In a previous piece (The Free Market and Morality), I argued in favor of legislated morality, in the abstract. Fortunately, my sloppiness could not survive for long, and I was asked in the comments section to specify what laws in particular I would prefer, which did not involve people actually injuring each other.
(For my purposes, I am going to restrict myself to activities that are entirely voluntary for all parties involved, and do no direct harm to anybody.)
Having thought about it for a few days, I keep coming back to the entertainment industry. Take music, for example. The Greeks knew the degree to which a person’s moral instincts were shaped by the very music they listened to; Aristotle even went so far as to advocate banning certain musical modes entirely from the city, as being too discordant and not instilling the proper love of harmony in the listener. The Phrygian mode especially (which is today called Dorian mode) was seen as promoting vice. Much to be preferred were the morally edifying Lydian and Dorian modes (Dorian is today called Phrygian mode, ironically enough).
Does this seem farfetched? It is widely known today that hooligans generally do not like classical music, and public malls have taken to playing such music on loudspeakers to drive away criminals. How can such people dislike classical music so much that they will actually leave places where it is playing?
I remember when I first began listening to Metallica. I really liked the music, which was unusual for me; generally I consider most rock to be terrible. But at the same time, as I listened I could feel myself becoming coarsened in some subtle manner. Perhaps it was the aggressive electric guitar, or the pounding precussion. It was worse when I would work out in the campus weight room. Someone would usually put on some sort of rap or hip-hop, which makes for excrable listening. Aside from the lyrics, the effect of the music itself was like a jackhammer to the brain, with a relelntlessly pounding beat that obliterated all thought before it.
Music is a language, and communicates information just as surely as words do. That the information is emotional and not logical does not make it any less real. And its effect on the human spirit is profound. Aristotle wrote that good music teaches the listener to recognize and even to seek out true virtue. The opposite is true as well. Are we then to simply allow people to make whatever music they want, and then to inflict it on the public sphere?
The Beatles were seen in their day as shocking, even dangerous. Compare them to the cesspool that is modern music. Can anyone doubt that there has been a real moral decline? Or that its effects are felt throughout society?
Similar arguments can be made for television or movies, or computer games for that matter, and much more easily than for music. Now I am not arguing that "immoral" music should be banned entirely, if such a thing would even work. But it should be banned from the public sphere. If children want to listen to such things in the home, that is their parents' concern. But the public sphere is our concern, and we should not permit it to become the dumping ground for everything that people don't want in their homes, as it has become.
So much for entertainment. The other thing that comes to mind is body piercing.
I am continually astonished by the miracle of the human body. That nerves and sinews and muscle work together so flawlessly (in general), that the endocrine system can maintain such a complex and delicate balance of chemicals, is staggering. And people are so cavalier about poking holes in themsleves?
Earrings and nose piercings have a long tradition, and I have no quarrel with them. But the more exotic manifestations denote a certain disregard of the human body, or even in some cases actual self-loathing. It cheapens the value of human life; it is perhaps suicide writ small. A bit overstated, but not by much. So I would ban all piercings besides ear and nose; teenagers can keep their melancholic angst to themselves, and should not be allowed to damage their bodies on a whim.
Both degraded public entertainment and body mutilation hurt no one directly, or even indirectly except at several removes. They are purely voluntary for those directly involved. And yet to allow both free license, as has been done, undermines the morality of entire societies. It is here where the Non-Agression Principle fails, I think, and where strict libertarians come up short. Morality best grows in an environment suited to morality. It is the task of societies to provide that environment.