Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Legislating Morality in the Nanny State

By Zach Foster
Best read with companion article: Free Market Consequences of the Nanny State

If anyone is reading this piece, the chances are that the reader is a fairly well educated adult conscious of making his or her own decisions.  The reader knows and fully understands that his or her decisions have consequences and impacts on his or her life, and that no one is forcing the reader to make these decisions.  Whether the reader studies and works hard to become a professor emeritus at an Ivy League university, or recreationally experiments with narcotics and becomes an addict and full-time user, this choice is being made by the individual and the individual alone.

In today’s American society, there are many thousands of laws on the books designed to protect citizens.  Some of these laws are necessary, but certainly not all of them.  The purpose for establishing laws with penalties if violated is not to protect citizens from themselves, but to protect them from other people.

The Constitution guarantees people the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The right to life is self-explanatory—such is why murder and manslaughter are felonies.  The right to liberty is slightly more difficult to interpret, since some people assume that “this is a free country, therefore I can do whatever I want.”  However, this is a free country in theory.  The rights of the individual end when that individual is actively working to deprive another individual of his or her rights.  This is why self-defense killing in a life threatening situation is not illegal.  Once a potential attacker becomes an attempted murderer, the law no longer protects the attacker’s right to life.  Impediment of other people’s rights is also why sex must be between equally consenting adults, otherwise rape would be legal and performed on an even larger scale than it is today.

In the realm of drug use, distributing narcotics to other people is more punishable than simply being caught with narcotics.  This is because a distributor of narcotics puts other people’s life and health in dire jeopardy while knowing that such substances are highly dangerous and illegal.  For this to be illegal would be a necessity, since this dealer or distributor could hurt other people.  However, being penalized for simply being caught with substances is a different story.  The fact that narcotics like cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamines are illegal has not stopped drug addicts from being users.  Most drug users are users not because of some desire to be outlaws, but because of a behavior pattern.

After all, marijuana is called a gateway drug not because it is addictive or because it is a catalyst that will automatically turn marijuana users into crack addicts, but because people with certain behavior patterns of irresponsibility assume that, just like marijuana, narcotics will be non-addictive and risk free.

Creating laws doesn’t stop people from doing drugs at all.  In fact, making narcotics illegal only feeds the black market which produces uninspected and unregulated narcotics.  This places citizens in more danger.  Furthermore, prisons are being filled to accommodate petty drug users instead of robbers, rapists, and murderers.  If a person wishes to take his or her own life down a path of self destruction, let them.  Let them destroy themselves and cease to be a burden on society, so long as they do not force others down the same path.

Just because a current illegal act may be decriminalized tomorrow does not mean that the streets will overflow with masses of people doing that act.  Just because gay marriage may be legalized tomorrow doesn’t mean that every man will marry a man and every woman will marry a woman.  Keeping anti-gay legislation intact does not prevent homosexuality, nor does it prevent gay couples from living together, having civil unions through court, and having wedding ceremonies in gay-friendly churches.

If crack was legalized tomorrow, people would not scream “Help!  I don’t want to do crack!  I need the government to pass laws to stop me!”  Nor would they say, “Hey, now that gay marriage is legal, I’m highly afraid I won’t have the willpower to continue being a Christian fundamentalist, and that I might marry a man and jump into Hell with both feet!”

The best way to preserve people’s liberties is to allow them to govern their own daily lives so long as they do not take away the rights of other individuals.  Morality cannot be legislated by a nanny state.  Such legislation only restricts individual freedom.  If one set of individual rights is legislated away, nothing but the artificial barrier of time will protect the rest of a citizen's rights from the same fate.

No comments:

Post a Comment