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 concept.

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 sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)