A Philosophical Dilemma

Oddly enough, this post was inspired by an Andy Griffith episode I watched last night. Let me quickly summarize the story so this will make sense.

Ellie (works at drugstore) discovers there’s a girl living out on a farm near town who longs to have make-up, lipstick, perfume, etc…but doesn’t have any. So Ellie and Andy go out to the farm and give her a sampling of these items as a gift. The girl’s father walks up to them, discovers the items, and makes his daughter give them back to Ellie, saying that she doesn’t have any need for them. This infuriates Ellie (who faintly resembles a “liberated” woman of the modern age) and she persuades Barney to go back and confront the farmer and force him to allow his daughter to come to town and get “prettied up.” Of course Barney doesn’t have the guts to confront the farmer so he sneaks around the farm and steals the girl away to town, without the farmer knowing about it. Ellie pretties her up and reveals a very beautiful young woman under all the grime and overalls. They take her back to the farm, convinced that her father will realize how much all of this means to his daughter now that he can see her beauty. He is impressed but adamant; he has no sons and is struggling to keep his farm going. He needs his daughter not to parade around in high heels but put the overalls back on and get to work. Andy is very diplomatic and shows the farmer that if his daughter is all prettied up and attractive it will draw strong farm boys from all around and he’ll probably end up with a very productive and helpful son-in-law. So of course it all turns out happily ever after. 🙂

My immediate thought as I watched it was, “that isn’t any of their business!” and this is what Andy originally says too, before being swayed by Ellie’s pleading expression. But that doesn’t change that fact that this daughter is really none of their business.

However, I wanted to think through what would happen in this type of situation without any government. Granted, Andy wasn’t really acting on behalf of the law, but he was seen as a representative of the state and could have possibly arrested the farmer on some trumped-up charges to “free” his daughter. So I wanted to think about what would happen if there had been no state. What I came up with was this:

If Ellie had such a problem with this “cruel” farmer depriving his daughter of all these feminine luxuries then she perhaps should have talk to the community and raised this issue with them. She could argue her case with them and ask that if they disagreed with the farmer’s decision then they should refuse to trade with him or allow him to buy at their stores. In that type of situation I could easily see the other farmers siding with this particular farmer, as they understood his plight. And perhaps the younger generation in the city proper would side with Ellie. So Ellie might or might be successful in persuading the farmer to “liberate” his daughter. A couple points about this:

1) It would not be force against the farmer. No one would be coercing him into anything. It would simply be a withdrawal of exchange. “You don’t let your daughter wear lipstick, we won’t let you buy our _________.” This is where you can see the clear line between a free society and a society ruled by a state. The state is force and violence. The free society can only withdraw privileges. I say privileges because the farmer really has no “right” to trade with anyone. Just wanted to clarify that point. Some (including family members…) have responded with, “now, that’s absurd! That’s horrible! Just because this farmer has some reason why he doesn’t want his daughter to wear makeup doesn’t mean that people can isolate him and make him entirely self-dependent. How will he make a living if he can’t sell or buy things? He’ll have to move somewhere else and start all over again–just because of this rabble-rouser, Ellie.” But here’s why I don’t think that would happen, especially over such a trivial matter.

2) Trade and exchange is mutually beneficial. It is easy for us to look at the farmer and think that the rest of the community is doing him a favor by trading with him. But let’s say he sells a certain amount of corn to someone for $10. We’ll say X lbs. corn for $10. Haha, can’t escape from my algebraic past…these X’s are still haunting me! Anyways…the farmer says to the miller, “hey, I’ve got this X lbs. of corn, would you like to buy it?” Miller replies, “sure, that sounds great. I was needing some corn.” So they exchange goods. And who benefits? BOTH!! The miller has benefitted from the exchange just as the farmer did. And so then the farmer takes this $10 to the butcher and says, “I need a side of beef, can you sell it to me?” Just because the farmer initiated this exchange doesn’t mean that he’s the only one who needs the good. The butcher probably needs the $10 to pay his bills too. So the butcher trades with him. Side of beef for $10. Who benefits? BOTH parties!!

Imagine a businessperson who refused to do business with people who had a different religion than him. Or who didn’t wear a certain type of clothing. Or who wore glasses. Or…you get the point. It doesn’t make business sense to keep restricting your market like that. There would have to be a really, really good reason to convince someone not to trade with a particular person.

Back to the story. If Ellie were going to be successful in working against this farmer she would have to persuade everyone to give up the benefits they would receive through trading with the farmer. I think most of them would be unwilling to forfeit the sales of goods to the farmer just because his daughter didn’t wear makeup. I don’t think the extreme situation mentioned above would actually occur over something this small. But then I wondered what would happen if the problem was bigger. Let’s say the farmer beat his daughter. Then what?

I think this would definitely be too much for the people of the community to accept. While not being allowed to wear makeup is a passive act, being beaten is an active encroachment on her rights. And I doubt if anyone would object if the community began to isolate him and refuse to do business with him until he stopped beating his daughter and made some kind of restitution. And the same for a situation like murder.

So then the problem seems to be that there’s a disconnect between beating a girl and not letting her wear makeup. And this is a very subjective and “gray” area; I’m just going to give my own thoughts on it and you can think whatever you’d like about it.

The girl lives with her father. She eats the food that he helps to produce. She lives under the roof he has provided her. And so I don’t think it is wrong for him to ask her to do or not do certain things. She is under his jurisdiction. I assume that the girl is over 18 and could have run away if she had wanted to be “free” so badly. But no, she stayed with her father despite the toil and difficulties, and likewise he shared of his stores and food with her. It appeared that he had never explained to her why she wasn’t allowed to have the same things as other girls. I think that it would have been nicer if he had shown her how much he needed her help and how she was the only help he had. Instead of feeling and acting like he was forcing her into this servile position they could have worked together as a team, she sacrificing her own desires so that their farm would prosper and he doing likewise. This would have made their relationship better, but I don’t think he was obligated to tell her.

Question is, did the girl have the right to wear makeup and such things? Yes, she had the right to do whatever she liked…but by living under the jurisdiction of her father she forfeited certain rights in order to receive the privileges he gave her, such as a roof over her head, food to eat, and a father’s protection. We all give up certain rights whenever we enter any type of relationship. A mother gives up her right to read books all day long when she has a child, for the privilege of being a mother. A wife gives up certain rights when she marries for the privileges of a husband’s protection, leadership, provision, etc…This is part of life. We freely choose to forfeit certain things to gain others. And we are constantly engaged in acts of valuation, “is this privilege more valuable to me than this right?” And every time we choose one end we are giving up another less-valued end. The girl valued the benefits that came from living under her father’s jurisdiction more than the freedoms she could have had by living somewhere else.

I know that the feminists would probably kill me for this blog post, but hey, it is just my humble opinion. 🙂 I thought it was an interesting situation and wanted to think it through a bit. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts as on this too!

One Comment

  1. Hello Savannah… Great class yesterday by the way…I might have a few interesting views on the matter.

    First, I think that in a healthy community, Ellie would be encouraged to run away from her father. There are three types of relationships: the pleasurable and mutually beneficial type (healthy relationship among lovers), the mutually beneficial but not joyous or meaningful type (a worker employer relationship) , and the involuntary yet seemingly moral type (child-parent relationship). In the third type of relationship, one is born into a family, culture, religion, or country and automatically given obligations and responsibilities with the rest of those individuals in the the same group. But how can the act of being born create an obligation? Because one does not choose to be born into a specific family, Ellie is not obligued to comply with any kind of duty. However, her father has the moral responsibility to feed and sustain her daughter because he actually chose to have her. Perhaps part of the reason why Ellie doesn’t leave her father is because of 1) she was lead into thinking that leaving her father was immoral because children have “an obligation” with their parents or 2) she felt that she would be shunned by society if she decided to go against the norm. Although these are not examples of coercion (there is no such thing as psychological coercion), societal expectations and child upbrining do have a strong impact in the decisions we make. In a free a society that values individualism over submission and tradition, societal expectations might have a positive impact on us. Society and our community might remind us that in fact all our relationships, regardless of whether we were born into them or not, are voluntary and should be terminated if they become harmful and constrictive of our identity.

    Second, in a free society without minimum wages, the farmer would have probably hired some workers that can offer their specialized labor, instead of forcing her daughter who is likely to have her own individual talents and skills in other areas. If allowed to act freely and explore her individualism, Ellie might actually bring home more income by doing something that she is really good at than the contribution she provides through her virtually free manual labor.

    Finally, in a free society parents would pay a premium to insurance companies to cover the medical costs of any health problem their children might have. Now, since these insurance companies would want to reduce the possibilities of these kids actually getting sick, they would research what types of upbringing, education, and nutrition increase or decrease the probabilities that a child will get sick. In the end, insurance companies would very likely tell parents to allow their children act freely and to explore their individuality because this type of parenting reduces the probabilities that children would have psychological problems like depression, and in exchange, insurance companies would charge parents lower premiums. Parents would then have an economical incentive to follow certain guidelines of what is actually good parenting according to scientific research not just tradition. This would not be coercion because parents may choose to treat their children harshly but then they would have to pay higher premiums.

    These are my humble yet radical views on parenting hehe. More philosophical dilemmas please!!

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