We’re Americans, therefore we love freedom. We all wave flags, light fireworks on the 4th of July, and periodically declare something unconstitutional. I hear very little talk extolling the virtues of dictatorships (Michael Moore notwithstanding), or arguing in favor of slavery, but we are divided on the issue of liberty. We’re having a huge national argument, but we aren’t drawing the lines on the right boundaries.. We all want freedom, but we disagree about freedom from what.
Most of us still want the freedom outlined for us by the Bill of Rights. We want to be able to speak our minds without government coercion, to gather together when and where we please. We want to worship and believe what conscience and upbringing requires of us, sans government regulation. We demand the right to defend ourselves against all who are lawless – governmental or civilian. We expect our private property to be inviolately ours, to do with as we please, and for it to be, in fact, private. We believe we have the right to face down our government regarding its own malpractice. Our constitution guarantees us those freedoms.
It does not protect us from hearing or seeing that with which we disagree. It does not force others to see things our way. In most areas, it does not deny the individual states the right to disagree with federal declarations. The Constitution does not hold anyone’s arm up behind his back – not even when he might deserve it. The Bill of Rights merely builds a fence around the three branches of the federal government, a fence designed to keep that government at bay.
This is not understood by a large number of Americans today who seem to think that this nearly sacred document exists to 1) protect them from the opinions of other non-governmental Americans, and 2) to exempt them from the consequences of their own immorality.
This is unfortunate. Nothing can ever abolish the inevitable results of our moral failures. We can demand free birth control and abort unwanted babies, but we will still suffer the physical disease, the psychological and societal damage done by widespread promiscuity. Have you seen the study showing a huge increase in breast cancer risk for women who’ve had abortions?
We can also bring children into this world with no intention of parenting them because the government will support them and will do little to force us into properly rearing them. But we all suffer from the consequences of an undisciplined, ill-mannered, ignorant generation. The recent rash of flash mobs and knock-out assaults attests to this, to say nothing of a generation so ill-informed and self-centered that it elected Barack Obama.
We can change our minds about the acceptability of homosexual behavior, but we will not avoid the societal results of knocking holes in the foundations of society. I saw this happen in the microcosm of one of my dance classes one year. It was a quite an education -- for me. This class, filled with dynamic, talented, fun students, of whom I was very fond, was 1/3 homosexual; 4 girls and 4 boys out of 24 students were loudly, proudly gay – or on some days bi-sexual. This seemed to destroy all rules of comportment. The straight girls refused to dress in the girls’ dressing room because of the lewd behavior of the lesbians. I could no longer trust my students to rehearse alone – their public behavior needed constant monitoring; I had no idea what they’d do without an adult present. (That’s not true – I knew fairly well what they’d be up to.) What I realized is that once you tear down that one taboo, all the others go with it. It was a frightening realization. Until then I hadn’t been much concerned about the issue – what an awakening, and there was little in the way of disciplinary action I could take; our school was very proud of its LBGT club.
We can decriminalize drugs, but it won’t prevent them from destroying our minds and our ambitions (This I’ve seen way too often – the energetic, brilliant young man who starts out the school year with determination and promise and then, right before my eyes, starts slouching into class later and later, turning in fewer and fewer assignments until, despite tons of parental angst, all hope of passing, let alone excelling, has evaporated like the smoke he enjoyed, or the kid, placid and quiet, who is suddenly wound tighter than a two-year old who needs a nap, who finds himself in screaming arguments and fist-flying fights, and ends up standing helpless in front of an angry dean.) Even if the pot or the meth were socially acceptable and legal, the results would be the same.
Whether we like it or not, pretending that natural restrictions do not exist is not freedom. It’s license, it’s excess, it’s lack of personal control. Denial of reality – legalized or not, is a form of insanity.
A great number of Americans today want freedom from consequences, freedom from responsibility, freedom from morality. It cannot be had. God designed us to operate on free will, but it isn’t an absolute freedom. I am not free from the laws of gravity – my bathroom scale reminds of that every time I step on it. I am not free from the ravages of aging, try as I might. And I am not free from moral responsibility. None of us are.
It is also an unfortunate truth that all of us, to one extent or another, wish we could be. Because of this inherent, universal flaw we have laws. Laws do not so much prevent egregious misbehavior – people still do horrific things, but laws serve two purposes:
-- They provide a better means of justice for the victim than primitive, tribal revenge.
-- They set up sign posts, guidelines about what the society gives sanction to and what it refuses to accept. Those behaviors to which we cannot acquiesce are considered crimes. It is not true that we can’t legislate morality – if the moral breech is devastating enough, we can and we do. We legislate against murder, rape, theft, and assault. Time was when adultery was illegal (Remember The Scarlet Letter?), when we couldn’t, willy-nilly, kill unborn babies, when (pre-NAMBLA) pederasty was unquestionably criminal. No doubt those who have little control over their sexual deportment see this societal change as progress. The children affected would beg to differ, but then, who cares?
Now, in 2014, our laws no longer provide clear moral directions. Instead, our current laws disincentivize success in business, in education, in rearing children. We seem to be in the business of welcoming and encouraging immoral conduct and, instead, passing laws that encroach upon our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. There is nothing immoral or criminal about my using my telephone, but the government has decided it has the right to keep track of which people I speak to and when. There’s nothing threatening about my choosing one doctor over another, but now, in a “free” society, I may not be allowed to do so. The IRS, the most powerful arm of the government, now claims it needs to know what we read and to whose teaching we listen if our politics aren’t adequately pro-government. Is reading now morally questionable? Possibly criminal?
You see, our political problems are not Democrat versus Republican, or even liberal versus conservative, as much as they are freedom from self-control versus freedom from government. We are trading in self-governance for central governance.
Liberty is based on a profound, apparent paradox: No liberty is possible without self-control; if we don’t control ourselves, someone else, the government, will do that for us, and will do so with gleeful abandon. I would prefer to do it myself, thank you.