FREEDOM OR FATUITY
The other night I watched a macho movie starring Sylvester Stallone and
Wesley Snipes. As hyper-virile films of this genre go, it was no worse than
many and no better than most. To do them justice, they sell. Unlike the
standard Terminator, Rambo, Robot Cop adventure through sadism, reverential
cruelty, neanderthal masculinity, savagery and gore, this one had a tenuous
philosophical message. It was given by the leader of the opposition, who
summarized his beliefs in a final speech. He and his ragged street folk
followers had opposed the paternalistically benign, but despotic Big Brother
leadership to fight for freedom. And they had won.
We know what freedom is. We know our founding fathers fought for it, know
that Patrick Henry made a speech extolling its virtues, and we know that
communism, fascism, and totalitarianism trade freedom for social harmony and
order. In this country, we've all tacitly agreed to tolerate a little
disorder for personal freedom.
So I listened with interest to the rebel leader's speech, his raison detre.
In a rambling discourse on his beliefs, he named the primary freedoms he
greatly cherished. First there was the freedom to tell the truth, to state
how things really were. I agreed. Then there was the freedom to curse. I
had to think about that one, and reluctantly saw he had a point. Third came
the freedom to drink as much beer as he could hold. Although I enjoy a beer
now and then, I withheld any comment. Finally, he came with a leer to the
freedom to smoke the biggest damn Havana cigar that could be rolled. That
triggered my mind, and I lost the movie.
And, I intoned, what about the freedom to ride a motorcycle without donning
a helmet, or to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt, and the right to
have unprotected sex whenever he desired. And what about the right to do
drugs of his choice, and to eat a diet of juicy steaks, fast foods, sweets,
and never touch a vegetable or salad.
Everyone of those items is implicitly guaranteed by the United States
constitution, a marvelous document we talk about in hushed tones and never
read. Yes, freedom is wonderful, and a carte blanche to do the good and to
do the bad.
The thought came to me that these freedoms of which he spoke and the few I
added could be provided without limit to any individual willing to sign a
basic waiver or disclaimer. It would be simple. Two weeks, or two years,
or two decades from now, when the non-helmet wearing signee suffered a
disabling and paralyzing head injury from being thrown from his motorcycle,
the intern at the emergency room at the admitting hospital could pull up the
waiver on his terminal and say, "Sorry, sir, you're not eligible!" And when
his wife applied for food stamps and welfare for herself and their children,
the government clerk could scan the terminal, determine the reason for the
request and state, "Sorry, but you're ineligible, ma'am." Or decades later,
when signees who declared their constitutional rights to smoke or drink
entered the hospital unable to breathe from emphysema, or with a diseased
pancreas or liver from heavy drinking, or with cancer of the lungs or
throat, arterioschlerosis, or a stroke caused by heavy smoking, the
admitting nurse would simply inform him or her that coverage was not
afforded. That way, medicines, surgery, hospitalization costs, radiation
therapy and chemotherapy could be restricted to those who caught the disease
in a random, insurable manner. We wouldn't cover those who deliberately
followed an indulgent, irresponsible lifestyle virtually guaranteed to
result in a prolonged, expensive illness and premature death.
You see, America was built on the premise that its citizens could do
anything they pleased so long as it was within the law. Nowhere was it
explicitly stated that the rest of us owed any person the RIGHT to food,
lodging, or medical care from mishaps that befell him from accidents, from
illness, or circumstances of his own making. As a caring society, we have
broadened that premise to include unfortunates on whom random misfortune has
descended. Welfare is based on that compassionate, assisting, nurturing
But surveys have shown even the most liberal and idealistic Americans balk
at footing the bill for those who consciously injure or incapacitate
themselves. Is it possible our society could ever insist on the waivers I
mentioned earlier? Not likely: that price would be considered merciless,
too high even for freedom.
But no nation, including ours, is wealthy enough to pay the piper for the
indulgences and indiscretions of people who trumpet the term freedom and do
not comprehend the meaning of individual responsibility. That's why we must
insist a measure of personal responsibility be accepted to balance our vast,
constitutionally granted personal freedoms.
Otherwise, we cannot indefinitely afford to pay for them.
Sam Orr firstname.lastname@example.org