The frightening power of rationalization is clearly on display in the story of Ross Ulbricht, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, as he developed the Silk Road website where you could buy anything you wanted. The story is told in American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road, written by Nick Bilton. This is the fourth part of a series. You may enjoy reading parts one, two, and three.
How did Dread Pirate Roberts get to the point where he allowed the sale of every imaginable drug, various explosives, and a range of body parts on the site he created and ran? How did he get to the place of hiring and paying for five assassinations?
The book provides insight to the shifting rationalizations. Journey with me as we explore in-depth how rationalization played out in this situation.
The starting place is that Mr. Ulbricht perceived himself to be a libertarian. That is what he claimed.
I am not a libertarian, but have along the way learned a few details of what libertarians generally believe. Some of the economists I read and enjoy are coming from a libertarian perspective on economic issues.
Drugs okay? Yes.
One of the ideas in the libertarian school of thought, as I understand it, is that you ought to be free to do with your body whatever you wish.
If you choose to eat unhealthy foods all the time, the government should not get in your way. If you choose to consume drugs that the government has banned, you have every right to do so.
I can wrap my brain around the concept and I can even understand how that led DPR to allow the sale of absolutely any kind of drug that someone wanted to sell. After all, if buyers wants to put something into their body (so the thinking goes), that ought to be a decision they can make as they wish.
Body organs okay? Yes.
When it gets to the point of selling human organs, the thought process is outlined on page 167 of the book. The idea was that if the provider of the organ consents to the transaction, then it is fine to sell the organ in a free market.
DPR concluded that selling organs was a just transaction and completely moral.
I will quote the description in the book on pages 167 and 168 under fair use, because it provides a careful description of the concept:
Anything goes in a free market, the (non-aggression) principle states, as long as you’re not violent toward anyone else without cause. (If someone tries to harm you, then you have every right to defend yourself and your personal property, Dread explained. An eye for an eye was the way of the libertarian world.)
Maybe it is just my opinion, and maybe it is my lack of understanding of the libertarian world, but that basic concept was subsequently stretched far beyond the breaking point.
That do-what-feels-good-for-you concept carries over to allowing sale of any drugs, including synthetics which are described as being 100 times more powerful than heroin. If you want to use such a drug to get high or wasted or destroy yourself, that would be your choice.
Explosives okay? Yes.
That same concept is used by DPR to allow the sale of fully automatic weapons, grenades, and rocket launchers. From the reading I have done (if you didn’t already know I like to read widely) I’m aware that there are people who enjoy buying an automatic weapon through proper legal channels and blasting off a few hundred rounds of ammo per minute at the range. Actually, that sounds kind of fun to me. Even more so if someone else were to give me a couple of cases of ammo.
I have read that there are even people who enjoy buying cannons and armored tanks. People with such a vast amount of money that they don’t have anything else to do with it also legally buy ammunition so they can pop off a few rounds from said cannons or tanks.
How can explosives be okay?
I rather doubt that anyone buying a fully automatic weapon on Silk Road is intending to burn several hundred dollars of ammo at the range next weekend. I doubt anyone buying a grenade or rocket launcher is going to be popping it off just for kicks at their buddy’s hundred acre farm over summer vacation.
Maybe it is a failure of my imagination but I can’t really see anyone buying explosives at Silk Road would look at that them as fun toys to be used in an innocent way. Those weapons are sort of in the range of things one would buy when one is intending serious harm to another person. Or a large number of persons.
Seems to me that would really run contrary to anything I understand of the libertarian frame of reference.
Continued in Part 5 – How can torture and killing fit into a moral framework?