July 7, 2014 by Liberty
There are plenty of ideas that makes me want to string myself up to my ceiling fan by my shoelaces but this one certainly causes me to stare at that ceiling fan with the same eyes I’d stare at a potential lover. Yes, it’s the old cabin in the woods property rights question. If you aren’t unlucky enough to have heard this general idea then here it is:
A man is starving in the woods. (A good liberal will add that man has been walking for 10 days straight. He’s covered in bear attack wounds and mosquito bites. He’s missing a leg that he lost fighting for our country. And, he’s pregnant with a baby that’s dying in his… womb? Anyway…) He comes across a cabin… Would it be moral for him to break into it to eat something to save his life?
The general question is interesting but it’s kind of like looking through a kaleidoscope thinking, “Wow! The world is beautiful!”Sure, there is some reality behind this question but it seems to overlook everything important.
I Choose Death!
Really… Does the morality question really make a difference in this situation. Of all things we could be worrying about, is it really worth worrying about a cheap cabin in the middle of the wood’s food supply. The man is starving to death and it’s a cabin in the woods. We could be asking more important questions like, is it moral to rob hundreds of millions of people to do x or y?
No rational human being is going to respect property rights if they’re in that situation. Even the most principled libertarian lost in the woods wouldn’t respect the property rights of the cabin owner. Even the most principled libertarian cabin owner wouldn’t be too bothered by a starving guy that stole a few cans of beans.
Notice how I used the word stole? The morality of this situation doesn’t change just because one of the person is starving. That might seem a little harsh but that’s just the kaleidoscope again…
Philosophy In A Vacuum
There is a funny thing about these philosophical scenarios. By their nature, they don’t align with reality. They create complex situations and create an impossible vacuum surrounding them.
This man in the woods is not just a man in the woods. This man has probably had a couple decades of life before him. These years are consequential. While the moment is the most important factor, we can’t pretend that the man was randomly dropped in the middle of the woods.
Why is this man in the woods? If he was camping then he must have been pretty irresponsible to not have supplies. If that’s the situation then we can’t look at his resulting theft as morally good. He wouldn’t have had to steal if he properly prepared himself for the situation.
Perhaps he was hogtied, blindfolded, and dropped in the middle of the woods? Okay… was he walking through a bad neighborhood or was he a member of some strange mafia? This stuff rarely happens completely randomly. Even in the most dangerous places in the world, most crimes aren’t done without some motive. Many of those motives can be adjusted for in advance to decrease your chances of ending up a victim.
Lets say the man had some magical excuse for ending up in that situation without any responsibility on his part. Even if he had no responsibility for ending up in the situation, you need to consider the responsibility he had to prepare for a bad situation. While I’m not an all out survivalist, you have to go pretty far out of your way not to learn some ideas about how you can survive in the wilderness.
Why hasn’t this man ever considered the possibility of being lost in the woods? Has he ever learned any primitive survival techniques? I think most people have run into at least a few uncomfortable survival ideas in their life. Every one of those survival techniques that the man is not utilizing adds to his responsibility in the theft.
While none of these factors call for the thief’s public execution, you can’t completely rule out their importance. This man has some responsibilities in this situation. If the man didn’t choose to take responsibility for himself then he should definitely pay the consequences.
Does that mean he should let himself die? Based on what I’ve said earlier, my answer should be obvious. He’s eating the damn food. The solution for this theft is pretty obvious.
I opened my car door and leaned back into my car. Next thing I knew, the wind swung my car open and dinged a random car next to mine. I was irritated (Yea… Screw the wind…) but I did the typical thing. I wrote a note and left a phone number so I could pay him.
We could say that’s a little like the cabin in the woods (with less starving to death.) I couldn’t stop the wind. I could have been smart enough to plan for it though. That meant that I was responsible for the damages dealt to the car.
(Later that day I got a call from the guy. He said it was cool and told me to forget about it. That’s how most of these cabin in the woods problems will get solved.)
Sure… dinging a person’s car because of irresponsibility is bad. Stealing from a cabin in the woods is also bad but we can’t expect everything to go perfect. For the things we can’t control, we can just pay people for the damages we deal.
For fun… back to the cabin in the woods: What if the owner of the cabin’s child was there without any food? Would it be morally acceptable to eat that child? If compensation is sufficient to forgive someone then maybe you could pay the owner 10 billion dollars to get away with it? Get why that’s just silly yet?
(This is based on an actual argument against the value of compensation. It’s normally not used with cannibalism and cabin’s in the woods but it seemed to fit.)
Compensation cannot be paid to forgive the murder of that child because that assumes the owner of the cabin is also the owner of the child. The child, in fact, owns him or herself and cannot be compensated after death.
Well… I’ve exhausted myself out of cabin’s in the woods. Perhaps I should consider men lost in the desert and standing next to a train track next. While people constantly try to extract value from these theoretical situations, they’re virtually worthless. They ignore all the real meat of the situation and people try to make them out to be steaks.
I feel like somewhere in here I should have put a Walden joke…
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