Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, Part Two: Liberty

In a recent post I spoke on the Right to Life and how that Right implies the right to defend that life and the right to possession and carrying of the means of effective defense.

Today, I speak on the Right to Liberty.

To recap, from the Declaration of Independence, we have: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

Last time we discussed life.  This time we discuss Liberty.  Life is fairly straightforward.  There might be some controversy over where life ends and where it begins but for the majority of the time we are quite clear on what “life” means.  Liberty is a bit more complicated.  In general, ones right to life does not infringe on another person’s right to life.  There are exceptional circumstances:  in defending one’s own life one may end the life of another.  In those cases, however, it can be seen that the one who created the situation, the one who placed the other in the need to defend his or her self, willingly took upon himself a risk and the onus for his loss of life is on himself.  It is the same case as when someone engages in any dangerous activity.  If someone engages in free rock climbing and falls to his death it is not the cliff’s fault or responsibility but his own.  Some ask “but does he deserve to die for that.”  This is not a matter of deserving to die, but of freely taking choices knowing that that could be the outcome, and therefore freely taking the risk on oneself.

And choice is the key, which leads us to Liberty.  In the end, Liberty is about choices, real choices, not “do this or die” choices.  Being forced to do something or give up the right to life is not a choice to most people in most circumstances.  As one simple example, a person may choose what to eat.  They cannot usually choose if they eat or not in the long run.  Some few may chose to not eat to the point of death from starvation, but that is rare and we need not consider it for the general case.  We will consider that any choice that involves “do this or die” is not a free choice and, in fact, extend that to extreme pain.  Since people have been known to choose death in preference to extreme pain we can say that “do this or suffer” is likewise not free.

Liberty, then, is about free choice.  One can define Liberty as the sum total of choices available to a person.  The problem there arises when my choices may affect the choices available to someone else.  Liberty is about ones ability to make choices so long as they do not forcibly infringe on the same right in someone else.  The key word there is forcibly.  If one, say, likes to wear bright colors that clash someone else may not like that.  They may find it unpleasant when the discordant one walks into a restaurant, but it’s not a forcible infringement.  One can tolerate it or not as one chooses.  As Erik Frank Russel put in the mouth of one of his characters in And Then There Were None, “I can please myself whether or not I endure it.  That’s freedom ain’t it?”  They can wear what they wish.  You can like it or not as you wish.  Liberty on both sides.

Other cases also become apparent when one considers Liberty as being about free choice.  If one is able to arm oneself and defend one’s home against invaders, that is free choice.  That is Liberty.  If one needs to stand in guard every night because the invaders–whether robbers, rioters, or foreign invaders–are constantly present, that is not.  Again free choice is the key.  A society where you can defend your home at need is more free than one where one cannot.  However, a society where a person needs to spend most of his time in standing guard over his home is less free than one in which he can pursue other activities and only take an active guard at special need.  Again, free choice is the key.

The initiation of force to infringe upon another is contrary to the Right to Liberty.  But what happens when someone does forcibly infringe on the Liberty of another?  What then?  In that case, the use of force to end the infringement is justified.  One might attempt reason or persuasion to accomplish that end, but experience has shown that when one uses force to infringe on the Liberty of another, only force will persuade them to cease.

And so the principle of Liberty, while not sanctioning the initiation of force to restrict the Liberty of another, does sanction its use to defend ones own.

From whence comes this force?  Is there some special source from which the force to restore liberty must come?  One may look for such a source without finding it.  Some may claim that it comes from Government, from some body chosen in some manner, whether from Divine Right of Kings or The Will of the People, that is the sole repository of the right to use force.  Yet, again, experience has shown that such sources of force are, if left unchecked, more likely to be used to restrict than to preserve and restore Liberty.

No.  In the end, like with the Right to Life, the Right to Liberty, and the power to defend that Right, must come down to the individual.  Each individual must have sanction, the final Liberty, to defend his or her own Liberty.  The individual may delegate some of that power to a greater group to act as Guardians of that Liberty, in particular as a defense against encroachments on his or her liberty from other groups that he cannot defend against as an individual.  But in so doing, he runs the risk that the Guardians may, in turn use that power to infringe his own Liberty.  Against such chance he must retain both the power and the license to use that power to defend his Liberty against even the Guardian he and his fellows have chosen to protect it.

In Right to Life we had the conclusion that to deny the means of defense against those who would infringe it is to deny the right itself.  So it is with the Right to Liberty.  For Liberty we generally choose Guardians to secure and defend that Liberty.  And yet history has shown all too often that those Guardians themselves can become a threat to Liberty.  The body of the people in themselves, must then retain the power to defend their Liberty even against their chosen Guardians.  The balance of power must remain with the individuals so that even their chosen Guardians cannot with impunity infringe on their Liberty.  To deny the right to defend Liberty, by force if need be, is to deny the right to Liberty itself.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Part 1: Life

A Blast for the Past, I’m mostly importing from my LiveJournal account.  Since there are a thousand and one blogs on writing, I’ve decided to open this up a bit and include discussion of philosophy and what not as well so folk can get a feel for how I think.

The United States was founded not only as a geographic entity, but as a set of principles.  Those principles were originally set out in the Declaration of Independence, to wit:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights, are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from consent of the governed.”

The above was written from memory.  Some of the punctuation and exact wording might not match exactly, and I may not have matched Jefferson’s rather idiosyncratic sentence breaks, but it should be fairly close.

It should be noted that much discussion was had over whether “property” should be included in the unalienable rights.  In the end it was not included in this document but the discussion itself shows that it was considered of fairly close par.

Now, while “unalienable” does not mean that the exercise of the rights cannot be taken away, when written into the Constitution, the standards for two of them (life and liberty also with property in that case) of which a person may be deprived is given:  due process of law, which is after one has been tried in a proper court of law with opportunity to answer accusations and summon witnesses for ones own defense.

So, short of that, one may not be deprived of the right to life*.  But how can one have a right to life if one does not have the means to effectively defend that life against persons or things that threaten it?  Note, this is not a right to require others to defend ones life.  Doing so would be an infringement on their own Liberty. (Likewise, to digress a moment, requiring others to provide “health care” for one is an infringement on their own right to Liberty. To the very extent that you are requiring them to provide for you, you are enslaving them.) But that you cannot require others to provide for the defense of your life only underscores the importance of your own right to defend it.  One may enter into agreements with others for mutual defense, mutual assistance in the defense of each individual’s life, liberty, and property, but entering into such agreements is merely the exercise of the individual right combined with “peaceable assembly.”

So, right to life and right to defend that life.  But can such a right exist when means to defense are denied?  Could a peasant in Feudal Europe be said to have a right to self defense if he is limited to bare hands and farming implements against a mounted and armored knight?  Oh, he might have the “right” to try, given the proper legal code, but it would be meaningless without the means.  Give that peasant a firearm and suddenly that armored knight finds that he cannot with impunity take that peasant’s right to life.

And, so, a right to life, and its implicit right to defend that life, must come with the right to effective means for defense. And, so, if there is a right to life, then there must be a right to defend that life, and there must be a right to effective means to that defense.  To deny the latter, to deny the right to effective arms for self defense, is to deny the very right to life.

And to deny the right to life is to deny all other rights which a person might hold.  For how can one have liberty without life?  How can one have property without life?  How can one pursue happiness without life?

*Note here that I am not speaking to the abortion debate on the subject of “right to life.” Much debate could be had on when life begins and, thus, when “right to life” comes into play.  That is not my purpose here.  Similarly, there is lesser but still some debate on when life, and therefore the right to same, ends.  Again, not my purpose here.  So please don’t get sidetracked into those debates.

Survival Test, Snippet Three

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER ONE (Part three)

Jared Arthurs stared out the dorsal viewport in the living module of the C.A.M.P.E.R. Beyond the huge double dishes of the solar-thermal power collectors he could just make out the shining glint of A. C. Clarke, FTI’s seven-year-old space station. He had to search to spot it. In a Geosynchronous orbit, it shone in the reflected sunlight about as bright as a second magnitude star. If he watched without moving, Jared could just see the movement against the star background.
From the corner of his eye Jared could see Michelle O’Brien, one of the engineering crew testing new zero-g machine shop tools, staring into her laptop computer’s display.
One week, Jared thought, returning his attention to the view outside. One more week and it’s all over.
Clarke, and three other stations just like it, had put C.A.M.P.E.R. Incorporated out of business. He wanted to hate them, but he couldn’t. FTI had done what Jared had tried to do–bring the cost of working in space down to an affordable level–only better.
Since Schneider’s company had been operating, clients for C.A.M.P.E.R. had dried up. For the few that remained, he had launched their missions, performed their research, and compiled their results. The current mission, to test equipment for a zero-G machine shop, was the last. When this one finished in another week C.A.M.P.E.R. Incorporated would be defunct. All they had going for them was one purchase offer–tendered by Richard Schneider.
Jared forced a wan smile. The Civilian Astronautical Manned Platform for Extended Research had had a good run, but now it was over.
“Mr. Arthurs?” Wade Nicks, senior engineer on the research team, called to him.
“What is it, Wade?”
“I think you’d better take a look at this.”
At Jared’s nod Wade led the way through the station with almost frantic haste. Jared considered calling him on the safety violation, but did not. In the three months they had been aboard, Wade had impressed Jared as a careful, serious researcher who never rushed anything. He would have a good reason for his speed.
Michelle followed behind him.
“Here.” Wade stopped at a ventral viewport. “Look south, over North Africa. Tell me I’m hallucinating. Please tell me I’m hallucinating.”
Jared looked. “Below” them the Mediterranean rolled by. Just to the south, from the North African Confederacy, scores of bright pinpricks, brilliant even against the sunlit Mediterranean, crawled northward.
Jared looked up at Wade’s anxious face.
“Please tell me those aren’t missiles,” Wade said.
“I would,” Jared stared back out through the viewport, “but I’d be lying.”
“Who started a war?” Wade voice sounded half an octave higher in pitch than its normal tone. His face went white. His hands clenched and opened repeatedly.
“I don’t know.” Jared had to fight down panic himself. He swallowed at the gorge that rose in his throat.
As he looked back out the port, fully half the missiles flared briefly and died. Another wave started, more than a third exploding much too soon to be destroyed by missile defenses. Jared snorted. Was their reliability that bad?
A sound, like the rattling of a thousand hailstones on a tin roof, echoed throughout the station and ended almost as soon as it had begun. The lights died. Even the ever-present whir of the ventilation fans quit. A few seconds later, the emergency systems cut in. Jared sighed with relief at the reassuring whine of the emergency fans.
“What?” Despite the fear apparent in his voice, Wade reacted properly. He hauled himself by handrail to one side of the module, leaving the central corridor clear for traffic and placing himself by an emergency bubble–just in case.
“I think somebody’s defenses mistook us for a missile,” Jared said. He cocked his head to one side. He could not feel any pressure change in his ears so he assumed that the module had not been perforated.
The other two members of the crew, Crystal Gibson and Ralph Moulton, burst through the hatchway into the module, but Jared’s chopping gesture stopped them before they could say anything. He turned back to the viewport to watch.
Their orbital path took C.A.M.P.E.R. within view of the United States as the remaining North African missiles began their reentry, burning bright as meteors. Rising points of light, the bright flare from powerful rocket engines, met the incoming warheads as the missile arm of the U.S.’s final stage defensive system fought back. Other weapons, invisible to Jared’s eyes, would also be shooting.
As Jared watched, three reentry traces faded as the warheads slowed below hypersonic speed. Even seen from space, the fireballs left purple spots in front of Jared’s eyes. One warhead exploded in Kansas, another in southeastern Ohio, and the third either in Montana or just across the border in Canada.
Almost before the light from the explosions had died away, the U.S. retaliated. About two dozen missiles flew. Six of them, however, followed a track different from the remainder, more northward. Jared’s breath caught as he realized those missiles were probably heading for Russia although he could not imagine why.
Russia lay below the horizon when C.A.M.P.E.R.’s next orbit took them around the world, but when they again passed over the U.S. a small flock of missiles, one not launched by the North Africans, descended on the US.
After the initial spasm, no more missiles flew. Jared watched for three more orbits before allowing himself to relax slightly.
“It looks like Earth may survive this war,” Jared said.
The missile barrages had ended. It did indeed look like Earth was going to survive the war. Jared was far less sanguine about the crew of C.A.M.P.E.R.


Breathing? That would be nice.

I went to the allergy doctor this morning for an allergy test. They tested 35 separate allergens, including dust mites, various species of tree pollen, various molds, various weeds and grasses, cats and dogs, cockroaches, and feathers. Of the 35 I was allergic to 26 of them (including dogs–but getting rid of my dogs is not an option, then again “dog” was one of the milder reactions so with everything else, what would be the point?).

So, in addition to the surgical fixes for breathing path issues (deviated septum and oversize ridges in the nasal passages meaning that even the least little swelling from an allergic reaction closes things right down) we’re looking at allergy shots. And that means a visit to the doctor once a week until such time as I get to a “maintenance” regime where I can give myself the shots.

Good news is that the allergy shots are covered by my insurance at 100%.

But I am told that breathing is not optional so I guess this is where we’re going.