What is your definition of liberty? Want to hear my personal definition? Here it is.
“Liberty is freedom constrained only by our responsibility to respect the equal rights of others.” A rubber meets the road way of expressing that is; people can do whatever they want – repeat: whatever they want – as long as they don’t interfere with others exercising their rights.
I suspect the average man would have agreed with that definition back in the days of the Founding Fathers. I know most people in my lifetime would agree with it. I’ve never shared it with anyone who expressed anything other than approval.
Yet – despite what people say – the reality is America has a long and ugly history of punishing people who live out that definition in their daily lives. Sometimes it’s punished by getting laws passed to put people in government cages who live as they see fit without harming anyone else – simply because they didn’t “conform” to what some in society demand.
As but one example, did you know that for many years getting tattooed was illegal in numerous locales around the U.S.? Oklahoma was the last state to do away with anti-tattoo laws – in 2006! I use tattoos as the example not because I have them, but because it is a perfect illustration of the theme I described a moment ago when I said people are locked in government cages because they didn’t “conform” to society’s norms. If you were caught getting a tattoo you went to jail! The emphasis on, ‘being punished for failure to “conform” – even when your actions aren’t harming anyone.’
I once read a comment by a woman stating that tattooed people are “non-conformists”. Perhaps. But if so, to what are they failing to conform? In this case the answer is, to that woman’s idea of what is acceptable in society. It doesn’t matter that tattoos harm no one. It only mattered that the woman doesn’t like them and doesn’t want people to have them.
The sentiment expressed by that woman is usually enforced not by legal punishment, but by social punishment. This punishment can be anywhere from snubbing to depriving a person of his or her ability to earn a living. I once had a guy who is anti-tattoo tell me that people are free to get tattoos, but they’re not free from the consequences that go along with having them. What the fuck? “Consequences” for doing nothing wrong – for doing nothing that harms anyone? How the hell could that place be called a “Land of Liberty”?
But it’s worse than that. Most things people are punished for socially – in this Land of Liberty – are unalienable rights. That’s another reason I’m using tattoos as an example today. It is now a well-settled point of law that tattoos and tattooing are constitutionally protected rights under the 1st Amendment as a shining example of freedom of expression. So, if we go back to the woman’s negative comment about people with tattoos; they are non-conformists for exercising a constitutionally protected right. That would mean that, at least according to her, the only way you could be a “good person” is to conform to her view of things, and “conforming” means you not exercising a constitutional right. Wow.
And what about the guy who said there are consequences for having tattoos? What he is saying is that he is more than happy to punish you for exercising a constitutional right…because…well…he doesn’t like it. Whoa!
That’s some pretty grotesque logic. And millions of Americans agree with them!
The 17th century Enlightenment thinker, John Locke, (who had a tremendous influence on Thomas Jefferson) described the thinking of these kinds of people as, “The Law of Opinion.” He also very astutely stated, “It is almost always wrong.”
The fellow who said people must bear the consequences of being tattooed, fancies himself a huge supporter of liberty – yet he wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to punish a person exercising this particular type of freedom of expression. Pretty disgusting behavior.
Being heavily tattooed is visually obvious. But not all that sparks the desire in these false patriots to punish people for exercising a right is so plainly obvious.
We rarely speak of a right “to be yourself – to openly be who you are” (as long as you aren’t harming others, of course). We never articulate this as a specific right because it’s so universally accepted we don’t even think about it. But everyone has the right to be who they are. And as long as he or she isn’t harming others they should be able to be who they are without their fellow citizens making them endure a consequence for it. After all, isn’t that how it’s supposed to work in a Land of Liberty?
As an example, I think we would all agree that a 30-something year old, white, university educated, protestant, suit-wearing, BMW driving, corporate executive, with a great house, wife, and 2.3 kids shouldn’t have to hide any aspect of who he is. Right?
But I used a pretty plain vanilla example, didn’t I? If I changed some of those descriptors, there are some people whose opinion would also change.
A man once told me he had no problem with a homosexual working at the same company with him – as long as the homosexual doesn’t let anyone know he is a homosexual. Well…isn’t that kind and generous of the fellow! The words “bigoted asshole” leap to mind.
And this brings me to my point. And it’s a positive point! As I’m recoding this, I’m 56 years old. When I was a boy there were two things a man could not let others know about himself or he’d be in for a ton of that social punishment we just discussed. A man could not let others know he was a gay or an atheist.
Even as a boy I found that bizarre. Let people be who they are without punishing them. I mean really…what is the fucking point of that? Merely to do harm to someone because one does not like what they are or believe? Man, talk about acting adverse to everything America is supposed to stand for! What a petty little piece of crap a person must be on the inside to consciously set out to harm someone – to lay an ugly consequence upon them – simply because of who they are or what they believe.
But it’s really nothing new, right? Millions of Americans made a point to do exactly that to other Americans – the Americans with black skin – for nearly a hundred years after the Civil War. Eventually, federal legislation put an end to that, for the most part.
But the bigoted asswipes didn’t have it too bad. They still had the fags and the “god-haters” to shit on, right? Well… the good new is…thankfully…that too is coming to an end.
For the first time in my life homosexuals and atheists are able to be open about who they are with little threat of having some unjust, ugly, un-American, anti-liberty consequence place upon them by some fucktard.
What really makes me enthusiastic and optimistic is that – for the most part – this has happened without government statutes being required to correct it. In other words, for the most part, the American people are simply making a choice not to continue this sort of un-American conduct. And that rocks!
For all of you who have chosen never to punish your fellow Americans for who they are or what opinions they hold, I salute you, and thank you, for being what America truly stands for!
Now, if we could just work on this whole tattoo thing 🙂