I should start Mill's On Liberty with some discussion of his, you know, thesis:
the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.because there's any number of interesting things that might be said about it -- do "health care costs" make smokers join the collective, stuff like that -- but instead, in the interest of jazzing things up, I'm going to begin with Woody Allen's "The Moose" (a transcript is here if you don't want to watch):
And there's any number of things that can be said about that (look how weird and jacked-up and confident Woody is, for one thing) but it's the last line that I'm thinking about -- "and the joke's on them (the New York Athletic Club) because it's restricted." Because what struck me in this excerpt isn't what the law should do, but what custom does:
The effect of custom, in preventing any misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind impose on one another, is all the more complete because the subject is one on which it is not generally considered necessary that reasons should be given, either by one person to others, or by each to himself.Of course a guy who was basically reared on Mars, like Mill was, would point out that "your customs are highly irrational." What I want to point out is how much this attitude persists. The experiment of letting Jews join the New York Athletic Club seems to have worked, for instance. And women voting? So far so good. But the state allowing gays to marry? Negative. It is not our custom.
Whenever I hear someone complaining about how many goddamn lawyers there are I am always sympathetic to them, but I believe such a lawyering up is inevitable in a situation where custom is inadequate. You can have either a million goddamn lawyers, or four or five guys down at the country club getting everything settled, but you can't have both. Mill understood this:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.There's more to be said about this: the influence of technology and -- my favorite -- demographics in the erosion of custom (a small town can have four or five guys down at the country club settle everything, but modern Los Angeles can't). But maybe I should just quote the Woodman again: "In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with, I don't. Would you take two negative messages?"