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Freedom & Control - The Continuum by David Fritsche

This is the third in a series of articles on the recent rash of animal legislation across the nation.

For over 20 years I taught one class a semester at the community college in the Criminal Justice Department. My service in police work and training seemed to give a great foundation for explaining to aspiring law enforcement officers, how it really is.

I started the first class of each semester with a statement that always brought a mixed reaction. I would shout, “Crime is a solvable problem!” Inevitably a student or two would disagree so strongly as to speak up and the argument was on. My follow-up questions was:  Is there any nation or society in the world today or at any time in history that had a lower crime rate than we do in our nation today?

After a thoughtful pause, there would always be an affirmative answer – of course there is and was. So the question that followed was, “How did they achieve their lesser crime rate?” And the answer was always the same: By increasing enforcement, making stricter laws and increasing the police force – the means of control.

Some years ago my wife went to China on a shopping junket with a group of ladies. They went to Hong Kong, China, Japan and Korea, starting with only a small cosmetic bag and coming home with… Well, you can only guess what they brought home. But the most remarkable part of the trip was not in the bargains they found but in the shock at seeing how other cultures lived. They remarked about the claims of China that they had very little crime, but it was obvious why. There were police and soldiers on every street corner with automatic weapons, and others patrolling the blocks in between. Of course they had little crime because they had high control.

There are still some cultures that cut off the hand of the thief, stone the adulterer, shoot those who disagree with the government and in general create terror within their borders. We, I’ve always argued, can do the same and stop or drastically reduce our crime rate and greatly reduce our prison population. But when I would propose that solution to my class, they would always react with rejection of the idea. They have learned to enjoy their freedom and to reject strong control.

The point of this class and of this article is to underscore the continuum that exists between freedom and control. They are equal opposites on the same continuum and are interactive on that line of interaction. The more control, the less freedom. The more freedom we enjoy, the less control there has to be. That being so, then we choose our crime rate and we choose our level of freedom. We decide whether to stop misbehavior which inevitably limits our freedom to act by our own conscience and volition. You can’t have it both ways. As we move along that line of action and reaction, increasing control or freedom will have an effect on the other.

The illusion of those who deal in law is that we can ultimately solve all human problems by enacting an ordinance to specify what human behavior should be. But in doing so, there are several presumptions that follow:
1.    We assume that we have the right to do so.
2.    We assume that we are wise enough to do so.
3.    We are, by our very act of bringing control, passing judgment on some form of human behavior as evil and worthy of being prohibited.
4.    We are choosing to reduce freedom based on the assumption that we cannot trust human behavior and self determination.
5.    We are weighting the behavior targeted with some penalty that would not exist if people were free to determine their own behavior.
6.    We are assuming that common sense is unavailable and that the family, community, club or social substructure in which the behavior exists, is incapable of bringing social control (informal direction) without legal action (formal control).

The argument is often advanced by those who deal in making laws that this one more act of control is essential to public safety or harmony and that this is not a conspiracy of control. But those who experience the annual process of building more social constraints feel the effects of not just more constraint and the loss of freedom but of the cost of making the laws, enforcing the laws, punishing the people who have violated them and the whole culture of criminal justice.

It does not have to be an organized conspiracy to control; it is simply the end result of movement along the continuum. It is a slippery slope as any activity for the sake of increased freedom or increased control moves the balance point along the line. There are no inconsequential actions that have no effect when dealing with this continuum. For each action on the line, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Maybe we could call this the physics of social action.

There are many evils in the human family. People are seldom in agreement as to what is right, sensible, and moral or of value. We all probably laugh regularly at the stupidity of some human behavior we hear about or see on TV. The human race is a plethora of incidents that betray ignorance, stupidity or just plain meanness. There is no end to the imagination of the genius or the ignorant.  The problem is in determining what to do about it.

Once we decide that we should do something about it, however, we have to understand the consequences of the inevitable effects our regulations have on the freedom of others. Law not only has consequences to the evil doer, but also to those who are caught in the letter of the law without having been the target of the law. There are always unintended consequences. The greatest of these is that the whole of our culture looses freedom in the decision to bring greater control. You cannot do one without the other. The growing philosophy of government in many areas is that all activities need to be categorized and either permitted by government or regulated with some sort of licensure or prohibited. For government to be absent from any arena of life seems inexcusable to those with this mindset. But it is precisely that mindset that moves our society along that continuum of freedom and control toward the tyranny of control. Whither it is intended or not, it is an interactive balance that moves with each act of legislation. Good people with seemingly noble motives can exact control as well as the evil despot.

So, how then shall we determine where that balance point will be? Which do we value more, the safety of control or the freedom to make our own choices? These are not easy matters for no one that I know would seriously argue for anarchy. We would probably all agree that we need some government and that there is a legitimate function for a police force that protects our communities. But shall that be as in other cultures where they do not have freedom to determine their own destiny?

This current legislative session has found animal legislation springing up across the land in a seemingly orchestrated move to bring sever control and even determine limits on the choices the people have as to the kind of pet, the number of pets and whether or not people have the right to even perpetuate their animal breed.  By one count there are 147 pieces of animal legislation being proposed in 37 states. Most of these are primarily aimed at limiting reproduction of pets and the kind of pets we choose to own. All of them shift the decision making that has traditionally been with the pet owner to the state. All presume that the state is wiser and better able to make decision for us than we are. All presume a problem that needs a solution and move along the axis of freedom and control with an objective to solve problems by formal means rather than by allowing informal relationships to influence our lives and neighborhoods. The major problem with this push is the assumption that all problems need to be solved and that legislation is the solution.

What will happen with the balance between freedom and control is being determined for we who love animals. It is more than an argument, it is a decision. The problem is, we have become a nation with a deep history and 233 years of legislatures making decisions to define how much control, and consequently, how much freedom we will enjoy. Too often, I suspect, those functions have gone on as business as usual without any understanding that in the passing of thousands of laws each year, we as a nation have not only regulated those evils we have defined, but also removed from the populace the freedom to decide for themselves what is their self determined freedom.

God bless America, land that I love, and God protect us from those who would save us from ourselves.
Pastor Dave