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Blackmail is the act of offering a choice between an act and a consequence, where the act is not something that the blackmailee would "otherwise do" (in lieu of the consequence) and the consequence is a disvalue from the POV of the blackmailee. Blackmail is neither moral nor immoral per se. If a criminal is faced with the choice between continuing to be a criminal and being sent to prison, or stopping and not being sent to prison, that is "blackmail". Look at the specific facts of the case: that will tell you if it is moral or immoral (or: violation of rights or not) to present such an alternative. If is not, if and only if, it constitutes initiation of force.

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Blackmail is neither moral nor immoral per se.

So, I guess blackmail law is just another broken part of our legal system?

What exactly is the legal justification that is used for its classification as a crime? Could someone challenge it in court?

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

Interesting question...

I would say that even if what you are trying to protect is not objectively valuable, there is no immorality in attempting to protect what you think is a value through blackmail. I would say this because the act of blackmailing to protect what you think is a value does not build up any habits that will be detrimental to you later in life. The fact that in this case your valuation is wrong does not introduce some negative effect on your character from the blackmail.

Now, the fact that you are pursuing something that is not objectively valuable in the first place indicates either an error of knowledge or a moral failing prior to this "value" being threatened. Once that error is made, however, using blackmail to protect that value does not compound the error (or immorality).

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So, I guess blackmail law is just another broken part of our legal system?

What exactly is the legal justification that is used for its classification as a crime? Could someone challenge it in court?

The courts have a bad history of not knowing what force is. Blackmail is currently illegal largely for the same reasons that minimum wage laws stay in place: monetary incentive is widely believed to be synonymous with force. Money is considered a "dirty" value which distorts what is truly meaningful, and of course you can't tell the difference on your own. That and, in connection with what I said before, politicians hate the idea of contracts being made outside their explicit control. It would be great if someone fought this in court and won, but it's low on the priority list of current rights violations imo since its morality is questionable in the first place.

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Money is considered a "dirty" value which distorts what is truly meaningful, and of course you can't tell the difference on your own.

What's interesting about this is that the flip side of blackmail -- bribery -- IS legal as long as it isn't used to try to influence a public official (correct me if I'm wrong about this btw).

That means that a cheating husband can approach someone he knows has knowledge of his infidelities and offer him money for his silence, but the person being offered money can't negotiate about the amount because then that would be falling into blackmail!

So, really, I don't know whether your "dirty money" hypothesis is correct or not, but the law is really screwed up here.

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Interesting question...

I would say that even if what you are trying to protect is not objectively valuable, there is no immorality in attempting to protect what you think is a value through blackmail. I would say this because the act of blackmailing to protect what you think is a value does not build up any habits that will be detrimental to you later in life. The fact that in this case your valuation is wrong does not introduce some negative effect on your character from the blackmail.

Now, the fact that you are pursuing something that is not objectively valuable in the first place indicates either an error of knowledge or a moral failing prior to this "value" being threatened. Once that error is made, however, using blackmail to protect that value does not compound the error (or immorality).

But, objectively speaking, if one maintains a value that is not objectively protected (say, something altruistic in nature), wouldn't they really have something that is a lack of a value? I thought Rand never accepted something as a value unless it was objectively defined?

*** Mod's note: Discussion on "false values", was split: see here. - sN ***

Edited by softwareNerd
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So, I guess blackmail law is just another broken part of our legal system?
Not necessarily. You would have to look at the actual law. Maybe I should have mentioned that blackmail isn't always a crime. For example, in Ohio, "blackmail" is subsumed -- and not entirely -- under extortion which crucially reduces to this particular kind of act:

“Extortionate means” is any means that involves the use, or an express or implicit threat of use, of violence or other criminal means to cause harm to the person or property of the debtor or any member of his family.

OTOH Kansas does make blackmail a felony, and defines it as:

Blackmail.

Blackmail is gaining or attempting to gain anything of value or compelling another to act against such person's will, by threatening to communicate accusations or statements about any person that would subject such person or any other person to public ridicule, contempt or degradation.

Such laws are old laws, so questions of "justification" are sort of lost in the sands of time.

(Oh, and sorry, I have to bolt now -- hopefully SN, Jenni or RB can split this).

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Not necessarily. You would have to look at the actual law. Maybe I should have mentioned that blackmail isn't always a crime.

(Oh, and sorry, I have to bolt now -- hopefully SN, Jenni or RB can split this).

Hmm, I'm not a lawyer and this is getting confusing. For instance, according to this federal statute:

It is... prohibited to mail or transmit in interstate commerce certain threats with the intent to extort, including threats to accuse of a crime or to injure person, property, or reputation
(bold mine). http://law.jrank.org/pages/568/Blackmail-E...l-statutes.html

So I guess this means it's against the law to blackmail someone out of state, but depending on state laws it may be permissable in-state? What if you're both in states that allow blackmail? Would that still be violating the federal statute?

By the way, I'm having trouble finding where you can look up these sort of laws by state. What did you do to look up the laws you cited in Ohio and Kansas?

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That means that a cheating husband can approach someone he knows has knowledge of his infidelities and offer him money for his silence,

I think there is a misconception that blackmail means that the blackmailee has done something immoral when that is not necessarily the case. It could simply be a private matter that would cause trouble for the person. A public office holder who was gay in 1950 or someone running a business as an atheist in a rural part of the bible belt would be examples of vulnerable types.

As far as foundations go, it might be an issue related to "rights to privacy." If it's accepted that an individual has a right to own the information about their private lives in an intellectual property sort of way, then illegalizing blackmail is an obvious step.

Practically speaking, I hate to think of living in a world where a whole industry was developed around private investigations of individuals for the purpose of making them buy their privacy with no market to correct for irrationalities.

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As far as foundations go, it might be an issue related to "rights to privacy." If it's accepted that an individual has a right to own the information about their private lives in an intellectual property sort of way, then illegalizing blackmail is an obvious step.

In order for something to be intellectual property it has to be either a copyright, patent, or trade secret. Which of those would you propose your philosophical convictions, sexual orientation, or marital infidelities fall under?

And yes, I assume in a world where blackmail was generally legal there would be professional blackmailers as a sort of a subprofession of private investigators. Not that those don't exist today, it's that they're not that open about it. You may not like this idea, but I'm sure the marketplace would work itself out when put in the proper context of a functional judicial system and rights-respecting constitution.

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If it's accepted that an individual has a right to own the information about their private lives in an intellectual property sort of way

You cannot own facts of reality. This is why scientific facts should not be patentable. Inventions are different in that they are means to use some arrangement of natural factors to accomplish a definite and specific purpose. It is this - creating means of using nature to further human life - that is the productive aspect of intellectual endeavors, and it is this aspect that produces property.

One should not be able to patent "salt" (imagine for a moment that the compound was newly discovered) or the fact that high concentrations of salt kill certain pathogens. One should be able to patent the use of Sodium Chloride to preserve meat from rot (assume, again, that this usage is newly discovered). The patent would not cover other uses of salt, nor would it cover the use of other compounds for the same purpose. Another patent could cover the use of salt to disinfect wounds (again, picture this as a recent discovery).

Facts of reality can never be property. Only specific ways of accomplishing specific purposes by specific physical means can be owned as patents. Only specific means of expressing ideas, not ideas themselves, can be owned as copyrights. And trademarks are not strictly about intellectual property, but rather about fraud (deceiving the customer).

The "right to privacy" should be seen as a limitation on government, for the purpose of protecting individual freedom from government encroachment. It is not an actual right.

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You cannot own facts of reality.

Just to clarify, I was speculating as to what the blackmail laws may have been based on and not suggesting that they should be. That's why I put them in quotation marks. To the extent that a "right to privacy" exists at all, I would think of it as being a derivative of other rights-property in particular.

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And yes, I assume in a world where blackmail was generally legal there would be professional blackmailers as a sort of a subprofession of private investigators. Not that those don't exist today, it's that they're not that open about it. You may not like this idea, but I'm sure the marketplace would work itself out when put in the proper context of a functional judicial system and rights-respecting constitution.

I realize that it exists but it's illegality lessons the frequency and commonality of it and provides the blackmailee with a third option of going to the police.

I'm not sure that a free market would work itself out. I think rather it would work itself out by encouraging puritanical homogeneity and limiting diversification of ideas and activities. I'm not saying society couldn't function this way, just that I wouldn't be particularly interested in having my neighbors peeking through the cracks in my log cabin to ensure that I was only utilizing the missionary position during sex or partaking in the witch hunts that this sort of behavior will always lead to.

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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.

I believe Dante's point settled the question.

It's objectively immoral => It should be illegal in an objective gov.

On more general terms:

Is the following affirmation true?

"In a Oist gov, all that is (objectively) immoral should also be illegal"

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On more general terms:

Is the following affirmation true?

"In a Oist gov, all that is (objectively) immoral should also be illegal"

Absolutely not. Just because something is immoral doesn't mean it should be illegal. The sole purpose of government is the abrogation of the use of force. The only thing a government can properly make illegal is the violation of indivdual rights which requires initiation of the use of force against another.

Blackmail (as has been discussed) does not fit this criteria.

Edited by Myself
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I believe Dante's point settled the question.

It's objectively immoral => It should be illegal in an objective gov.

Enforcing objective morality is a misnomer, since objective morality cannot be enforced (morality ends where a gun begins). So what exactly would this objective government of yours try to accomplish?

On more general terms:

Is the following affirmation true?

"In a Oist gov, all that is (objectively) immoral should also be illegal"

No. An Objectivist government would protect rights, not souls.

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I'm not sure that a free market would work itself out. I think rather it would work itself out by encouraging puritanical homogeneity and limiting diversification of ideas and activities. I'm not saying society couldn't function this way, just that I wouldn't be particularly interested in having my neighbors peeking through the cracks in my log cabin to ensure that I was only utilizing the missionary position during sex or partaking in the witch hunts that this sort of behavior will always lead to.

Frankly, I have no idea what you're talking about. Social mores today are tremendously more inclusive and less homogenous BECAUSE of the free flow of information, not because everything is kept hidden away.

As for peeping through windows -- it's up to you to make sure the blinds are closed if you value your privacy. There is no right to privacy, per se -- only the right to property, which is your own responsibility to safeguard.

From what I can see, blackmail is just another way to maximize or monetize information. It's sort of like insider-trading -- it has a bad rap, but when you think about it there's nothing necessarily nefarious about it at all. Information should have a price if you're willing to pay for it -- everything else does.

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I believe Dante's point settled the question.

It's objectively immoral => It should be illegal in an objective gov.

On more general terms:

Is the following affirmation true?

"In a Oist gov, all that is (objectively) immoral should also be illegal"

This does not follow. Objectivism holds that morality follows from an objective assessment of the facts by an independent mind. Morality is the chosen, it cannot be forced. The only way for a person to act morally long-term is for they themselves to understand the components of their own well-being and the principles that should guide them, and consistently make the right choices. Force is not a path to moral action.

Additionally, why should I have an obligation to pay taxes which go towards making other people more moral? Even if that were a path to morality, I would not have an obligation to help them along.

In an O'ist government, only rights violations should be illegal.

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So I guess this means it's against the law to blackmail someone out of state, but depending on state laws it may be permissable in-state? What if you're both in states that allow blackmail?
First, I think the correct way of approaching the issue is asking what is prohibited, and by whom. States differ in what is forbidden. Then second, you have to ask about jurisdiction. When there's any interaction across state lines, federal law is relevant. The feds also can claim jurisdiction if using a federally-regulated medium, for example the phone or radio.
By the way, I'm having trouble finding where you can look up these sort of laws by state. What did you do to look up the laws you cited in Ohio and Kansas?
Well, if you have access to Lexus-Nexus you can get all sorts of stuff. Some states make it easy to Google their state code, others don't. Try combinations like "Kentucky Blackmail law" (not in quotes). It's often real hard to track down a statute via Google. Usually you can get at Lexus-Nexus Academic via a public library / university library.

As a bare minimum, any threat to violate rights obviously should be a crime. The only room for discussion is whether there should be any kinds of prohibitions against offering to not divulge information in exchange for material consideration. (And obviously there's separate law governing divulging national security information). Amy Peikoff (her dissertation) really makes clear what the proper foundation for legal privacy concepts is, so if you are having an affair and you are found out by a neighbor who sees you and your lover at a motel, you don't "own" that information.

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Frankly, I have no idea what you're talking about. Social mores today are tremendously more inclusive and less homogenous BECAUSE of the free flow of information, not because everything is kept hidden away.

As for peeping through windows -- it's up to you to make sure the blinds are closed if you value your privacy. There is no right to privacy, per se -- only the right to property, which is your own responsibility to safeguard.

From what I can see, blackmail is just another way to maximize or monetize information. It's sort of like insider-trading -- it has a bad rap, but when you think about it there's nothing necessarily nefarious about it at all. Information should have a price if you're willing to pay for it -- everything else does.

I disagree. I think conflating the free flow of information which someone has chosen to make available to the public(like the internet provides)with having the rest of society chasing your information down for the purpose of harming you or your reputation with it, is a mistake.

With the internet and modern surveillance equipment, attempting to provide for your own privacy against a well funded corporations capitol investments would be a joke. The only way to keep yourself safe would be to do and believe nothing which would be considered socially unacceptable. The window thing was just a historical reference to the fact that puritans would literally look through windows and cracks in the log cabins to enforce their views of morality. It led to a particular sort of society which I do not endorse, as would legalizing blackmail today.

This isn't a situation where we are talking about a moderate fine for "immoral behavior." It's one in which a breach of other people's moral values could cost you an indefinite and unlimited amount of money.

Say you surf porn and take an interest in homosexual Smurf bestiality or whatever. A company tracks your visits, investigates your financial status and then demands 65% of your income for the remainder of your life or they'll inform your family and your employer and any future employers about your viewing habits. The only safe bet is conformity and to not trust ANYONE. Nazis and our very own IRS do this same thing. Financial rewards for spying on your neighbors.

There would be massive, massive negative consequences for allowing something like this and I would just encourage you and anyone else to think a long time before advocating it. Objectivism isn't a rationalistic enterprise whereby a clear set of deductions can lead to the one absolute correct answer in each situation. Sometimes induction and integration of many concrete facts leads to truth that might not be immediately and clearly obvious.

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Absolutely not. Just because something is immoral doesn't mean it should be illegal. The sole purpose of government is the abrogation of the use of force. The only thing a government can properly make illegal is the violation of indivdual rights which requires initiation of the use of force against another.

Blackmail (as has been discussed) does not fit this criteria.

"Fraud" it is immoral and illegal and does not require explicitly "initiation of the use of force".

Please re-read Dante´s argument.

By Blackmailing you're extracting a value from an individual by means of a threat to destroy another value.

"Give me money or else I'll cause you harm"

http://www.atlassociety.org/cth--775-Force_Fraud.aspx

Ayn Rand wrote that "To violate man's rights means to compel him to act against own judgment, or to expropriate his values. Basically, there is only one way to do it: by the use of physical force." ("Man's Rights," The Virtue of Selfishness [paperback], p. 111.) ... But in Rand's mind, the scope of force was not limited to the blatantly physical: shooting a man, tying him up, burning his house. She (like most people) considered force to include threats of force: pointing a gun at a person and declaring, "Your money or your life." And she termed "indirect force" such actions as unilateral breaches of contract, fraud, and extortion

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Enforcing objective morality is a misnomer, since objective morality cannot be enforced (morality ends where a gun begins). So what exactly would this objective government of yours try to accomplish?

If it is immoral to initiate force, you must stop aggressors with guns.

Then you're enforcing moral behavior with guns.

No. An Objectivist government would protect rights, not souls.

I wrote "(objectively) immoral" in order to use the term "moral" as defined by objectivism

and of course differentiate from any definition of moral that includes a "soul".

You didn't read "(objectively) immoral" or it was not clear enough? (fair question, not rhetorical)

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This does not follow. Objectivism holds that morality follows from an objective assessment of the facts by an independent mind. Morality is the chosen, it cannot be forced. The only way for a person to act morally long-term is for they themselves to understand the components of their own well-being and the principles that should guide them, and consistently make the right choices. Force is not a path to moral action.

Additionally, why should I have an obligation to pay taxes which go towards making other people more moral? Even if that were a path to morality, I would not have an obligation to help them along.

In an O'ist government, only rights violations should be illegal.

OK, You're rigth. I was just exploring universal affirmations...

Using objectivism definitions,

all rights violations are immoral, but not all immoral acts are rights violations.

Edited by Lucio
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By Blackmailing you're extracting a value from an individual by means of a threat to destroy another value.

"Give me money or else I'll cause you harm"

For example:

"Give me money or else I'll sell my product on the open market, which will substantially cut into your profits because it is a superior product". A superior product can destroy another value, if you can't manage to keep that value. In business, it happens that a company desperately needs a product, without which it is ruined, and a supplier can threaten to ruin them if they don't pay a huge price for the product. This is neither initiation or force nor fraud, just as blackmail is not. Thus blackail (per se) should not be illegal, although form forms involve force and should be illegal.

Ayn Rand wrote that "To violate man's rights means to compel him to act against own judgment, or to expropriate his values. Basically, there is only one way to do it: by the use of physical force." ("Man's Rights," The Virtue of Selfishness [paperback], p. 111.) ... But in Rand's mind, the scope of force was not limited to the blatantly physical: shooting a man, tying him up, burning his house. She (like most people) considered force to include threats of force: pointing a gun at a person and declaring, "Your money or your life."
It takes real balls to make up something like that, especially after quoting her saying explicitly "there is only one way to do it: by the use of physical force". Don't go redefining "force" as something that it is not, like the libertarians do. Focus on what Rand actually says about the relationship of rights and force, e.g. CUI 1 "In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others".
And she termed "indirect force" such actions as unilateral breaches of contract, fraud, and extortion
But not blackmail. Stay on topic, okay? Blackmail does not involve coersion, extortion does.
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Thus blackail (per se) should not be illegal, although form forms involve force and should be illegal.

So there are some forms of blackmail that involve force?

It takes real balls to make up something like that

Cool down. I didn't make it up, it is a paragraph form the link included in the post.

Stay on topic, okay? Blackmail does not involve coersion, extortion does.

Again, cool down and look for the definitions of the terms.

Blackmail DOES involve coercion.

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