Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On Freedom and Liberty

Here are a few highlights from a recent NJ Star-Ledger interview with retiring NJ ACLU head Deborah Jacobs, conducted by Linda Ocasio:

Q. But polls show the public still largely supports the extraordinary measures of surveillance granted under the Patriot Act.
A. Polls on civil liberties reflect that our schools haven’t done a good enough job explaining how our democracy functions, why we’re founded on a platform of individual freedoms, and why those freedoms are still important today. Almost no one has classes in “civics” anymore to explain who we are, and why. 
Americans know the U.S. is a great nation, but we don’t all understand what it took to get here, and what we have to do to preserve our greatness, such as letting people say things we don’t want to hear, and act in ways we might not agree with, and hold beliefs and practices of their choice. Another piece is how we absorb information as adults, the speed of news, TV, sound bites and the general lack of depth in our introspection as a nation.

Q. The ACLU famously defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. Has the public’s understanding of your work improved since then?
A. People understand the principles of free speech so much more in last 30 years, and that the answer to speech you don’t like is to make noise with what you do like. The ACLU always stays true to free speech. 

Q. What should be on your successor’s radar?
A. Women’s rights are of particular concern and sensitivity now. I’m utterly bewildered by politicians who vote against equal pay, or talk about medical procedures like transvaginal ultrasounds that many women regard as legislated rape. 

Notice any inconsistencies here?

I left the following comments:

June 13, 2012 at 9:16AM
The terms “freedom” and “liberty” are sprinkled liberally throughout this interview, but exactly what do those terms mean? If those words have any objective meaning, they are—Freedom: the absence of physical force or coercion from human relationships, and Liberty: the freedom to act on one’s own judgment.
Ms. Jacobs seems to be confused. She seems to understand it in regards to free speech—e.g. defending the Nazis—but not in regards to freedom of contract—e.g. imposing “equal pay” on employers by legislative fiat, i.e., by force. Though in principle no fair-minded person would oppose equal pay for equal work, the fact that some women agree to work for less than men would accept does not justify violating the liberty of employers and employees to set their own pay agreements.
Jacobs is vague on trans-vaginal ultrasounds, but she seems to imply she supports some form of compulsory restrictions on their use. But doesn’t every woman deserve freedom and liberty in regards to her own body, including the right to decide whether to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound?
To preserve “civil liberties,” we often have to accept outcomes we don’t like—e.g., Nazis’ rights to disseminate their despicable ideas. The same goes for voluntary employment agreements or medical procedures.
Indeed, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” If “eternal vigilance” has any objective meaning, it is the principle that to defend the freedom and liberty—the individual rights—of some, we must defend the freedom and liberty of all equally and at all times.

[Note: To be more exact, I should have inserted "in the political context" at the end of "exactly what do those terms mean?" in the first sentence of my comments.]

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