much higher than when he was sniping barefoot “ragheads” wielding stones and slingshots.

        So, the cost of *trying* (no guarantee of success) to kill Putin is X amount of dollars plus say a 20% chance of dying from radiation poisoning within one month. How do you like the cost now?

        Retaliation – this is why the societies that have survived have arrived at ways to curb the in-fighting. Arguably this is why the “common law” came about – the goal was to minimize the wasteful energy spent on in-fighting within the tribe.

        This idea is related to cost / energy optimization.

        • JohnNo Gravatar says:

          Basically, someone’s life may have a negative value to me (say -20k), so I would like to get rid of them, but the cost of doing that is -10k to contract someone, but there is also a 10% chance of spending life in prison. This is still a very simple model, but it already takes into account blow-back, something that Seth has omitted.

          If these are the only details, then deciding to get rid of someone comes down to taking an almost certain -20k hit in value (unless they decide to move to another state) versus taking a certain -10k hit plus a 20% chance of life in prison. At this point the conversation about human life has been removed from the calculation. As you can see, more often than not there is not an assassination, because the cost is (at least statistically) more than the value, hence there is no incentive.

          This is a crude and impractical model. For one, you cannot estimate the probability of getting caught. Many people suffer from hubris – they tend to underestimate risk. Another thing – this model is suspiciously simple. It pretends to know the exact negative value in dollar terms. The actual value is emotional. The price can often be emotional too – you would be living with guilt/remorse.

          WHY??? What is the origin of guilt? It is the result of evolution. Societies where assassinations are “cheap” would collapse. So, somehow, there must be a high enough price for random murder for the majority of individuals. Most humans are unlikely to start killing other humans unless they feel they are under threat or they have been thoroughly brainwashed. Most often it is ingrained in their head that the enemy is sub-human.

          Sociopaths and psychopaths react very differently to this question of how much a human life is worth to them. Also, their perception of risk is warped. Remember – theory evolution is not about saving your ass, it is about spreading your genes. High risk, high reward strategies make as much sense as the more conservative ones. Soldiers are more likely to die, but also more likely to start having sex at an earlier age. Young women, and women in general tend to like testosterone.

          This segways into imperfect, but useful https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R/K_selection_theory

  10. don duncanNo Gravatar says:

    The most important question in our social life: What tradeoffs are we willing to make, e.g., how much risk is a principle worth, or, what are we willing to give up to live in society? I could live free if I moved to a desert island and became a hermit, but would I be as happy as living in this unfree world? There is more to life than just being alive. The quality of life must rise to a minimum or life is not worth living. Suicide is sometimes the rational choice.
    Most statists have not considered the alternative. They just go along to get along. The act of examining their beliefs takes a critical facility (skill) not taught, in fact discouraged from childhood (do it because you will be punished if you don’t). How do we convince them it is their best interest to go against a lifetime of following authority? How do we re-awaken their repressed natural self expression?

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      By the way, price is directly related to trade-off: how many bananas are you willing to give up or not buy in order to have three oranges? How many hours are you willing to work in order to hire a prostitute 😉 Unless you are rich, you cannot both have her and not work.

      So, what “price” are you willing to pay to live “the life that you want”?

      As to how do “we” re-awaken them? I tried, and talking to an average person is like trying to break through a bridge with your forehead. Here, buddy, arguing with idiots (only 1 minute long): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqASXGI_9j0

      Seriously dude, consider Carlin – think of how dumb the average person is. Well, half of them are even dumber than that. I say – build your own floating island and make it awesome and defend it. The ones who were brainwashed were easily brainwash-able to begin with. Also, outside of wars and major catastrophes, things just tend to gradually improve over time. However, your own life can improve ten times faster than theirs if you are proactive. Get rich and out-breed them! 🙂

  11. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    Great stuff, Mr. King, thanks. Many self-styled libertarians/anarchists also perform mental gymnastics to reach a conclusion that defending oneself against perceived imminent pain/death at the hands of another by dealing out enough harm to stop the perceived threat is an example of something other than being forced to commit an immoral act. It is indeed immoral ITAO (In This Avatar’s Opinion) … it’s just the “forced” part that might make it justified.

    Claiming “I was forced” is, of course, subject to multiple interpretations. Still, the principle stands: kill/injure someone, for any reason, and you’ve done something immoral (possibly justifiable depending on the circumstances).

    Remember, all you avatars, there is no such thing as a “right” either positive or negative. Any “I had a right to defend myself” claim is an attempt to sweep immoral behavior under the figurative rug and thereby maintain an artificial sense of self-purity. Much better to say something like “I feel just sick about the fact that this POS lying on the ground forced me to do something so immoral.”

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      Hehe – remember avatars, there is no such thing as “immoral”. Moral relativism: is killing a dolphin “moral”? Sorites paradox: ok, is killing an amoeba “immoral”? Hume’s guillotine: can’t get an “ought” from “is”.

      In addition to occasional rational thought, there are also emotions that stop you from being a murdering psychopaths (because if you have not felt them, humans would not make it too far).

      However, there is an exception – psychopaths / sociopaths. The Putins, Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, Poroshenkos, Stalins, Hitlers, Merkels, Cheneys of the wold – they do not have empathy. Those electrical signals just do not fire in their brain.

      They tend to get to the top, but they are a minority – the only reason why humans survive as a collective.

  12. BigBlueWhaleNo Gravatar says:

    Great essay and discussion. A decade ago, Jim Bell wrote an essay about crowd-funding assassinations of government rulers, judges, and cops. His goal is world-wide anarchy, and the elimination of armies and wars. There is a fellow named Sanjuro –spelling?– in the deep web testing his theory. He has posted bounties for various government people.
    http://www.outpost-of-freedom.com/jimbellap.htm
    Jim Davies has written that education, with replication once per year per person, will do the trick, by causing people to quit/renounce their government jobs. He created a free school, named Tolfa, The Online Freedom Academy.
    http://theanarchistalternative.info/

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      VIOLENCE – If it’s not solving your problems you’re just not using enough.

      Anarchists already have a problem where the commoner thinks “Mad Max” when [s]he hears the word “Anarchy”. Some of this reputation is deserved, for some of the earlier anarchists were actually practicing it. Anarchists do not need to be violent. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_begets_violence and in general it bears high cost – that’s a consequentialist argument for you. Look at Ukraine as a recent example. Back almost two years ago many of the people thought that if only they apply a little force, they will get their way and will join Europe and will start living like kings. They kicked out a sociopath but new ones showed up right away and led the charge against the old one. There will always be enough sociopaths to take up their place.

      A better solution is to de-fund the state. Make it so it is extremely difficult for them to collect the taxes. Bitcoin is promising in this regard, and the controversial Stefan Moleneux has talked about it at length – how you cannot fund war or the expansion of state with bitcoin. Why do I reference Moleneux, who has issues, and probably screwed up lives of dozens of people? Because like all of us he is a mixed bag, though he is more mixed than an average case. In addition to having wrong ideas and arguments, he often does a very good job / thorough research and he is very active. If there was another voice instead of S.M., I would gladly reference that person, but Moleneux has filled a pretty large void, right now it is often just him.

      Now, on this Jim Bell fella – I applaud his efforts to improve fiber-optical communication, but his other ideas – I am officially distancing myself from that. For one, the alphabet soup agencies are combing this site, looking for new patsies to set up so that they can pass more draconian laws. I do not want to have anything to do with that.

      Something else to point out – Jim has been in and out of prison for almost a decade – that is a high cost to pay, yet another illustration that it is not just the negative value of a person that matters, but also the cost of retaliation, which would happen with or without the state.

      Of course, whistle blowers and investigative journalists are also often paying a heavy personal price for their believes and actions, but I do not see their actions as “immoral” (even though I do not think there is such a thing).

      While Stefan Moleneux has failed to prove/justify UPB as a theory, he has stated (perhaps took them from others) some things worth mentioning. For example, theft cannot be “justified’ for it is self-negating. If it is “ok” for me to steal from you, it is also ok for someone else to steal from me, and that can lead to universal break-down of private property. Similarly with assassinations. If it is “ok” to “assassinate” Bin Laden, then his friends will think that it is ok to assassinate you, and so on … Add to this that people tend to self-associate with tribes (We are Muslim, they are Jews) and now things get messy.

      Remember when 3 Israel teenagers were killed by someone and that led to around 1000 dead Palestinians? The Palestinians who were killed had little/nothing to do with those teens. There was not even a trial – bombs just started flying. If Palestinians had the proper means of retaliation, they could have also killed 300 times their own casualties, which would have been 300,000 Jews. This geometrical progression of escalation of violence could have wiped out the humanity, or leave only a dozen humans standing.

      It did not / would not happen in practice. Most conflict is not sustainable forever (or till total elimination), but you never know – nukes have not been used that much in wars yet.

      Recall, by the way, that WW1, a nasty nasty pointless war that has killed so many has officially started with an assassination. I am against them. If someone is to be incapacitated, it should not be via an anonymous money collection. I support the spirit behind the sixth amendment to the constitution. It does not have to take this exact form, but the ideas are good. If you do want to incapacitate someone, then do so in a public trial.

      But, but the soiopaths politicians are getting away with evil deeds every day!
      That is not an excuse to create a distopia. Defund the state and lots of problems will go away. National security can still be taken care of. David D Friedman has written the Machinery of Freedom back in the 70s. He really thought things through and has a few other books.

  13. Bob ConstantineNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting and thought provoking article.

  14. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Another relevant discussion (in my opinion). This time it is the father talking about trade-offs and the value of human life. At the time Ford estimated each human life to be worth $200k (200 lives would have been saved). Again, moral arguments – 0, consequentialist arguments – 1. Also, Friedman points out that we do make trade-offs that reveal how much we value our lives, although I saw that humans have a hard time calculating the probabilities. Recent case – you are 7 times more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist according to govt statistics, and yet it does not feel that way.

    Milton Friedman – The Value of a Human Life Debate
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faSa3r8WIU0

    Separate point – did you know that Hitler has invented blow-up dolls? Probably not. Some dude that you want to kill or incapacitate due to negative (he killed your dog) value may actually be working on a cancer treatment that will end up saving your life. A crazy example, but I can think of others. Point is, you do not know the exact value of someone’s life, though you may try to quantify a perceived value.

    Another reason to be cautious with assassinations – not only can it backfire, but you have terrible information to work with.

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      More on the dilemma of “just” assassinations in popular culture:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star_Chamber#Plot

      The Star Chamber is a 1983 American mystery thriller film written by Roderick Taylor and directed by Peter Hyams. It stars Michael Douglas and Hal Holbrook. Its title is taken from the name of the notorious 17th-century English court.

      • JohnNo Gravatar says:

        On the second thought – this could have been just a statist propaganda, that the criminal justice system is not perfect, but the alternative is worse (though that phrase sounds a lot like something that a proponent of the free market would say).

        • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

          The star chamber drama was meant as an examination of delegated force, e.g., govt., e.g., the so-called justice system. Since that movie the DoJ and local prosecution has gotten so immoral that torture and framing suspects is admittedly routine. We all know about the torture, and the lie that is worked because of exposes like the one on Frontline, but it goes on anyway. And prosecutors admit to “encouraging” witnesses to “testify” with stick/carrot (extortion/bribery). They do this openly in interviews and are not challenged by the MSM. When the innocent serve dozens of years and are finally let out after a new trial exposes the corruption, the prosecutors are unapologetic. And they are not held accountable (prosecuted) because what prosecutor wants to betray his own? And all this is no secret. So why is it accepted by the public? Because challenging this power structure requires critical mass, i.e., enough people who do not blindly obey and reject authority as sacred. The 2-3% who do is not enough.
          The bigger question is: When will humanity reject statism/collectivism? When will the cycle of freedom/prosperity then increasing control/collapse be identified as caused by the twin superstitions in faith & force?

  15. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    This avatar gave it some more e-thought and concluded that a thing called a negative value does not exist any more than a thing called a negative right or a thing called passive-aggressive behavior. Someone might value the idea of harm befalling someone else … but that does not equate to a negative value.

    What it’s not: “The value I place on that person’s life is negative and so therefore I would pay good money to see them dead.”

    What it’s more like: “I value a world without that POS enough to pay good money to help create such a positive outcome.”

    Hatfields & McCoys consequences, of course — but still far less egregious than any warfare that is compulsion-collectivized across millions of families.

  16. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Another relevant video – a 17:09 TEDx talk.

    What is the economic value of a human life? Bram Van den Bergh at TEDxRSM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=192ZGSe4fac

    How much people help is related to their ability to mentally process the situation. Humans seem to want to help out the dead rather than those who might die.
    Also makes me think of a quote by [supposedly] Stalin – A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic.

    Also related to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect

  17. Nikos SakkasNo Gravatar says:

    Compelling stuff!

    Along Seth’s arguments I also agree that life’ s value is subjective. Also, as we are very rarely faced with dilemmas like those he presents, life value remains largely unknown. We cant really be sure how much we would be ready to pay for this or that action because things in practice differ a lot from things in theory.

    I’ d also add that the more we know about the life we try to valuate, the more up (or down) may its “price” go. So, if we start getting more info about that guy in Pakistan, great about his miseries, his yearnings, his sacrifices etc. our “pricing” may change, upwards in this case.

    In short, I see life as too complex and too unknown a product to be able to attach any price to it and valuate it based on opportunity cost arguments. This is why so many respectful people, in history’s and literature’s pages, at some moment display an unexpected behavior, by falling, for example, in the wild sea to save some unknown’s life.

    As to death penalty, to me it is an irrational act. I’ d like to see irrationalism wiped out of my life completely and I am ready to pay for that.

    Just as life is subjectively price tagged, so are values.

    • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

      I agree with you on irrationalism. I don’t agree with you on killing, i.e., administering the death penalty. If done by an individual, e.g., “Death Wish” it is admirable, especially because if caught it is severely punished sometimes. The govt., or I should say, the concept that killing should be only done by our system of institutionalized violence, is challenged by individual self defense. That is why gun control is pushed, to eliminate self defense. The govt. want all to be dependent on it for defense, which is ironic because it is incompetent and cannot be trusted to defend of punish, especially by the death penalty. That is why I oppose public executions, but support private ones. Sometimes the only way to prevent killing is to kill the killers. Who better to do that than the intended victim or a witness on the spot? This is quick, efficient justice. This is why Western movies were so popular for so long. They often portrayed it.

      • JohnNo Gravatar says:

        Are you talking about an assisted suicide for the purpose of relieving pain?
        Or about nudging the accused criminals to check out (with help)?

      • Nikos SakkasNo Gravatar says:

        Don, I don’t quite see the relevance of what you say to death penalty. You are talking about assisted suicide here, not? This is up to everyone (sane) freely to decide. I don’ t see any irrationalism here. Death penalty is irrational because all western penal codes together with ‘doing justice’, ‘protecting society’ also raise the issue of ‘criminal reforming’. Death penalty contradicts logically this goal. It also contradicts, strongly, my personal interpretation of the NAP.

        • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

          John & Nikos: “Death Wish” was a reference to the movie where a person becomes a roving unofficial, unauthorized law enforcer in a city where cops allow rampant criminality. Sometimes killing is needed by the vigilante. Since he cuts out the state, dispensing justice quickly and efficiently, he embarrasses them, and they denounce him, revealing their true goal: police power.
          How you could ever mistake my post to be about self assisted suicide is puzzling.

          • Nikos SakkasNo Gravatar says:

            Don, if you haven’t heard abut this movie your next best guess when hearing “Death wish” is assisted suicide.

            Now of course its clear. I just have one question. I understand your point, it certainly is epic and attractive, but how do you protect yourself against any lunnie that may buy himself a gun and start shooting for fun? Such news are not so rare…

            • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

              First, the cops are probably ten times more likely to kill you than “some lunnie”. But in a world free from institutionalized violence the culture would be quite different. A standing army would not exist. Organized crime would not exist. Concealed carry would not require permission and might be routine. With the public acceptance of self defense the likelihood of a skilled defender close by would go up. The country would be protected like it was in 1776, by a militia, used for defense only. The peace and freedom loving people of the world would look up to America once more. The moral high ground would be (correctly) regained.
              But how would one protect himself in a personal day to day setting? That would depend on the individual. In a world that has never existed, we cannot know. But some short history of the early west, before govt., tells us the gold fields were not dangerous, even though every social element that would make it so existed. How is it that only petty theft was the main criminal problem? Without institutionalized authority, the miners formed citizens committees ad hoc, and dealt with crime much more effectively than present society. Decentralized, local, hands-on, face to face social controls worked fine. The fact that everyone was armed seemed to facilitate a very polite, non-violent society. The oft portrayed “Wild West” was a myth created by eastern pulp fiction writers to sell books.

              • JohnNo Gravatar says:

                Right, life is never guaranteed. A brick or a plain can fall o one’s head in a perfect society. A horse or a bear or a bee or an alligator can kill ya. It is all about making things less risky, sucking less.

                Switzerland and Iceland are good examples of what could be – awash with guns, low on crime.

                Roman may tell you that Iceland is a nice place because they maintain mono-culturalism (may be I misunderstood his thesis), but personally – I am not sure of the exact reasons, but I think generally good education high average & median income per person, small size of a country do help.

                • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

                  A “good” country is one that is less enslaving, on our prison planet. That said, one giant step toward freedom would be a country that would return to a gold standard, or even better, free banking. That would put pressure on every other slave state to release control of their monetary system. A sound currency is essential for economic stability. Stability, even in one small country, would attract capital and exponentially increase productivity, increasing the standard of living. As word spread of the economic renaissance, other populations would want to emulate them and put pressure on their rulers. This is bad for TPTB. They would attempt to influence the rulers of the less enslaved country to get back in line with the world wide program. If they would not, they would be vilified by the world community, maybe even attacked. Or they might survive and freedom might grow. One example of a completely free market, that’s all that would be needed to defeat TPTB and pave the way for a new paradigm.

              • Sam SpadeNo Gravatar says:

                Don Duncan:

                “…But how would one protect himself in a personal day to day setting? That would depend on the individual. In a world that has never existed, we cannot know…”

                Absolutely. But it is astounding to me when I get (on anarchist forums no less) constant dissonance. “…You are not free…we have a police state…your freedom is all in your mind…” ad nauseum. I highly suspect those are the ones who cling to the idea that a “state” might not be so bad if “we” could only elect a higher class of psychopath.

                My mantra: I can be free today. Now. Where I’m “at”. I do not have a “police state”. Perhaps you have one — I highly suspect many reading this forum do. I’m aware that those sociopaths in state costumes, although dangerously armed, are stupid, pompous, and highly inept. They’re easy to navigate around and sidestep.

                They are not “our” police — they are perhaps “your” police.

                As I so often tell those guys — I don’t have a dog in the fight. Sam

                • don duncanNo Gravatar says:

                  Exactly Sam.
                  At 12, I quit my job because I refused to let someone steal part of my earnings. I found out my tax rebellion had practical benefits when I made more money working for myself. It also had great danger. The pros/cons had to be weighed and sometimes I had to submit to theft, under duress, but never did I acknowledge a moral justification for institutionalized violence. As I saw my friends go to jail, unjustly, and suffer unfairly, their plight motivated me to use my mind to plan, to be discreet. I had no desire to be a martyr.
                  In retrospect, attitude is everything. I will never give up my principles, nor do I believe the parasites are so powerful. I have survived for 72 years when my friends kept saying: “You can’t do that. They will put you in jail.”
                  I quit thinking of myself as a US citizen in the ’70s. I am my own “international man”.

  18. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Here is another angle – how much do we value the unborn humans?

    I highly recommend watching the entire video, as it is only 99 seconds long. The question of the value of the fetuses does not end but merely starts here, but it is a good start, for this video is packed with data and arguments.

    Do we value pets more than the unborn? – Scott Klusendorf
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eolUtqqlwis

    P.S. When doctors can legally abort babies in the second trimester but the drunk drivers who caused a fatal accident get slapped with vehicular homicide charges, it seems clear that “we” value wanted fetuses a lot more than the unwanted ones. These children were not born, so it is not like “we” can assess their character or contribution to society.

    This again backs up my point that morality is made up. Consequentialism, as ugly as it may be, is grounded in reality while the moralists are trying to back-fit a grand unifying theory where one does not apply.

  19. melvin polatnickNo Gravatar says:

    It would be in my interest if every Nig and Sp_c was gassed. There would be more affordable housing and less fear of being mugged or murdered. White violence would be greeted with a bullet to the brain eliminating most prisons. A few innocents would die but its worth the savings in taxes.

  20. melvin polatnickNo Gravatar says:

    MLK was not trying to be sarcastic, it was his dream. The houses in NYC are full of non-whites and most are newly arrived immigrants.There are no affordable places to live for working whites. My dream is that those undesirables went back to where they came from including MLK. Yes! I am a proud racist.

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      My dream may be the take-over of Islam and 100% implementation of Sharia Law everywhere. That way I can rape your daughter and then she will be stoned to death for being a slut.

      Just as there will be violent resistance to implementing total Sharia Law in the US, people will resist your version of Utopia. So, dream on.

  21. Conrad PoonsNo Gravatar says:

    An Anarchist Racist? That a new one for me.

  22. melvin polatnickNo Gravatar says:

    The best an Anarchist Racist can do is try to avoid government intrusion. I prefer public beaches used by whites that provide a feeling of freedom.

  23. Conrad PoonsNo Gravatar says:

    “calling someone a troll implies that they are in a permanent state of trolling”
    No it doesn’t. No more than calling somebody a bicyclist implies that they are permanently riding a bicycle.

    • JohnNo Gravatar says:

      Fine, it depends. Calling someone an athlete implies that they are putting in a significant physical effort on almost daily basis. Anyhow, why are you asking simple questions, the answer to which you can find yourself?

  24. melvin polatnickNo Gravatar says:

    Even in small groups a leader arises who is usually a demonic bastard. The followers are trapped because they fear leaving the group and be without protection. That would be the result without a demonic bastard government.

  25. macsnafuNo Gravatar says:

    “What about war hawks? They negatively value the enemy so much that they’d be willing to pay for them to be killed.”

    That may be true, they may be willing to pay some price for the ‘enemy’ to be killed, but your traditional “war hawks” are mostly willing to spend other people’s money to have the enemy killed. We can only guess how much of their *own* money they’d be willing to spend.