Does Prohibition Increase Violence or Improve Wellbeing?

in anarchy •  last year

I shared this meme on Facebook recently and wanted to discuss it here on Steemit as well.


The logic seems pretty straight forward and from my perspective fits historical examples of prohibition attempts I've looked into.

My friend @jameskanka replied with this great comment:

But why does organized crime result in more violence? I'd theorize that when no one has a monopoly on violence in a market all parties must form their own codes of conduct and be prepared to enforce them with violence.

By making something illegal the government removes it's monopoly on violence within the market interactions.

Here's my reply:

That's certainly a valid perspective, and it may be true. I personally think humanity's perception of violence has changed. Where war and feuds are "honorable", violence is inevitable. With the introduction of the novel, the Internet, abundance through technology and fossil fuel energy, etc I think enough people in enough parts of the world have moved up Maslow's hierarchy to begin to recognize cooperation is more profitable than conflict. As the world becomes more connected, the codes of conduct you speak of are becoming universally shared and understood (the UN statement on basic human rights is an example). When the world morns death caused by violence, we see evidence of a shared desire to avoid violence across various cultures and people groups.

If the codes of conduct were based on honor culture or if they were severely fractured and varied as they once were (slavery based on ethnicity, slavery based on class systems, treatment of some as sub-human based in their gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc), then I would agree with you more that violence becomes the inevitable outcome. I think we're seeing this decrease in many ways. It might be a pendulum swinging back and forth with brief rises in things like xenophobia, hate crimes, etc but I still think the overall arch shows a clear direction compared to the past. Things like violent terrorism are not as statistically prevalent as watching the news might suggest, but I might be wrong about that. Maybe strong governments and their monopoly on violence are still needed in many places of the world.

When the government makes something illegal, I think something much worse happens. It ensures the full force of the violent government monopoly will be constantly pushing against that activity. It guarantees only those who are actively participating and skilled in violence can survive and thrive within that marketplace. I do think a portion of the population is psychotic and will harm others without concern. Prohibition, in my mind, legitimizes the need for these people on both sides to either violently oppress an otherwise peaceful market activity or violently defend against and/or attack those who would oppress the market.

We have multiple examples of this playing out from alcohol prohibition to (failed) attempts at various prohibitions within prisons, etc, etc. When the violent threat of government is removed from the equation, markets can function as needed. Rich people don't rely on government protection services but instead hire their own security and work to prevent violence before it happens, not respond to it afterwards.

To expand a bit, I want to reiterate I could very well be wrong here. I'm approaching this from a very privileged position, living in a country which is relatively safe and prosperous. I have to concede that limits my objectivity. I also think black and white principles are easy and comfortable, but can cause trouble when they hit the messiness of real life. To illustrate this, let's use some more contentious examples.

Should there be a prohibition against guns?

Many will answer "absolutely not!" or "or course!" without considering evidence for or against this position in terms of human wellbeing. This is further complicated by powerful lobby groups like the NRA which promote or hinder certain research. It's also difficult to compare the success or failures of government programs across countries because the cultures may be so different that what works in one place would have the opposite effect in another.

To me, the best way to get past these tribalist arguments is to ask basic questions about human wellbeing and clarify the aggressor and defender. A gun, by itself, can't harm anyone as it requires an active agent. That said, having a gun around small children without proper protections may be decrease human wellbeing by increasing accidental death and injury. If some believe they are defending the defenseless by using force to remove those guns, then I can understand their argument, from a certain perspective. Others feel they are being aggressed against for simply owning something and not using it to harm anyone. That, to me, is a very strong argument, and the historical examples of governments (who already have a monopoly on the use of force in a geographic region) controlling who can own or not own weapons to defend themselves points to this being an important concern. Governments have historically killed 260 million people (see democide).

Okay... but what about nukes? What about 3D printed bio weapons?

If guns are hard, what about autonomous killer attack drones? What about suitcase nukes? If, in the future, anyone with an internet connection and a bio 3D printer can create a virus to kill thousands or even 10's of thousands of people... what then? How do our black and white idealistic principles respond to that threat?

Well, for me, I try to use the same measurements as before. How does it impact human wellbeing? Clearly, to me, if one person's freedom had to be restricted to save the lives of 10's of thousands of people, that's an obvious choice. But what about if millions of peoples' freedoms have to be suppressed just for a perceived threat? Can we justify preemptive "defensive" force if it's indistinguishable from the initiation of force? This gets back to the second part of the discussion: how do we differentiate between defensive and aggressive use of force? Clearly the person intending to use a nuke or a bio weapon has demonstrated a very real and present danger and intention to be a bad actor and initiate force against peaceful people. Using force to stop them, to me, is justified. Hopefully our technological advancements in personal and collective defensive technology can keep up with the new threats we'll see in the future.

So who decides what is offensive and what is defensive?

Many think only a Hobbesian Leviathan government can make these decisions and fill this role. There may be other alternatives, such as the one described in this video on conflict resolution in a free society by Man Against The State:

There's also the wisdom of the crowd to consider, and how spontaneous organization within efficient networks with high communication may provide better results than hierarchical, authoritarian approaches. Some examples of non-monopolistic approaches with great success include organizations like Detroit Threat Management which was highlighted in this Reason article.

Can these decentralized networks protect and improve human wellbeing better than governments? Could they decrease the cycle of violence described in the meme which comes from attempting to stop human action with threats of violence?

Maybe the problem starts right at the beginning with "Public thinks X is scary." Maybe we're still stuck in childish thinking, hoping mommy and daddy government will protect us.

Maybe Steemit is a good place to explore these ideas. We don't need utopia, just progress.

What do you think?

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My first ever post/comment on Steemit! We agree more than disagree. I think that prohibition undermines the monopoly on violence a government has, which is why it increases violence in my opinion. A government that has a monopoly on violence does not justify its right to have a monopoly in the selling or not selling of a good — though I think it can be beneficial for regulation and consumer protection. Monopoly on violence does not mean that it can use violence for any use, only that no one else may use violence without government authorization. Self-defense? Government preemptively says citizens are authorized. Someone cheated you or killed your brother? Hold on... let us deal with that, give us the facts and we'll take care of it.

While we may have universal codes as a result our common evolution they are not applied universally across all people, this was a feature of our morality. So... two groups could universally believe they have the exclusive right to sell their good in their area but disagree on the area and both feel justified in violence against the other. Without a Leviathan to settle their differences they are left to figure it out on their own and the stronger or faster wins through violence.

I'm a fan the Hobbesian Leviathan concept and though I think government is the best representation of it now, I'm hopeful that technology will outperform government in this role.


The core issue I think is that peace and prosperity result from expansion of ethical consensus. When more people in an area attempt to support and enforce a wider variety of conflicting ethical standards, the only possible resolution is violence because violence is the only outcome that doesn't depend on consensus.

Enforced prohibition of anything that itself is not aggressive promotes arbitrary ethical standards, which undermines consensus. Ethical consensus has to be built on equality and reciprocity. When some people try to enforce arbitrary preferences on others, others are likely to reciprocate, and the result is chaos and violence.


Well said, but I'm not convinced the only possible resolution is violence. Are you familiar with NVC? It argues violence is a tragic expression of an unmet need. Many may think and feel violence is the only way to reach consensus, but that may not be true. It might also be they do not have the communication tools necessary to accurately express their needs in a way someone else can hear them (even if they come from very different cultural, religious, or even moral backgrounds). I'm excited about Dan's EOS project because it's all about creating tools for building consensus. If we have that, and we can adapt it to many areas of life, we may see violence as a rather primitive thing our ape ancestors used to do.

I agree that forced prohibition (or even "forced morality") will ultimately fail because it skips the first step which NVC tries to resolve which is actually communicating and hearing real needs.


I certainly don't think violence is the only possible resolution for conflict in general. What I mean is that violence is the only way to resolve conflict that does not depend on generating consensus. That makes it the default. A conflict means that two people are on mutually exclusive courses, so some resolution is inevitable. If they don't communicate and come to a consensus to resolve the conflict, the resolution will be violent.

There can be no peaceful coexistence without ethical consensus, because denying the existence of conflict does not resolve that conflict. This is also my problem with "anarchy without adjectives". If we don't work to build consensus on ethics for conflict resolution, violence is the fallback method of resolution, primitive as it is.

I'm also very optimistic about EOS (and decentralized consensus technology in general) as tools to revolutionize how humans collaborate and build community.


I'd argue it's the default because it's all people know innately. It's part of our primitive animal nature. That said, if it doesn't get us the results we want, we may use other options because we are an adaptive species. The link in my last comment has about 30 minutes worth of videos on NVC you might find quite interesting. The inevitable resolution you mention will be violent without communication, I agree, but the world is more connected and humans are communicating orders of magnitude faster than at any other time in our existence. I'm hopeful we can change and I use evidence of the change we've already made to encourage me about the future. Reading books like The Better Angels of our Nature or watching videos like this give me optimism:

If we don't work to build consensus on ethics for conflict resolution, violence is the fallback

And yes, I agree. That's why I've posted a bit about morality quite a bit on Steemit here, here, and here.

A while back I heard a great talk on this from a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. (They have a new name but kept the acronym.)

Their modest proposal was that if we actually want to reduce drug use, all drugs should be completely legalized and made available to anyone who wants to use them. The roomful of free thinkers still had a lot of doubts, but the speaker presented piles of data on how total prohibition has resulted in greater availability, higher potency, and lower prices. Since the current path results in the opposite of the stated goals, why not try the opposite of the current path?



What's neat to me is this has already been done in some countries with great success. They treat drug abuse as a health issue (it's often self-medication after all) instead of a criminal issue. Again though, it may be difficult to compare across cultural boundaries, but I sure think it's a step in the right direction.

Prohibition never works, as it only attacks the symptom of the symptom.

If a person is abusing alcohol to console a broken heart, will the absence of alcohol stop this? No. The person will find another way to zone out. And if you ban everything, there is still asphyxiation.

What the person needs is a lot more emotional training early in life so that they have the tools to work with the broken heart when it arises. But, we pointedly avoid such training for children.

What we need at this time is support groups that actually work for our heart broken chap. Half of the support groups I know of are detrimental for the people. They often are just a gathering for others to take advantage of the emotionally unstable. Or they are worse, as in its a small cult.

So, we ignore or sabotage the real needs of our bloke, and instead try to limit the crutch they are using.

It is the same case with all things that may be prohibited.


And if you ban everything, there is still asphyxiation.

Cold and chilling point, but well made.

Sadly, we do avoid this training. I'm working hard to fix that in my family by talking about NVC and peaceful parenting.

great post my friend!

I think the article is thoughtful. It makes me think of both perspective and yet to resolve what choice is better.
Thank you for writing.

Great flow-chart! The only thing missing is when law enforcement becomes corrupt and becomes part of the organized crime machine that profits off of prohibition.


I think that's the implied default. I would surprised if law enforcement didn't act that way since all forced incentives support it.

Just look at what the ban on alcohol did here in the US. It's amazing how we didn't learn from the past and continue our war on drugs.

Good post best regards from me@abupasi.alachy

The public must change their mentality if they want to evolved in this world.

I agree with you man. Laws only prevent law abiding citizens from doing things

I think that completely violence can never be destroyed, it is in human nature itself. A good word and a gun can always be achieved more than just a kind word.


I'm not arguing for utopia, just a better system than we have now. Also, we should be careful about the words "never" when it comes to what humans who are determined can accomplish. We are flying now after all. :)

Very Informative post. I feel anger can lead to emotional stress. Due to which people in the community may feel the urge to keep a gun with them for their defense , this move could lead to much more stress and panic within the community, people will be scared to send their loved ones outside the house.


That's a good point. Many of our bad decisions are made because of bad emotions.

so basically everyone just has to use some common sense and we'd have peace on earth?
I dont see us getting there...


Hahah. No, I'd actually argue the opposite. "Common sense" is often rooted in believing things which aren't true because of primitive emotional responses. Many things that impact the world are quite uncommon and even counter-intuitive and it takes careful consideration, an improved epistemology, and tools like the scientific method to get reproducible results.

Peace on earth is utopian. I'd settle for most people not openly supporting the initiation of violence. There will always be aggressors in the world. I'm for the best mechanisms for dealing with them.

Excellent post very informative brother, keep it up and you will have a lot of success !!


@lukestokes.mhth - I bet this is super encouraging for you, eh? roflmao


It is! I hope for great success here (and you're mentioning my witness account which is different from my blogging account).

"roflmao" can be seen as a bit offensive. I hope you're not laughing at @awpmaster's expense. A quick view of their blog shows they may not be a native english speaker. Let's cut them some slack. I took it as a genuine, encouraging comment and a quick view of their comment history shows it's not a re-used trite saying on every blog.


I pretty much have to stand by finding it amusing to be wishing one of the top witnesses and oldest accounts "much success" here. Yesterday I saw this. If it wasn't me that called it out, somebody else eventually would have.


Understood, but there is a difference between a non-native speaker and a bot. Either way, if someone should have been offended or annoyed it would be me, right? Even if your intention was to call someone out, it can be done without embarrassing them, unless that's your intention. If it is, I'd suggest there are more effective methods. Either way, no big deal. It just struck me as odd, so I commented.


"It just struck me as odd, so I commented."

exactly :D

thanks @lukestokes for sharing. very informative.

Food? Grow food. Government wants your guns so to imprison you more easily. They want you weak. The criminals are given illegal guns. The Al Capones rise to power. They want order out of chaos.

@lukestokes - I agree with the basic cause-effect shown in the meme you posted. I think you are correct in pointing out that there has to be an active agent to make something (like guns) be used in a bad way, in my humble opinion. Nothing is 'good' or 'bad' completely on it's own. There are many things like guns, fire, internet which are double edged swords and can be very effective, if used correctly. Therefore, it all comes down to how effectively we can manage the aggression of the active agents/users in the society. An action like prohibition mostly prevents the law-abiding citizens from being an active agent/aggressor - however, most of those are, by their inherent nature, very contentious and would avoid being an active agent except under most dire circumstances that threaten them. On the other hand, the 'illegal' nature of the 'prohibited' item makes the bad elements just add it to their list of 'business opportunities' and they try to build upon that by trying to control as much of the market they can - in the process, giving rise to violence! The answer may be to get society to recognize the need for avoiding becoming active agents, have more dialog for venting out emotions and frustrations and even have a few elementary conflicts which fizzle out before a full scale war!
Thanks for this thoughtful and thought provoking post. Also - congratulations from getting your fellow thinker @jameskanka involved in Steemit through discussion.

It is coincidental that I actually wrote a post on conflict as observed in Impalas. Not trying to promote my post here but it is just something I was musing about yesterday based on one of the posts on Steemit and then I came across this post by you with the remark from your friend @jameskanka leading to the conflict discussion in your post!

I agree with a lot of the points you have stated here, man. Sometimes, the pre-emptive prevention result in something it was intended to neutralize. I can't speak for the gun issue, but the same argument can be said for the drug problem here in the Philippines. You could easily replace guns with drugs in that flowchart. Though one might argue that even though guns are inherently not harmful, but drugs are. The point is, if regulation are in place to allow for drugs like marijuana to be legal, then there wouldn't be that drive people would have to dip into harder drugs.

I don't know if you've seen it in the news, but there has been a drug war here in the Philippines for over a year now. The crackdown on illegal narcotics has been compared to the one in Colombia back in the Escobar and the Cali Cartel days. The cycle of violence is taking more lives than it's hoping to save. I really wish that there would a massive realization among the powers-that-be regarding the error of their agenda.


Maybe they should take Portugal's example:

From my perspective, it's now about actually helping people, it's about government control. If it's about helping people, we already know what works: legalize it all and help those who are self-medicating because of other issues in their life.


Yeah, the Portugal use case is what many people are proposing. The current government is filled with old-school machismo, that they somehow miss the point of helping people, instead their approach seems to be "look at me, I'm helping people so stand with me or get out of the way"