Freedoms and Rights

What almost no political figure will say publicly is something that should be as self-evident as the “inalienable rights” so beloved by the Founding Fathers: Not all freedoms are the same.

There are, in theory, two general categories of freedoms. The first category holds those freedoms or rights whose expression physically and economically harms no others, provided one doesn’t carry them to extremes. The second category includes those rights whose exercise can and often does harm others.

The problem is that, as with anything, human beings are good at carrying things to extremes.

Your belief and worship of a different god, or no god, harms no one [if you use belief to justify harm to others, it’s a different story]. What gender or sexual or non-sexual self-identity you express harms no one. What clothes you wear harms no one [provided those clothes are not designed to physically harm others]. What opinions you express harm no one [but using those opinions to put others out of business, incite riots, or public uprisings goes beyond the freedom of speech and self-expression].

Your freedom to fire a gun can in fact harm others. So can dumping sewage into the stream that runs through your property. Your freedom to smoke in enclosed spaces definitely harms others. Your right to drive or fly aircraft or use heavy equipment is limited because you can definitely harm or kill others.

In more lands than not throughout history, freedom of religion or freedom from religion did not exist. All too often, there was, in effect, a mandate of what religion was or was not allowed. More than a few countries, until recently, effectively had sumptuary customs or laws that limited who could wear what garb. And censorship in some form exists in all too many lands.

Part of the freedom problem is, as noted above, that all too many human beings carry their freedoms to extremes. They not only want to worship as they please, but also want to force others to worship in the same way, “for their own good,” as well as to enshrine their religious values in law. They tell lies and partial truths for their own benefit, claiming that they should be able to do so because they have freedom of speech. Men have historically generally claimed that their rights superseded those of women, and that women did not have the right to sexual and reproductive freedom – and men used, and often still do, the law to restrict that freedom, while effectively granting themselves rights women did and do not have.

The other part of the freedom problem is that to function societies need sets of rules that people will abide by, because without accepted laws, societies disintegrate into anarchy. Those in power in society always structure those laws in a way that reflects their beliefs, usually maximizes their freedoms, and restricts the freedoms of others – even those freedoms that seldom harm others.

Representative governments were designed to come up with laws acceptable to all, but that structure is fraying across the world as people use technology to associate with just those who share the same values. The more they do so, the more each group rejects the others, and demonizes not only “the other,” but also the diminishing number of moderates, and the more they struggle to impose their values on others.

And that may well be how our vaunted technology destroys us… and our freedoms.

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