Thursday, February 09, 2006

When Freedom is Appropriate

I respect and admire former President Jimmy Carter in many ways. He is a man of integrity and principle. His concern for “the little guy” is evident and genuine, and his “Habitat for Humanity” project has been a shining example of volunteerism and non-tax based charity. Unfortunately, in desperation, some of his actions have come across as very inappropriate. Desperation, because, with a twenty one percent inflation rate, an unemployment rate of nearly nine percent, and diplomatic indecision and incompetence, his administration will most likely always be remembered as one of the darkest periods of American history. So desperate is Carter to prove that his administration wasn’t the worst, that he will take every opportunity to point out what he perceives is wrong with the current administration. So, while the other former and current Presidents paid tribute to the life and work of Coretta Scott King, President Carter took the opportunity to politicize a funeral. I am a strong believer in freedom of speech, but I also believe that there is a time and a place for everything. Carter showed disrespect for the deceased and for the others attending the funeral. In effect, President Carter overstepped the bounds of his rights.
Individual rights are those such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to keep and bear arms, the right of ownership of property and the implied sovereignty that goes with it, the right of a fair trial, and freedom of movement. These are the rights and freedoms on which our free society is based, and attempts to suppress these rights and freedoms logically suppress the free society. Individual rights extend to the end of the individual’s nose. Any act that extends and has an effect beyond the individual is called trespassing on the rights of others. Abuse of our freedom of expression is often referred to as “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” For example, I have the right to express myself in this essay, and I have the right to publish it on the Internet. However, if I were to use this essay for the purpose of enlisting someone for a subversive act, an act of terrorism, or for the demoralization of our military troops, I would be committing a crime, and would therefore be outside of my individual rights. An easier example is that I have the right to own a gun, but if I were to use that gun for the commission of a crime, such as armed robbery, or the taking of a human life in a way other than self defense, I would be far outside my individual rights. For the purpose of this discussion, the term “individual” may be a single person, a corporation, church, or a government, such as a city council or a county commission. Subcultural groups such as “minorities,” “gays,” or “zealots,” are not individuals, yet the activists desire to apply “individual” rights to these groups. This creates a set of social rights.
Some examples of social rights are “you may practice the religion of your choice, but you are not allowed to wear obvious symbols of your religion in public,” “you can grow trees on your property, but you are not allowed to cut them,” “you may own mineral rights on your own property, but you may not drill for oil,” or “you must accept a ‘minority’ person in your individual associations, regardless of that person’s character.” All of these kinds of “rights” involve acts of trespassing, and suppress the individual rights of persons within a free society. Suppression of free society has historically resulted in suppression of free enterprise and stagnation of the economy.
The pointing of fingers of blame for the perceived ills of our free society, such as “The devil made me do that,” has long been used by defense attorneys in largely failed attempts to get their criminal clients a lesser penalty than they deserve. Statements such as “Bugs Bunny made me kill my parents,” “Playboy made me have extramarital sex,” “Eminem made me commit rape,” or “my dog told me to kill those people,” do not fly in my court. Personal responsibility is the key to a free society. Nobody forces you to read Playboy, or listen to Marilyn Manson, or watch the foul-mouthed Nicole Richie on TV. Keep in mind that, in this country, we can not only vote with our ballots, but we can also vote with our feet, our pocketbooks, and even our television tuners and radio dials.
There is no need to resort to extremism. I believe it was Thomas Sewell, a conservative journalist, who wrote something like, “Extremism, at either end of the spectrum, is not a good thing..”
What I feel is needed is respect. We cannot expect others to agree with our beliefs and opinions, but we can expect those opinions to be respected. By the same token, we must show respect for others when we express our own beliefs and opinions.