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Individual Liberty

Like many of you, I’m finding it more and more difficult to avoid political conversation.  Or maybe a more accurate statement would be; I’m engaging more directly in political conversation. You see, up until very recently, I would’ve said that my views were in line with most of the people I’m close to.  I would have said that I was a Republican or more often than not.  I would say I was a Conservative.  But over the past few years I’ve come to realize that this isn’t the case at all.

The party I aligned myself with for many years is not what I thought it was.  In all honesty, I am not sure if it was my own naivety or if the party really did change.  Somewhere along the way both parties went astray and what we ended up with is a “mish-mush” of misguided regulations and diminished freedoms.

We find one party telling us they are about reducing regulations and limiting spending.  But, when you review the situation more carefully they are more than happy to regulate your activities in your bedroom, tell you what you can and cannot watch, and continue to spend tax-payer dollars in wars that we may never be able to exit.

The other party tells us they are about social liberty,  and social justice; they just want to help us all.  Again, upon closer examination, what we find here is that while they may not tell me what I can or can’t do in the bedroom, they’re more than willing to tell me what I can’t put in my body (i.e. salt in New York, or candy in Chicago), what kind of car to drive, and even what type of light bulbs to use. They’re more than happy to limit what they deem painful speech, and they want to take away my ability to protect myself, my family and property, from people who want to do me harm. But they say, “it is all for the greater good”.

Both parties claim they are working in the best interests of the people of this country.  Yet they’ve both expanded government, pandered to lobbyists, protected entitlements (even in the wake of fiscal calamity), and infringed on our constitutional rights.  They do it under the guise of national security, the betterment of mankind, and my personal favorite “for the betterment of children and enhanced care of the elderly”.   At the core of all of this are some critical questions. What is the job of government?  What do we want our government to do or not do for us? How do we want our nation to be defined moving forward.  Is this government still representative of “We the People”?

All of this crystallized in my head a few nights ago when I was having a discussion with some friends and not surprisingly the topic went to politics. More specifically the topic went towards the timely issue of legalization of marijuana.  As expected when discussing controversial topics the group became split on the issues and in my opinion took a very interesting twist.  The pros and cons were mostly based on whether the drug was harmful to the user or not rather than the constitutionality of the issue.  Everyone was very passionate about the health and moral implications of smoking pot and very quickly an important constitutional issue of individual rights became a moral discussion about whether it socially acceptable to smoke pot.

You’re probably asking yourself what does this have to do with political beliefs.  This is drugs and we’re all against the illicit use of drugs…So I’ll get to the point.

In my view, it’s not the role of our government to protect us from what we may do to ourselves.  The job of government is to protect our individual rights from being infringed upon by others and to protect our individual rights from infringement.  This is an idea that has long been abandoned.  Even in this time of the “tea party” we still have a long way to go in asserting the basic principle of it is about,  “we the people” and our inalienable rights.

The core of my beliefs is that individual rights trump all others.  I’m not saying that my rights trump yours but that our individual rights trump the collective right.  My individual right to free speech allows me to say anything I want to even if it offends you or causes “emotional pain”.  I have a constitutional right to that speech and so do you.  If what I say offends or hurts another they have the right to speak out against me and my views, this is the basis of political debate and the intent and beauty of our political system.  And as long as my actions do not cause real physical or financial harm to another the government should not be able to legislate against it.

This takes us back to the marijuana discussion.  To pass a law that prohibits people from driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs is a valid use of legislation; as that’s not only dangerous to the driver but also everyone around them.  However, in my view, to legislate that they may not take a drug in the privacy of their home is tantamount to the government taking possession and control of your body.  Once the government asserts the position that they may regulate what I can and can’t do to myself they have essentially taken ownership of me.   In my mind this is the discussion we should be having. The freedom to help and/or harm oneself is at the core of defining individual liberty and the liberty of individuals.

In future articles I will discuss the importance of these liberties in urban living and survival.

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