Saturday, 16 October 2021

The Freedom to Swing One's Fist

     There's a common saying that "your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose".  This is a pretty good way to express the fact that we must have limits on our freedoms, but it seems to me in this age of radically selfish rights-talk, it doesn't quite get through. After all, the radical egoist will say, "Why should I care about your nose? I don't care at all about anyone else's rights; it's MY rights that matter, and I insist upon!"

    So I've been thinking a better way to approach it is to put it this way: You have 100 points to spend on freedoms, and you have two freedoms here to choose from. They are the right to swing your fist, and the right not to be punched in the nose. You can put ALL your points into total freedom to swing your first, but then you have no right not to be punched in the nose, or you can put all your points into the freedom not to be punched in the nose, but you won't be allowed to even make a fist, much less extend your arm without very strict supervision. Or, you can pick some combination of the two, say, 90% fist-freedom and 10% protection-from-punching, or any other mix you prefer.

    See, laws can't really distinguish between you and me with respect to noses and fists. If you want to suggest that the law should protect your interests but not mine, you'll have to provide some kind of reason why I should agree to recognize those laws as valid. And if that reason boils down to "or else", well, we can just dispense with any pretence of law and commence punching each other.

    So any rule we make that respects the ideally symmetrical nature of this bargain is going to have to be a rule that applies equally to everyone's fists and noses. And so whatever mix we settle upon between fist-freedom and nose-protection is going to apply to you; whatever freedom to swing your first you demand will take away from the protection of your nose in equal measure.

    Of course, we may not all agree on where to draw that line. You may feel that your freedom to swing your fist is adequate to protect your nose from my fist, and so you might advocate for a greater emphasis on fist-freedom, while I might prefer stricter limits on fist-swinging in favor of greater universal nose-protections. Most likely, the line will be drawn somewhere between our preferred positions in some kind of imperfect compromise; you will feel your fist-swinging interests are being violated, while I feel my nose is inadequately protected. But people cannot live in proximity to one another without some kind of compromise, and we need to be able to step back and assess the compromises from the other person's point of view before we insist our own sacrifice is too much to ask. 

    Some people think it is a sign of weakness to compromise. But I think it's a bigger sign of weakness to be afraid of appearing weak.


  1. Great Post, I agree, it is a bigger sign of weakness to be afraid of appearing weak and so unable to reach any kind of compromise with your fellow Human Beings on this Planet. Alas, some people are so Egocentric they act as tho' they are the only ones on the Planet that matter and everyone else should revolve around them and their take on everything. It's selfishness and an inability to be Socially evolved, much like small Children who think the whole World revolves around them... so one would think that Adults would have matured to a point they understand that in a complex World filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of points of view and experiences, a healthy compromise is far better than being divisive and violent towards those who you fear and presume to be a threat to your point of view and egocentric desires.