Following up on my last post, but also dovetailing with a heated debate on David’s blog and my Facebook wall, allow me to further develop my thoughts here on Values and Choice.
What is your single most important priority? Your initial response might be your family’s health, your faith, happiness, or security. But if you think about it, does your most important priority ever change? Is it possible that it changes day to day, minute to minute, depending on the circumstances of your life? Maybe right now, your security (and let’s just broadly label that as protection from a violent attack) is the most important thing in your life. The question then is ‘do you forsake all other needs to ensure your security’? Always? Do your needs change as you get older? Find yourself unemployed or sick? Suddenly come into a lot of money?
Let’s imagine that you live out in the middle of rural America. The crime rate in your neighborhood is practically non-existent. Security might not be as high of a priority as, say, the cost of gasoline. But maybe, every summer you visit your family in the big city. For that short visit, security has probably jumped to the front of priorities.
What I’m trying to show is that everyone has different priorities and they can change at any given moment depending on circumstances. At the same time, people are always trying to impress upon you the fact that their cause is more urgent and requires more of your attention than you’re currently giving. “Maybe you haven’t been thinking about your last wishes, but you need to drop everything right now and give it some serious thought.” Sound familiar?
The problem we face as a pluralistic society is commonly known as scarcity. Simply put, there’s a limit to the money, time, resources, and energy that we can devote to all our competing priorities. Scarcity forces us to make choices as individuals. We might also say that scarcity motivates us to make decisions that affect others. It’s human nature to believe we’re always right, always doing good, always using our head and our hearts. But the simple fact is that within a pluralistic society, it is impossible to make everyone happy all the time.
The question then is ‘how do we function in a civilized society in light of scarcity and competing preferences?’ One argument offered by many is that we should let the smartest people decide for us because the experts know what’s best. They know, for example, that your security should trump your wealth and your faith. And they argue that dissention or giving the ability to simply opt-out destroys the foundation of their justification and it must not be allowed. All for the greater good.
The problem with this approach is plain to see. Even the smartest people cannot possibly speak for everyone, represent the greater good, or even be trusted to DO the greatest good.
Some skeptics argue that freedom isn’t realistic. Their world view is such that man is inherently selfish, greedy, evil, dumb, and incapable of doing the greater good if left to their own choosing. They’ll accuse you of living on Fantasy Island.
They’ll tell you story after story after story of their first hand experiences witnessing the depravity of man. They will stomp, curse, and holler, resolute in their conviction that it’s only by force that the greater good can be achieved.
I don’t disagree that man is depraved. The Bible tells us that all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The thing I can’t seem to reconcile with skeptics of freedom is – what makes the experts any more altruistic and self-sacrificing than the average commoner? Is it some kind of educated enlightenment? If we study hard enough or surround ourselves by enough smart people, will we reach a kind of humanist nirvana? If that were the case, surely the smartest people in the world would also be the most moral. Taken one step further, wouldn’t then God naturally have chosen the smartest people around to be his witnesses?
But we know that God did not choose the smartest people around to speak for Him. He never chose the biggest and physically strongest men to lead his armies. In fact, Scripture tells us time and again that the wisdom of men is foolishness and that the gospel itself appears to be foolishness to the wisest men of our day.
Now, does this mean that God’s advocating outright anarchy? Goodness, no. God’s obviously given instructions for the institution of government, local authorities, even how husbands, wives and children should behave toward one another. But I think, clearly God has not put as much weight on the wisdom of man (as being the determining factor for what’s right or wrong), contrary to what some opponents of liberty would have you believe.
This also is the reason why our Founding Fathers didn’t simply incorporate a “Majority Rules” government. It’s because we are human and under the right circumstances, all humans will selfishly put their own priorities ahead of everyone else’s. Unless we respect and vigilantly protect our individual freedoms to choose what’s most important for us, catering to the mob will eventually lead to the loss of all of our freedoms.