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Thursday, February 23, 2012

3 Freed Limits

It’s easy for us to get caught up in freedom.  After all, we are the land of the free and the  home of the brave, and no refrain about this great nation is heard more often, even petulantly, than the declaration that it is, in fact, a free country.  We tout our freedoms with more pride than any other hallmark of our democracy, and as well we should - we enjoy them in greater measure than any other place on the planet.  But as often happens when we enjoy things in great quantities, we tend to get a little carried away.  We tend to forget that not all of our freedoms are of the unlimited variety - in fact, despite what most people think, most of them are more limited than we might recall.  Whether by statute, practice, or just plain common usage, the unchecked freedoms imagined by our forefathers have been whittled down - and usually for our own good, as they could scarcely imagine the nation of idiots, morons and fools that we’ve become.  But there are some that still commonly misunderstood and overestimated.  And so, with my legal education securely in hand, and for purely educational purposes, here are 3 freedoms that aren’t as free as you think:  

1. Arms Wrestling.  We have a special relationship with the Bill of Rights in this country.  For the millions of pages of laws that we have written in our centuries of existence, we know none of them as well and hold none of them as dear as these precious ten amendments to our Constitution.  And perhaps none of them is more contentious than the second, our right to bear arms.  Back when it was drafted, the “rugged frontier” was not an allegory it was a reality.  The need for protection was not augmented by modern day urban living, police forces or personal security options.  If you wanted any measure of security back then, you had to carry it.  But despite what the fearmongers on the evening news will have you believe, we live in vastly safer times.  Outside of Detroit or San Francisco, there are no longer roving gangs of thugs  who can mug you without fear of reprisal.  Police forces and emergency dispatching services place armed response within minutes of just about all of us.  And while this doesn’t obviate the need to carry your own weapon, it turns it from a necessity to a measure of over-security for those who need it.  But even for those few, the freedom to have one’s personal security should not include to need to arm themselves for a small-scale invasion of a neighboring country.  If you can make a case for why letting private citizens, who can’t reliably wield gardening implements and household tools without causing serious injury to themselves, legally possess grenades, assault weapons or anything rightfully classified as a “rocket”, I’d love to hear it.  The fact that we can package massive amounts of destructive power into personally carry-able devices is a wonder that our founding fathers never could have imagined, but it’s also an excellent reason to reconsider what we let private citizens carry around.  The freedom to bear arms isn’t the freedom to bear arsenals.  

2. Hard of Rearing.  Because we lead the world in freedoms, we necessarily lead the world in the abuse of those freedoms.  But even with the many great examples of this that I’m certain immediately come to mind, I’m hard pressed to think of one we currently abuse more egregiously than our freedom to raise children.  It has often been lamented that while you need a license to own a dog, any idiot/asshole/etc. can bring a child into the world.  And while there’s not a great deal I can add to that sentiment, I also know there’s not much we can do about it.   Can you just imagine if the government made you get licensed to have kids?  Because they make you take both a written and a practical exam to drive a car, and that’s proven about as effective as fishing with your bare hands.  Any government restriction would be so basic that it would offer little more confidence that the current requirement to have children (i.e. a pulse & functioning genitals).  The problem is not the qualifications of parents, plenty of intelligent and well-heeled procreators are fucking up kids left and right.  It is, rather, the misguided notion that the freedom to rear children is also the freedom to raise them as whatever kind of assholes you’d like.  Children are now fashioned as a measure of revenge and rebellion, the modern day equivalent of dying your hair a primary color, piercing your nose and dating someone who wears too much leather.  Don’t like minorities? Raise a bigot.  Don’t like being told what to do?  Raise a petulant rebel.  Don’t like idealized media images?  Raise a fat kid.  My generation made a bad habit of blaming our parents for all our small problems.  I guess it serves us right that once we finally stopped doing it, that we’d end up dealing with kids with real problems and parents who were actually to blame.    

3. Sticks and Stones.  Of all our freedoms, we hold none more dear than the freedom to speak.  But there is also no freedom more universally overestimated.  The beloved First Amendment only guarantees freedom from reprisal from the government - which means that the rest of us private citizens are free to discriminate, judge and otherwise verbally abuse you however we please if you say something stupid, incorrect, incendiary, etc.  Because in addition to the traditional legal restrictions on free speech (e.g. no hate speech, no inciting panic or violence, no defamatory statements), the government isn’t obligated to protect you from the natural consequences of saying something stupid.  These may include: someone yelling something stupid back at you, someone, someone getting mad, someone doing something about getting mad.  The enduring failure of modern parenting appears to be the deficit in understanding that freedom to do as you please is not freedom from the consequences of doing those things.  Yes, you’re free to stand on a street with a hand-painted sign, lamenting about the unfairness of life, and blocking the way of someone trying to do something with their life.  But they’re also free to confront you about this - and you might be surprised to find out how interested (or not interested) law enforcement might be in allowing them to remove you forcefully.  Additionally, I’m free to assume you’re a shiftless and ignorant hippy.  The don’-judge-a-book-by-its-cover crowd should love idea that we’ll actually wait to hear what you have to say before judging you, right?  Or is that still too soon?  Outside of what someone’s wearing, I’m not sure I can even think of a better way to judge them than what they’re saying.  Because as dearly as you love your freedom to spew that verbal masturbation that you think is somehow thoughful and considered rhetoric, I love my own freedom to use it to confirm my suspicions of your produce-level IQ, even more.

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The most important thing to remember when determining the limits of our freedoms is that they stop right at the point where what you’re doing starts infringing on the freedoms of others.  It’s actually a beautifully simple rule, which makes the fact that it seems almost incomprehensible to most of us, even more maddening.  Your freedom to protect yourself ends where it starts making me feel unsafe.  Your freedom to raise kids stops where it starts making your children my problem.  Your freedom to speak ends where it keeps me from enjoying my freedom to move, work, and not listen to you.  Freedoms are the ultimate statement of trust - because in less-enlightened places, the government doesn’t trust its constituents to exercise their will without stepping on the rights of others, so they just don’t let them.  But here, in this greatest of nations, we operate under a collective trust and understanding that we can be who we want to be and let everyone else do the same.  Because if we can’t exercise these freedoms like we’re not the only person doing so - we don’t deserve them at all. 


Unknown said...

LIKE! :)

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