Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

PART I: THE BASIC PREMISE

Personal Morality Versus Governmental Morality


Whether or not legislation
is truly moral
is often a question
of who has the power
to define morality.
JEROME H. SKOLNICK

SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE that consensual crimes should remain crimes because they are "immoral." It's too easy to respond, "No, they're not immoral!" To the people who find them immoral, they are and may always be immoral. That is their personal morality. This is all well and good. The trouble arises when people confuse personal morality with governmental morality.

Personal morality is what we personally believe will make us happier, safer, healthier, more productive, and all-around better human beings. It includes all the personal "rights" and "wrongs" we choose to believe. It is everything we think will help us toward "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In a free country, we should be free to explore, experiment with, discard, or adopt any belief or activity that might enhance our lives, unless we violate governmental morality.

Governmental morality is seeing to it that citizens are safe from physical harm.

Our personal morality comes from many sourcesreligion, philosophy, good advice, family, culture, society, ancient wisdom, modern scientific thought, and, of course, personal experience. From the many beliefs about how to live, we choose the ones we apply to our lives.

Sometimes we choose consciouslywe read a book, like one of its ideas, try it, find that it works, and choose to make it part of our lives. Other times, we choose by default. Our family (church, club, tribe, school, gym, or whatever) has always done a thing a certain way and we continue doing it that way without any further exploration, investigation, or thought.


Moral indignation is
in most cases
2% moral,
48% indignation
and 50% envy.
VITTORIO DE SICA
Our culture conditions us to be "good," and we either go along with that programming or we challenge it and adopt other behavior that we personally find better. This collection of beliefs and practices forms our moralityour personal morality.
When individuals come together to form a government, however, there must be a way of deciding what is "right" and "wrong" within that society.
In a dictatorship or monarchy, the dictator, king, or queen decides what's what. The ruler's personal morality becomes the governmental morality. Hitler didn't like Jews and homosexuals? Get rid of them. King Henry VIII didn't like the way the pope treated him? Ban Catholicism and form the Church of England.
In a totalitarian state, a committee or ruling body decides what's best for everybody. The populace seldom, if ever, has a chance to decide who is part of that committee. The collective personal moralities of the committee members become the governmental morality. The result is very much like a dictatorship, except blander. ("A committee is a group of individuals who all put in a perfectly good color," Alan Sherman pointed out, "and it comes out gray.") In a totalitarian state, there is no one to blameeverything is done "by committee." To whom can one complain? Oh, there's probably a form to fill out, a line to stand in, or a government building to write to. Totalitarianism becomes tyranny by bureaucracy.

Give me chastity
and self-restraint,
but do not give it yet.
SAINT AUGUSTINE
Some governments are based on religious or spiritual beliefs. The person or group the society deems to be most in touch with God, spirit, nature (or whatever represents the highest collective belief) is put in charge.
In a democracy each person has one vote to cast and, hence, each person has an equal say in the way things are run. In the Declaration of Independence, however, there is a catch to the democratic process: each person is endowed with certain "unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." In other words, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be taken away (alienated) from an individual even by the democratic process. So, if 250,000,000 people agree that chartreuse is not the "right" color for hair, our form of democracy, nonetheless, guarantees the one individual who chooses chartreuse hair the freedom to go green. In this way, the collective personal moralities of even a majority of the people cannot dictate the personal moralities of the minority of people.
But where are the limits? If we say, "Hitting innocent people with a stick is an expression of our liberty to wave a stick around," or "Joy riding in other people's cars makes us happy," then we obviously have a conflict. Where does our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness end?
As the old saying goes, "Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins." Another basic element of our government is the right to private property. Under communism, everything is communally owned. Under socialism, certain things are owned by the government and other things are not. Under capitalism, you own what you own until you sell it or give it away, at which point it is owned by someone else. Our property, then, becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a free society, standards
of public morality can be measured
only by whether
physical coercion
violence against persons
or propertyoccurs.
There is no right
not to be offended
by words, actions or symbols.
RICHARD E. SINCERE, JR.
Property represents a certain amount of energy we invested in something, or a certain degree of good fortune we may have had. The energy is ours, the good fortune is ours, and the symbol of that energy or good fortune is our property.
So, to paraphrase the above maxim, your right to swing your fist ends where my window (television, house boat, model airplane collection) begins.
Something else we own is our person, that is, our body and all things associated with it. One of the foundations of our form of government is that, after a certain age, your body becomes your own. Yes, your parents created it, fed it, clothed it, and educated it, but, after a certain age, you are not legally bound by the wishes of your parents. This idea is radically different from the beliefs of those cultures which hold that children are the property of their parents.
So, we own our bodies and we own our property, and what we do with them is our own business, as long as we don't physically harm the person or property of another. In exchange, we allow others the freedom to do with their person and property whatever they choose, as long as they do not physically harm our person or property. This is the fundamental agreement (government) under which everyone is guaranteed maximum freedom and maximum protection.

Without doubt the greatest
injury of all was done
by basing morals on myth.
For, sooner or later,
myth is recognized for what it is,
and disappears.
Then morality loses the foundation
on which it has been built.
LORD HERBERT LOUIS SAMUEL
To determine, then, whether or not something is moral on a governmental level, we need only ask, "Is it physically harming the person or property of another?" If the answer is no, it's moral. If the answer is yes, it's immoral.
On the personal level, however, we must ask of ourselves an even more intimate question: "Will this action harm my own person or property?" Answering this questionand then attempting to act accordinglywill keep us so busy we won't have time to worry about what other people (especially strangers) are doing with and about their personal morality.
As Hank Williams sang, "If you mind your own business, you won't be minding mine," or as Fats Waller wrote, "You run your mouth; I'll run my business."
Although at times we may seem to be physically harming ourselves, we know, in fact, we are simply sacrificing momentary happiness for future gain. People jogging, for example, usually appear to be in pain. A compassionate person, not familiar with the jogger's greater goal, might stop and offer the jogger a rideperhaps to the hospital. A person seeing a jogger might report to friends, "I saw this poor person running down the road wearing only shorts. There must have been some terrible accident."
Some caring souls, with the sincere goal of putting an end to pain, might suggest that jogging be outlawed. This group might show pictures of George Bush and Bill Clinton looking extremely unhappy jogging and compare them to pictures of a contented Eisenhower in a golf cart or a happy Reagan on a horse. As seemingly conclusive proof, the Anti-Jogging League could point out that the man who started it all, Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, died at fifty-two while running. Jogging, obviously, is immoral.

The happiness and prosperity
of our citizens
is the only legitimate object
of government.
THOMAS JEFFERSON
1811
Joggers, however, know that jogging, for them, is perfectly moral. They believe they are trading present pain for future gain. While they may never convince the non-joggers of jogging's benefits (although, God knows, they try, they try), they're glad to live in a free country where their idiosyncrasy is tolerated. Although their scantily clad bodies and expensively shod feet are an annoyance to some, joggers take their freedom and allow others the freedom to sit in doughnut shops and consume their daily dozen.
The problem of postponing immediate pleasure to attain eventual satisfaction becomes even more pronounced when we enter the world of religion. People may routinely and systematically deny themselves earthly delights in order to gain eternal paradise. If this is the belief of certain people, should the government step in and insist they enjoy themselves more often? Conversely, if the believers become popular enough or powerful enough, should they be able to, by law, prohibit everyone from doing whatever the believers consider too (that is, sinfully) pleasurable? In order to preserve the rights of both the heathen and the holy, the answer to both questions must be "No."
I'm not asking that any new system of government be adopted; I'm merely suggesting that we try the system we already have. As United States Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson explained:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

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