San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, February 20, 2015

What Are Society's Needs?

Last week I posted an article to this blog about the Colorado Legislature attempting to grant a "Parental Bill of Rights" to the people who live in Colorado and happen to be parents.  I took strong exception to that bill primarily because it presupposed that rights are something government has in stock and can dole out at will.  I was not the only person who took exception to the parent's bill.  Daniel Brickley, of Littleton, wrote a letter to the editor of the Denver Post today in which he expresses his outrage at the "Republican-pushed bill for  Parent's Bill of Rights."  Unlike my opposition to the bill however, Daniel believes that the bill is wrong primarily because it emphasizes individual rights over societal needs.  We need to consider that topic today.
Daniel writes that, "the American tradition has been a balance between individual freedom and society's needs.  But Republicans, abandoning that arrangement, have for years said individual freedoms always trump society's's your money government takes, your child a public school corrupts, your arsenal government covets, your right to buy GMO, your right to protection from the poor, the immigrants, and the homosexuals.  Republicans also promote the notion that society has no standing, no significance.  You and yours come first..."  Do you see the hidden presupposition in Daniels' rant?  Read the quote again if you need to.  Notice what he does.  Daniel creates an imaginary dispute that is allegedly taking place between me, as an individual, and something else he calls "society."  Furthermore, as an individual I apparently have freedom but no needs whereas society, whatever it may be, has no freedom but plenty of needs.  The contrast he creates is between two personal entities with entirely different natures.  It is a small wonder indeed that Daniel finds these two "people" at each other's throats.
Merriam-Webster defines 'society' as, "people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values or the people of a particular country, area, time, etc., thought of especially as an organized community."  I think that is a good definition.  I looked up the term in several other online dictionaries and they all pretty much said the same thing.  I believe it is fair to assert that the definition given for 'society' above is an accurate representation of the way the word is used in today's society.  Notice that in the two definitions for the term given above the word 'people' is used both times.  'People,' as all people acknowledge, is a plural form of person.  People are then, by definition, some amalgam or collection of individual persons.  However, unlike the term 'individual person', to which we can attribute specific personality traits, the term 'society' can only be attributed with a trait insofar as it is shared by all members of that group.
For example, I, being Welsh, have red hair.  Or I used to have red hair before it all either turned grey or fell out.  Having red hair is a personality trait of mine.  I also belong to the Society of Red-headed Welshmen.  All members of my society share the characteristic of having red hair.  Beyond the red hair and our shared Welsh DNA, we often have very little in common.  When I think about me as an individual it is very easy to conceive of what I am.  When I think about the Society of Red-headed Welshmen it is very easy to conceive of what it is. But what am I to make of the concept of society in general?  How am I to determine the characteristics of a group when that group is left undefined and simply referred to as "society?"  How can I ever determine any defining characteristics of a group when that group includes almost everyone?
Daniel tells me that I am selfish and immoral because I believe that my individual freedoms always trump society's needs.  I know what my individual freedoms are.  I have the right to my life, my freedom and my property.  Those rights have been given to me by God and any government or institution which seeks to take them away from me will answer to God for that crime.  But when it comes to "society's needs" I have no clue what Daniel is talking about.  I do not know who or what his society is and I most certainly do not know what that amorphous lump called society needs.  In fact, I do not believe it is possible to describe what society's needs are simply because society consists of too many disparate individuals.
If we are careful to limit a society to a small group of individuals such as the Society of Heterophobic Transvestite Teenagers With Drug Addictions and Porsche's in Their Parent's Garages it is possible to describe the needs for that group.  The SHTTWDAPTPG, as they like to be called, need to be homosexuals.   They also need to have access to their drug of choice.  They also need to be children of parents who buy them Porsches and who own garages.  But what am I to make of Daniel's generic use of the term 'society?'  And most importantly, how am I to determine what the needs of that group are when I have no idea who constitutes the group?
Daniel hates Republicans but Republicans are a society group with needs.  In fact they are a very large society group with very particular needs.  They are also a well known society group since Daniel himself is able to describe many of the characteristics of the group.  He declares that the members of the group known as Republicans are angry when government taxes them and uses that money to buy votes from Democratic voters.  They are also angry when government seeks to take away their weapons or seeks to prevent them from buying and selling amoral products on the open market.  I am not sure about Daniel's next claim but he also believes that the social group known as Republicans clamors for the government to enact laws to "protect" them from poor people and homosexuals.  He does not give any examples of those actual or proposed laws and I certainly can't think of any examples so I think Daniel is stretching the truth a bit here.  I can't think of the last time I heard a member of society ask for the government to make a law forbidding a homosexual from standing within fifty feet of me.  On the other hand I can think of many laws the government has enacted in recent months that prevent the Hitler-like people who smoke from standing within 100 feet of everyone else in the universe.  I conclude from this observation and a rational application of the Daniel principle that smokers are not members of society.   I also conclude that there is therefore no need for more tobacco products in our society.
Beyond my conclusion about the sub-human group of people (who do not constitute a society) known as smokers I don't think it is possible to list the needs of society.  In fact, society, as Daniel uses the term, does not exist.  The society that Daniel describes consists of people who are Democrats, who want the government to tax their neighbors and give the proceeds to them, who want the government to make laws that forbid people from exchanging amoral goods and services and who wants the government to take away the weapons of its citizens.  In addition Daniel's society would make rules giving homosexuals special government privileges while taking away the right of free speech from Christians.  As I consider the nature of Daniel's society one thing becomes very clear.  His society really has only one need.  His society needs to leave the rest of us alone.

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