"I couldn't help overhearing your conversation the other day on liberty," said Scoobles approaching me with a glass in his hand. "Can I get you a drink old chap?"
Scoobles was one of the newer members of the club and I hadn't really spoken to him much. I guessed he was looking to make a new friend. "No, I'm fine thanks."
"I bet most of the old crones round here have never heard of John Stuart Mills, never mind read him, eh?" He gave me an encouraging wink.
"Mill," I said.
"It's John Stuart Mill. Not Mills." I smiled.
"Yeah, well, whatever. I agreed with everything you said about liberty. But of course you can only take it so far."
"How do you mean?"
"Well not all crimes have victims, do they?" He sipped his drink and leaned forward, "I mean what about vandalism or fly-tipping or arson? And there's drug dealing and racial hatred...not to mention downloading porn. It would be a horrible, dirty, scary world if all crimes had to have victims."
"Well I think you will find there are victims if you think about it. Aren't the victims of vandalism the property owners? And with fly-tipping, the council tax payers? Drug dealers have plenty of victims I would have thought with the addicts they are making. But I admit that race hatred is a little more difficult. Hatred is an emotion, not an action and I don't believe that anyone should be criminalized for their emotions any more than people should be criminalized for their thoughts."
"Well I do, if they are the wrong thoughts!"
I looked at him surprised. "Wasn't it Orwell who first foresaw a day when people would be arrested just for thinking the wrong things? He called it "Thought Crimes". We already have thought crimes in this country - and I am not so sure that race hated isn't one - where the authorities want to lock people up just for what they think, even though they may not have actually done anything wrong. I think you will find that is the real horrible scary world we are sleepwalking into."
"And what about dowloading pornography? You can't justify that."
"The basic rule is still the same - Principle of Harm. If any anyone is harmed in any way then there should be a law to prevent it. But equally there should be no laws against what happens in peoples minds. Our thoughts are our own and there should be no such thing as an Orwellian thought crime in a free country. If no one is hurt, there should be no law against it."
"I fail to see how you can sensibly apply Mill's Harm Principle to this type of obscenity because there is no way that any aspect of it can be described as a 'victimless crime'."
"What people do in their own heads, with their own thoughts is their own business - as long as no one else is harmed. The state has no right to dictate to anyone what they do in their own minds. And whether you or I approve or disapprove makes no difference. Everyone has the liberty to think what they like, feel what they like, reason how they like. That is what makes us human beings. As long as they are not harming anyone, I support their freedom to do as they please. That is what liberty means. Liberty does not mean others are only free to do what I approve or what you approve. That is just another name for tyranny."
"Well, Ok, downloading and looking at something isn't directly hurting anyone but you're forgetting that I don't agree with you that there should only be laws against things that directly hurt other people. There totally should be a law against it, And the state completely has a right to enforce a law on downloading all indecent images. Call it tyranny if you like but I would rather the country be tyrannical than full of dirty scumbags."
I put my paper down. "That is exactly what tyranny is - the imposition of one persons view, or even the view of the majority, on others.
"There have always been bogey men throughout the ages, who society have singled out as the 'dirty scumbags' of their time. In the 17th century it was witches, in the mid 20 century it was communists, in the mid 30s it was the Jews and in the early 21 century it has been those who download indecent images. What these groups have in common is they didn't harm anyone but they were persecuted because society set its face against them because it didn't agree with them. Every age has its own demons.
"Once you have identified your 'scumbag' group you can then denigrate them to any extent, deprive them of their rights, liberty or even their life. And no one will come to their defence because they are afraid they will be associated too.
"All persecution starts this way - we label a certain group as 'scumbags' because they are different from us and we don't approve of what they do. And before we know it there are a whole new bunch of witchfinders, or McCarthyites or Nazis who would be quite happy to turn the country into a tyranny provided they can get rid of the 'dirty scumbags'.
"And down that road my friend, I cannot follow you." And with that I got up a left.