Love, death and the spice of life
- Gay marriage, assisted suicide and marijuana reform point in libertarian direction
- Meddling busy-bodies often breed unhappiness
- Liberty and diversity allow for human flourishing
We would all do much better if we would learn to mind our own business. Sometimes we need help and guidance. Children certainly do. But with regard to the moral and religious commitments of adults, it’s best to keep your opinion to yourself.
Recent issues point in this direction. Lawmakers in California are considering new legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. The U.S. Supreme Court is debating gay marriage. Marijuana has been legalized in a variety of places.
Our multicultural society is becoming more complex as we work our way through the question of how much liberty we ought to permit. Liberty breeds complexity, creativity and conflict. When we leave people alone, the world becomes more interesting.
But it is not easy to leave others alone. We have a natural compulsion to meddle. If I believe that my ideas are right and good, it is reasonable to think that others can benefit from them. All true believers have the urge to evangelize.
But in a pluralistic society, our evangelical urges collide with the equal and opposite energies of those who have different ideas. Disagreement is a natural law of liberty. We can measure our freedom by the extent of our disputation.
Some like alcohol. Others like marijuana. And others abstain. A similar diversity is found with regard to the question of who we love and how we want to die. There is no consensus about these topics. The best we can do is agree to leave each other alone.
A friend and mentor of mine, the philosopher John Lachs, wrote the recent book “Meddling: On the Virtue of Leaving Others Alone.” Lachs encourages us to “curb our desire to rule over other people.” He says we must abandon the supposition that ours is “the only natural or worthy way to live.” We must resist the evangelical urge.
For that to happen, we need humility and a bit of historical perspective. People have disagreed about religion, morality, culture, and politics for millennia. Most attempts to impose rigid homogeneity have produced suffering. The solution is to allow as much liberty as possible.
In the end Lachs suggests, most of what other people do simply doesn’t matter. Does it really matter what other people do in the bedroom, who they love, how they recreate, how they pray, what they eat, or how they end their lives? It’s obnoxious to think that your neighbor’s private choices are your concern.
Of course there are some difficult questions. There are risks and benefits that must be weighed. It is possible, for example, to imagine insurance companies profiting from permissive suicide laws. Drug addiction and intoxicated driving are serious concerns on the marijuana frontier.
Such problems should make sense to everyone involved, even proponents of these ideas. Legislation and regulation should aim to minimize these risks. But the most significant goal of a secular political system is to prevent government from meddling in our moral and religious beliefs.
Liberty destroys conformity. There is no denying that. Those who value a dull, bland sameness will be disappointed by what happens when liberty is unleashed.
We often forget that libertarian political systems are new and innovative. In the old-days, a priest-king would decide what everyone had to do. Conformity was often enforced under penalty of death. And even when busy-bodies don’t have political power, meddling moralists make life miserable.
In a free, pluralistic society, we will often dislike the choices that others make. But as long as we leave each other alone, we’re making progress. We don’t have to agree about sex, marriage, death, dying or drug use in order to get along. We simply need to stay out of each other’s business.
Living, loving and dying are hard enough for each of us. Tending your own garden is work enough for a lifetime. And when we are left alone to cultivate our gardens in our own way, we may be pleasantly surprised by the result. Some will plant tomatoes. Others will grow carrots. Some will invite the wildflowers to bloom.
Freedom gives birth to variety, which is, as they say, the spice of life. Liberty, diversity and social conflict make life exciting, nutritious and often unexpectedly beautiful.