Recently, I overheard some folks discussing how people shipped things overnight places to hurry processing of their items. Often, people pay substantial fees beyond normal postal rates for this service. However, all it does is get the item to its destination faster. It does not promise faster processing once it reaches where it is going. The difference is 100 times regular cost in some cases! When one of them realized how much it cost, they said, “That ought to be a crime!”
While I am aware the person was speaking for emphasis, I immediately realized at least some of the holes in their argument. It is these holes, and the paths down which they lead, away from our essential freedoms, I want to discuss.
To decide to regulate and criminalize how we spend our money is to violate an essential freedom we have as human beings. The person who spends 100 times more than someone else to get his item to its destination overnight (instead of the 3 to 7 business days for normal postal delivery) is spending their own money. They’re not spending my money, nor yours. It’s theirs. As such, the right of property ownership means they get to decide what happens to their property, so long as it does not harm others. If I use my property, like my car, to deliberately hurt or kill someone, that’s a different story. We can all agree the law would be right to step in such a case.
Our freedoms guarantee we have the right to live, work and recreate as we choose, within the confines of a sensible legal system. They give us the ability to think, create and invent. Without freedom of choice and property, there is no creation, no invention, no innovation. The most repressed societies of the world have contributed the least in scientific developments, except for military applications. The greater the freedom in a society, the greater the creativity, in all walks of life.
The inventor Albert Einstein said,
Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.
I considered these thoughts during the debate over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s declaration sodas of a certain size (or larger) would no longer be sold in New York City. His decision to do it was for the health reasons of the people of his city, and its visitors. But I kept wondering what right he had to decide how much soda my family and I drink? Yes, sugared soda is harmful, when consumed over the long-term in large amounts. To me, as a diabetic, it’s even harmful (in more than very small quantities when I am having a low blood sugar episode) in the short-term. But it’s also my right as an adult to drink this legal beverage, in as large of quantities as I choose, and take the consequences of my behavior upon myself.
Is a 32 ounce cup of sugared soda sensible? Probably not. But our adult son buys and drinks them occasionally, and when he does it with his own money, all I can do is casually mention our family history of diabetes (besides me, both my parents & several of my grandparents), and the risk he’s taking of it. But it’s his choice, his money, and if he wants to spend it foolishly, it’s his business. My husband occasionally drinks them, too, as do our daughter and son-in-law. Not sensible, but their choices. Our grandchildren, however, drink water or milk when we’re out with them. We can control the behavior of 1, 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year olds. Well, not the behavior, but at least what they drink! 😉
When it come to each choice, the consequences generally also fall on the people, or those closest to them. To say we must criminalize some behavior because of its potential for long-term damage is to remove the consequences of both the behavior and the damages. As humans, we all instinctively know our actions have consequences, whether we like them, or admit it, or not. By removing all consequences, we remove all personal responsibility, and thus remove all personal choice.
My father died of esophageal cancer, caused by being a smoker most of his adult life. Was it sensible for him to smoke? Of course not! He tried to quit many times, and failed. It was only in the last few years before he died that he succeeded. Does that mean I want smoking criminalized so other families don’t have to go through the pain he and we as his family did? Of course not! His personal choices, determined by his personal freedoms, lead to his personal consequences, and thus our own personal consequences as his family.
To remove all personal responsibility, and thus all personal choice, is to remove all freedoms. For each freedom criminalizing and regulation removes, we are a more restricted people. Yes, there needs to be a rule of law, to dictate things a society considers inappropriate, like hurting or killing one another or stealing from each other. Yes, there needs to be laws about how what side of the road to drive on, and what to do when emergency vehicles are seen. These are sensible, and good, and we can all agree on such things.
But to go to extremes, to remove all personal responsibility, and thus all personal choice, is also to remove much of what makes us human. We instinctively want to choose our careers, our lifestyle, our cars, our homes, our clothes, our food, our life partners, whether we have children (and how many), how we school our children and ourselves and so on. Even the world’s most repressed peoples have some choices in life, no matter how tiny they seem to us in the “free” societies of the world.
As toddlers, we understand instinctively the rights of free people to have property and choice. Watch small children at play if you don’t believe me! Even if an adult starts them by encouraging coöperation, the play among toddlers normally quickly descends to a “Gimmie! That’s MINE!” level, unless an adult stops them. And if an unsuspecting adult tries to force an unwilling toddler into a situation, outfit or activity in which the child has no interest in participating, this instinctive want of personal choice becomes all the more clear, and loudly verbalized!
With each cry of “That ought to be a crime!,” we have that many fewer freedoms. A free society is loosely regulated. The more regulations and laws, the less free the society becomes. We are moving closer to less and less freedom, and more and more restrictions daily. All because so few are stopping to think that just because it’s not sensible, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be regulated or criminalized . . .