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Big Brother or Little Advisor: Freedom and Personal Morality

Having been born and raised in the United States, I and most of my peers take the idea of freedom pretty much for granted. We come to adopt the cultural belief that “liberty and justice for all” is an exceedingly good thing, without necessarily gaining an appreciation for what that means in the greater international and historical context. Just what is freedom? More importantly, what should it mean when applied to modern issues? Where is the line between something being a matter of personal choice vs. a matter of public interest, or otherwise something the the government should be involved in?
As a foot in the door to the debate, here’s a recent quote from a friend of mine:
“Many people (myself included) feel that it is perfectly fine to incorporate any aspect of your belief into practice, voting included, as long as that it doesn’t infringe on the “rights” of other people… It could be argued that we really shouldn’t passing judgment on others decision if those decisions harm no one else (abortion being a unique case, as it can be argued that abortion does indeed harm someone). But such topics as gay marriage really shouldn’t be legislated, as gay marriage harms no one.”
I grew up feeling like the repeal of prohibition by the 21st amendment was a sad thing. Smoking, too, being clearly a destructive practice, seemed ridiculous to be allowed. But is it the government’s place to enforce moral pressures, even if they are clearly positive? And where is the line that designates what should and should not be a controlled substance?
I’m now willing to accept that just because something is unhealthy, wrong, destructive, or otherwise sub-optimal does not mean it should be legislated (Especially not federally). Or, to word it in a slightly more political correct manner, just because I believe something is unhealthy, wrong, destructive, or otherwise sub-optimal does not mean that I should vote to have it legislated. The government need not be the arbiter of moral guidance for our culture. The individual should be free to make his own moral decisions, as long as it hurts no one else. What the government can do is provide education to help individuals make informed and well reasoned personal decisions.
For example, most health problems in the west, from obesity to diabetes and cancer, are caused by our diet and lifestyle. It’s pretty clear that quality of life can be improved by adopting a more healthy lifestyle. It is not the government’s place to force us to eat healthy. The government might help, however, by making sure that the proper information conduits are in place so that people are aware of the details of the issue and its solution.
I think my friend in the above quote has expressed part of the issue very well — the part about not messing with people’s personal business. I’m incline to expound further, however, and move us out of the political arena and more into the personal.
In a classroom or work environment, pressure from “big brother” is extremely important. Students are forced to complete homework assignments they may or may not see the point of (And in fact a lot of students are quite pineful about it), and bosses hold employees to standards that always feel just out of reach. A large part of what we pay for as college students is nothing more than to have someone to hold us accountable to study hard. We work much harder under pressure, and thereby learn much more and get much more done. The self-edification process is accelerated by being forced into something that we either didn’t have the motivation to actively pursue ourselves, or that we downright didn’t think was worth our while at first.
It is with this in mind that I am sympathetic to, if confused about, the continued prohibition of marijuana in the U.S. Okay, maybe that’s too controversial an example. What about coke? Heroin? LSD? We outlaw them for a reason, no?
I suppose it all comes down to just how debatable the destructiveness of a certain behavior is. Many people hold that eating whatever they want contributes more joy to their life than does a healthy lifestyle, and that’s hard to argue with on objective terms (Though I doubt you’ll hear a CHIP graduate say such a thing). I’ve also heard video game addicts say that they really enjoy wasting away their youth in a virtual reality — and who am I to argue, just because I personally feel more fulfilled having broken out of such sensual endeavors? The same goes for alcohol, strip-clubs, and marijuana — the issues become gray and diluted by debate and rationalizations.
Where is the line? How much power do we want to give big brother to watch over us? He already does his best to protect us from destroying our lives with anything from methamphetamine to Methadone, but should he inhibit us from enjoying a little weed? Or should he just offer advice, leaving the actual decision up to the individual?

Eric Scott is a Computer Science and Mathematics student at Andrews University

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