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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 28 February 2013

Ignorance, Personal Freedom, Social Responsibility and Tom Flanagan

We live in a world that encourages bullet-point messaging and bare-bones detail.  It's expected, we're told, that if people want to dig down a layer deeper into whatever topic's being discussed - the impact of poverty on self-confidence, the social cost in foreign countries of our Western addiction to cheap products, etc - they'll ask.  To assume they want to know is to be disrespectful of their time.
The devil, though, is in the details.
Tom Flanagan is simply the most recent, egregious example of how this narrow-focused, one-step approach plays out.  Flanagan is focused on the surface layer, individual freedoms - it is wrong for society to tell an individual they can't look at child porn.  People should have a right to view whatever they want.  If you disagree with his perspective, well, you're wrong and deserve to be dismissed or isolated.
Of course, nothing comes from nothing - you can't look at pictures of exploited children unless those children were exploited in the first place.  It's kinda like saying that it's okay to be a cannibal, so long as you didn't kill what you're eating.  When you refuse to think about where the kiddy-porn pictures you feel you have a right to consume come from, you are isolating the victims at the far end of the production chain.  That makes you part of the chain of culpability.
Think about that for a second - what are we directly and personally responsible for these days?  We don't grow and slaughter our own food.  We don't harvest resources and make our own clothes, homes or personal goods.  We've even managed to physically remove ourselves from the wars we fightTeachers educate our kids, doctors manage our health - we are simply too busy these days to be all things.  There are costs to each of these products and services that we aren't covering with our dollars, because they're being taken out of other people or natural resources in other ways.
Somewhere along the way we've taken to justifying our ignorance by declaring ourselves apex predators - consequences are things born by lesser creatures, like our unseen neighbours.  Or perhaps we feel our lifestyle is the only godly one, so the Other needs to be vilified - no in-depth understanding required. 
Whether you describe this dehumanization of the Other by calling them the 47% or a political brand, it amounts to the same thing - stigmatization.  There are lots of other terms that describe this perspective including bigotry, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, hatred.
None of us want to accept that we are bigots or willfully ignorant - so, we bridge this cognitive dissonance with confabulated notions like Flanagan's.  That's why it's possible to be both libertarian and anti-gay marriage, anti-government and yet micro-manage bureaucracy or pro-transparency and yet intentionally mislead the public.
We do this by falling back to the safe ground of "I've got rights" - including the right to ignorance, intolerance and inaction.  We do this at the expense of social responsibility.
The problem with the personal rights trump all approach is that no person is an island - in fact, we all live in the same place.  What impacts one of us impacts all of us, to one degree or another, in myriad ways.  We can't afford not to pay attention.  Not when the consequences can be so dire. 
If Edmund Burke were writing today, he might say "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to decide they're too busy."

Sorry, Tom, but ownership isn't laissez-faire and you don't get your freedoms at the expense of children - and trying to turn government into security guards only makes the world a prison.

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