Friday, May 21, 2010

The Forgotten Definition of Freedom

When I was a child I was taught the simple definition that living in a Free Country means I can do anything I want, unless it causes harm to someone else.

It seems to me that both the far right and the far left have forgotten the second half of that definition. Yet it is the basis of our republic. The underlying purpose of our constitution and our government is to protect us from harm from others, and to define unacceptable trade offs in harms.

Our country has been widely successful in doing just this for 200 years. There are some exceptions of course, for example it is hard to say from a 21st century view point that the harm that came to Native Americans way of life and lands was acceptable. Yet, despite what happens in some neighborhoods in major cities, most of us leave our homes every morning with a realistic and accurate belief that we will very likely return home that night, rather then being killed by a bomb, being shot, injured in work place disaster, or dragged off to a secret prison by fascist police or government officials. Many places in the world do not have that sense of security, or at least less of it.

So for far right idealogues like Rand Paul to preach against any government rules that limit private business, like civil rights legislation, Occupational Safety and Health standards, and restrictions on private industry on off shore drilling, as an infringement on Freedom he has forgotten the "unless it causes harm to someone else" part of Freedom.

When the left tries to do things like ban full calorie soda are they making a stretch to claim that what kind of soda I drink causes harm to someone else?

When the right prevents gay marriage, are they not doing the opposite of what they preach, invading private relationships that have no effect on anyone else's freedom?

There are so many examples of government making laws and the Supreme Court determining in essence, the level of harm a law prevents or causes. After 143 women were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 our Government determined that the risk of harm was significant enough that fire codes, building codes and occupational safety codes were necessary.

The Civil War was about determining which harm was worse, the harm of owning other human beings as property, or the damage to the economy of the south should slavery be abolished.

The fact we have building codes that tells private property owners how they must build to reduce likely harm from failure, or earthquake or other disaster is why an Earthquake of the magnitude of the Haiti earthquake destroyed an entire city with thousands of deaths, while the same magnitude in the United States would damage some buildings in a city and likely result in dozens of deaths rather then thousands. So does it cost the builders and the property owners more to build per code, yes. But reducing the harm risk has been determined worth that cost.

The Supreme Court and the Constitution has determined that the potential harm coming from most around us being allowed to own guns is acceptable risk, while the increased risk of harm by guns being owned by convicted felons is not.

Congress and the President has recently determined that the harm caused because too many Americans having lack of access to affordable health care is not acceptable and passed health care reform to fix it.

Currently the Congress is working on financial reform that protects our economy, jobs and financial well being from harm by adding regulations to financial institutions.

Clearly the harm caused by the oil spill in the gulf to livelihoods and the environment up until now has been treated as an acceptable risk to be able to obtain more oil and to allow oil companies to make bigger profits. Chances are that is about to change. Yet people like Rand Paul say, the criticism of BP over their actions or lack of is "anti-business"

We will be debating some time whether any potential harm prevented by Arizona law officials profiling people and asking for their papers, is worth harm caused to those profiled that are citizens.

In short, government involvement is not by definition socialist, communist, or unconstitutional as the tea baggers, the 10thers, the Rand Pauls and the FAUX news mouths keep shouting. Responsible Government action for the purpose of keeping citizens from unacceptable harm by others is the very essence of America and what has kept our free country free.

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