Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Risk, Freedom, Law

It used to be said that a man could have liberty, so long as it did not interfere with the liberty of others. This did afford some rough justification for the ordinary legal view of the man with the pot of beer. For instance, it was logical to allow some degree of distinction between beer and tea, on the ground that a man may be moved by excess of beer to throw the pot at somebody's head. And it may be said that the spinster is seldom moved by excess of tea to throw the tea-pot at anybody's head. But the whole ground of argument is now changed. For people do not consider what the drunkard does to others by throwing the pot, but what he does to himself by drinking the beer. The argument is based on health; and it is said that the Government must safeguard the health of the community.
If a man's personal health is a public concern, his most private acts are more public than his most public acts. The official must deal more directly with his cleaning his teeth in the morning than with his using his tongue in the market-place. The inspector must interfere more with how he sleeps in the middle of the night than with how he works in the course of the day. The private citizen must have much less to say about his bath or his bedroom window than about his vote or his banking account. The policeman must be in a new sense a private detective; and shadow him in private affairs rather than in public affairs. A policeman must shut doors behind him for fear he should sneeze, or shove pillows under him for fear he should snore. All this and things far more fantastic follow from the simple formula that the State must make itself responsible for the health of the citizen.

-GK Chesterton


When tyrannical forces come to take liberty, they come not in ski masks, with machetes. They come smiling, and legislating laws that enhance public health. 

Risk is a necessary part of freedom. This means also risking getting chubby from drinking too much soda. Risk is possible for the person who has real moral choice and obligation and responsibility. This comes from a deep sense of dignity: from our root identity. The most responsible and free person in the universe is God. Also, the most dignified person in the universe is God. God has deep dignity: the self-knowledge that he can do whatever He pleases. Dignity and freedom are inseparable; freedom is a fruit on the tree of dignity. 

The danger of a law banning certain size sodas has to do with what it does to our dignity, not our waistline. Such a law is the government saying, "We are taking your freedom to choose because you are not big enough or dignified enough to make decisions. You must depend on us." Such a law is another way of saying, "The Government is in control of the person."

Whether you respect soda size or not, if you respect yourself, you are bound to buck a proposal that limits soda size. Such a proposal is also limiting your dignity: shrinking it down: saying, you count less in the universe than you thought you did, or hoped you did. 

Freedom is ultimately built on the concept of dignity; a person of dignity demands prerogative to choose for self. This necessarily involves risk because such a person knows decisions count and carry consequences. The free person assumes risk gladly because they cherish their dignity. 

At present, we consider Turkey a not-so-free society. However, when you compare Turkey's alcohol laws with NY's soda laws, you find a remarkable corollary; both claim to be in the interest of public health. Both claim to take risk away for the sake of taking care of people.

This is only comforting if you consider yourself the kind of person who needs to be taken care of.


Erdogan, a pious man who denies Islamist ambitions for Turkey, rejects any suggestion he wants to cajole anyone into religious observance. He says new alcohol laws, also denounced by the women, have been passed to protect health rather than on religious grounds.
- From, The Huggington Post.

Tingling made clear that the city's Board of Health was only meant to intervene "when the City is facing eminent danger due to disease," he wrote in the decision. "That has not been demonstrated herein."
But the mayor disagreed with this assessment, suggesting that actually obesity is an immanent danger. "The best science tells us that sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity," Bloomberg said during a press conference in which he revealed that he would appeal the decision. "It would be irresponsible not to try everything we can to save lives, he went on. Adding later, "People are dying every day-- this is not a joke, this is about real lives."
What's more, the mayor explained, the disadvantaged were disproportionately affected: "Higher consumption of full sugar drinks leads to obesity and that happens much worse in poorer neighborhoods."- From, The Huggington Post.
Happy Meals have been outlawed in San Francisco. Very soon – unless a hero rises from the ashes – large soda will be literally illegal in New York. Two great American cities have taken it unto themselves to legislate public health. It is often bandied about that, “you can’t legislate morality.” That very sentence is self-contradictory. The speaker has a morality which amounts to not legislating some other type of morality. You can legislate morality; if not, then you can’t legislate anything. What is legislation, after all, but a set of laws pertaining to right and wrong? Morality is the only thing you can legislate. Legislation is the morality of a nation, codified.

A drama is unfolding in our nation's laws; this drama has been a morality play on the issues of equality and rights. Not once does a public figure stop to ask the simple questions: “What is equality?” “What are rights?”

For our governors, equality means “sameness." The speech on equality is unequal. And, we ought to seriously stop and ponder whether sameness is something we actually desire. Not all stars are the same; some are brighter than others. Not all people are the same: some are taller, some shorter; some brown eyed; some are men; some are women. Acknowledgement of this glorious diversity in the world is the embracing of true diversity. God makes men and women differ; he makes them differ among themselves, and among each other. Contrary to the claim that our national direction is for diversity, our national direction is careening toward sameness, toward non-diversity.

But our leaders and news sources have joined in this sameness; there is no resistance, no revolutionary.Those who claim to be revolutionary are beating the drum of the age, only slightly louder than their contemporaries. The secret of our time is that there are no dissidents. The two cycle news (Fox News v. MSNBC) system is really the one cycle news system; the two party system, really the one party system.

The cultural mavens have been very vocal about big things – actually, uni-vocal – but curiously silent on Happy Meals and sodas. To my knowledge, none of the intelligentsia has risen to condemn the inequality of a 16 oz. soda for a thirsty man requiring 32 oz. On the one hand, it seems the intelligentsia would like the government to grant more freedom; on the other hand, less. In both situations the government is domineering in that the government is viewed as the source of freedom, as the source of law. 

I am very serious when I say that soda is something worthy fighting for. If not now, when? If not us, who?


If you listen to Bill Maher, freedom means the ability to smoke pot publicly, and without criminality. Maher thinks Holland much freer than America because Hollanders can smoke pot to their hearts content. He errs in defining freedom as his unlimited individual will. He wants to smoke pot. Therefore, for him, freedom means everyone can smoke as much pot as they like. He doesn’t stop to ask whether anyone else would like to join him. No doubt, many would. But, it would be courteous to ask. The fact that he doesn’t ask is a fact which should cause us pause. The fact that he takes his view of freedom for granted – the fact that he doesn’t stop to consult other citizens – this is portentous. It looks like living in a free country amounts to Bill Maher doing whatever Bill Maher wants to do. But that’s not freedom. That is a dictatorship of Bill Maher. I might as well say freedom means I can drive as fast as I like, on any street,  I like for the simple fact that I like to drive fast.

Maher (and many others) err in defining freedom so specifically and individualistically. In another sense, they err in defining freedom amorphously, in vague generalities. That is, they don’t define freedom at all. They repeat “freedom” as a catch-phrase, as an ideal. But they never stop to ask, “What is freedom?” Freedom comes to them in a puff of marijuana smoke, nothing more; then, it lingers in the air as a cloud of smoke. Nothing more.
“The religion of the Servile State must have no dogmas or definitions. It cannot afford to have any definitions. For definitions are very dreadful things: they do the two things that most men, especially comfortable men, cannot endure. They fight; and they fight fair.”


"What is liberty?" It leaves the questioner free to disregard any liberty...
That is the problem, and that is why there is now no protection against Eugenic or any other experiments. If the men who took away beer as an unlawful pleasure had paused for a moment to define the lawful pleasures, there might be a different situation. If the men who had denied one liberty had taken the opportunity to affirm other liberties, there might be some defence for them. But it never occurs to them to admit any liberties at all.

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