The Freedom To Be Left Alone

I support the healthcare reform in this country. But I almost changed my mind after reading this very unintelligent defense of Obamacare:

This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of “liberty.” This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804.

I actually want all of these freedoms that are listed here. I don’t care whether food “has been inspected” because I have no idea what that even means, but the freedom not to pick up the phone is mine, and you can’t take it away. And the freedom to be left alone is completely fundamental to my happiness.

I also do not recognize any obligations to anybody other than the ones stipulated by my work contract and my lease agreement. Everything else I do for people is an act of free will and not an obligation of any sort. I take care of my husband when he gets sick or has problems. I support my relatives and friends and always offer them any help I can. But I do not do that out of a sense of obligation. I do it because that’s what I feel like doing at every given moment. If anybody tries to suggest to me that I have to care, help or assist, they will discover very soon exactly where they can shove their expectations.

I obey the laws of the land as part of my social contract with society. That, however, is also an act of free will on my part since I chose to live in this country and have not been forced to do so by anybody.

What the author of this quote fails to realize is that freedom from community and shared responsibility is one of the defining (and, in my opinion, one of the best) characteristics of a modern society. In the pre-modern, deeply patriarchal world, a human being belonged, first and foremost, to his or her family, clan, and community. Those of us who have grown within such a communal model know how incredibly stifling, disempowering and miserable it is. And in the Western world, the reality of 1804 is much closer to that model than the reality of 2012. There is absolutely nothing modern about promoting a return to a system where the rights of an individual are overrun every time in favor of the needs of the community.

I want to remind everybody that women do not tend to fare extremely well in societies where community reigns supreme. Reproductive rights, for instance, can only be defended successfully on the basis of the respect for individual rights, individual bodily integrity, and right to privacy.

I want this country to have a better system of healthcare. But I’m not giving up my right to be left alone with my phone off the hook for the sake of that.

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22 thoughts on “The Freedom To Be Left Alone”

  1. If the United States had adopted universal health care, supported by taxes, I would not have liked it but would have had no constitutional objection. If a state were to do what the Federal Government did, I would not like that either; however, if the pertinent state constitution authorized it I would have no constitutional objection.

    The Federal Government, unlike the states, derives its powers over commerce from the Commerce Clause as set forth Article I. I do have constitution-based objections to the system that was enacted. The Federal Government had never previously relied upon the Commerce Clause to require anyone to enter interstate commerce by purchasing something he did not want to purchase. There is always, of course, a first time; but there must be standards, capable of being articulated, for judicial review of such a requirement.

    If the Affordable Health Care Act, AKA ObamaCare, survives constitutional challenge, I can think of no requirement, later to be imposed on individuals, to enter interstate commence and buy something that could not survive such a challenge. I very seriously doubt that the Supreme Court, or anyone else, would then be able to articulate a viable standard for judicial review of what is OK and what is not OK under the powers granted to the Federal Government under the Commerce Clause. The Congress, with the concurrence of the President, would then be at liberty to do whatever it might please as to that; that would negate a critical function of the judicial branch of government

    That seems to have been the main problem faced by government counsel during oral argument. He is apparently a very bright and experienced attorney, but had not thought of a standard that could pass what we call the “laugh test” and was unable to pull one from his hat. Nor have I discovered one elsewhere.

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    1. ” If a state were to do what the Federal Government did, I would not like that either; however, if the pertinent state constitution authorized it I would have no constitutional objection.”

      – This is the part I find hard to understand. Why is it more acceptable for the state government to introduce such a system than for the federal government? The underlying principle of it is either wrong or right, irrespective of who tries to introduce the system.

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      1. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the individual states thereby granted the Federal Government various powers. They retained others not so granted. Under the Commerce Clause, Article I, Section 8, the Federal Government was authorized “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” During FDR’s New Deal era and later, the Supreme Court expanded that authority, perhaps to a greater extent than was wise and to some extent (with FDR) under threat of “court packing.” Even then, however, it did not hold that a federal statute could require someone not engaged in interstate to enter interstate commerce by purchasing something he did not desire to purchase.

        If the current statute were to be upheld, I can think of no even remotely similar federal statute invoking the Commerce Clause as its basis that could fail to pass judicial scrutiny. Judge Vinson, in one of the early Affordable Health Care Act cases, argued, persuasively, I think, to that effect. Unless there is a standard for judicial review that can be used consistently, there can be no viable system of judicial review.

        The states are very different. They did not derive their authority from the U.S. Constitution; they forfeited only such authority as the Constitution provides for them to forfeit. Hence, the states can regulate intrastate commerce that the Federal Government cannot unless it impinges on interstate commerce. They can require drivers’ licenses, license physicians, attorneys and others to practice in those states and do other things things that the Federal Government cannot do. That is an essential part of our form of government. It may be unique; I do not know, but it is rather different from many others .

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  2. I’m happy to live in a state where the default attitude is openness, fairness and cooperation. We have our share of libertarians, mostly angry white guys, but in general people are pretty mellow about sharing the world with each other.
    Aloha from Hawaii!

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  3. Well Clarissa, that’ll teach you to question authority.
    Have I missed something or is there a contradiction between Hattie’s two comments? Then again, she didn’t mention tolerance for impertinent questions in her first comment.

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  4. is that freedom from community and shared responsibility is one of the defining characteristics of a modern society.

    Actually it is not. You cannot opt out of most taxes, which means you participate on defense, road building, law enforcement and any other number of social government enterprises whether you want it or not.

    Plus the freedom to be a bastard to your fellow men, to the point of letting them day would most definitely not be one of the best characteristics of modern society. You might want to rethink that one over.

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    1. “You cannot opt out of most taxes, which means you participate on defense, road building, law enforcement and any other number of social government enterprises whether you want it or not.”

      – As I said, I obey the laws as part of my social contract.

      “Plus the freedom to be a bastard to your fellow men, to the point of letting them day would most definitely not be one of the best characteristics of modern society. You might want to rethink that one over.”

      – Let’s talk seriously, OK? Unless one is a doctor, how often does one have a chance to “let anybody die”? I’m almost 36 and I haven’t had an opportunity to save anybody’s life yet.

      I’d really like to avoid pathos and talk seriously here.

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    2. Culture Club, it’s more complicated than having the freedom to let someone die. You can have a free society where you don’t have the freedom to avoid paying Medicare tax, some of which goes to prevent people from dying, while at the same time you have the freedom not to have to jump into the ocean to save a person from drowning.

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      1. The discussion was about the freedom not to pick up the phone. How it got to the drama of drowning people is beyond me. How often do we see drowning people as opposed to being besieged by calls and requests from guilt trippers who try to bully us into sacrificing our interests for them? I’ve never seen a single drowning person but I have to deal with folks trying to cannibalize my life under the excuse of altruism, family, community, and common good every day.

        The author of the article is suggesting that it is somehow more modern to pick up the phone every time a relative disrupts your work with a drama du jour. And I suggest that this is a deeply patriarchal approach. That’s all there is to this discussion. Drownings, heart attacks, Hawaians and Libertarians are completely beyond the point.

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  5. On food inspection — you eat meat. Lope de Vega, they informed me at his house-museum, only ate garbanzos and artichokes, with the occasional chicken thrown in if it had been killed at his house. Why: no hygiene standards / inspection / regulation at the market in those days.

    On saving peoples’ lives — it happens fairly often. I’ve called paramedics for epileptics, heart attack victims, diabetics, drug overdoses and yes, I could have walked away and we could also not have paramedics.

    Your post *does* seem to make the libertarian argument, and/or it just seems muddled. Speaking quickly and muddled-ly as well: if we get rid of modern civil society, as the Republicans and libertarians seem to want to do, there will be nothing left but clans and so on.

    “Why should I have an insurance policy under which ‘I’ might be paying for someone else’s heart attack?” “Why should my taxes pay for public schools if I do not have children?” “Why should public universities exist if workers can get job training from for-profit schools on line and research can be done by private companies?” “People should build stronger families, then we wouldn’t need public aid.” etc., etc. I’ve got neighbors who don’t even want the government to fix the streets — we should pool money and fix our own (as though that were not, in effect, what the city is doing for us, city wide).

    *

    Dan Miller – yeah, one more reason single payer really works better. And I also don’t like required insurance or required anything, really, although I see why some of it is a necessary irritation in the current structure of things.

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    1. “On saving peoples’ lives — it happens fairly often. I’ve called paramedics for epileptics, heart attack victims, diabetics, drug overdoses and yes, I could have walked away and we could also not have paramedics.”

      – I have a feeling this will be one of the topics where I will have to repeat myself 100 times in a row. If you walked away in that situation, that would be breaking the law. And what did I saw about choosing to obey laws as part of social contract? You could not have walked away and stayed within the bounds of the law.

      In any case, such situations never happened to me and I asked already to avoid the pathos.

      “Your post *does* seem to make the libertarian argument, and/or it just seems muddled. Speaking quickly and muddled-ly as well: if we get rid of modern civil society, as the Republicans and libertarians seem to want to do, there will be nothing left but clans and so on.”

      – What does any of this have to do with me? My only argument is that I have absolutely no obligations to anybody else besides the ones I listed. And picking up my phone is definitely not one.

      ““Why should I have an insurance policy under which ‘I’ might be paying for someone else’s heart attack?” “Why should my taxes pay for public schools if I do not have children?” “Why should public universities exist if workers can get job training from for-profit schools on line and research can be done by private companies?” “People should build stronger families, then we wouldn’t need public aid.” etc., etc. I’ve got neighbors who don’t even want the government to fix the streets — we should pool money and fix our own (as though that were not, in effect, what the city is doing for us, city wide).”

      – I’m sorry, who are you talking to?

      People are reading a list of extremely weird things into my post. Arriving at the idea that I, of all people, would suggest that “People should build stronger families”, when the entire post screams about the horrors such strong possessive families inflict on individuals, is just bizarre. The suggestion that I somehow defend online diploma mills simply because I refuse to allow my family to devour my existence and destroy my life is also beyond bizarre.

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    2. “if we get rid of modern civil society, as the Republicans and libertarians seem to want to do, there will be nothing left but clans and so on.”

      Before making such statements you might want to look at the budget bill that just passed the Republican House. It doesn’t exactly get rid of modern civil society. Republicans and Libertarinans just want to reduce govenmental regulation, not eliminate it. Making regulatory agencies more responsive to whether he costs of regulation outweigh the benefits is an idea whose time has come.

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  6. //to never pick up the phone

    I am sure she didn’t mean letting people annoy you to death with stupid drama. It’s a figurative expression, though sometimes it has a literate meaning. The 1st thing that jumped to my head was:

    1964: Kitty Genovese is stabbed to death near her apartment in New York City, while neighbors ignore her cries for help during three separate attacks lasting 35 minutes.

    According to police, no fewer than 38 people heard — and possibly saw — at least one of the attacks by Genovese’s knife-wielding assailant. Nobody came to her aid, and only one bothered calling the police — and only after the third attack had killed her.

    This appalling display of collective indifference sparked sensationalized press coverage, horrified the nation, and prompted numerous psychological studies into what would become known as Genovese syndrome, or more generically, the bystander effect.

    Witnesses interviewed subsequently gave two main excuses for doing nothing: fear and “not wanting to get involved.” This caused a police captain to wonder why anyone would hesitate to pick up a phone and call for help from the safety of home.

    The police maintained that had they been called after the first attack, Genovese would likely have survived her wounds. A squad car was on the scene within two minutes of when the call finally came in, so it seems reasonable to assume that the cops were right.

    Catherine Genovese, 28, was chosen at random by her killer. He spotted her leaving her car at 3:50 a.m. as she returned home from her job as a bar manager.

    http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2009/03/dayintech_0313

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    1. OK, I have now realized that people are not managing to discuss this issue without being over dramatic, so I give up.

      I have a sneaking suspicion that by the end of this thread I will be accused of genocide. I honestly did not expect that the suggestion that one’s life belongs to oneself would provoke so much anxiety.

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      1. Actually, the story that people “watched from their windows as Kitty Genovese was killed” is basically a hoax. The story of the uncaring witnesses was ginned up for what else — drama. The true story is much more boring — it was cold and dark, people weren’t sure what they heard, some people did call police, etc. The whole idea that people just stood there watching a real live murder is ludicrous, especially for the era it happened in — the early Sixties, when people weren’t used to publicity stunts and “reality tv” and the like. Much like the people here who are acting as if not wanting to answer the phone means you would walk past a dying person in the street. (Sorry to continue this ridiculous pile-on, but I can’t let this sort of thing stand. I hate the way people ruin a logical, rational discussion with their need to be drama queens.)

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        1. “Actually, the story that people “watched from their windows as Kitty Genovese was killed” is basically a hoax”

          – I;m sorry your comment was stuck in moderation! I always felt that this story was mostly an urban myth created for obvious ideological purposes.

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  7. No, I think you really misread the piece / also the news. The kind of thing she’s pointing out is the odd acceptability of “he didn’t have health insurance – so let him die, I’m d-d if a cent I make goes to aid anyone else” as an expression of individual rights and liberty of the one who says such things.

    Without public institutions, many of which the Republicans/Libertarians would like to abolish in the name of “liberty,” nobody would have anything to rely upon *but* their clan (“family values,” you know).

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    1. Did she or did she not say directly that modernity is all about community and having obligations towards others? Did she or did she not mention the right not to pick up the phone? I am not the one who brought these terms to the discussion. I’m just responding to a text somebody else has written.

      The “let him die” episode was disgusting. But this kind of argument is disgusting as well. And the fact that Ron Paul’s supporters are vile freaks is not enough for me to embrace the mealy-mouth singers of picking up the phone and acknowledging my non-existent obligations. I refuse to consider this the only alternative to Ron Paulians. There should be normal, reasonable people out there who can talk about the healthcare reform without blabbering about community and obligations.

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