Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On limits and liberties and keeping us safe

Okay, so yesterday's essay question got me thinking about a couple of things. One is that folks just do not know how to answer an essay question. I mean, come on, we all took the SAT - they give you a prompt, throw in a quote from somebody famous, maybe, a premise to address, ideas to include, and then they ask a question for you to answer. And y'all are all "Well, I think the question is stupid," and "I don't agree with you," and "I think liberals are soft on national security and I have self-esteem issues as a result of my undescended testicle," and "You suck," and "No, you suck."

Well, you all suck. So there.

The other thing I thought about, though, was the nebulous concepts of "security" and "freedom." I mean, the quote offered before talked about sacrificing liberty for safety, which looks nice embroidered on a pillow but certainly doesn't address how much liberty one might be expected to sacrifice in the name of safety (which was what I was trying to address in ever-ignored Question 2, punks). Obviously, complete freedom is likely to result in craziness, anarchy, and Someone Losing An Eye, and it has to be tempered with some degree of rulemaking if only to make sure that everyone's rights are protected. But on the other hand, too many rules, too many freedoms taken away, and whatever life we're living is looking pretty bleak.

I've had a couple of different conversations with a couple of different people lately about precisely what rights and/or liberties the government has the authority to take away in order to ensure safety. One of those discussions centered around the speed limit. In theory, every person should have the freedom to decide, based on his/her knowledge of his/her own driving abilities, how fast to drive. If I want to go so fast that I lose control and end up killing myself, then I have, in choosing to drive recklessly, accepted any harm that comes to me because of it. And the government has no place in telling me which personal consequences I'm allowed to assume.

The rub, however, is that I'm not the only person affected by my own reckless driving. If I lose control around a curve and flip my car, my car will likely encounter other cars and cause property damage and physical damage to those inside. I don't exist in a vacuum, my choices do affect people other than myself, and to that extent, the state steps in by mandating a maximum speed that they deem safe for all licensed drivers. It's nice that I'm protected from my own stupidity by that limit, but the true intent of the law is to protect those who have no influence over my decisions but may pay the price anyway.

The other conversation concerned gun control, and just for the record (if only to save you the hassle of reading through back posts), I'm agin' it. No, really, I'm serious.

Seriously, I'm not a fan of gun control as addressed by the government in the past few decades. I think they mean well, for the most part, but the solutions they're pushing won't actually address the real problem. But that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any restrictions whatsoever on our rights where guns are concerned. If I want to own a gun, I'm guaranteed that right by the Second Amendment, but if my (rhetorical) six-year-old wants a gun, she'll have to prove to me that she can use it responsibly, because the government says she's too young to buy it herself. If I want to buy a handgun, but I've already proven my own proclivity for using it irresponsibly (i.e. in the commission of a felony), the government tells me I can't, because my right to bear arms is balanced out by your right to a pulse.

And that's the balance - my rights and your rights. The state does have some wiggle room into my rights, even the constitutionally-guaranteed ones, but only to the extent that my rights are a threat to yours. Otherwise, they're airtight, because a citizenry without guaranteed rights is vulnerably to tyranny (if they aren't living under it already). Our founders lived under a unitary executive in the form of King George, so when they started their own country, they wrote up a contract between the government and the people at whose consent it governs, with the people telling the government what it was allowed to do in their best interest. The government is allowed to try us in court, detain us at length, punish us for crimes, but only under the circumstances and rules that we dictate.

And that's why things like torture, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping, and the revocation of habeas corpus bother me so much - because the government is taking away my rights and showing me no evidence as to how those things make me safer. I constantly hear "It's my job to keep you safe! This is in your best interest!" but I see no proof.

Let's break it down:

Habeas corpus - This is your right to petition the government if you think you're being held unjustly. Let's say that you were convicted for a crime you didn't commit and have reason to believe that the prosecution withheld evidence. If you ask the government to review the terms of your confinement, does that put me in any danger?

Now let's say that you're planning to rejoin your jihadist buddies and blow up a building. If you ask the government to review the terms of your confinement, does that make it any more possible? Only if you're being held unjustly to begin with.

Warrantless wiretapping - Everyone in America has a guarantee that the government will stay out of our stuff unless they have reason to believe that a crime has been or is being committed. Let's say that you're an oil lobbyist and the tree-hugger Democratic administration wants to tap your phones and use the information against you. If they're required to convincingly show that you're involved in a crime before they tap your phone, does that make me any less safe?

Now let's say that you're talking on the phone with your jihadist buddies, planning to blow up a building. If the government has to convincingly show that you're involved in terrorism within three days of tapping you, does that make it any more possible?

Torture - Everyone in America has the right to not have their fingernails pulled out by the government. Let's say you were picked up for a crime that someone else committed. If the government isn't allowed to pull out your fingernails, does that make me any less safe?

Now let's say that you're an upper-level actor in a jihadist group that's planning to blow up a building. If the government isn't allowed to pull out your fingernails, does that make it any more possible? Not if you're actually a slightly retarded lower-level logistics guy whose three distinct personalities all give different intelligence, all of it wrong.

I have no problem giving up some - some - liberties in the interest of keeping me safe. But I'm not going to do it unless you can prove that it's absolutely necessary to keep me safe. There is no all-encompassing umbrella of protectiveness that allows the government to run roughshod on the Constitution in the interest of our safety. Where X is freedom from government tyranny as represented by an individual right, Y is the severity of the consequences of that right, and Z is the likelihood of those consequences coming to pass, X < (Y*Z) or else I'm holding onto my rights with both hands.

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