Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me…Slightly Less Liberty.

Literally every right we have comes with limits.

We have the right to free speech, yet I can’t libel people. I can’t (legally) threaten people with bodily harm. I can most definitely use inflammatory rhetoric, but I can’t use it to incite violence without facing criminal charges. I can’t yell obscenities outside at 3 am, apparently. I have first-hand knowledge about that last one, courtesy of the Houston Police Department and some pissed-off neighbors circa 2000.

You have the right to vote, but you have to be at least 18 years old (at least since 1971). You have to register. In most places, you have to have valid identification. No, not like your student ID, Poindexter. How about you man up and flash a concealed carry permit? Up until 1964, you had to pay a poll tax in several jurisdictions. Up until 1920, you had to have a Y chromosome. Up until 1870, you had to have especially low amounts of melanin.

You have the right to build a house. But, you can’t do it just anywhere, and there are rules on what you can build. In almost every jurisdiction, you have to get permission from the government before you can even start. In a democracy, the government represents the rest of us by controlling the outer limits of your individual rights. In this case, it limits your right to build.

Side note: that’s literally the only reason I haven’t built a fluorescent yellow 7-story mansion right in the middle of your neighborhood. Stupid government, always quashing my dreams.

The government protects your property values from being drained by idiots who don’t consider stuff like “your property values” when making decisions. And if you don’t like it, you have the right to petition the government for redress of grievances…though you might need to fill out a form or two to get on the agenda.

You have the right to drive wherever you’d like on the freeways of our nation. But, you have to be at least 16 years old. Your car has to pass inspection and be registered. You have to pass a driving test, an eye exam, and have a valid driver’s license. You have to have insurance. You can’t drive a dune buggy on the freeway, which the 8-year-old me thinks is totally bogus. You can only drive as fast as the posted speed limit. You have to wear a seatbelt. If you ride a motorcycle, you have to mar your aloof, cool image by wearing a stupid helmet like some kind of square. And if you screw up too many times on any or all of these restrictions, the government will revoke your right to drive altogether.

Wienermobile

You can, it turns out, drive a giant hot dog down 14th Street in DC.  What a country!

Every time any restriction has been added to our rights, a contingent of the population has lost their effing minds about it. Each narrowing of each freedom has been met with resistance borne of (supposed) fear of tyranny. I mean, if you take away my right to paint my house neon yellow, the logical next step is forcing me to quarter British soldiers in my home, right?

The problem is a uniquely American one: Americans think first, and often, only of themselves. We don’t think in macro terms. We don’t understand statistics, actuarial science, empathy, or portion control.

Okay, that last one has nothing to do with the rest of the article, I’m just making fun of myself and other like-minded Americans who buy the extra large popcorn at the theater because you can get a free refill. Of popcorn. With “butter.” That you already had a cubic meter of.

“But I should be able to drive my got-dang Chevy as fast as I want to. This is America, and this is what my forefathers fought and died for! And I’m a vet’ran!”

Um, listen Buford, we’ll ignore the obvious problems, such as “combustion engines didn’t exist then,” and “being in the Cub Scouts doesn’t make you a veteran.”

But let’s assume you really are an amazing driver. Do you think everyone is a great driver? Ever watch a NASCAR race? You have 43 of the best drivers in the world, in cars that are meticulously built and maintained by dedicated crews, going as fast as they possibly can.

And there are still 3-4 crashes per race, guaranteed. If not, you get a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich at participating locations.

In other words, even if you can be trusted to drive 150 mph on the freeway, statistics guarantee that most people cannot…and over time, even YOU cannot. Sooner or later, it’s a lock that your back end will get loose, you’ll lose traction on your Goodyear tires, and you’ll trade paint with the guy next to you.

As a society, we do our best to balance your rights with the rights of everyone else. We also do our best to balance your responsibilities with the responsibilities of everyone else. And we come up with rules, such as a speed limit, that give us the least amount of death and destruction possible while still letting you get to work down at the batt’ry fact’ry on time.

Stated differently, we restrict your right to mobility as little as possible to attain the legitimate governmental goal of improving the safety and security of everyone. Including you.

You’ll note that when Buford’s getting pissed about someone taking any of his rights, the inner monologue/Facebook diatribe is always the same.

He’s infuriated that someone would take away his right to say whatever the hell he wants, but he thinks everyone else needs to shut up and stay in their own lane. He will obviously use common sense with his rights, but he wouldn’t vouch for the average person out there. Bunch of dumbasses out there, I tell you what.

He’s pissed that someone would tell him that he can’t paint his house Crimson and White, but he’d be even angrier if his neighbor was allowed to do something completely idiotic like painting her house Burnt Orange and Navy Blue.

He wants the government to keep its webbed swamp monster hands off of his rights. But he wants that same government to clamp down on his shitty neighbors who just can’t be trusted with as much freedom as he can.

He’s thinking of himself with deference in defense of his limitless rights.

He’s thinking of others with scrutiny in defense of limits on their rights.

Factor in a little racism, misogyny, cultural angst, xenophobia, and classism, and you’ll arrive at an untenable situation in a heartbeat. There’s no feasible way to make sure Buford’s rights are unfettered while the rest of the nation (composed, incidentally, primarily of other Bufords) sees their rights restricted.

Even if they each think they’re special and above the intent of the law, statistics say otherwise.

That’s why representative government, made up of offices with varying insulations from the sabre of democracy, often ignores the will of the people. Instead, they aim to write and enact laws that have society’s best interest at heart.

It’s intentional. The Framers knew we were Buford-heavy even back in 1776 and 1789 and 1791. The Framers were scared to death of democracy.

They knew that, left to our own devices, we’d vote for free ice cream, gladiatorial sports as punishment, and zero-day work weeks. Not all of us, of course. Just the majority.

There’s a reason that freedom-loving patriots in legislatures across the land vote for mean stuff like “making you wear a helmet,” “keeping you from driving 100 miles per hour,” and “banning you from eating Kinder eggs.” It’s not because they hate freedom. It’s because they recognize that freedom comes with responsibility. They realize that unrestrained freedom devolves into Lord of the Flies, where might makes right.

They understand that happily living 90% free and 10% restricted is preferable to children gruesomely dying 100% free. And if they overstep their boundaries and restrict us too much, we can vote the bastards out. There’s always a kill switch in macro-Buford’s hands.

Next time you’re upset about a restriction of your rights, ask yourself what the alternative would look like in the hands of the dumbest, most short-sighted, self-centered among us. Then ask yourself if you’d prefer that reality over the world where this law “restricts” you.

Oh, and watch out for Buford’s wildly swinging gun barrel, he’s not as good at firearm safety as he thinks he is. Sorry.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me…Slightly Less Liberty.

  1. Brilliant and funny, as always. For school civics classes, they should just hand out copies of this post.

    • You’re awesome, thank you! Although I’m afraid of what would happen if kids listened to me…we’d devolve into anarchy pretty quickly, I’m certain. 🙂

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