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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Choices

Monday, September 26, 2005


Life in free society can be boiled down to one core concept: choices. I am not only referring to the way we vote every so often about who our leaders should be or what policies should be adopted or not, but also the everyday choices we make individually as well as collectively.

The most accurate definition one could write for ‘life’ would be “a series of choices.” Everyday we all make choices. We choose what we are having for our meals, what we are going to wear, what time we will go to bed, what television shows are appropriate for the family, what news information sources to trust and what time we want to wake up. Some choices we make have greater consequences than these such as where to live, where to work, how to budget time and money, which automobile suits the family’s budget and needs, where to send the children to school, and marriage choice. There are obviously more choices which I have not listed.

There have been many questions raised in the wake of hurricane Katrina. One of the many questions that occurred to me about the displaced people who lost everything was: To what extent did these people have a choice? What choices did they have when they needed to evacuate? What choices did they make before hurricane season to prepare for a hurricane? Did they weigh the risks carefully before choosing to live in such a disaster prone area to begin with? With these risks in mind, how many chose to insure their property? Could they have chosen to live somewhere else?

Wolf Blitzer recently described some of the worst hit citizens of New Orleans as "so poor and so black." Obviously, no one has the choice about what skin color he or she will be born with but in the land of opportunity everyone makes choices which determines his or her lot in life. How many of these people (black, white or otherwise) took advantage of the many opportunities afforded to them? Anyone who wants to educate themselves and provide themselves with more choices of employment can do so in America. The truth of the matter is the poorer one is the better the chances are that he or she can have an education provided in the form of grants, loans, and scholarships. Minorities (wrongly) have an even better advantage where grants, loans and scholarships are concerned. Being poor in America is no excuse for not receiving higher education.

Opportunity does not always translate into success, however. Most successful people will tell you that they failed many times before finally succeeding. Earning an undergraduate, masters, or even a doctorate degree is no guarantee of success either. Individuals make choices as to how to use his or her education and apply it to the real world.

A term that has recently entered the political discourse that frightens me is ‘economic equality.’ What does ‘economic equality’ have to do with choice? In a word: everything. Why do some people live better than others? The answer usually has to do with choices. In a free society such as ours, people make good and bad choices which ultimately determine the quality of his or her life. No two people are ever going to make exactly the same choices; therefore, no two people will ever enjoy an equal quality of life.

It boggles my mind to believe that a country which supposedly values education can argue for such things as living wages, economic equality, and an endless list of demands of the government to make life more fair. If you don’t like working for minimum wage, learn some new marketable skills. If you want to make equal to what your wealthy neighbor is making, work harder, work smarter, and invest more wisely than he has. Chances are, he made the sacrifices and made prudent choices to be in that position.

On the other hand, if you make poor choices in life such as blowing a large portion of money on the lottery instead of investing, abuse drugs, engage in risky sexual behavior, have more children than you can afford, do not take advantage of educational choices available, and do not answer the door when opportunity knocks, your journey to success will be an uphill battle (but can be won if you make better choices now and in the future).

While it is true that we all live in the same country where our success is limited only by our imaginations and our willingness to achieve that success, it is also true that some people are born with some advantages others are not. What are we to do when others are born into wealthier families, are better looking, more talented, or are more intelligent? The short answer is that we have to work with the hand we are dealt and not worry about what others have which we do not. One of the wonderful things about living in a country which recognizes that individuals have the rights of life, liberty, and property is the ability to have the choice to pursue one’s own rational selfish needs and desires. There are many examples of people who did little with a lot and others who did a lot with a little depending on the choices these individuals made.

While at times it may be tempting to allow the government to take these choices away from us in favor of a false sense of security, we must never give in to this temptation. Individuals must be allowed to fail in order to learn. When we ask government to take choices away from the individual (i.e. illegal choices such as whether or not to use drugs, participate in prostitution, gambling, etc.), we are basically saying that government chooses for us what is moral and what is not. There are many laws on the books which are not moral. The government should restrict the law to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens (though individuals should be protect these rights first and foremost).

The individual's ability to make responsible choices makes all the difference in the world. We respond to poor choices by making better choices in the future. Choices should always be made with considerable, rational thought. I cannot decide what is best for you, neither can the government. It is your life; choose wisely.


Blogger Stephen Littau said...

Thanks Bob. For the most part I agree with you. I doubt that many people could say that they have never received any type of government assistance (whether it is attending public schools, grants for college, Medicare, Social Security etc.). I think the problem is that the expectation that the government will rescue us from our bad choices has become so prevalent in our culture. The government safety net has become a hammock for far too many people.

I have a slightly different take on foreign aid though. In my view, foreign aid should only be done in the strategic best interests of our country. These best interests should be apparent and considered carefully before any aid is given. As it is right now, Africa (for example) expects America to send money. Rather than debate whether we should give aid we debate the amount which we will give. To ask third-world countries to make responsible choices for their own economies and their own citizens is seen by the world community as being uncompassionate or mean spirited (of course this is not true).

With respect to Iraq, the bottom line is we are already there. If we were to cut and run now and abandoned the Iraqis, Iraq would likely become an even greater threat to America than it was before. Rebuilding Iraq is in America’s best interest and therefore should receive aid…at least until it is stable.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Good post and quite true.

9:20 PM  
Blogger RobChandler said...

Stephen, I agree with you completely. What would this land be had not the founding fathers made the "choice" to resist oppression? The very government that they founded was based on their experiences and "choices" in resisting that government. We were designed to be a state which protects each person's life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness but it is up to each man to choose how he wishes to pursue that happiness. When the government chooses that for the individual, we essentially undermine everything they fought so hard to preserve.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beneath the ideology of libertarianism lie the fundamentals of existentialism. In existentialism, one's essence is his role in the universe. This essence changes constantly with each decision (choice) made. The existence of the individual does not define the individual; the individual is defined by his actions and thoughts. The thoughts and actions are what define the individual's character. Here is where I think we hit a little crack in the power of choice. It takes a huge amount of character to live up to some of our choices, and there are times when actions outside of our control interfere and challenge our character. These are the time-honored novelistic questions: To what extent are we the masters of our fate? To what extent do we make our lives, and to what extent are our lives made for us by forces beyond our control.

I could not agree with you more about the essence of choice in determining our fate. I am an existentialist, and in existentialism, there are no 'victims'. That is, our 'choices' are our own, right? What all this grand talk fails to take into account is the legacy of poor parenting and the inherent depression that pervades the mind of a child who does not 'see' choice as a viable option for himself. This child may not even realize he has a choice. I taught high school for 20 years and I helped many kids realize the variety of scholarships and opportunities out there for them just for the asking. Many took advantage and changed their destinies. Many did not have anyone to point the way out of poverty, and for them forces beyond their control determined their destiny.

They are the victims of this cycle of poverty, and I have to say, I am glad we have an aspect of government that does try so hard to break that cycle. A child/teenager cannot know his essence, cannot even know he is a victim until someone steps forward with an outstretched hand and shows him the way. He has to have something to compare his existence to in order to make a choice. It is a wonderful thing that our government offers choices that are good and that are designed to build character.

2:40 PM  

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