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Taking Personal Freedoms A Little Too Personally

Profile photo of Bob Thomas 82 By redmitten
June 23rd, 2012

Launch Blog, Category 1: Personal Freedoms

 

Taking Personal Freedoms A Little Too Personally

Americans love their personal freedoms.  What they struggle with is the personal freedoms of their fellow Americans: it seems over the past 225 years, that one man’s “Freedom,” has evolved into another man’s “Behavior that threatens the future civilization as we know it.”

Pick a subject: freedom of speech… religion… gun ownership… abortion… smoking… or even just eating and drinking.  It seems that whatever position you hold, and you feel perfectly justified in holding it, there are others who hold opposing, and strangely vitriolic, viewpoints.  And frequently, they base their objections on the “Greater Social Good” that comes from restraining your personal rights as the justification for their objections.

As a starting point, just consider the issues mentioned above:

Issue

Your Personal Rights

The Threat Your Rights Pose
to “Society At-Large”

Freedom
of Speech

I have a First Amendment right to hold and publicly express my opinion, however unpopular as it might be to others. Your First Amendment rights must first pass through the filters of political correctness, “Hate Speech,” bullying, disturbing the   peace, or the “likelihood of imminent lawless action” caused by your words.  (Or, if you are a radio host, the “Fairness Doctrine.”)

Religion

I am a person of faith; my personal religious beliefs and my local church where I attend services are very important to me. Your church adheres to ancient, scientifically-disproven beliefs to foster divisiveness, hatred, bigotry against others… especially the right of gays to marry, and women’s rights to “Reproductive Freedom.”
Gun
Ownership
I have a right to own a gun to defend myself, my family, and my property. Average citizens wielding guns is a major source of crime, violence, and accidental shootings.  For all of our safety, guns should be seized by the authorities.
Abortion If I get pregnant, I have a right to get “unpregnant” if I   feel I need to. (Or, conversely, if I get pregnant, I’m going to exercise my choice to give   birth, and give the baby up for adoption.) Women who have abortions are committing murder on a genocidal scale. (Or, conversely, people who do not to support abortion are women-hating misogynists who are trampling the U.S. Constitution.)
Smoking It’s my body, and I’ll smoke if I want to… even if it means being herded to a no-smoking area. Because of second-hand smoke, smoking should be illegal in any public place… and even in private places if children are present.  Or better still, banned altogether, to reduce healthcare costs.

 

Eating and
Drinking
I am capable of choosing what I eat and drink – be it bacon cheesburgers, alcohol, soda, or anything else – without government selecting the menu for me.  If I want extra salt on my fries, that’s pretty much my business. Society is underwriting your overindulgence. Because of the high costs of Medicare and Mediaid, the Federal Government (and Mayor Bloomberg) has a legitimate fiduciary responsibility to curb your irresponsible eating and drinking habits.

Clearly, a good argument could be made that the rights of the individual – while inviolable – are being encroached upon under the guise of “The Greater Good” that serves society.  And while that seems like a understandable position – as Mr. Spock says, “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” – for people who embrace the Constitution, that is a very slippery slope with no clear end in sight:  it harkens to the sirens’ song of subordinating individual rights to those of the collective… the antithesis of the American experience.

There are three cultural factors that led us to where we are today:

  • Americans oftentimes feel that there are absolutely no limits or restrictions to their rights, even when their behavior clearly impacts the lives and comfort of others.  At some point there need to be some limits. Just as you cannot remove all traffic lights, stop signs, and speed limits from our roadways – thousands of people would be killed as others asserted their “right” to speed, pass other cars, and drive the wrong way down one-way streets – civil order would break down if there no limits on personal conduct.  Many of these types of laws are necessary simply to promote public safety, maintain order, and keep the peace.
  • Most people, albeit arrogantly, assume that they know what is best/ right/ just for everybody else… especially when creating rules that don’t apply to them personally (e.g., Congress forcing nationalized healthcare on American citizens, but exempting themselves from using it).  Forcing your views on others, and then enforcing them under the banner of law, doesn’t feel right to most Americans; almost all of us have least one personal right about which we feel strongly, and are probably in a minority opinion.  When the mayor of New York City starts telling local restaurants how much salt and butter they can use in restaurant recipies, it’s time to stop and reassess.
  • Lawmakers have, to both their credit and their detriment, gone on a feeding frenzy of law creation over the in the past century.  Admittedly, many of these laws are well-intentioned attempts to secure the safely, peace, and tranquility of all citizens.  But the problem is, as soon as you codify them, you instantly create a new class of lawbreakers: people who were law-abiding citizens yesterday.  They will, of course, appeal… sides will be taken… and the games will begin.  But everybody loses.

 

Such factors make conflict unavoidable; and today’s headlines are already filled with rights-based conflict, as personal rights and collective rights collide.  Consider:

  • The rights of church-based, anti-war group to protest at the funerals of military personnel… versus the desire of grieving family members to bury their loved one in peace, and without political disruption?
  • The rights of religious organizations to practice the doctrines of their faith… versus the desire of gays to participate in marriage ceremonies, school to forbid discussion of Intelligent Design, or government insisting that faith-based medical providers violate their tenants on pre-marital sex, birth control, and abortion?
  • The rights of parents to take their children to McDonalds for an occasional Happy Meal… versus communities’ desires to fight childhood obesity, and promote healthy food choices.
  • The rights of corporations and individuals to financially support political causes of their choice… versus reformers seeking to minimize the detrimental impacts of fundraising and influence-peddling in our political system.
  • The rights of individual to assume the risk of starting a business, and experience either success or failure, depending on their own personal initiative… versus the desire of those who would raise the taxes on successful individuals, out of “fairness” to those who never took such a risk.

While the U.S. Bill of Rights gives Americans some of the most expansive personal freedoms on the planet, we do not have a guarantee that we will see things we don’t agree with or that our rights will not occasionally bump into the rights others.  Nor are we assured a life free of encroachment, inconvenience, or offense as a result of others’ words or deeds.  As you go blissfully through life, you might get a whiff of someone’s cigarette smoke walking down the sidewalk; you might have a neighbor you think is a “gun nut”; you might see somebody eating three Big Macs for lunch; you might see a mother breastfeeding her baby at the mall… and then giving her other child a smack on the butt for misbehaving; a coworker might have an abortion; you might see someone at a ball game who doesn’t stand for the National Anthem.

Here’s a tip: mind your own business. And be thankful people do the same for you when you violate their “rights.”

On its license plates, the state of New Hampshire only lists the first half Revolutionary War General John’s Stark’s famous quote, “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.”  If Americans maintain the current course of trying to constrain the freedom of others in the name of The Public Good, we may not perish… but we will all certainly live in straits similar to those Gulliver found himself in on the island nation of Lilliput: waking up and finding ourselves immobilized by a thousand strands of unwanted legislation.

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 23rd, 2012 at 12:24 PM and is filed under Category 1 : Personal Freedoms, Launch Blog.

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