September 6th, 2002


Freedom and Responsibility

In responding to a support request where a user insists that "support"
means that we should do everything for her, I was reminded of a rant
I frequently have. So I spill it here.

America is a land of spoiled brats who have no real understanding
of what freedom really means. We think that freedom is something
that means we can do what we want when we want, unless it means
that someone else can harm us, physically or materially. In which
case it means that we have the "freedom" to disallow them from
doing that. We want our lives to be convenient and safe, so that
we have the "freedom" to pursue our material ends, at all costs.

Take, for instance, the case of the McDonald's hot coffee spill.
A customer of McDonald's spilled hot coffee on themselves, injuring
themselves with second or third degree burns (I forget which), and
successfully sued McDonald's for not warning them that this could
happen. They felt they were exercising their "freedom" to sue a
major company, I'm sure the financial benefit was the furthest thing
from their mind, of course. In doing so, McDonald's was required
to then post a warning about their coffee being hot so that the
next customer might not spill it upon himself, injuring his skin.

This is one of the more laughed at cases in the court system,
obviously the customer should have realized that hot coffee is, in
fact, hot, and taken precautions against spilling it against himself.
But he won. Why? Because there is a prevailing sentiment that
most people are really in the care of the government, and we should
be protected against big evil corporations. We are children, unable
to form our own opinions on right and wrong without being told
specifically what we should or shouldn't do. How should we know
that coffee is hot unless we are warned against it on all cups?

This frightens me.

You see, it's a prevailing sentiment among many Americans in a lot
more than silly court cases like that. The sentiment that We
Need to be Cared For
, protection and security are all-important.
How else can we be "free" to pursue our life? Give us more rules
dictating our choices! We are unable to determine what we want
from life without them. We are all children needing dominating

"But what's the problem with wanting safety and protection?" you
might ask. Well, the problem is that the framework dictating our
choices assumes we're pursuing certain goals. If your goal, in
America, is to pursue "The American Dream", i.e., material wealth
and social prestige, then sure. Oh, but wait, you must pursue
that within a certain context of what's allowed for you to pursue
it. Get a Real Job , don't do anything subversive, but Win
Friends and Influence People (don't know how, read the book!)
Then you'll be a perfectly wonderful law-abiding citizen who can
have all the freedom they want to do more of what's prescribed!

"Oh, but what else is there anyway?" you can subconciously ask.
No one really understands that's what they're asking when they'll
then say, "What, you mean that drugs should be legal?" Honestly,
many drug users are the worst offenders to my point here when they
preach, "I should be free to spend all of my time smoking up and
lazing about the apartment playing console games!" OK, what if
you are? Let's say you do have ultimate freedom and that's what
you choose? Who feeds you then? What, you think that freedom
also means you don't have to worry about food?

Ok, so, let me make this clear:


What else is there is the ability to choose a lifestyle, perhaps
you do want to use drugs and have found a way to be productive while
doing so (I do know a few stellar members of the tech community,
bright, innovative, contribute quite a bit to the community, who
are also daily pot users). But, let's step back even further,
because I don't really want to argue about drug legalisation.

Let's take someone who is living on the edge of poverty. This
person can't afford the latest fashion, they can't afford a decent
education, they can barely afford food and housing (or perhaps they
can't even afford that). They go to McDonald's, and have to pay
some amount more because of the recuperation of losses McDonald's
has to recover from this terrible lawsuit. Yes, it's minor, but
that's not the only ridiculous lawsuit they have to bear, so they
have to hire many very well paid attorneys to protect them from
further damages. This is spread out to all food we purchase; it
might only be a few cents more, but that can add up. And when you
start to consider that nearly everything we purchase has the same
"dumb people suing" costs attached somewhere in there, it becomes
considerable. Who's protecting them from these costs? Well, it
doesn't matter, because, you see, they're not actually pursuing The
American Dream.

"So, we should ban suing then?" you might ask me, awkwardly trying
to make sense of what I'm saying. Absolutely not. No, suing is
a freedom, it is something we should be able to pursue, no matter
what. But what we have failed to realize is that the consequences
of our actions of suing are very real, very apparent, and sometimes
very compelling. There are no warning labels on life. There are
no guarantees. Each and every action we choose, we *must* consider
carefully, and with all of our "protections and safety", we have
come to think that it's someone else's responsibility to do that
for us.

No, I'm sorry. McDonald's has the freedom of selling hot coffee.
We have the freedom of deciding to consume it, or dump it all over
ourselves. We have the responsibility to make our decision carefully,
weighing the consequences. That is the concept I'm trying to get

Actual freedom means that you have full control over your actions,
your ethics, your thoughts, your lifestyle. You can choose whatever
it is you want to do. Want to read porn? Sure! Want to stand in
the middle of the street and cry out about governmental facism?
Sure! Want to smoke your brains out and do nothing! Sure! But
with actual freedom, after you're done doing all of that, have you
actually found a way to feed, clothe, house yourself? Are you
actually happy? Are you not hurting others so that they then find
the freedom to cry out against you? Freedom means the responsibility
for all of the above, act how you want, but accept the consequences
as entirely your fault.

My most hated phrase is, "Protect the children." By that very
statement, we are preparing our next generation to think that their
decisions should be made for them at all times, and they will not
learn the how to be responsible for their actions, it will always
be someone else's fault. Freedom for them, and for most adult
Americans, means freedom from responsibility. They will
never see just how much control over their lives and their thoughts
is implied by "Protection and Safety", for they have never known
actual Freedom.

And they are afraid of its Responsibility.