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Freedom vs the common good

November 2, 2014

P.1As the rich aroma of my morning coffee drifted in the air I was mired in thought, pondering a virtually unsolvable problem. As an American how would I feel giving up my personal freedom for the common good of my fellow citizens? For most it is an easy question to answer and one that the majority of people I think would automatically say the common good overrules a persons individual freedom. However in the back of my mind I knew something did not sit right, and that was the metaphorical ‘itch’ of incremental expansion.

When one considers my current lifestyle, living in the vast expanse of the Northern Alaskan wilderness with its definitive lack of any form of regulation or law. One would immediately assume I would opt in choosing freedom over common good, or else why live in those primitive conditions if it was not for personal freedom. However as I sit here this morning and reflect on the question, I found I have no absolute answer.

This question comes to the surface, partially, because of the numerous states that have enacted a 21 day quarantine on anyone returning from African nations where ebola is active, and more specifically on the healthcare worker who is refusing to abide by the quarantine. She is calming that because she shows no signs of the dreaded disease no government authority has the right to restrict her freedom. However one wonders why as a healthcare worker she does not even consider the remote possibility of developing ebola and accept a self imposed quarantine.

Over the years both state and federal authorities have enforced quarantines on people for various reasons. From the early nineteen hundreds when all immigrants coming to the United States passed through Ellis island and were held until they were ruled not carriers of any infectious disease, to the present when anyone with an infectious disease such as TB or the H1N1 flue are isolated until they were free of the sickness. So the establishment of a precedent is there, but I think we were also glad when the city of Dallas unilaterally restricted the movements of those who were in contact with Americas first ebola victim.

I bring this up because we know what happened to our freedoms after 911. First we were searched at airports then more invasive searches and body scans were adopted. Later we found that our every phone call, email and text was also being monitored. This too started with what we considered reasonable restrictions because of the incidents on 911, but today has taken the foreboding look of George Orwell’s book 1984.

I cherish my freedom above everything but God and family
and I also see the need for protecting the public,
but we must not allow this to open the door
for unlimited government restrictions.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2014 11:18 pm

    I notice you do not mention percieved danger and in these days of mass communication it is important.
    Very few of us sense any danger as we drive around and it hardly hits the headlines if road accident deaths occur.
    The government is ruled by the mood of the public they have to react to be seen to be responsible.
    Remember the object of governments is to stay in power.


  2. November 3, 2014 5:50 pm

    Pete, I think that licensed doctors and registered nurses do have an obligation to defer to a reasonable imposition for the common good (public health safety), which is different than what should reasonably imposed on you or me. They had free choice to go into the medical field or not. Now, since they chose a career medicine which requires state licensing, and they applied/received that license, their selflessness shouldn’t suddenly turn into selfishness when they’ve been potentially exposed to a VERY communicable disease. I believe strongly in individual liberty, but c’mon. With freedom comes responsibility. That nurse was irresponsible.

    You’re right that these tradeoffs (freedom vs. safety) should be considered very seriously, and freedom shouldn’t always automatically lose out to the public good. There isn’t an “absolute” answer because these things should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

    I like that you’re willing to share your internal dilemma and introspection. I have debated ultra-pure libertarians who take individuality almost to a degree of anarchism, which I don’t see as practical in a real world. Like you, I despise collectivism. And like you, I resist giving an inch for fear that I’ll be dragged all the way down a slippery slope to utopianism.

    Those are my thoughts, my friend.

    – Jeff


  3. November 9, 2014 3:39 pm

    Here’s some follow-up commentary on the topic, including a comparison between the Maine nurse and a much more cooperative doctor in California who recognized the common-sense responsibility to his community to respect the wisdom of a quarantine policy.
    – Jeff


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