Freedom versus Socialism

But it’s not what you think

In analyzing (via the 5 factors) the merits of removing the speed-limit on an interstate, an idea occurred to me…but I must give credit not to myself, but to a long-time friend who had proposed this theory — I’m just finally catching onto it.

The theory is this: If we are our “brother’s keeper”, then our brother’s freedom should be limited, and he should be held responsible for his behavior.

The term “Socialismused here is specifically meant as “being your brother’s keeper.” — the societal obligation of taking care of someone when they are injured, or ill, or in-need. “Freedom” though, includes those many activities which actually tend to cause oneself to become ill, or injured, or in-need.

In other words, if we as a society have dedicated ourselves (via law, confiscatory tax, societal pressure and coercion) to “take care of one another” (i.e. implemented a level of Socialism), then those who benefit from this must have their Freedoms limited to a corresponding degree.

In this level of implementation (of Socialism) we have crossed a boundary related to the very way in which we’ve lived or died over the course of time: Historically, traveling (or just living) with your small band of extended relatives on the plains, or in the forest, or across the sea, was a physically-risky endeavor, and medical technology and aptitude was low, enough to cause the weak (due to lack of hospitalization, just as one example) to eventually be simply left to die. Resources were much more scarce. You risked the survival of the entire group if you cared for the weak in an unbalanced fashion. As an individual simply exercising your freedom, there could be harsh, direct consequences for your actions…affecting not only you, but also your group. Sad, but true. Think Darwinian-times. The strong / adaptable survived, more often than not.

Today, however, the weak are less likely to be left to fend for themselves — there exists, less-and-less, a ‘survival of the fittest’ environment, for many reasons: improved medical technology and more resources, which both lead to Charity for the weak. We as a society generally seem to prefer this level of compassion. There is no argument in this essay for or against this preference. However, this environment means that there are less direct, negative consequences for behavior which at one time could pose a threat and cause someone to become weak. Today, whether due to bad-luck or risky-behavior, one is more likely to survive these situations, without having to “learn one’s lesson”. Instead, those Caregivers in society gather ‘round and take care of you.

We could conceive that, in the past — when resources were scarce and medical know-how was bleak — there were second-thoughts about how much care to meet-out. Perhaps the Caregivers of the past did an evaluation when faced with a newly weak member of the group:

How did this weakness come about?

The question arises because it Costs society sometimes greatly (i.e. we suffer collectively) due to the weakness of the individual. And when you have much to lose, you tend to weigh the cost/benefit ratio and introspect more deeply: could the very level of compassion, understanding, and empathy depend on the reason the weakness was acquired?

A small thought experiment: you possess the ability to administer 1 dose of life-saving medicine, but you have 2 people with life-threatening injuries set before you. This medicine is provided by the group (socialism, in a sense), so, all eyes are on you and your decision. The two injured are similarly adults, and responsible, but you know that 1 person was the attacker of the other. To whom are you more likely to administer the medicine?

Let’s say you give the dose to the attacker, and therefore let the victim die.

Does it make sense? Is it fair? Does it make society more cohesive? What kind of message does it send to future victims…and attackers? Does the reason why the person is injured matter to you when considering how to ration this treatment? Instead, would it matter any differently if you bought it with half your own life’s savings, versus it coming from society-at-large? Are we more frivolous when the cost is spread out?

We, fortunately, live in a different situation than the migratory-band of travelers, and the ready-made victim situation above…but how much different? We do have bad situations. We do have limited resources. And there’s not always a clear status of victimhood. The group in some way does pay the price for people’s freedom to live they way they choose (assuming they are not breaking any law). The consequences of their actions do indeed affect us even in these relatively abundant times.

And to make things more applicable to today, let’s address the risk-taker — someone who uses their Freedom to act in a way which is more risky than the norm — perhaps driving on that interstate highway at 120mph on a rainy day.

This unfortunate driver crashes, sadly. We, as a society, socialize the effort to save the person (we help, as a group, regardless). Are they a victim? Or are they more of a risk-taker? Are these terms mutually-exclusive? Either way, we invest the precious time and effort of some of our best people (emergency physicians) to strain to care for this individual — sometimes at the cost of others, waiting in-line, and many times at the financial cost of society (let’s defer the topic of taxes and insurance premiums paid by that one person to cover all costs associated with a near-fatal driving accident).

Question: Now that society reflexively comes to the aid of anyone no matter the [level of self-destructive] reason, do the risk-takers hold any responsibility for their actions besides paying a relatively-minor sum for the services provided? Or:

Should the risk-takers remain completely free to treat their [now] ‘collective’ bodies as they wish, even though we oblige the rest of society to be held responsible for the cost of the upkeep?

One could make a case that we increasingly belong to one another and take-on more accountability for our actions, because of the very level of sharing we enjoy with each other. Do we have any say, then, in the choices other people make, now that they are part of our collective and socialistic society, with all of its benefits made available?

This theory has already been implemented for at least a generation in the Insurance industry. When you obtain life insurance, your beneficiary receives a cash ‘death benefit’ when you pass away. You pay relatively low premiums (but higher if you engage in higher-risk activity like smoking!) in order to keep this contract between you and the insurance company in-force. So, pay $250 per year and if you die at any time, collect $250,000! However, insurance companies run a business, not a charity. There are rules and responsibilities for you as the policy-holder. The insurance company does not just hand-over all of that cash if, for example, you: commit suicide, or die because you went sky-diving, or die during a drug-deal. No, your life is not completely your own from their perspective. Risky behavior comes with a penalty. The reasons for this are many but here is just one: let’s discourage death-defying behavior by removing the safety-net of a $250k payout. Let’s not reward the act of suicide by paying-out a large sum of cash. The insurance company has huge reserves of cash because bad things do happen. However, how is it fair to the people who “legitimately” (in case of an accident of no-fault of their own) need that cash to be available, when the risk-taker who wants her “freedom” to take any ‘ole risk she feels like, expects the same benefit, whether or not the calamity was self-induced?

So, we see, when the rubber meets the road, we as a society seem to care about the very reason people fall-ill, maybe more especially when the resources are limited. We desire some fairness, some reasonable explanation of “what happened here, anyway?”

Some will reflexively dislike the idea of holding anyone accountable, and/or limiting another’s liberty, because they feel it is insensitive or inhumane or cold or controlling. Granted. It is merciful and gracious to provide for others, *especially* when they do not ‘deserve’ the help. It is charitable and we as a society value that behavior to a certain degree. We don’t dare be presumptuous enough to impose ourselves too strongly on others. But, for the sake of balance, it also makes sense that we as humans need to apply and receive “tough-love”. So easy to say, and so difficult to do. Guilt is a powerful emotion. We feel badly, we want equality…or we at least feel pain when we see others suffering.

However, we’ve also been taught to sometimes feel positive about suffering. The view of some suffering folk can fill people with a sense of justice and satisfaction…if it is meted-out because they have committed a ‘crime’. We value it if a punishment actually serves as a deterrent to others who may be considering the activity itself. Why? Because we have a societal goal of reducing these types of activities. We punish certain crimes, not only to be just, but also to set-an-example to others, to send a message that we want less of this behavior. In limiting people’s liberty, aren’t we simply providing a deterrent to harmful behavior?

In conclusion, “No man is an island, entire of itself…” Ernest Hemingway in his For Whom the Bell Tolls, and originally, John Donne in his Devotions, both send us this message: Though we may enjoy the seemingly vacuous feeling of our actions being independent of others in this world, in fact, we are connected in so many ways. We are, therefore, “kept”, and beholden to each other in spite of our illusions of total Liberty.

For further edification, these risky behaviors only directly put the primary actor at-risk…until they need help, of course…and yet we generally feel good about the limitations imposed on others:

Wearing a seatbelt while driving

Swimming beyond the life-guard’s reach

Wearing a Motorcycle Helmet

Boating in rough waters