Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Should you exercise every right you possess?

Should you exercise every right you possess?

A common assumption that authoritarians make about libertarians is that since we talk a lot about "rights", we believe in a free-for-all. That is completely wrong.

I am a firm believer that just because you have a right to do something, it doesn't mean you SHOULD do it. Common courtesy and self-responsibility should temper your actions.

An often-quoted erroneous statement about rights concerns the right of free speech. The claim is that rights are subject to "reasonable" legal restrictions. They are not, because then they would not be "rights", but "privileges" granted by a government. The opinion is that while you have a right to speak freely, you have no right to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. That is dead wrong. You do have that right, since rights have no limitations, however if you choose to exercise that right you will also bear the responsibility for any harm that comes as a result. This is a perfect example of a right that is better left unused. Only a fool or an evil person would commit such an act. Responsibility doesn't end there. If you are sitting in a theater where someone yells "Fire!", you have a responsibility to react to the situation without trampling the other patrons. It would make sense to look around, sniff the air, and see whether there is any cause for alarm before attempting to navigate the stampede. Watch out for yourself and for those you have a responsibility toward.

The problem is that self-responsibility has atrophied from disuse. You have to give people a chance to make the wrong decisions and take responsibility for the outcome. If every action is either mandatory or prohibited where does judgment come into the picture? Children don't learn to walk if they are carried everywhere. Neither do people learn to take responsibility for their choices if they are never allowed to make any but the most trivial of choices. The state is preventing a lot of people from growing up. Of all the damage government does, this may be the most lasting. How can a generation that never learned to self-govern teach their children to be responsible?