I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my head to little effect. I’m going to disgorge it here just to see what it looks like written down and also to drop a March post for my weird Archive column length vanity thing.
I don’t know the origins of the concept of “freedom of conscience.” I associate it with 17th/18th century enlightenment authors writing about religious freedom. The topic was hot after hundreds of years of “religious” warfare based on the premise that a monarch or government could discern which of a number of unprovable, highly subjective religious experiences were true and which weren’t. I haven’t heard the phrase in use much lately, but it is a good stand in for
a whole category of problems/decisions that belong in the hands of the individual–which is all of them.
Nobody really knows *exactly* how dangerous Waziristani goat herders are to the health and well being of a westerner. My estimation is that I endure nearly 0 risk from said goat herders. My conscience says that it’s wrong to kill somebody like that–somebody who poses absolutely no risk to my well being. If I were allowed the freedom to follow my conscience, I would spend 0 dollars attempting to kill the goat herders and their coreligionists on the far side of the planet. However, I am not allowed such freedom and my future labor has been used as leverage to incur trillions of dollars in debt (well, not just *my* labor) by people who supposedly believe they’re protecting me from some awful menace. On the flipside, other than denouncing you for a dangerous lunatic, I’ll not stand in the way of your spending however many 10s of thousands of dollars you wish trying to exterminate the muslim menace on your own.
Nobody knows how important a building-code compliant structure is to a given person. Sure, it’s nice to live in a safe structure with modern electrical and plumbing, but there are costs associated with doing so. I might find it more important to eat healthier food and save money for my child’s education than to spend money ensuring that my windows are the appropriate distance off the ground or to build a fence around a camper in my driveway. Maybe another person would prefer precisely the opposite for their own reasons. We should both/all be granted the freedom to follow our own consciences in these matters–the idea that a rule can be made that enforces the correct priorities for thousand or millions of people is laughable on its face.
Nobody knows when life begins, there’s a near consensus that, after being born, a human should be given a shot at living. Except under situations of extreme large scale deprivation, there are people willing to take custody of a child that would otherwise die. Before birth, however, this is a matter of debate and each person has their own opinion about “when life begins.” Each person should be allowed the freedom of their conscience in this matter. Nobody should be compelled to give birth or to abort a fetus against her will. It seems silly to even have to say it.
Always remember the alternative. I can honor your freedom of conscience in a matter, or I can compel you to go against it through force or threat of force. Of course there are circumstances, however rare, when I my conscience may dictate that I violently intervene to override your freedom of conscience (maybe you’re walking drunk into traffic, maybe you’re sleepwalking with a loaded gun). Currently, our rulers intervene as soon as we choose to purchase beverages that are too large, or to buy unpasteurized milk, or to visit a un-permitted wilderness camp. People who are brave/foolhardy enough to attempt to withhold their resources from the imperial prison/surveillance/warfare state can have any or all of their possessions taken from them and spend some or all of the rest of their lives in cages.
Of course there are complex and mind-bending rationales for all of these and other crimes against humanity carried out by those calling themselves “government”–just as there are complex and mind-bending rationales for an omnipotent, yet omniscient, god that allows humans free will. The simple truth is, no such god exists, and “government” is simply a group of humans who wish to rule over other humans. A simple litmus test of whether a human relation is just and equal or unjust and hierarchical is whether the freedoms of conscience of all the participants are being honored.