Already this week, we’ve talked about how human freedom exists independent of the law and how exercising that type of human freedom brings about consequences rather than the law itself. Now we need to talk about the one last dimension of this that we haven’t approached yet.
The exercise of freedom comes with responsibility. Certainly, no one has to obey the law as we have already seen. I’m pretty sure that almost everyone has violated the speed limit at one point or another. Yes, it is the law, but we do have the freedom to go beyond the limit if we choose to. We have to accept the potential consequences of doing so, but we have that ability.
The question also has to be asked about how responsible it is to violate the law that is put in place. In most democracies or republics, the laws are in place because the people themselves or representatives of the people have decided they are good ideas. It is good to have speed limit of 65 mph on a particular road because that is the fastest someone can safely drive on it.
Practically, we all know that there is not a cop sitting every few feet on the highway waiting to pull us over, so the consequences of speeding are not all that dangerous in terms of a legal perspective.
As an example, we assume that the other people on the road are not going to drive in such a way that they put us and themselves in danger. Even if they might not get caught for driving recklessly, there is that societal assumption that people will be decent drivers. There is an assumption that people don’t slam on the brakes for no reason in the middle of the highway to create a pile up. Again, there’s not necessarily a cop who is going to bust them for doing it, but because of the assumption we all make about how people would behave, there is a responsibility to be a driver who is decent.
The same can apply in just about any area of our lives, but there are responsibilities that come with freedom. Just because we can do something does not mean that we ought to do it. We might have the freedom and are willing to accept the consequences, but sometimes our actions have effects on other people as well, and they have no say in our decision other than being hit by the consequences of that decision. Slamming on the brakes on the highway might be all right for me, but it might cause a multi-car pile-up behind me.
As a result, these kind of unspoken social conventions are of course a question. How are they determined, where do they come from, and how do we enforce them? After all, most of them are not illegal. Driving recklessly is not the best example because it is technically a potentially criminal activity, but at the same time, there are a lot of bad drivers would never get booked for reckless driving. They are just bad drivers who violate these unspoken rules of decent driving.
What do we do about the responsibility that comes with freedom? How do we make sure people are responsible with that freedom?