OPINION – Which one of these best represents the kind of society where you’d choose to live?
One society entrusts freedom and liberty to the individual while still holding each person accountable for any actions that measurably harm another person or their property. If a person’s peaceable choices do not directly and negatively impact others, then those choices are considered beyond the reach of public laws.
The other society operates in a preventive mode in which draconian laws are enacted out of fear of what people might do rather than what they have actually done to harm another. Overwhelming force is used even against suspected violators whose actions are nonviolent. People are threatened and punished, not for actual harm done, but ‘for their own good.’
Seems like a pretty clear-cut choice, right?
Now consider two actual events that illustrate just how easily we can be wooed away from our freedoms.
Two years ago, armed agents of the state forced their way into Matthew Stewart’s Ogden home to determine if he was growing marijuana. When their raid was over, one officer was dead and four others had been seriously wounded along with Stewart.
Stewart later hung himself in his cell while awaiting trial on murder charges.
A few days ago, Colorado stopped treating the use of marijuana as a criminal offense. Adults in Colorado can now legally purchase, possess and use the same plant for which Utah was willing to use deadly force to stop Matthew Stewart from growing.
What authorities in one state are willing to initiate violence over is now a matter of personal choice for the people of another state. If pressed on the issue, it’s a pretty safe bet that many people would still say Colorado is the state that’s in the wrong. Their opposition to marijuana use has clouded their ability to acknowledge government’s proper limits.
Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that vices are not the same thing as crimes.
A thought provoking read on this subject is 19th Century writer Lysander Spooner’s essay “Vices Are Not Crimes.”
Spooner describes vices as, “those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.” He notes that most vices can be accurately described as “the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness.” Even though they may be correctly regarded as mistakes, there is no element of criminal intent toward others.
Crimes, on the other hand, include malice, which Spooner identifies as the very essence of a crime, “that is, the design to injure the person or property of another.”
The danger that arises when we allow vices to be treated as crimes has far-reaching effects as Spooner explains:
Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.
This is where we get to the heart of the matter. The greatest support for treating vices as crimes nearly always stems from the desire to control others.
But once we cross the line where we believe that the state has the right to dictate to others what peaceable choices they can or cannot make, all bets are off. What starts today, as the state dictating what others may or may not put into their bodies, can easily become the state telling all of us what we must do, think, or teach our children.
Writer Lawrence Vance offers a solid comparison of the difference between a free society and one that is not:
In a free society the individual makes his own decisions about his health and lifestyle; in an authoritarian society the state thinks it knows best how to make those decisions.
Sadly, there is a bit of tyrant in each of us that must be rooted out if freedom is to flourish.
When I walk by the beer cooler in the grocery store or drive by a state liquor store, I don’t waste time seething over the fact that such intoxicants are legally available. Instead, I focus my attention on what I’m doing to wisely use my own freedom.
Peaceful choices by others that do not cause harm to me or my property are simply none of my business.
Those who are upset over Colorado’s new pot law may want to try a similar approach.
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- Perspectives: Seat belt laws and slippery slopes
- LEAP: Legalizing drugs may benefit the country
- Perspectives: Utah’s role in ending Prohibition
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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