American Freedom: The Freedom To Act Stupidly

One of the greatest paradoxes of living in a country based upon individual freedom is that it allows those individuals to act stupidly. Allowing a person to do what he or she wants results in many making the wrong decisions, time and time again. We cannot avoid this or attempt to stop it, because this is simply one of the side effects of living in a free nation. As long as a person's liberty is not directly harming another person, they are free to act as they wish.

The difficulty comes, therefore, when citizens fail to act in the best interests of the country. Do you then force them to act in those best interests, thereby violating individual freedom? Or do you allow them to exercise their reckless behavior?

If you force an American into a certain behavior, a behavior he or she would not have normally chosen, and then justify it by saying that it is in the nation's best interest...can you then say that we live in a nation of individual freedom? If you force someone to love you, because you know in your mind that it is what would truly be in both you and your significant other's best interests, can that be called love?

As much as I want to scream at our generation at times, for abusing their freedoms and not getting involved in politics, for not thinking about the issues (or anything productive for that matter) or making their voices heard...I have to respect their freedom to not do so. Consider this quote between Thomas Jefferson and a visiting German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, in 1804:

Alexander von Humboldt (seeing a newspaper containing slanderous falsehoods against Jefferson on the President's desk) : Why do you not have the fellow hung who dares to write these abominable lies?
Jefferson : What! hang the guardians of the public morals? No, sir, — rather would I protect the spirit of freedom which dictates even that degree of abuse. Put that paper into your pocket, my good friend, carry it with you to Europe, and when you hear any one doubt the reality of American freedom, show them that paper, and tell them where you found it.
Humboldt : But is it not shocking that virtuous characters should be defamed?
Jefferson : Let their actions refute such libels. Believe me, virtue is not long darkened by the clouds of calumny; and the temporary pain which it causes is infinitely overweighed by the safety it insures against degeneracy in the principles and conduct of public functionaries. When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.

The cost of freedom is this particular side effect. We can choose to ignore this "for the good of the many", but we must be aware that those many we speak of will no longer be able to operate independently. This would be disastrous to a nation established upon individual rights.

When the Patriot Act was put into effect in the wake of 9/11, I was totally unaware of how drastically unconstitutional it was. If one were to liken it to another infamous legislative act in US history, The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 would certainly fit the bill (no pun intended). The former, following a terrorist attack unlike any our country has experienced, was passed by a wide margin partly due to the perceived need to prevent another attack in the future. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of violating Americans' civil liberties. Email records, phone records, and financial records were suddenly available without a court order. Things labelled as private were now public, and just as in 1798, it was carried out to preserve what each administration deemed to be the "best interests" of the country. In 1798, the Sedition Act prevented any libel or "seditious" speech against the administration, specifically its policies in regards to France and the possible war. Jefferson and Republicans of the time decried it as a complete violation of the First Amendment, and rightly so. How can you violate personal property and free speech in a nation that once had to declare independence from a tyrannical government?

I say all of that to say this. As the national debate rages currently over healthcare reform, we all need to be aware of how this bill will actually affect Americans, particularly their individual freedom to choose a healthcare option that suits them. Choosing is essential to America. It's fine if we want to go ahead and demand upon a certain system for all Americans simply because it will supposedly make everyone happy...we just have to realize that this is not freedom or liberty.