Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Old saying, that few believe. A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28) They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are
A long standing principle of law, which I endorse, is that it is legal to threaten to do what is legal, and illegal to threaten to do what is illegal.
"But money-inspired threats happen anytime parties haggle over a price, and few folks get worked up over that. If people are free to buy or not buy, and to sell or not sell, why not let them make threats about the price they’ll accept? Similarly, if people are free to gossip or not gossip as they prefer, why not let them haggle over the price of their gossip?"
If all threats are OK, why not threats of violence?
In a business deal, the threat is that someone doesn't get what they want. In blackmail, the the threat is loss of reputation ruin, and emotional distress. In a mugging, the threat us death or physical injury. These are the same in about the sense that a mouse and an elephant are both mamnals.
I'm mentally focused on the way in which blackmail produces the same kind of effects as gossip, but stronger. I agree that this situation can also apply to other situations where the law only allows zero prices, but I don't claim it applies to all such situations.
> "If you don’t like this scenario [blackmail], it is mainly something you don’t like about a freedom to gossip.".
This sounds like a special case of the argument "If you can give something away, you should be able to sell it" used by anti-paternalists, especially proponents of organ sales. (I think someone notable published a recent popular book with this thesis.) Is your argument just a special case of that, or is there something special about gossip here? Yes, you have pointed out that certain special-case arguments *against* legalizing, e.g., organ sales, don't apply to blackmail, but is your argument *for* legalizing blackmail actually blackmail-specific?
But, you can charge for gossip. You can't charge the victim of it to stay quiet, but you sure can charge a tabloid or news magazine to speak up.
To me it is not a matter of limiting liberty, rather it is fault of a context where we are slave to money rather than live in cooperation, and this promotes unfair competition. But afterall you can too say they tried to extort you money and if the information they own is just personal gossip the we must defend this liberty and point out that it is just gossip and who are the others to judge? Haven't them their own embarrassing little things? Being this true they have no reason to pick on you.
An interesting piece to add is professional gossip services, also known as PR and brand management. They are paid to generate good gossip and counteract bad gossip about individuals (celebrities) as well as firms. Yet people don't seem to think it is a weird or wrong thing to pay for. Although, people do sometimes seem to act strangely when the professional gossips collide with the amateur ones - like it is a sin against the tribe to be selfishly manipulating apparent group consensus.
I think that analysis is a bit simplistic - there are many legal actions that are not legal when coupled together in a causative way (sex causally connected to money is prostitution; organ donation causally connected to money is illegal). The law in these cases is trying to create an incentive to affect behavior, which is kinda the (quixotic) point of having laws.
I am also not convinced that a person does not have a recognizable interest in his reputation. We are informational creatures much more than we are bodies. Our reputations - how we exist in others' minds - are intimately related to how well we do materially, and in addition are ends in themselves (we care more about social belonging than about perhaps anything else).
the victim cannot possibly be made worse by the blackmailer offering to contract with him
The victim is made worse off by the blackmailer's having the option to "offer" him the "contract" for money. (Which brings to mind Nozick's careful distinction between an offer and a threat.)
I enjoy Walter Block's analysis of blackmail. How can the combination of two legal actions be illegal: speaking out about facts (or keeping quiet), and exchanging money?
From a property rights perspective, things are even clearer. First, the "victim" does not own his reputation (since he doesn't own other people's minds). Second, the victim cannot possibly be made worse by the blackmailer offering to contract with him (at worse, the victim refuses, the blackmailer tells the truth, and the victim's reputation suffers). By virtue of owning his own body, the blackmailer has a right to speak out the truth (and the victim cannot enslave the blackmailer to coercively prevent that).
But gossip is not just saying bad things about people. Anything said about anyone else can be gossip. So you would have to distinguish between true or false, belief or known, good, neutral, or bad and that would be subjective and leave intent ambiguous. And if it were known to be true, even if believed to be bad, it would be news. But if someone is willing to blackmail, and someone considers complying, both have agreed it is bad for otherwise it would have no value. And blackmail subverts the news. It encourages the hiding of bad information, not its disclosure. Gossip may be false but be rapidly found out. Blackmail may be true but suppressed. It may encourage discovery but it discourages disclosure.
"If we don’t want to discourage certain embarrassing actions, then why allow gossip about them?"
But blackmail may actually increase the number of embarrassing actions due to the incentives it creates for entrapment and stings.
Successful blackmailers become allies of wrong-doers to keep the wrong-doing from being made known by others. Thus investigative reporters (for example) must guard against retaliation from both the perpetrator and any of the perpetrator's blackmailer.
Robin Dunbar notes that two-thirds of language is for gossip, highlighting its importance in our lives.
Blackmail is mostly extortion whether the threat is to someone's reputation, status, or life.
Sometimes, blackmail isn't for money. And the ultimate target may not actually be the person who is being subjected to the blackmail. For example, a common type of national security threat is that of a foreign enemy blackmailer demanding classified information under threat of revealing embarrassing information about someone who has access to that information. (People who work in jobs related to national security often need sign statements stating that they don't know of anything in their pasts that could cause them to be subject to blackmail.) The anti-blackmail law gives the Government one more tool with which to attack blackmail threats to national security. And likewise for industrial security.