Thursday, May 20, 2010


My last post perhaps generated as many questions in my own mind as it answered. Some time ago I was reading on a blog about a political issue. Though I can't remember the issue, the discussion became one of personal freedom, indicating that the more laws that are passed, the fewer freedoms people in fact have. There was actually a general conference talk last year on moral responsibility that addressed this very issue. While I agree that if people took greater care for the way they behaved, paid closer attention to traditional (and might I add, God-given) commandments, and then assumed responsibility for the consequences of their bad actions, we would have far fewer societal problems, I am not sure that I agree that laws are the hallmark of a society in decay.

"Laws" of course is a very general term, and not all laws can be classified as either being detrimental or beneficial to every person, but my opinion is that our laws demonstrate an attempt to make order out of chaos. Laws are a recognition that there are people in society, even if it is a small number, who will flout and even destroy conventions that keep us safe. Laws are an attempt to right centuries of poor traditions. Laws help us deal with the world as it IS, not just how we wish it to be, though laws can also help create a world that is more ideal. Laws can protect those in our world who would otherwise be the most marginalized. For example . . . .

* Sexual harassment laws have made it possible for women to progress and excel in the workplace. It might be argued that it men had just acted better then they wouldn't have been necessary, but in centuries of running the show, men didn't act better.

* Child labor laws and education statutes make it possible for children to be educated instead of being forced into sweat shop at very early ages.

* Laws have helped preserve some of the most beautiful places on earth--places that might have been lost or ruined due to greed and profit and carelessness.

* Environmental laws make the air cleaner to breathe now than it was 100 years ago, and give even American cities better air quality than many countries where no such laws are in place.

* Immunization rules help to make my son's school safe, instead of deadly incubator of disease.

No doubt we could make a negative list in the opposite direction, or add to the positive list, but I think the point is made sufficiently.

Back to the blog post about freedom I started this entry with: In one of the comments, a reader noted her frustration over having bought a home with some acreage outside the city limits. She was technically still in a subdivision, though the properties were all substantial. Due to some robbery issues, the majority of the neighbors wanted to hire a security guard to man the gate. All of the neighbors would be expected to share the cost of his wage. The reader was furious about this decision that she had voted against--believing that her individual right to spend her money as she wished was more important than a majority decision made in her community. She was considering moving.

Another example: My parents' community recently passed a curbside recycling program. The program costs each homeowner an additional $7/month on their garbage bill. People are not required to recycle, but all were required to pay the additional $7. The man in their community most adamantly leading the crusade against recycling claims that he is being "taxed without being represented," that only people who want to recycle should have to pay. The problem with his idea is that if there is an opt out (or the opt-in he favors) costs would skyrocket for the recyclers and the whole program would probably flop, which is not in the long-term interests of the community.

In my state, a liberal governor in the 70's saw that part of Oregon's draw was its lovely green space. He didn't want to see a time when the I-5 corridor was a solid city within two hours any direction of Portland. (Can you say Ogden to Provo?) Laws were passed regarding how much a city could grow. If your family farm was inside the city limit and you wanted to sell? Awesome. You could make a fortune. But if your farm was just outside the boundary then you couldn't sell. In addition, other laws made it nearly impossible for these same folks to bequeath land to their children or add houses to it. The result? Oregon's home values stay high; neighborhoods don't become deserted, just renewed; and five minutes from my house there are local farms, lovely open space and traffic is never a nightmare. The small farmers hate it. Personal freedoms to do what they want with their property and so forth.

On a broader scale? The civil rights laws of the sixties were in direct opposition to popular sentiment, at least in certain parts of the country. But the legislature and the courts were firm: the majority has no right to oppress the minority in its quest for the Constitutional (and natural) freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As our society grows increasing complicated, how can the needs of the individual be balanced with democracy- where the majority chooses for everyone? Is it worth giving up some of our freedoms to maintain peace in our society as a whole? When have we given up too many freedoms? How much freedom are we actually entitled to?

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