Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

25
Sep

The Founding Fathers and the Tea Party

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Philosophy

It looks like the allegiance between the Tea Party and the founders is paying some tangible dividends.  New York Times op-ed contributor Ron Chernow has published a thoroughly incoherent column which purports to pit the Founders against the Tea Party and prove that the advocates for limited government have no special purchase on the people who created that limited government in the first place.  Unfortunately for Ron, his article fails to accomplish that task even by its own terms, nevermind the clear history which would place any one of the Founders, if not in the Tea Party, at least decidedly against President Obama and the liberal Democrats in Congress.

The essence of the author’s argument is that the Founders, far from being a homogeneous group, were a bunch of politicians with a variety of different ideas for how the newly formed nation should be governed.  And certainly, to the extent that that’s his argument, it’s true.  The Constitution itself is a document filled with compromises, most famously the 3/5 compromise on slaves and the large state / small state compromise which led to the level of representation in the House and Senate.  Indeed, even after the delegates had completed their work, the Constitution remained controversial.  This led to the Constitution being assailed in the Antifederalist papers, defended in the Federalist papers, with even more compromise brought thereafter with the drafting and passage of the Bill of Rights.

As the author himself acknowledges, “the founders favored limited government … but they clashed sharply over those limits.”  Notably, the primary argument had nothing to do with the further expansion of federal power.  In general, the Federalists said that the Constitution gives the national government just the right amount of power.  Their opponents, the Antifederalists, warned that the Constitution gave the national government too much.  As the Tea Party fights to get today’s national government back within Constitutional bounds, what they are really fighting to accomplish is to get our national government back in line with the founding era’s liberal view of national power.

Today, of course, the debate has shifted.  Liberals in Congress and President Obama actively champion by their actions a government with no meaningful limits at all.  Indeed, even those limits which should seem insurmountable — the express limits imposed by the Bill of Rights — are being actively undercut by Washington liberals.  Even conservatives are generally unwilling to look past the New Deal’s reallocation of power from the people and the states to the national government; fighting to return us not to the Founders’ vision of America, but to the immediate aftermath of FDR.  There is simply no comparison between today’s politics and the founding era; even King George III would be hard pressed to affect the daily lives of his people the way President Obama is able to affect ours.

In the end, the author concludes that “[n]o single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the founding fathers or the Constitution they wrought.”  This statement, though somewhat true, is mostly meaningless.  It’s true that no particular group has special ownership of the Founders’ ideals; such ideals, after all, are (theoretically) the birthright of every American.  But it is false to imply, as the author clearly intends, that any group may validly lay claim those ideals.

Today’s liberal Democrats adhere to no ideology but their own — an ideology which seeks to forever destroy the balance of power the Founders once worked so hard and so carefully to establish.

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26
Jun

The Third American Revolution

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

A recent article by Victor Davis Hanson over at National Review Online draws, in the course of making a broader argument, an interesting analogy which got me thinking about America’s current place in history.  He notes, quite interestingly, that the current noise over boycotts against Arizona have “a whiff of the climate of the late 1850s, when the federal government was in perpetual conflict with the states, which in turn were in conflict with one another.”  This statement caught my attention as being both insightful and intriguing.  At the risk of jumping into “revolutionary” talk that even I think is somewhat overdone, I do have to wonder if America might be coming to the precipice of what I would consider to be the third American revolution.

Looking back historically, the first two revolutions both have remarkably common elements about them.  Both of the first two revolutions, the American Revolution and the Civil War, were, at an important level, battles over the role of government in America.  This battle is easily seen in the American Revolution, as nearly every history class around will characterize it as a fight against the tyranny of England and the unjust, confiscatory tax policies of King George.  Those who supported American independence were convinced that the Crown was too powerful, and the battle against England was an ultimately successful fight to cast off the reigns of an overpowering central government and return a degree of independence not only to the colonies as nations, but to the colonists as individuals.  Harder to see but no less present are the shades of government oppression in play during the Civil War.  Although the common story is that the Civil War was about slavery, the issue of slaves was more of a proxy for a deeper battle being waged against the reach of the federal government, particularly in southern states which viewed the northern and federal campaign against slavery as an assault on their independence.  The South, of course, lost that battle, and the entire concept of state independence has never quite been the same since.

Of course, at the time of the Civil War, the slow collapse of federalism and the rise of federal power were hardly the foregone conclusions that they appear to have become today.  Nevertheless, the government’s intervention to bring about the demise of slavery set a precedent for using government intervention to cure America’s ills.  FDR and the New Deal, LBJ and the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and everything that the Warren Court did, all take their strength from the fact that the government was able to “solve” slavery by aggrandizing power to itself.

What President Obama has now given us is the clearest glimpse to date of the consequences of reassigning power from the people to the government following the Civil War.  No longer is the government in the business of solving real problems like slavery or segregation — to their credit, my parents’ generation has taken care of the lingering inequalities which had echoed through time all the way since the founding.  What we see instead is that the government spends its time building up power by attacking an endless army of straw men, crafting “solutions” for things which are not problems, imagining problems and then purporting to solve them, and providing solutions to problems which would not have existed if not for the government.

The Tea Party movement — a name which, itself, conjures memories of the first revolution — is the first, best indication that the people have had enough.  As I have said now many times, the culture wars of the current generation will give way to a deeper battle over the role of government itself in America.  Tea Partiers all come from diverse walks of conservatism, and many would certainly disagree on many aspects of the culture wars including such staple issues as abortion, gay marriage, and religion.  They have, however, united under a common banner against the size and scope of the government as it exists today and as its current administration wants to grow it long into the future.  The younger generation has reached the point where the fight over liberty itself has become more important than the petty squabbles over what to do with the freedoms that have been secured.

American revolutions have never been about land, or money, or politics, or power.  They have, fundamentally, been about changing the relationship between the people and their government.  It seems to me that America is closing in on rekindling that old fight.  Shades of 1850 might just be about right.

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13
Jun

Apple, Porn, and Central Planning

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Back in May on the blog Public Discourse, James Stoner points out an interesting analogy between Apple and the government.  In a post primarily dealing with the porn scandal at the SEC, Mr. Stoner added the following interesting comments about Apple and the iPhone:

Coincidentally, during the week that saw the announcement of the report on pornography use at the SEC there also surfaced a comment from Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, defending his company’s ban of pornography “apps” for iPhone and other Apple products. Apologizing to a user for mistakenly rejecting an app with a controversial political cartoon, Jobs added, “However, we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone,” (Android is the comparable product of his new competitor, Google). The Wired article relaying the comment interprets “Jobs’ opposition to porn [as] loud and clear,” but adds no reasons from Jobs for his opposition: Is his a moral objection to pornography, a purely aesthetic distaste, concern about his company’s branding, concern about its market with the parents of young teens getting their first phone, or some combination of all these? The response of many geeks was instantaneous and predictable: Don’t tell me what I can and cannot watch, that’s why I’ll never buy Apple, “The web is about openness. It’s about freedom.” For whatever reason, Jobs seems unyielding and his company vigilant. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition passes muster, even Playboy without nudity and a reader for the iPhone that allows downloading of the ancient Kama Sutra are allowed, but try to sneak pornographic images into an approved app and iTunes will cut you off.

He then adds:

[O]ne can commend Steve Jobs for steadfastly refusing to allow Apple to become a platform for easy access to pornography, and commend him as well for showing that this can be done through determined business leadership, without recourse to government regulation that can threaten legitimate freedom and impose its own social costs.

But can Steve Jobs really be commended for this? I suppose as one of the “geeks” offering the “predictable” response, Mr. Stoner would be unlikely to have much interest in or patience for my views on the subject of Apple and porn.  I think, however, that it is Mr. Stoner who has missed an important reason why there is little to commend about Apple’s decision to ban pornography from its most newsworthy device.  Although Steve Jobs may be able to limit access to porn, such limits are unlikely to change the hearts and minds of people who would otherwise seek to consume it.

The main flaw in Mr. Stoner’s argument is the unfortunate fact that he reads too much into the distinction between government, on the one hand, and Apple, on the other.  It is, of course, undoubtedly true that Apple is not the government.  Unlike the government, Apple cannot force you to buy its products, and it is far easier for me to buy an EVO-4G instead of an iPhone than it is for me to move from Michigan to Peru.  That said, Apple is, without a doubt, the top central planner of the iPhone environment, and within its electronic walls, Apple acts very much like a fascist government.  While Apple may not necessarily choose winners, they undoubtedly choose the losers of its domain, leaving behind the scattered remains of such notable products as Google Voice and Adobe’s Flash Player, along with many other less notable apps which they rejected from the App Store — and, thus, the iPhone — for numerous reasons, including no reason at all.  Also, like a government, Apple collects sales tax on every piece of software sold for the iPhone, and now seeks to do the same for every advertisement by pushing its iAd service.

In short, while it may be easy to avoid the iPhone environment, once inside, there is very little that can be classified as being “legitimate[ly] free[.]”

With freedom, thus, outside the question, I find it difficult to agree with Mr. Stoner that anything about Apple shutting down porn does anything good for society.  If Steve Jobs were blocking porn as a way to send a message about values, then certainly that would be something to be applauded — except that I don’t think anyone believes that to be the case.  Instead, Apple is engaging in a sort of morally void behavior which just happens to have a desired result.  It is doubtful that anyone who wants to consume porn will find themselves not wanting to consume it because Apple has forbidden the stuff from its iPhone.  People will simply need to go find it somewhere else.

When governments pass laws or companies enact policies that mandate some moralistic result, neither are usually very effective at actually transforming the morals of their citizens or customers.  There is, quite simply, no comparison between choosing to do the right thing versus being prevented from doing things wrong.  Imposing a law against pornography does not take away the desires which bring people to consume it any more than imposing a law of gravity takes away man’s desire to fly.

Rather than trying to outlaw porn, we as a society would be much farther ahead understanding the reasons which bring people to consume it and finding a more wholesome way to satisfy those needs.  If porn is being used as stress relief, we would surely be better off emphasizing other ways to reduce workplace stress either through job restructuring (to combat the cause of stress) or some other physical activity (to direct stressful energies in a more positive direction).  But most important is that people must be made to affirmatively want to do these things, not merely fall into them for lack of a viable alternative.

That said, unlike the government which I consistently believe should be reduced in both size and power, I hold no malice toward Steve Jobs or Apple.  The iPhone, iTunes, the App Store, and all such things are their business and Apple participates in the free market just the same as anybody else.  If Apple wants to banish porn, to choose winners and losers, to lay and collect taxes, or to do any of the other things that they do, then that is entirely their right.

But as I hit “Publish” using my myTouch 3G (with Google), I affirm my own right to make my own choices, and to have my own values to win or lose by the power of persuasion in the marketplace of ideas.

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23
Mar

Party Preferences in Healthcare

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Politics

A post today by Michelle Malkin brings to light an interesting provision of Obamacare which will apparently target funding at racial minorities.  As she details with a good deal of clarity, this would seem to be an invitation for generating illegal racial preferences in healthcare.  While this, itself, is not a violation of the Civil Rights Act (which Congress may modify or ignore at will), it may present a legal conundrum within the world of medicine.  It also reminded me of concerns that I expressed privately months ago about healthcare being used as a vehicle for political preferences; concerns which are now certainly credible enough to be worth active discussion.

While I do not recall when it first occurred to me, I have been concerned since sometime last summer about the possibility that the healthcare bill would eventually be used as a tool to leverage votes for Democrats.  The basic scenario works as follows: When healthcare rationing inevitably begins, funds will be directed preferentially toward states, counties, and cities which routinely vote Democrat.  The more insidious scenario looks a little bit different: Medical records will be paired, secretly or explicitly, with rolls of party affiliation, campaign contributions, and political activism, and those individuals who support Democrat candidates and policies will receive care more quickly and completely than individuals who are opposed.  However unlikely those scenarios seem, neither one is impossible, and the first appears to be already happening.

Regardless of which scenario ultimately plays out, the result is that voters will be placed into a voting system built from a framework of oppression.  While politicians are well known to offer money to favored constituencies, this becomes the first time in America’s history that politicians can literally begin to equate votes to matters of life and death.  Most voters would not find it a difficult choice to select between supporting some policy that they don’t like, or a politician that they would otherwise oppose, when the alternative is that they will not be able to receive a life saving cancer treatment in time.

No neutral observer could call trading votes for life anything other than false liberty.

Strangely, though, this potential avenue for abuse has been almost entirely absent from the debate over health care.  Throughout the entire debate, I can only recall having seen the question show up once, in a survey published by the RNC asking if voters were concerned “that the government could use voter registration to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system.”  My vote, of course, would have been (and is) quite affirmative, especially as the full blown public option was still alive and well as a possibility in August when that survey was published.  The flash of furor, though, was apparently strong enough that the impotent GOP backpedaled, said that the question was “inartfully worded,” and tried to re-frame it as being about privacy rather than political gamesmanship.  With the GOP’s apology issued, the issue promptly disappeared from the debate.

But as we are already beginning to see, the GOP was right the first time.  Trading healthcare for votes is a serious issue about which Americans need to seriously engage.  Even liberals, who may think they’re safe with Obama in charge, should be scared of the potential for abuse.  Imagine, after all, if George W. Bush had been in charge of making your medical decisions; imagine the future of medicine under President Karl Rove.  Tying political support to medical treatment is far more dangerous than the financial quid pro quo that Americans have, unfortunately, gotten used to.

Perhaps Michelle discovering this first attempt will finally shed some light on a looming problem that should have been discussed months ago.

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10
Jan

Terrorist Venue Shopping

   Posted by: Robert    in Law, Philosophy

Pretty much ever since the Christmas Eve bombing attempt, the news and blogosphere has been filled with commentary regarding the proper venue for trying individuals like the Christmas Bomber.  With President Obama having decided that the Christmas Bomber is to be tried in civilian court, the conservative press has been filled with objections very reminiscent of those used in connection with Obama’s deeply confused policy of how to deal with the prisoners at Guantanamo.  Although I instinctively agree that the Christmas Bomber belongs in military court, I have a hard time identifying any useful principle which differentiates him from other domestic terrorists like the Oklahoma City bomber, who certainly do belong in civilian court.

People like the Christmas Bomber sit at an interesting mid point between domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and radical Islamic terrorists like those detained at Guantanamo Bay.  There is little doubt that the Christmas Bomber is, himself, a radical Islamic terrorist.  However, despite his allegiance, the details of his attack more closely mirror the events of Guantanamo Bay than they do the events on the foreign battlefield where the Guantanamo detainees were captured — the Christmas Bomber was legally traveling to America and he was arrested on American soil.

All of the arguments holding that the Christmas Bomber should be tried by the military flow, ultimately, from his association with al Qaeda.  This begs the question of whether a person’s trial rights depend in some fundamental way on the groups with which they associate.  There is a good deal of logic to answering that question affirmatively.  After all, al Qaeda is a known terrorist organization which has accomplished multiple attacks against the United States both at home and overseas, and which is willing to say that they are at war with us, even if we are unwilling to return the courtesy.  On the other hand, the very fact that we are unwilling to say that we are at war with al Qaeda (or to do so only haphazardly) is symptomatic with a major problem with predicating rights on associations.

The trouble with linking rights to associations is the arbitrary nature of how associations might be viewed.  The merits of a particular group are decided by the government; al Qaeda may look and act like a terrorist organization, but the United States only recognizes them as such because of decisions made by the folks in Washington DC.  But aside from the sheer irrationality of the conclusion, what prevents those same politicians from declaring another group — say, America’s veterans — to be terrorists undeserving of rights?

In the absence of a deep principle separating terrorist organizations from politically disfavored groups or McVeigh-style domestic terrorists, I find it troubling that so many conservatives are so eager to put the Christmas Bomber into military detention, even though I agree that it is where he belongs.  Even more troubling, though, is the fact that even though I agree he belongs in the military system, I can think of no great principle separating him from McVeigh.

In the absence of such a principle, I find myself in reluctant disagreement with the prevailing wisdom of my fellow conservatives.  The power to commit a person, captured on American soil, to military rather than civilian detention is too great a power to leave in the hands of government discretion.  The potential for abuse as a means to silence political rather than national enemies is too great to be left available to this or any future President.

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20
Dec

The Plight of Implementation

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

You would think by now that the speed with which Congress switches back and forth on whether or not to include a “public option” would have the media thoroughly tired of finding ways to spin either outcome as a win for Democrats.  Despite having made more switchbacks than a car on an highway through the mountains, the Washington Post has not slowed down in their ability to churn out nonsense aimed at making anything the Democrats do look intelligent.  A new article discusses what the senate health care deal would mean to consumers which paints a, predictably, much more rosy image of the story than is likely.

Included in the article was an interesting statement from a man named Paul Starr from Princeton:

“It’s good to have the federal government in there negotiating with plans because of the possibility that states will do a very bad job of regulating insurers and managing insurers,” said Paul Starr, a Princeton professor of public affairs. “This is a very important protection against poor implementation by states.”

Though this is not the first time I’ve heard this sentiment, it is the first time I’ve heard it so plainly applied to health care.  It is an interesting concept that seems to flow from the general notion that the federal government can do no wrong.  It is a quaint, if irrational, argument that seems to flow mostly from the 1960s civil rights era when the federal government, under orders from the Supreme Court and over the objections of Democrats, federalized the race industry and eliminated the Jim Crow policies of the states.  This gave the federal government instnat credibility as a nearly independent body of government which could craft policies without needing to worry too deeply about what the electorate might have to say.

Their policies, most of which are abject failures in terms of meeting their stated goals, sustainability, or both, are now the gold standard which folks like Mr. Starr want health care reform to compare.  The one thing that these programs — which include Medicare, civil rights reforms, and the radical expansion of the regulatory state — have actually succeeded in doing is removing power from the people and placing it in the hands of government.

A noteworthy example of the hollowness of federal “protection” is the FDA.  For drug manufacturers, the patent period is commonly viewed as the time during which they are able to recover the costs of the drugs they invent.  In order to recover their costs, they set their prices artificially high once the drugs are allowed to be sold.  A longer period of sales would allow drug prices to be lowered, because there would be a greater period of time over which they could spread out recovery of their up front costs.  But into this process comes the FDA, with its lengthy and expensive approval process which can take away as much as half of the patented life of a drug.  In, too, is the FDA, which has the power to pull from the market any drug, even ones the FDA has approved, for not being safe.  Thanks to the FDA, drugs cost more than they need to and have no particular guarantee of safety.  This is the sort of “protection against poor implementation” that we can expect from our federal government.

For liberals, though, the trouble reflected in the FDA doesn’t matter.  It only means that those programs need more money, need to be more invasive, and need to accumulate even more power.  But, that power comes with a price.  I found it notable that during the Bush years, the general cry that the federal government can do no wrong tended to fade into the background, if it was even made at all.  It was California, not Washington DC that was the champion of environmental policy.  It was state courts, not the FDA, that championed patients’ rights.  It seemed that the federal government under Bush could suddenly do nothing right.

We have, right now, a chance to have health care run by President Obama.  But he will not be President forever.  I can already hear the commotion now, come 2012 or 2016, when the White House again changes hands.  Just imagine what life will be like under our next President…

Doctor in Chief Sarah Palin.

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2
Oct

On Incomprehensible Legislation

   Posted by: Robert    in Law, Politics

I happened across a video of Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) which one of my friends linked to on his blog which talks about the legislation being considered by Congress and the value that the senator places in reading the legislation his colleagues write.  The video itself is specifically aimed at the health care bill, but I get the sense that Senator Carper is really talking a bit more generally about a wide range of legislation and other legal documents.  The video can pretty much be summarized by the sentence, “No, I don’t read the bills, and I don’t know why anybody would; they do come with a plain English summary, so I just read that.”

Around the 3:40 mark, Senator Carper mentions some confusion with the desire of anyone to read legislative language, stating,”Why [legislative language] is of value, why someone should need to read that, I don’t understand.”  Well, Senator, maybe I can help you out with that.  The reason that people should read the legislative language is that it is the legislative language, not the English summary, which will ultimately become the law.  The legislative language becomes entered into the United States Code; a body of law which is binding on everyone to which the laws contained within apply.

When a person is accused of violating the law and brought to court, it is the duty of the judge to “begin … with the text of the statute.” (Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs) There clearly must be something important about the legislative language if it, rather than the English summary, is the starting place for the courts.  Of course, it is simple enough to recognize that “something” as the fact that only the former is the law.

Freedom under the rule of law requires that everyone should be able to fairly know all of their rights and obligations.  Any person of average intelligence should be able to understand all of the laws which apply to him or her without needing to have the law explained by “experts” like lawyers, judges, and legislators.  What kind of freedom can there possibly be when even the experts are unable to understand the law?

It would not be hard for legislators to adopt a simple formula for deciding whether or not a law is too complex: If they can’t figure it out, it’s too complex.  In my view, that is reason enough to vote against a bill.  Doubly so when the bill is guaranteed to be invasive into the lives and freedoms of Americans, who deserve, at the barest of minimums, to know exactly the ways in which their freedoms are soon to be abridged.

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4
Aug

On the American Way

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

In what I can only hope was an opinion article in the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik asks the question, “What’s so great about private insurance?”  In support of his answer which seems to boil down to “approximately nothing,” he encourages us to “remind ourselves what th[e] American way [of health care] entails.”  Without question, “the American way” is a huge issue in the debate over health care.  It is an issue which extends well beyond doctors and nurses, insurance companies, and bureaucrats.  It is not only “the American way” of health care which is in question, but the American way of life itself.

“So it’s proper to remind ourselves what that American way entails.”  For most of our nation’s history, Americans have prided themselves on being a free and independent people.  The American tradition, in fact, is founded on freedom, and our Declaration of Independence continues to resonate as one of the guiding lights in what it means to cast off the reigns of an overbearing and distant government.  Our people have fought two wars against our own countrymen (the American Revolution, as then-Englishmen against England, and the American Civil War, as Americans against America) against the real and perceived excesses of government authority.  We have fought, with pen and blood, against Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Despots, Dictators, and Totalitarians to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” not only “to ourselves and our Posterity,”(US Constitution, Preamble) but to anyone else brave enough to fight for the right of self-rule.

It is notable that of all of the government intrusions upon the individual Americans have fought in the past, not a single one has been so personal or intimate as government intrusion into the doctor’s office.  In fact, that singular alcove has been the focus of one of the deepest divides in modern American politics.  Some of the most prominent advocates of government healthcare today are the very same people who harp incessantly on the fundamental liberty of choice and the right to no-government-here privacy when medical discussions turn from unwanted illnesses to unwanted fetuses.  So sharp is the conviction against government involvement in the abortion doctor’s office that every year a march is made in front of the Supreme Court on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  The moral certainty that the government should not direct the fate of people’s lives by interfering with those who help us in white robes is not wrong.  Yet, interfere is precisely what government healthcare by definition would do.

As plenty of other commentators have pointed out by now, government healthcare is a deep threat to American liberty.  Unlike the police and military force which so animated Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, the force of government on our lives through healthcare would be vague and ill-defined.  But once the government has entered our bodies, it becomes far more powerful than a uniformed officer ever could.  Every decision could be rewarded or punished through the evolution of some sort of tax “to help pay for healthcare,” or by lengthening or shortening the line to the doctor’s office.  The government, literally, would have the last word over who lives and who dies.

When Patrick Henry spoke to the Virginia Convention in St. John’s Church, he most assuredly did not have a heart attack, stroke, or cancer on his mind.  Yet, the words “Liberty or Death” resonate through time in the best of the American tradition, and they apply no less to us now in health than they did to the founders in war.  In the American tradition, it is better to die free than live as a slave.

So, what’s so great about the private system?  To be sure, it isn’t perfect.  No system is.  But the private system is able to innovate, able to change, and able to seek out ways to improve.  It is not interested in controlling lives.  The private system allows Americans to live as Americans: Strong, independent, and free.

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9
May

A Commitment to Liberty

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Last night, I got into an interesting discussion with one of my more liberal leaning friends.  The subject of the discussion was about public policy as it relates to vaccination, particularly, the vaccination of school aged children.  In his view, this is clearly an area where existing mandates for vaccination have become too diluted with exemptions, particularly the “personal belief” exemptions which allow parents to opt out of otherwise mandatory vaccinations because they hold strong personal beliefs against administering them.  He seemed to hope that I would come to agree with his position that the solution is to reduce the availability of exemptions.  On principles of liberty, I stubbornly refused.

Society has a clear interest in preserving herd immunity, as the alternative is significant exposure to serious illnesses like small pox and polio which have not afflicted society for many years.  As my friend rightly argues, if enough people individually make the decision to not vaccinate, the collective risk is nothing short of a possible epidemic.  Clearly a bad thing.  Yet, as my friend observes, a rising interest in natural / holistic medicine and fears about the safety of vaccines (perhaps most notably the thoroughly debunked vaccine-autism link) has moved society closer to a dangerous precipice.  And, as he points out, the most efficient way to prevent a bad outcome is to prevent people from making the decision to not vaccinate.

While my friend’s method may be efficient, it is also a direct assault on liberty.

Whenever people in society are free to make decisions, it is inevitable that some of the decisions people make will be sub-optimal, or flat out wrong.  Sometimes disastrously so.  Knowing the danger, it is tempting to want to step in to reduce the chance of a bad outcome.  It is tempting to step in and say that some decisions are too risky to leave in the hands of the people.

Liberty demands more.  It is impossible to talk seriously about liberty when the only available freedoms are with respect to low risk issues.  Liberty itself is dangerous business and, as history has shown, the freedom to talk about freedom is always one of the first that governments try to strip away.  The reason, of course is obvious: A free person might decide to do something other than what whoever has power wants them to do.

A commitment to liberty demands accepting the fact that some things will not go your way.  To be sure, it is proper to try to persuade people to your side, and much of the discussion I had with my friend focused on how to persuade parents to vaccinate their children even if they may be skittish about the idea.  At the end of the day, however, a freedom itself requires that parents themselves make the decision.

There is only meaning in liberty if the people are at liberty to decide something meaningful.

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