Just a few weeks ago a Muslim woman was approached on a French beach by French police officers and told to remove her clothing because it was deemed to be linked to radical Islam. France is, or at least was, hailed as the paragon of civil liberties and progressive freedoms and yet it is the country in which there is an explicit issue with racism. If we then couple this with the fact that people have a hard time leaving other people to their own devices we have to ask if personal freedom is the highest value and if we in the UK adhere to it?
This issue has become more prevalent to me following the Brexit vote when the issues that people faced in everyday life, socio-economic ones, were being proposed as the result of the actions of a group of ‘others’. There are and were problems with the EU but the Brexit vote allowed for the legitimisation of not a kind of casual and harmless racism but the kind that sees people abused and castigated for things they have not done purely based upon their ethnic background and skin colour. Why this reaction? The Liberal elite in this country has for far too long followed certain avenues of a progressive nature without concern for the results – they have made things such as gay rights, multiculturalism, and feminism take the fore when the real need lay with providing jobs, incomes, and stability. This is not to say that I necessarily disagree with these liberal principles but is to say that this racist bile is not without its source. So, here is the question: why can’t people leave to each his own?
This should be the guiding principle in our society: everyone should be free to act as they wish as long as their actions do not impinge upon the freedoms of any other individual without that individual’s consent. Now here are three areas I do not wish to entertain in this piece because they are volatile and probably deserve a piece of their own: murder; any form of current illegal sexual practice; and a detailed discussion regarding property rights. In short we must ask ourselves what the purpose of the law is. The law is designed to protect people from behaving in a way seen as detrimental to our society or the health of the individual. This system is not perfect: it is a culmination of centuries of legislation and the subsequent remaking and reshaping of this legislation. The law, however, restricts people in areas that it truly has no right to pry: sexuality, consumption of substances, individual conduct etc. Now although there are more areas to discuss than just these three I would like to focus only on them because it is here that there exists the best examples. This is not so much an attack on the law as it is an attack on the attitudes of people when they refuse to leave people alone who carry actions that have no consequences except for themselves.
About just a half century ago homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. It was legalised in 1967 and since then gay rights have continued to accumulate so that homosexuals are now equal citizens in the eyes of the law – as they should be. There are still those in this country who have a dislike for homosexuals, not LGBT politics per se but the act of homosexual sex. If someone wishes to be offended by or finds the idea of homosexuality disgusting then that is the right of that person. What is not the right of that person is to invade the individual rights of the homosexual – to prevent them from doing as they wish in their own private space and prevent them from being who they so wish to be in public. People seem to have a hard time accepting this. Let me give you an example: personally I am not that fond of seeing couples, gay or straight, kissing one another in the street – I wish they would reserve this for their own private spaces. Now I have not nor do I ever intend to make moves to prevent couples from doing so – I might find it not to my liking but it does not invade any of my individual freedoms. The same should be actualised by homophobes with regards to homosexuals.
I like to smoke and I do not drink. I realise that I am doing all this despite society’s best intentions and efforts with advertising campaigns encouraging me not to. For all drugs we should allow people to do as they wish as long as they are consumed in a safe manner, usually in a private space, and as long as the user does not then impinge on the freedoms of others. The single most compelling argument to actualise this is that the worst drug for causing people to impinge on the rights of others and cause the most physical damage to themselves, alcohol, is legal. If we are happy and content to allow people to consume this then all drugs should be thought of in the same light. I have no issue with people consuming alcohol so long as they do not get in my face when they have consumed too much. People say that it is the alcohol that makes them act so but I disagree: I believe that the alcohol makes this behaviour more likely but in reality it is still the individual’s choice to act so – the individual has all the responsibility.
Individual conduct is perhaps the most important aspect of this argument. Society has effectively been based upon the idea that everyone needs to work together in order to achieve some degree of success. The neo-liberal era of the 80s and 90s has now changed the opinions of many so that society is no longer a block but instead a group of individuals in which the individual should have the greatest freedom. If this is indeed true then we should consider what this means for the conduct of the individual. In the privacy of one’s own home one should be able to act
as one wishes and to a certain degree, as long as no other’s rights are impinged upon, one should be able to act as one wishes in public. If I wish to walk around stark naked in the privacy of my own property then I should be allowed to do so and I should not be able to be at the mercy of the indecent exposure law. Or if I decide to build freely on my land I should be able to do all this as long as it does not impinge on the rights of other individuals. Rightfully, though, I could not do these things in public.
All this being said we should never lose sight of the fact that we should strive to act in the most pleasant and friendly manner possible at all times. However, in this country we champion a sense that we are free when in reality we are really only free in so much as the law allows and our social attitudes dictate. People should not seek to tell others what they can and cannot do and even if they disagree with the fundamental principles of what someone else does. Overall we should be able to say always: “to each his own”.
Image credit: flickr.com/krnlpanik