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Blackmail, on the surface, seems to have no rational justification for its classification as a crime.

Blackmail is essentially a voluntary exchange of something (whatever the blackmailer is demanding) in return for witholding information or keeping silent on a sensitive subject. No initiation of force is involved so there's no violation of rights. Why is it considered a crime and should it be?

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Blackmail isn't always a negative act. It depends largely on who you're blackmailing, what you're blackmailing him with, and what you're demanding.

Nevertheless, the morality of blackmail is not the issue here -- its legality is. I see no justification for it being illegal. Do you?

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Sure. Rearden signed over the metal because he was being blackmailed with revealing his relationship with Dagny. Sounds fair to me. I don't see a problem.

The law isn't there to promote "fairness," but to enforce individual rights. If blackmail is to be illegal, it must be tied to a violation of individual rights. Which I don't know if I can do, but I'm interested to see others weigh in.

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The law isn't there to promote "fairness," but to enforce individual rights. If blackmail is to be illegal, it must be tied to a violation of individual rights. Which I don't know if I can do, but I'm interested to see others weigh in.

I think it depends on how the black mailer comes across the information he is using to blackmail the person with. Did he steal it? If so, the violation of rights is obvious.

Now, on the other hand, say the information was discovered in a legal manner. Usually the information used in blackmail is incriminating or at least would tarnish the reputation or life style of an individual. Either way, it will harm the person being blackmailed if it were to be leaked to the general public, otherwise the blackmailing process would not be effective. Since that is the case, it would make sense that the person who is being blackmailed performed some act or did SOMETHING he would not want other people to find out about. Being that that is the case, it seems like he made the conscious act to do something that would get him into trouble, aka he took a risk. Just because his plan or act backfired on him does not mean that someone using that information to his or her advantage would lead to a rights violation.

I am going to sit down and think about this more and see if I can find some abstract connection to a rights violation, but at first glance, it seems perfectly acceptable.

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Blackmail, on the surface, seems to have no rational justification for its classification as a crime.

Blackmail is essentially a voluntary exchange of something (whatever the blackmailer is demanding) in return for witholding information or keeping silent on a sensitive subject. ]No initiation of force is involved so there's no violation of rights. Why is it considered a crime and should it be?

Initiation of force doesnt have to come at the barrel of a gun. Man survives by the use of his rational faculty, when you take away his ability to make choices based on reason and his own free will, I'd argue that force has been initiated.

j..

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Initiation of force doesnt have to come at the barrel of a gun. Man survives by the use of his rational faculty, when you take away his ability to make choices based on reason and his own free will, I'd argue that force has been initiated.

j..

But at the same time, information does not have a direct ownership label attached to it. If I have information that is sensitive to you and I obtained said information in a legal manner, I have the ability and freedom to release this information to the general public.

That being said, why is it immoral or illegal for me to have you pay me in order for me not to release the information. Like the OP said, that connotes a voluntary exchange.

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Initiation of force doesnt have to come at the barrel of a gun. Man survives by the use of his rational faculty, when you take away his ability to make choices based on reason and his own free will, I'd argue that force has been initiated.

What do you mean? The person being blackmailed always has the choice of turning down the blackmailer's demands and letting the information become public.

Explain how being blackmailed removes your ability to make choices.

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... .information does not have a direct ownership label attached to it....

This is a good point. However, would it be okay to ask an animal lover to lend my $50 under the threat that if they dont I'll slaughter a litter of stray kittens? Its about making choices rationally, and volitionally, not under threat, physical or otherwise.

j..

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This is a good point. However, would it be okay to ask an animal lover to lend my $50 under the threat that if they dont I'll slaughter a litter of stray kittens? Its about making choices rationally, and volitionally, not under threat, physical or otherwise.

You're confusing blackmail with extortion.

Edit: nevermind, I see you mentioned the kittens were strays. Since animals have no rights it should be legal to do what you proposed, but I would certainly say it's immoral. In any case it still doesn't answer the larger point about whether blackmail should be illegal, which must be tied to a violation of rights.

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This is a good point. However, would it be okay to ask an animal lover to lend my $50 under the threat that if they dont I'll slaughter a litter of stray kittens? Its about making choices rationally, and volitionally, not under threat, physical or otherwise.

j..

Well, I think that blackmail has several different faces.

There is emotional based blackmail, fear (threats) based blackmail, and information based blackmail. I don't think its fair to put a giant umbrella of blackmail and to try to classify rights and legality based on one "idea" of blackmail.

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This is a good point. However, would it be okay to ask an animal lover to lend my $50 under the threat that if they dont I'll slaughter a litter of stray kittens? Its about making choices rationally, and volitionally, not under threat, physical or otherwise.

j..

But some threats are justified. It is okay to ask my employee to do his job and to threaten to fire him if he does not.

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But some threats are justified. It is okay to ask my employee to do his job and to threaten to fire him if he does not.

But it is it ok to ask your employee to do his job and to threaten his family if he does not?

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Well, I think that blackmail has several different faces.

There is emotional based blackmail, fear (threats) based blackmail, and information based blackmail. I don't think its fair to put a giant umbrella of blackmail and to try to classify rights and legality based on one "idea" of blackmail.

This topic is more difficult than it seems prima facie. Giving it more thought, legally its tougher than I'd imagined, but ethically it seems pretty straight forward. Context is key though. I'll think more.....

j..

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But it is it ok to ask your employee to do his job and to threaten his family if he does not?

Of course not. I'm just saying, just because you "threaten" someone with some unpleasant outcome does not mean you have violated their rights. It depends on what exactly you threaten to do, and whether you would have the right to do it.

So, with blackmail, the question becomes: do you have a right to release information that negatively impacts the life of another? I'm not talking about trade secrets, or some piece of information that your victim has formal rights to. Just something that would make their life harder or more difficult. I don't see why you wouldn't have the right to.

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Of course not. I'm just saying, just because you "threaten" someone with some unpleasant outcome does not mean you have violated their rights. It depends on what exactly you threaten to do, and whether you would have the right to do it.

So, with blackmail, the question becomes: do you have a right to release information that negatively impacts the life of another? I'm not talking about trade secrets, or some piece of information that your victim has formal rights to. Just something that would make their life harder or more difficult. I don't see why you wouldn't have the right to.

Yea I agree that the context of the blackmail is really important to decide its legality and ethical merit.

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This topic is more difficult than it seems prima facie. Giving it more thought, legally its tougher than I'd imagined, but ethically it seems pretty straight forward. Context is key though. I'll think more.....

j..

Yes, ethically, it is most definitely wrong. You are threatening a disvalue in order to get someone to give you a value. This is a break from the trader principle, and this action negatively affects both your own life and the life of your victim. From your own perspective, this is an inferior method of gaining values when compared to producing values. Using it even just this once will have negative impacts on your character, making it harder for you to gain values in the future. Truly good methods of gaining value, like production, build up your character and make it easier to continue your value-gaining in the future. Threatening blackmail hinders the blackmailer's own life, in addition to (very obviously) being detrimental to the blackmailee; yet another illustration of the harmony of rational interests.

Of course, if you are attempting to preserve a value (to keep from losing a value) rather than attempting to gain a value, blackmail may be an appropriate method. If you are trying to keep a corrupt government official from extorting payment, say, then blackmail would be ethically permissible to try to prevent this from happening.

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Are blackmail and extortion not two sides of the same coin?

They are two completely different things. Blackmail is threatening to reveal sensitive information unless the person in question accedes to your demands. Extortion is threatening to intiate force on someone or violate his rights in some tangible fashion unless the person in question accedes to your demands.

It's the difference between threatening to tell a cheating husband's wife about his infidelities unless he pays up and threatening to kill his wife or break his kneecaps unless he pays up.

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Yes, ethically, it is most definitely wrong. You are threatening a disvalue in order to get someone to give you a value. This is a break from the trader principle, and this action negatively affects both your own life and the life of your victim. From your own perspective, this is an inferior method of gaining values when compared to producing values. Using it even just this once will have negative impacts on your character, making it harder for you to gain values in the future. Truly good methods of gaining value, like production, build up your character and make it easier to continue your value-gaining in the future. Threatening blackmail hinders the blackmailer's own life, in addition to (very obviously) being detrimental to the blackmailee; yet another illustration of the harmony of rational interests.

Of course, if you are attempting to preserve a value (to keep from losing a value) rather than attempting to gain a value, blackmail may be an appropriate method. If you are trying to keep a corrupt government official from extorting payment, say, then blackmail would be ethically permissible to try to prevent this from happening.

But what if the value you are trying to maintain is a corrupt value?

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They are two completely different things. Blackmail is threatening to reveal sensitive information unless the person in question acceded to your demands. Extortion is threatening to intiate force on someone or violate his rights in some tangible fashion unless the person in question accedes to your demands.

It's the difference between threatening to tell a cheating husbands wife about his infidelities unless he pays up and threatening to kill his wife or break his kneecaps unless he pays up.

So the differentiating factor is that of force. Extortion is nothing more than blackmail threatening with force.

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In many ways blackmail is analogous to a settlement in court. You pay in order to preserve your reputation. The difference is that blackmail is not backed by a formal contract, and the only way to enforce its original terms is to resort to force. It tends to escalate, so it makes things easier on law enforcement to just throw a blanket ban over the whole thing.

Since the sensitive information involved is not necessarily concealing a crime, however, I see no reason for it to be illegal. Maybe someone can sucessfully argue something to the effect that government must root out unofficial contracts in order to enforce the legal ones, but that seems like a stretch. Either way it remains an incredibly stupid situation to get oneself into. It is also involves an evasion of reality in most cases.

If someone threatens to reveal embarassing but accurate information about you your rights are not violated, but does blackmail ever extend to "your money or your life" situations or is that always the domain of theft and assault? The differentiation is the use of force, so the challenge is to think of a blackmail scenario in which the threat implies the use of force, but does not constitute outright robbery. How about if I threaten to report you for tax evasion? It is an act which is not rightfully illegal, but its disclosure will cause a third party to violate your rights. Of course in a rights-respecting society such situations do not emerge, but it is worth considering.

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In many ways blackmail is analogous to a settlement in court. You pay in order to preserve your reputation. The difference is that blackmail is not backed by a formal contract, and the only way to enforce its original terms is to resort to force. It tends to escalate, so it makes things easier on law enforcement to just throw a blanket ban over the whole thing.

That's an interesting take on it. Still is there any real reason why blackmail couldn't be made into a formal contract? It could be drawn up by attorneys bound by confidentiality agreements with copies of the contract given to only the two parties involved.

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That's an interesting take on it. Still is there any real reason why blackmail couldn't be made into a formal contract? It could be drawn up by attorneys bound by confidentiality agreements with copies of the contract given to only the two parties involved.

I can't think of anything wrong with that. So yes, I guess blackmail doesn't have to be all cloaks and daggers.

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