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This week I want to talk about “victimless crimes.” I simply don’t believe in “victimless crimes.” And here’s why.

There are both transitive and intransitive aspects to human action. If I punch you in the face, clearly there is a transitive result – you feel the pain of me hitting you in the face. There also is an intransitive aspect to that action – my choice to hit you in the face leaves a mark on me, on my character.

If I spend my days walking around and randomly, but freely choosing to, hit people in the face, my choices begin to shape my moral consciousness and then my culture of conduct. At that point, hitting people in the face can become a habit. The only way for me to break that habit is to choose to not hit people in the face. But if it’s habitual, reasonable people could justifiably question my ability to freely choose a new direction, a new pattern of behavior.

By the way, the intransitive aspect of human action is precisely why any of us question the personal choices of any elected official or person in a position of trust. It’s also why so many people who don’t want to recognize the influences of intransitive actions blather on to insist that “a person’s personal life is their own business” – so what that he cheated on his wife, so what that he was caught soliciting sex in a men’s room, so what that he smokes marijuana, so what that he’s an alcoholic, etc. “That’s his business!”

Well, if you accept the idea of an intransitive aspect of human action, those choices become everyone’s business in short course.

Furthermore, the “victimless crime” mentality breeds a culture of anarchy, not freedom, by seeing people as objects and not human beings. Let me explain.

When I say, “I’d never use heroin because I know it is unhealthy and could kill me, but I don’t care if you choose to use it,” I’m actually seeing you as less than me. I’m really saying, “I don’t care about your health and I don’t care if you kill yourself.” I’ve just objectified you. I’ve just made a choice (conscious or not) to not see you as an equal human being to me. And when I’ve done that, freedom is diminished.

Clearly it’s possible to see others as human beings and still not believe that laws ought to prohibit drug use even if we oppose drug use personally. But it’s difficult to do so. To do so a person would have to construct an argument that human autonomy, in the face of severe quality-of-life issues or even certain death, is more important than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – because, equally clearly, a heroin addict threatens her own life, has no real liberty of her own due to the addiction, and has reduced her idea of happiness down to her next fix.

Human autonomy is a powerful and important component of human freedom. But the whole idea of a “victimless crime” begs the question: Is a human free, in her ability to make reasonable choices, if she’s addicted to heroin or alcohol or sex or any other external substance? And if not free, why are we so self-righteous about protecting her autonomy? Better yet, what’s to protect?

In the matter of legalizing drugs (or liberalizing alcohol laws in Utah), it’s important to address these fundamental issues before you sit down to talk with me, if that’s your desire. At the very least, just know that as these issues arise before the state Legislature, this is where I’ll be coming from. I’m open to addressing “criminalization” issues regarding drugs, just as I’m open to addressing the liberalization of Utah’s liquor laws. But those discussions will be difficult to have if others at the table don’t first address the ideas presented here for themselves.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.