Yesterday, I wrote about a gentleman who is having a dispute with his son’s school. And last week, I got into an argument on a talk-show with a representative of Seatbelts Are For Everyone, who is pushing to make not wearing a seat belt a “primary offense” in Massachusetts, meaning that the police can pull you over for violating it (whereas now they can’t, but can ticket you if they pull you over for another of the 1300+ reasons they have to stop you). Those two examples helped me tie together a fundamental principle of my personal philosophy.
I believe that we all have the basic right to be wrong.
In one of my favorite novels, the author puts forth a rather novel political and philosophical system. In the setting of a classroom, the students are taught all year about life, history, politics, sociology, and a ton of other subjects under the heading of “Global Ethics.” The class concludes when one student comes up with what I’ve considered the finest definition of freedom:
“Freedom is the right to be responsible for one’s actions.”
To me, that says it all. We have the RIGHT to be responsible for our actions, right or wrong. And if I want to do something mind-bogglingly stupid,, the government has absolutely no right to stop me — unless what I am doing is posing a clear and present danger to others.
Wanna smoke? Go ahead. Ride a motorcycle without a helmet? Feel free. Drive around without your seat belt? Fine. As long as you are ready, willing, and able to accept the consequences of your actions.
Now, there are exceptions to this. You wanna build a bomb in your basement? That’s a clear and present danger to your neighbors, and we’ll stop you. Jump off a bridge? You might land on someone, and either way someone else will have to clean up your mess. Short of that test, we’re simply dealing with the “nanny state” that wants to make sure that we all do the things that are good for us and don’t do those that are bad for us. If I wanted to be mothered that badly, I’d have married a certain ex-girlfriend of mine years ago. Or I never would have left home. Or I’d move to Massachusetts.
It’s a very, very simple ethic I have. I might try to dissuade someone from doing something stupid, but unless they are posing that threat, I won’t stop them. And if it’s really, really stupid, I’ll simply chalk it up to “Active Darwinism” (a term I started using about 20 years ago, long before I’d ever heard of the Darwin Awards) and say they’re doing the world a favor.
As is their right.