This morning one of the numerous daily/weekly feeds I receive included the following quotation:
"There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him." -- Robert Heinlein
That thought really struck me as powerful. The author of those words, Robert Heinlein, is an award winning science fiction writer and considered to be the Dean of Science Fiction. During his writing career he produced 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections. Additionally, four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game have been derived more or less directly from his work. He also wrote the screenplay for one of the films. Plus, he edited an anthology of other writers' science fiction short stories. Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, written by Spider Robinson based on a sketchy outline by Heinlein, was published in September 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.
That is quite a body of work, even just the posthumous works. And, to think, I had never heard of Robert Heinlein before seeing the quotation noted above. He and his wife, Virginia, were both engineers by background. They even designed their own home of the future based on his ideas. To not make note that many of his thoughts and philosophies were considered quite controversial would be unfair to you, my reader. But, I’ll let you do your own research if you’re interested in this prolific writer who died in 1988.
What caught my attention, of course, was the word tyranny in his quotation. And the very thought that someone in the form of a person, employer, religious or other institutional organization or a government would or could force anyone to pay for something, anything, that a person doesn’t want because said entity believes it would be good for a person is preposterous. Freedom is about choice. Freedom is a natural right to take the life you have been blessed with, no matter how you believe you came to exist, and make all choices regarding that life, to your benefit or detriment, as long as those choices don’t infringe on anyone else’s natural rights.
As I said those words burned into my thoughts this morning, I couldn’t help but analyze our current society. Much of the world is not free by my definition of natural rights. Some countries and societies impose major oppression on the citizens to live the way the government dictates. Dissension voiced by the citizens is punishable, often in cruel ways, even death.
But, are we that much different in our own society? Sure, we supposedly have freedom of speech and freedom of choice (to mention only two of the supposed rights/freedoms we are guaranteed by our Constitution). But, how free is that speech and how free is that choice. The lines can get pretty blurry. For example, you have freedom of speech except if you are in a crowded venue, such as a movie theater where you cannot express yourself by speaking the word “Fire” loudly. Certainly, I wouldn’t condone anyone doing such a thing to incite a panic reaction of the people in that venue. But that does change the meaning of the phrase “freedom of speech” to “conditional freedom of speech.” Someone in the government determines something is “classified” as Secret at any of several degrees of secrecy. But, the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, supposedly. Currently, there is a young military enlistee, a citizen as described as part of “we the people.” He is facing possible life imprisonment because he believed it was in the public best interest that some of this information classified as secret should be known. He allegedly leaked those secrets to an on line newsletter called Wikileaks. The same thing happens in various corporations, religious institutions, medical institutions and so on.
It’s not my position in this post to tell you what’s right or wrong. I find determining the answers to these questions difficult enough for myself. Sure, shouting “Fire” in a crowded movie theater just to incite panic is definitively NOT a good thing and could ultimately result in the injury or death of one or more people. Sure, maybe leaking “classified” secrets to the public might also be giving information to an enemy that might use the information against us. And, we certainly don’t want any valuable product or service to be demeaned and destroyed by individuals who may have had a personal vendetta.
But, we can’t neglect any number of incidents in the business world where corporations have kept hazardous conditions, conspiracies of various kinds and so on from the public, to the public’s detriment. Then they took punitive action against employees who “spilled the beans” to save the public from cancer risks and other potential hazards. Certainly the Catholic Church kept secret the, now, hundreds or possibly thousands of cases of sexual predation against the youth of their congregations. The same holds true for hospitals, clinics and even, so called, regulatory organizations, government or private sector, that knew of vital issues and matters that were impacting the health and even the mortality of patients entrusting their lives to these institutions.
But, on the other hand, how often have we learned of “secret” government plans, programs and actions that have been diametrically opposed to the welfare and well-being of the population as a whole. Or when the government targeted specific segments of the population? What about the program where twins were separated at birth to study the differences between nature and nurture. Or when specific segments of the population were used to try experimental drugs and other treatments on. Many of these have only come to light in the last few years. How many more are there that we still don’t know about?
Some 40 million plus citizens have chosen not to subscribe to health insurance. Some, probably, because they are very young and healthy and choose not to expend the funds. Others don’t subscribe because they simply are not able to afford the insurance. So, the government passes a bill that says you MUST purchase health insurance or you will be penalized financially. First, what happened to freedom of choice? Second, I would have to interpret that as “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Is my interpretation of that flawed? I’ve always found a way to cover my family and myself with health insurance, but that was a choice and sacrifice I was personally willing to make, not a government mandated law. But, on the flip side of that coin, I had no choice when it came to Medicare. I had to pay into the Medicare plan or be in violation of federal law. Is that okay? Sure, I’m on Medicare currently. I simply transferred from one form of private health insurance to a government program of health insurance. The basic part of Medicare covers certain things. If I want more comprehensive coverage at this age when I’m more likely to have developing health issues, I have to pay an additional monthly fee to the Medicare program. But, even that leaves me exposed to some significant expenses I might not be able to afford. Additionally, if I want coverage for my prescription medicines, I have to invest in even more government endorsed insurance. And even that STILL leaves me exposed to expenses I may not be able to afford. And, of course, for even more financial outlay each month, I can buy private supplemental insurance to fill in many of these gaps I’m left exposed to.
Is this good? Is this bad? Did I have a choice not to participate in the program? And, of course, there are those who will say, well, if you didn’t participate in the program and if there was no government Medicare program where would you be today? The answer is, I don’t know because I never had the option. I didn’t have freedom of choice. It was mandated that I would buy something whether I wanted to or not. Perhaps, and I don’t know because I can’t rewrite history, many things would have been very different today if the government wasn’t involved in the personal medical life of people. Maybe we wouldn’t be living as long as we are. Maybe that wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing because one of the reasons our medical costs are so high is because we are keeping so many people alive who would have died at an earlier age. Medical science has certainly produced miracles and I would never deny that. But, at the same time, are we actually acting as God?
I certainly don’t have the answers for these complex questions. We live in a far more complicated society and world then our ancestors knew even a century ago and certainly tens of thousands of years ago. Are we better off or worse off? These are philosophical questions that I can only entertain my own opinions on. But, certainly, in light of Robert Heinlein’s statement made probably some 40 or maybe 50 years ago, "There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him," I’d say we’re missing the mark and accepting more tyranny in our daily lives everyday. I’m interested in any comments and thoughts you may have on this topic.