Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 7, 2001

Prohibition (1920-1933 R.I.P.) was known as The Noble Experiment. the results of the experiment are clear: innocent people suffered; organized crime grew into an empire; the police, courts, and politicians became corrupt; disrespect for the law grew; and the per capita consumption of the prohibited substance--alcohol--increased dramatically, year by year, for the thirteen years of this Noble Experiment, never to return to the pre-1920 levels.

Peter McWilliams died in defense of freedom: this book, an incredibly well-written and well-researched book about “the absurdity of consensual crimes in a free society” was probably his death warrant.

AuthorPeter McWilliams
Length692 pages
Book Rating8

McWilliams set out to write “a simple book about a single subject which fits within a parentheses (You should be able to do with your person and property whatever you please, as long as you don’t physically harm the person or property of another)”.

I had no idea this book would be so long. I feel like the woman who set out to write a short story about a Southern girl named Pansy O’Hara. One Civil War and one thousand pages later, Pansy had become Scarlett and the short story had become a doorstop.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do” runs nearly 800 pages in the hardcover. “It will probably be uncomfortable to read about. It’s uncomfortable to write about. Alas, I know of no other road to freedom.”

This book is mostly about American crimes and American freedom. He starts at the beginning: the enlightenment and John Locke’s writings about “the purpose of government”. Locke’s ideas about natural rights were to directly influence Thomas Jefferson’s writings a hundred years later. “No man can be forced to be rich or healthful; God Himself will not save men against their wills.”

Enforcing laws against consensual activities is un-American, says McWilliams. Such laws are “opposed to the principles of private property, free enterprise, capitalism, and the open market.” Such laws are expensive: they cost billions to enforce, and they divert billions into the black market, billions which would otherwise go to legal merchants and be taxed. Laws against consensual crimes encourage otherwise law-abiding people to perform “real” crimes, crimes which cause bodily harm or harm to property. They encourage a lack of respect for law, and enable the corruption of law enforcement. Those billions of dollars are awfully tempting to someone on a police officer’s pay.

While everything in this book is fascinating, my favorite parts are probably the parts where he discusses the bible’s stance on these crimes. McWilliams is also a very religious person, as you can see from some of his other books, and he has researched various items in the bible’s new and old testaments. Besides various biblical stories scattered throughout, there is an entire section, the fourth part of the book, to “Consensual Crimes and the Bible”. He concludes that most people who quote the bible to oppress their fellow man, don’t really read the bible:

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that anyone can read the first four books of the New Testament, which contain the story of and the direct quotations of Jesus, without concluding, as G. K. Chesterton did in his 1910 book, What’s Wrong with the World, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

He covers the ten commandments, the laws of Moses, bible stories, and finally, “Law Versus Grace” leads into the teachings of Jesus. One of the most fascinating, from my perspective, is the story of the centurion and his slave, a story which never made sense to me though I’ve heard it in Mass a number of times as a child. Who was this centurion, and why should he care so much for his slave but not receive any comment on it from Jesus? Jesus comments on the man’s faith, not on his concern for his servants, which is simply assumed. The original Greek, according to McWilliams, makes it clear that the servant in question was a “boy slave” or “body slave”,

a young man who would wash, groom, and take care of the personal needs of his master--including sexual ones. Body slaves were very common among Roman officers--especially while on a campaign or stationed outside Rome: only the highest officers were allowed to bring their wife (or wives), and, even then, many found a male body slave a more practical traveling companion. When the centurion arrived and expressed concern over the boy-slave, the centurion’s relationship with the boy was obvious. It made no difference to Jesus. He agreed to heal the boy. Jesus was a pushover for faith.

The biblical section covers thirteen fascinating chapters.

Just about every page has a quote from some famous or historical person. “There are more old drunkards than old doctors,” says Benjamin Franklin. Orson Welles tells us that “Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy.” Charles Péguy says “Tyranny is always better organised than freedom.” Thomas Jefferson calls out that “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

The final quote is prophetic: Voltaire, in 1758, wrote “Your book is dictated by the soundest reason. You had better get out of France as quickly as you can.”

Prophetic? Yes. Peter McWilliams suffered from AIDS. He lived in California, where technically it is legal for AIDS victims to use medical marijuana, on their doctor’s recommendation, to control their disease. McWilliams used medical marijuana to control the nausea associated with AIDS medicines. “Nausea” is a nice term for the fact that AIDS medicines (like cancer medicines) make you throw up. And when you throw up, the medicine comes up, too, and in people weakened by both their disease and the medicines to control it, vomit can be dangerous. Marijuana is a highly effective “anti-emetic”, which simply means that it controls nausea. Surreptitious marijuana use has saved many a cancer and AIDS patient.

But most of those patients aren’t as outspoken as McWilliams; he was arrested for marijuana possession in a state where such possession for medical purposes is ostensibly legal. What he was really arrested for, of course, was writing a book calling prohibition stupid, and proving it to be costly and ineffective. But while under the criminal justice system, forced off of his doctor’s recommended medicine, McWilliams, weakened from his disease and his medicine and the effort required to keep it down, died from choking on his own vomit.

The DEA and judge George H. King probably consider this a successful conclusion to the case. Fortunately, the book remains in print, and I strongly recommend reading it. It may not be comfortable, but comfort is not what freedom is about.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do

Peter McWilliams

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do…

For more about civil rights, you might also be interested in Fahrenheit 451, Brainwashing 101, Always Trust a Criminal, Necessary to the Security of a Free State, Shopping around for lesser civil rights, The presumption of innocence and prisoners of war, Animal Farm, Hitler’s Last Courier, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, The Abolitionists, The Second Sex, This Is Not An Assault, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

For more about Peter McWilliams, you might also be interested in Misplaced compassion: more deaths, less dignity, Raising Peter McWilliams, and Tianamen Square and the Drug War.

For more about prohibition, you might also be interested in Another victim of prohibition, Bad laws cause crime, Bet you can’t order just one!, Cops Say Legalize Drugs: Ask Me Why, Drug cops on tape, Drug war undermining Afghan, Iraqi peace, Fuck everything except marijuana, Georgia drug war unfairly targets Indian immigrants, Has welfare failed us?, Medical marijuana returns to Congress, Misplaced compassion: more deaths, less dignity, Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide, Prisoner of the war on drugs, Project Safe Neighborhoods, Put safety first: end prohibition, Raising Peter McWilliams, Silencing opposition in the war on drugs, Support the Dope, Supreme Court rules against patients and states, The Price of Prohibition, Bush: We should live by our principles, Learning from alcohol prohibition, Throwing Gas on the Fire, Tianamen Square and the Drug War, We’re all drug lords now, Will prohibition destroy the Iraq turnaround?, U.S. homicide rate compared to gun control measures, Progressives ruin a different kind of race in New Jersey, Cannabis Britannica, The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition, and The Great Gatsby.