Free to Choose – 2.0

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. 


fantasy-islandSome 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.

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6 responses to “Free to Choose – 2.0

  1. I think the biggest challenge for most is that Freedom is scary because it comes with a risk. If people have the freedom, for instance, to choose whether or not to have car insurance they may get into a wreck for which they cannot afford to pay. What then?
    If people are able to choose whether or not to have health insurance, will we then let someone die who has no coverage?
    The answer to both questions have been answered by society BEFORE these things were around. People helped one another. Churches took care of their people. Doctors did pro bono work, or found some way to barter with people who couldn’t afford care.

    Point being: society relied on people’s goodness. Another way to phrase that is that there was DEMAND for people’s goodness. The effect was that the supply of charity and goodness rose. You can say the same for people’s knowledge, communication, invention, and the list goes on.

    The risk of Freedom creates a demand for the bettering of one’s self, and- in turn- society as a whole.

    When we remove that risk, we allow others to think & decide for us (safety regulations), be charitable for us (taxation & welfare), raise and educate our children for us (forced public education), decide what is put into our bodies (forced inoculations for school children), and again the list goes on.

    The biggest problem is that we begin to rely on this more and more, until government is in complete control not because they forced it, but because we begged them for it. If we can’t do for ourselves, we will soon find ourselves begging for a Socialist/Communist/Fascist government to simply do all for us–we who cannot do for ourselves and the greater good without them.


    • Excellent points, David. Liberty coming out of Tyranny does involve change and any kind of change involves risk and can be scary.


    • That is a great point about the demand for goodness and for bettering one’s self. I never thought about it that way before, in terms of economics. Actually, I thought about it but couldn’t figure out how to express it. I had a recent conversation with someone about community and helping each other, but you said it better, so that will help in my next conversation! Thanks!


  2. Thought-provoking post! I’m baffled by the same kinds of questions you’re asking. When people argue for statism, they seem to believe that those who are in government live in a state of higher morality than the rest of us, or I guess it’s that they have a different morality. Everything they do is good, merely by the fact that they do it. For example, if I take money from someone, it’s theft; for government, it’s taxation and therefore moral. If I kidnap someone and force them to serve in my defense, it’s slavery; if government does it, it’s called the draft, said to be for the greater good, and therefore considered moral. I don’t get it.

    When I ponder this, I tend to think of it in terms of religion. It seems that every tyrannical government through all of time has wrapped itself up in religion in order to hold themselves to a different standard than mere “mortals”. I don’t think we are any different as Americans. On the surface, we know that government is not god, but we put them in the place of the true God, until we’re so mixed up we’re calling good evil and evil good. It scares me for the Body of Christ when I see the kind of blind patriotism that so many Christians defend. Only YHWH is good–everyone else has to be watched carefully, especially if they have weapons at their disposal and the unlimited use of other people’s money!

    I am really asking myself at this point whether it is possible to regain our liberty. I don’t believe that voting will do it because the system has become so corrupt that it’s merely a choice of the lesser of two evils. As a parent, I wonder what kind of world my children will live in. I suppose it’s possible that the system will collapse and something better will emerge, but that would be a difficult process to go through.

    Anyway, I’ll stop rambling and thank you again for making me think!


  3. Pingback: The Economics of Morality and Freedom | IAmDavidHenderson

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