In football, when a team is ahead with time winding down, the winning team usually goes into a low risk prevent defense.
A prevent defense lowers risks and takes on a minimalist approach. In our country, we have gradually taken on a prevent defense mentality regarding freedom by reducing the risk allotted to others because of the potential that such freedom may result in harm.
This is highlighted in our culture of warning labels followed by lawsuits and is the epitome of becoming a passive slave to fear with the government being our nightlight or moral compass. At the same time, we are suffocating under the immense weight of laws while simultaneously realizing that laws accentuate our innate, flawed human nature.
As the American culture has written more laws, have we increased freedom. To better understand freedom, we need to understand the function, impact and limitations of laws.
Like walls within a maze, laws attempt to restrict ‘bad’ behavior. Laws do not fundamentally promote good behavior, they typically define misconduct that can be prosecuted and disciplined. It is true, laws can restrain people who behave with a conscience or a responsive soul however, laws should not take the place of a conscience and in practice, laws have a horrible history of improving misconduct.
Laws reveal the flawed nature we have as a people, all of us. Laws are not just for them; laws are for all of us because these inherited flaws affect everyone, not just bad people. Freedom accepts this risk while also putting the emphasis on promoting morality rather than executing justice.
Laws reduce risk (and freedoms) by providing a false sense of security and justice when in fact no one escapes the impartial reach of true and complete justice.
Laws are the walls of a maze defining acceptable or unacceptable behaviors. Conversely, freedoms promote choice and independence while inherently increasing risk individuals accept that may result bad decisions.
Laws reduce risk by limiting individual freedom. Do we resolve this by taking away freedom? Consider this, “Those who would trade liberty for safety deserve neither and will lose both” (Benjamin Franklin). The reality, we accept a false sense of security when we depend upon laws as the defining, social moral compass or soul of a society. The prevent defense in this case is to enact laws reducing the freedom of people to make choices good or bad; they are prescriptive, specific barriers directed at specific circumstances.
As adults, we cherish options whether it’s the food we eat, the places we go, the relationships we pursue, or the jobs we desire. The central issue isn’t the fact that freedoms exist, it’s the manner in which freedoms are exercised. This is why it is always more cost effective to educate then to legislate.
The crux of the argument is where do we as a society invest our limited resources: training one’s moral compass to make good decisions in a variety of circumstances or legislating behaviors through enacted laws? If we rely upon the latter, than government becomes our conscience and laws the prescriptive tunnels through which we play prevent defense. Freedom without a soul results in freedom bound by government.
Tim Johnson is the Corvallis School District Superintendent.