As I’ve mentioned a few times in recent weeks as I’ve wound down the Street View contest, I’m planning to dive back into some regular political blogging again. For those who’ve been here a while, you’ll know that my main focus has long been the drug war. And even with the significant victories the drug law reform movement has achieved recently, it still remains an important subject to me. But I want to expand out what I follow to track a wider range of battles for civil liberties throughout the world, especially highlighting areas where basic human rights aren’t being upheld. The drug war remains part of that picture, particularly in non-western countries where even non-violent drug offenders sometimes still face lengthy prison terms or even execution. But I’d like to follow and highlight more than just that.
One thing that I’d like to point out up-front is that this won’t always be an exercise in moral equivalence. For example, I might share links to a story on North Korean death camps alongside a story on states trying to enact death with dignity laws. I obviously don’t think that the lack of a death with dignity law is as serious a problem as North Korea’s horrifically tyrannical regime, but I do believe both issues are examples of authoritarianism that deserve more attention. On the other hand, I will sometimes draw certain types of moral equivalence between various regimes when necessary. For me, an American torture regime is no less heinous than a Syrian one. Drawing this equivalence is often difficult for traditional media in the United States, and I hope to do a better job of framing those issues in the proper perspective.
For this effort, the ideal I’m working towards is that there are some very basic rights that all governments, elected or not, should be held accountable for protecting. Obviously, the right to vote out your government is the most basic one, and it’s alarming how much of the world still doesn’t have this right. The absence of this right does separate out the worst of the worst governments in the world. Beyond that, the right to speak your mind and dissent from the government is just as important. The right to disseminate news and the right to assemble and travel freely are also basic. The right to make moral choices, practice religion freely and to have control over your body are also essential, along with the right to fair trials and the ability to defend oneself from the state when accused of a crime. Issues of discrimination and collective punishment against a minority population will be part of this. Finally, the right to privacy and to be free from warrantless searches and seizures will also be part of this effort’s scope.
What much of this boils down to for me is that the government shouldn’t have a veto over an individual’s moral conscience, so long as that person doesn’t directly harm others. What separates this personal outlook from what’s generally considered a ‘libertarian’ philosophy is that I make a distinction between an individual’s pursuit of peace of mind and an individual’s pursuit of profit. All of what I’ve pointed out above relates to one’s conscience and their personal sense of moral guidance and free will. The pursuit of profit takes place within a system that requires a number of balances and sacrifices in order to function properly. Maybe some libertarians agree with the importance of this distinction, but most that I’ve encountered certainly don’t. And while I often agree with libertarians on a number of things, this distinction tends to be a pretty major divide. I don’t consider things like an individual mandate in our health care system (no matter how inefficient) to be an assault on liberty in the same way as a ban on drug use.
Of course, when you’re talking about things like drug use (or gambling, prostitution, or other vices), the line between what’s part of the economic system and what’s part of a person’s moral conscience is blurred. The distinction that I make is that blanket prohibitions on some type of adult consensual behavior are a violation of our civil liberties, while strict regulations on how people profit from it are not. There might be a lot of instances where I find those strict regulations to be completely idiotic, but they’ll still be outside of the scope. For example, debates over how we re-work the I-502 language that passed in 2012 to end marijuana prohibition in the state will be really interesting to me, but I won’t be discussing it in these posts.
Governments should exist to protect people from the unexpected, not to protect people from themselves. Within an economic system, especially this complex global economy that we all share, this requires a certain amount of rules and regulations in order to keep people from having their life savings wiped out or for the cost of basic necessities to rise beyond what people can pay without opportunities to get ahead. Again, believing this separates me from what most libertarians believe. But the common ground is that government should not be in the business of protecting people from their own bad – or just risky – choices. I think government has a role to play in educating people about these choices, but not in using the arm of the law to attempt to make those choices for us. But no regulatory regimes are in scope here, even if they are at the extreme left or right ends of the spectrum. They only become in scope for what I’m interested in if the regulatory regime is openly discriminatory.
There are several issues where I expect there to be a lot of contentiousness with what I consider “in scope”; gun control, environmental regulations, child protections and immigration. For the most part, gun control will be outside of the scope of this effort. The exceptions are cases where governments are implementing selective gun control – in other words, some subset of the population arbitrarily has different gun ownership rights for discriminatory reasons – or if governnments are actively trying to disarm an entire population while actively employing a military-style occupation.
Environmental regulations are also tricky. As with gun control, if there are different rules for different subsets of the population or it’s being used as some obvious form of baseless collective punishment, it will be in scope. But otherwise, environmental protection is a valid pretext for reasonable restrictions on people’s liberty. This doesn’t mean that I’ll agree with all those regulations, but I don’t intend to make those judgments as part of this effort.
Child protection and parenting issues are also very difficult to draw clear lines in this respect. I generally favor giving parents as much leeway as possible in establishing their own moral compass as parents, but I’m very wary of the limits of that philosophy, especially when it comes to things like medical care and public health. It’s unlikely that issues like this will be a part of this project’s scope.
Immigration might end up being the most difficult topic to parse out. Many countries have strict policies dictating who can immigrate. My perspective isn’t that those laws are invalid by default, but that migrations of people who are seeking out opportunities or fleeing for safety reasons are not realistically suppressible. The plight of refugees will very much be in scope here, as well as the systems in place for dealing with undocumented migrants throughout the world. In addition, the institutional abuse of migrant labor will certainly be a topic I’m interested in covering.
What I plan to focus on are stories from around the world where people’s basic rights – as I’ve tried to delineate them above – are being violated by governments. This can be any of a long list of things, and will be far too many to follow closely, but I hope that this is something that I can harness the feedback of readers and turn into a good resource for people interested in getting involved with various efforts around the world where people are fighting against injustices.
I haven’t decided if there will be a regular posting schedule for these roundups, but it’ll probably be less than once a week, maybe twice a month. I’ll also be focusing my Twitter feed on these topics more and more as I have some ideas for how to use that to collect and organize links. I really want to make this as collaborative as possible, so please feel free to shoot me an email with any thoughts or ideas.