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Sunday, February 18, 2024

How Would a Free Society Deal With Unwelcome Looking?

Looking in itself does not violate another’s property rights. But that doesn’t mean we have to be subjected to the unwelcome gaze of lookers everywhere we go.

Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio - Pexels

There are two kinds of lookism. They are very different from one another. The first is the preference for beautiful people as love interests and bed partners on the part of most human beings. This is rampant in our society. It is by no means limited to straight white males, the usual culprits guilty of pretty much anything and everything.

Egalitarians seethe with rage at the mere prospect that the physically pleasing should be preferred to those who did not choose their parents as wisely as they could have and/or do not spend as much time in the gym or with their cosmetologists.

But there is an entirely different variety of this phenomenon as well. This consists of looking at other people against their will. That is, when the viewee objects to being the target of the viewer. There was an occurrence of this disagreement at Stanford University when the lookee objected to the looker viewing him through a cell phone camera, and taking a picture of him therefrom.

But looking is looking is looking. It does not much matter whether the viewing takes place with the naked eye, or with the help of eyeglasses or binoculars, or whether or not it is preserved for posterity via the lens of a still or movie camera. Looking is looking is looking.

So, do lookists as defined in this way have the right to engage in what others might consider peeping Tom behavior? That is exactly what viewing is, when the target of the scoping objects to it.

What has libertarian theory to say on these matters, pray tell? In this political philosophy, all acts are legally permitted, except for those that incorporate uninvited border crossings. To wit, the initiation of violence against innocent persons and/or their property would be strictly prohibited. Thus, murder, rape, theft, arson, kidnapping, and fraud would be illegal. Does merely looking at someone, whether with the aid of technology or not, constitute such an invasion? Clearly, it does not. Therefore, at least in terms of law, such behavior should be allowed.

But sometimes such actions not only border on the obnoxious, but fall well within the purview of that category. For example, the actual peeping Tom, who spies on women in their homes when they are undressed or scantily clad. Or consider the pervert who attaches a mirror to a stick and uses this contraption to peer under the dresses of vulnerable women.

This weird conduct should be considered legal, but is there any way, within proper law, to reduce the incidence of such obnoxiousness or, better yet, to eliminate it entirely? Yes, indeed, there is. It is based upon private property rights, yet another foundation of libertarianism.

Women who do not wish to be seen in their homes should purchase venetian blinds or thick curtains, and pull them shut. For movie stars who are plagued by the paparazzi to a far greater extent than their sisters, there is the choice of real estate. All streets and sidewalks would be privatized in the free society. Owners who wanted to attract such high-profile females would likely prohibit such legal behavior from taking place on their property. Fortunately, too, there is a strong positive correlation between wealth and such popularity. Women of this sort have greater funds with which to locate in neighborhoods safeguarded from such intrusions.

What about the creep with the stick and mirror? He should be able to engage in his perversion on the city streets—which should be eliminated. Under privatization, the owners will presumably forbid such behavior, since they will likely maximize profits by doing so. (However, in “red light” areas, the very opposite might well prevail, but, then, this type of viewing would hardly be unwelcome.) Private property rights to the rescue once again.

Let us clear up some unusual situations. Among some stone-aged peoples, the theory is upheld that to take someone’s picture is to engage in stealing his soul. All we can say is that libertarian law should not be allowed to be hijacked on the basis of such primitive beliefs. If they are to become civilized, they must learn that rain dances do not cause rain, that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, that our planet is a sphere not flat, and that their pictures on film do not constitute a rights violation.

What about the primitives at Stanford University? Their prohibition is fully within the strictures of licit law; when applied to Stanfordites, that is. To the extent that this university is privately owned, its owners should be free to promulgate whatever rules and regulations they wish. But outsiders may view this campus to their hearts’ content as long as they are not on Stanford’s private property.

This article originally appeared in The Hayride.

  • Walter Edward Block is an American economist and anarcho-capitalist theorist who holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.