Thursday, May 03, 2012
Rights And Duties
Today the VT House passed a watered down compromise on philosophical exemptions to required vaccination. I'm not happy with it, as it removes from the conference report the 90% herd immunity threshold that allowed for suspension. I can live with it because it includes: required education on risks not only to the children of our philosophical friends, but also other children and adults; a pilot program to ensure universal access to free vaccines; a working group tasked with exploring ways to protect immunocompromised kids.
I still find the arguments from anti-vaxxers to be wholly uncompelling, both on scientific and libertarian grounds. But democracy is messy, and so long as we make sure the vast majority of Vermonters do their duty, we can protect our communities.
Speaking of which, our state constitution is pretty explicit about the responsibilities that attach to our rights (amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety) in a truly free society:
That every member of society...is bound to contribute the member's proportion towards the expense of that protection, and yield personal service, when necessary, or an equivalent thereto, but no part of any person's property can be justly taken, or applied to public uses, without the person's own consent, or that of the Representative Body...nor are the people bound by any law but such as they have in like manner assented to, for their common good...
Lotsa "collectivist" stuff in there about the common/public good/weal. Crazy, just like that Thomas Jefferson character.
In the state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of the laws...Political liberty does not consist in an unlimited freedom.
In a similar vein, he opined on self-government (1790):
like all other natural rights, may be abridged or modified in it’s exercise, by their own consent, or by the law of those who depute them, if they meet in the right of others
And in a letter to Francis Gilmer (1816):
every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him
And finally, he wrote to Isaac Tiffany (1819):
rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.
When you live in a society, your equal rights necessarily come into conflict with others'. What's more, your rights themselves are fundamentally protected by recognizing their limits, as you pay into the society a little piece of them so that you might enjoy greater liberty overall.
So you have, say...the right to bear arms to defend yourself and your state, but you don't have an unfettered right to just go kill somebody who isn't a threat. And I've argued recently that you have a right to determine how best to promote your child's health, but not to the extent of endangering other people by exposing them to diseases you potentially carry.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of a public good like education, you generally have to pay a small price. Really, it's a virtue in the republican sense of the word, and I think it's a grave shame that some people see such social duty as not only an onerous burden, but a form of tyranny.
May 3, 2012 | Permalink
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