Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The balance of freedoms

In the comments to the previous post, Rational Anarchist makes some interesting observations about restrictions on freedoms.

Denying others their freedoms, particularly "for their own good" is a bad thing, if you ask me.

It's a fair point, but isn't that what the law is for? Not for denying freedoms to people "for their own good", but certainly for the good of society.

I should say that I am also opposed to imposing restrictions on people "for their own good". This is why I am against such things as compulsory seat belts for adult car occupants and compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists. As a driver I have always worn a seat belt through choice, but as a motorcyclist I preferred to ride without a helmet as it restricted my vision so much - a crucial thing for a motorcyclist.

I understand that seat belts and crash helmets save lives, but whether or not one wears either is only likely to have an impact on that person - therefore I can not see what business it is of the state to insist that we wear them.

Now, leaving aside the issue of imposing wholesale restrictions on Sunday trading - which I don't actually particularly favour although I do believe there should be some - the trick of a liberal democracy is balancing freedoms against restrictions in a way that does not harm society. In my view that balance was pretty much right around 30-40 years ago, but in the last few decades it has increasingly moved out of balance to the point where society is suffering as a result

Certain freedoms which we once took for granted have seen massive restrictions imposed on them. The recent revelation of the BNP membership list, for example, exposes the myth that we are free to belong to any legitimate political party - serving police officers can be members of any party except the BNP - and I'm sure that plenty of people on that list will be wondering what their employment prospects are now.

The freedom to discriminate has been eroded too. Discrimination is a dirty word these days - unless it's against a member of the BNP! - but it is an entirely natural thing to do. Everybody discriminates every day - whether it be the choice of television programme, newspaper or who they choose to employ. It is all based on being "discriminating" - making judgements based on your perception of something or someone. We all do it, but the law now imposes restrictions on it.

Freedom of speech is a prime example of where we have seen our traditional freedoms restricted too. These days you can be sacked and even arrested just for holding an opinion which is considered offensive by law.

On the flip side of this, certain things which had restrictions imposed on them have seen increasing liberalisation allowing more freedom for those who behave a certain way - some of those restrictions were societal based while others were enforced by law (in many instances today those restrictions remain but are largely ignored).

Divorce, for example, is an area where the legal restrictions have largely been lifted and the consequence has been disastrous for society.

Similarly with teenage sex - once restricted by societal values as much as the law - the removal of social stigma, the wide availability of contraception and abortion has led to an increase in teenage sex, STD's, abortions and teenage pregnancies and all of this has had a detrimental effect on society.

I could go on and on, but it's probably getting boring already. The point is that there is a fine balance to be achieved between freedoms and restrictions. That balance was pretty much correct around forty years ago - a little fine tuning here and there, but nothing major was required. Instead we got massive upheavals in the balance - virtually tipping the whole thing on it's head - and the consequences for this country have been catastrophic.

We need to regain that balance and the only way to do that is to go back to where it all started to go wrong.


Rational Anarchist said...

Thanks for the link :-) I'm rather new to this blogging thing, and have not been in the country for much of the last month, but will be writing things soon...

I definitely agree that things have been getting steadily worse recently, and that they were much better 30-40 years ago (from what I've read - I'm afraid I wasn't here to see it personally). I do think that we'd be better off with even more freedom though.

You gave two examples - Divorce and Teenage Sex. I'm afraid I disagree when it comes to divorce. I do think that children are better off in a loving, supportive family environment, but I think that can better be encouraged in other ways, rather than forcing people to stay in relationships where they are unhappy.

Regarding Teenage Sex, I'm halfway to agreeing. The increase in STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies are cause for concern (although STDs were very widespread in the past, I'd be curious to see actual figures on their spread - I'm not sure that they're any more prevalent today than they were previously). I think the key thing to bear in mind though is that it's not teenagers having sex that's causing the problem, but teenagers having sex without taking appropriate precautions.

I think the problem lies in the lack of personal responsibility that's been fostered by the authorities recently. If a teenage couple have unprotected sex then there's no bad result for them - if there's a pregnancy, they'll get benefits, housing and everything they could need provided for by the state. STDs are treated and abortions provided with no fuss, free of charge by the (state funded) NHS.

If people had to pay for their medical care (or at least a part of it) in cases where the problem was self-caused, people might give the matter more thought. If people had to pay their own way and didn't get massive handouts simply for being pregnant, then they might stop and think before doing these things...

I do think that the state should provide help for people who really need it - but that help should not be in the form of big cash handouts and bumping them to the top of the housing list - at best, they should get tokens for basic food and drink and essentials (and no, sky TV is not an "essential") and they should have to wait in line for housing like everyone else.

staybryte said...

Just a thought on seatbelts and the balance of freedoms. If a rear seat passenger elects not to wear a seatbelt and the car is involved in an accident, the fact that he/she is not restrained may be fatal to the person in front.

Interesting blog BTW.

Stan said...

Thanks, staybryte - yes, I'm aware of that, but that should be the decision of the driver who could insist that rear seat passengers wear seatbelts or not.

Besides, with modern cars and seats (head restraints, airbags, etc) I actually think that is much less likely than the adverts would lead you to believe.

Good luck with the blogging, Rational Anarchist.