irresponsibly prohibited
August 22, 1996


Social unrest is created by irresponsible people using tools. It is the irresponsibility that needs to be addressed. Prohibition, enforcement and punishment is a traditional approach. This approach will not work because it addresses people and tools but not responsibility. Plus, it creates an adversarial atmosphere which encourages irresponsibility and discourages responsibility, while dividing the community, wasting resources, and disempowering the individual while tyrannously furthering the State.

In the case of both irresponsible individuals and irresponsible enforcement, just because it can be done, does not mean that it should be done.

the environment

Problems within the community, such as violence, theft, and selfishness, often involve guns, drugs, or information. When people use such items irresponsibly (use them to the detriment of others, or to themselves), problems occur. But these tools are not the cause of the problem, they are the method; it is irresponsible people who create the problem.

A traditional government response to irresponsible tool users is to intervene and regulate both the use and distribution of the tools concerned. This prohibitive stance asserts that some tools should not be accessible to some people, this being to protect everybody. And, individuals caught acting irresponsibly may be punished (requiring enforcement).

However, this does not mean that a prohibitive stance - prohibition - is desirable.

the issue

Prohibition confounds the problem, rather than fixing it, as it does not work, and a range of new problems are created by the prohibition itself.

Problem 1. When a prohibition is introduced, the entire community surrenders the right to choice, and the ability to build on that choice, to the State.

Problem 2. The prohibition then divides the community into groups; tool users, bystanders (who do not use the tool), and those seeking to promulgate the prohibition (the enforcers: government and police).

Problem 3. The prohibition breeds contempt, as it cannot discriminate between those who are using their tools responsibly, and those who are not.

Problem 4. The prohibition lessens people’s ability to act responsibly. Users are denied the responsibility to choose, and thus denied the opportunity to learn responsibility.

Problem 5. Prohibition lessens people’s desire to act responsibly. The disempowering and disenfranchising effects of labelling all users as potentially irresponsible suggests to the user that not only is it possible to act irresponsibly, but it is quite common. This reduces the height of barriers that must be jumped prior to committing an irresponsible act. Indeed, by prohibiting the use of a tool, blame is passed from the individual to the tool, reducing individual drive for responsibility still further.

Problem 6. This state of adversity encourages tool users to find ways around the prohibition. And as this innovation occurs in a contemptuous, ignorant, prohibited environment, it is less likely to be responsible than ever. This is because punishment encourages avoidance; rather than shared for all to grow from, innovation is hidden, and socially unadapted. Typically, this "innovation" is the creation and development of a "black market" around the prohibited items. These black markets are unregulated, beyond the reach of tax authorities. There is no quality control or legal accountability and consumers are fully exposed to disreputable suppliers, and the consequences of dealing with same.

Problem 7. Meanwhile, prohibitions are steadily overcome, and the State is forced to seize more and more control. This increase in prohibition starts the cycle of subversion once more, and so on.

the outcomes

Resources are wasted as prohibition is repeatedly attempted and subverted.

Bystanders come to view all users of the tool as potentially irresponsible, and come to view themselves as powerless and victimised. They trusted the State to fix the problem, and when the prohibition fails they are let down; things are worse. Thus, the bystander loses faith in the State.

The net outcome is the discouragement of responsible innovation from users and bystanders alike. An alienating atmosphere of distrust is created, the implication of prohibition being that individuals are fundamentally unable to act responsibly. This implication disempowers the individual by giving them reason to doubt their self-worth, and disenfranchises them by suggesting that the state knows better.

In its most innocent, prohibition is the assumption that people need to be protected from themselves, and in its most extreme, it is evil personified; complete control of people’s lives and the community as a whole. One might cynically suggest that the State creates prohibition specifically to give itself a job; to sustain the state of suppression in order to profit from it. Indeed, as the State takes more and more rights away from the individual (in order to protect them), it becomes increasingly omniscient, while the individual becomes increasingly dependent.

This is divide and conquer, if nothing else; to facilitate exploitation, evil creates and manipulates things to hate about - thought-crimes - and uses force to punish them. This process discourages social cohesion, which increases individual dependency and vulnerability.

Due to the prohibition, responsible individuals, either bystanders or users who obey the prohibition, have a reduced ability to innovate, and are thus more vulnerable to increased exploitation by both irresponsible users and the State itself.

the alternatives

To focus on prohibition is to divert attention from the need for every person to be responsible in their actions. Experience produces responsibility; prohibition denies it.

Deregulation, or legalisation, coupled with public awareness and feedback programs, are suggested alternative strategies.