Crime and Punishment

Bring Back the Duel

February 19, 2013

For better or for worse, the notion that God and country could be fatally injured by insult has withered away. Defamatory libel is the next concept facing the scrap heap because today, a good reputation is less valuable than a bad one.

This phenomenon is nothing new but has reached epidemic proportions due mostly to technological advances. The difference between Kim Kardashian and Roxie Hart is the Internet, ninety years, and a net worth of $40 million.

That same technology has led to the other reason libel will fade away: the Streisand Effect.

If you sue someone now, the allegedly damaging, unspeakable, humiliating libel is repeated in news stories and blog posts around the world. As a reputation-management strategy, suing is the moral equivalent of picking a scab. Contra that tone-deaf New Yorker cartoonist: On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog.

Back in the ’70s, the famously litigious church [of Scientology] had time to fight publicly with the novelist William S. Burroughs, himself a Scientology defector—or, in the ’90s, with Time magazine. Today, going after every Cruise-bashing blog post would be impossible.

Annie Oakley actually did that. Back when one’s reputation still more or less mattered, the famous female sharpshooter took fifty-five different newspapers to court for claiming, among other things, that she’d been jailed for “stealing the trousers of a negro in order to get money with which to buy cocaine.”

Oakley won almost every suit, but not after she’d been forced to travel across the country for six years. The crusade cost her more money than she ever won in damages.

She’d have been better off challenging her libelers to a duel.

As an alternative to libel suits, there is no downside to dueling. Knowing their very lives are at stake, fewer powerful blowhards will try to bully their ideological enemies into silence.
(In Canada, the plaintiff’s damaged reputation and/or loss of income are assumed—he doesn’t even have to itemize it in court. To the contrary, as in England, libel defendants are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Even if one emerges triumphant, the long, costly, and emotionally draining process is the punishment.)

Under the dueling system, courts will be freed up.

The firearms and funeral businesses will boom.

And at the end of the day, the world will be down a few idiots.

This isn’t some “modest proposal,” either. I’m deadly serious. And if you don’t believe me, it’s pistols at dawn.

 

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