Looking at the basic rights spelled out in the Constitution, such as the right to bear arms, the right against self-incrimination, the right to free speech, the right to not be a victim of unwarranted searches and seizures, I can say that I’m glad they were articulated, in the positive, at the time that they were.
Of course, the Constitution’s main text doesn’t give the government any authority to violate the right to bear arms, the right to free speech, etc, so, some might say the Bill of Rights was overkill and unneccessary……….unless they looked at the current state of abuse regarding the Constitution’s main body, specifically Article 1, section 8 — the enumerated powers of Congress. Looking at the powers enumerated in the Constitutions main text, they are few and discreet, specific items. Sure the first paragraph of Article 1, section 8 mentions “general welfare” as something the Congress is supposed to work toward, but this is in the context of the introductory clause to a multi-paragraph sentence. If the Congress were allowed to do anything it wanted in the advancement of “general welfare,” why bother having a Constitution and limits on powers at all?
Anyway, my point is that at least the bill of rights spells things out a second time, focusing on the rights that the founders had in mind from recent memory as they were violated by the British: free speech, weapons ownership, right to not have soldiers quartered in one’s home…..now there’s one you don’t hear too much about, amendment three:
Amendment 3 – No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
This one should tell us something important and it is this: the founders anticipated the contortions of the constitution’s main body text allowing for unwarranted expansion of government power, so they added a bill of rights on top of the Constitution just in case. And, notice from Amendment 3 that their ideas put forth in the BoR came from actual violations that had occurred recently. Also note that they knew they could not immediately catalogue ALL the basic rights that needed to be spelled out to protect citizens from their government (which is what the BoR is supposed to do!). They knew that simply spelling out quartering of soldiers and guns and speech and religion wasn’t enough. So they added in the 9th and 10th Amendments intended to protect against future, unforseen government intrusions. These days, 9 and 10 have served as rallying cries, but not much more. But perhaps that’s their value; a rallying cry is only as useful as those who cry it and how forcefully they cry it.
Now, stay with me here, I’m about to lay it all out here in a second. Look at how the BoR reflects the times it was written and how its writers were aware of their limitations as mortal humans with finite minds. Look at how they tried to overcome, as best they could, the limitations of their foresight with the 9th and 10th Amendments.
Unfortunately, like the Constitution’s enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8, the 9th and 10th Amendments have basically been ignored 100% by the SCOTUS.
As if you already didn’t know that.
My point here is not to highlight the trampling of the Constitution (that was more the point of assembling 75-100 armed citizens on the banks of the Potomac back in April 2010). My point so far in this post (which says far less than that exercise did) is that there are rights worth articulating as rallying cries, rights that would likely have been articulated and enshrined had their violations been front page news back in the old times when the BoR was written. As the 3rd Amendment is a part of the BoR despite not coming into play these days, there are other individual rights that are being trampled on today that are not articulated in the BoR despite the fact that they are implicit in the Constitution’s general limiting function on government power and implicit in the 9th and 10th Amendments.
Still with me so far? I hope so, because all I’ve said is background stuff which you probably are familiar with. Here’s the new thought:
One of the basic, implicit, and relatively unspoken rights that is violated on a daily basis is the right to harm one’s self.
I would imagine that if the founders had witnessed so much legislation, regulation, and harassment perpetrated in the name of protecting people from themselves, they would surely add this right to the BoR – just as a hedge against an ever encroaching nanny state. Look at all that the government is able to do to you in the name of protecting you from yourself.
For example, remember why Brian Aitken‘s vehicle was searched in the first place? It was a police “welfare check.” Basically a welfare check works like this: A family member or friend calls the police and says that you are speaking or behaving in a manner that suggests you might hurt yourself. The police do a “welfare check” on you, not because there is suspicion that you have committed a crime, but simply a suspicion, based on as little as one phone call, that you might commit a violent act……………..against yourself. (?!?) And these “welfare checks” give the police much in the way of search powers – look it up. So besides being a gun rights issue and an unwarranted search and seizure issue, the Aitken case points to another right’s trampling: the right to self harm. So what if Brian Aitken really did want to kill himself? So …… what? Is harming one’s self tantamount to harming some innocent person, to committing some real crime? Why do we stand for these “welfare checks” anyway?
And why do we stand for all the other laws and regulations designed to protect us from ourselves such as drug laws (medical and recreational), food laws, building codes, and, coming soon, health insurance mandates. There’s a “protect ’em from themselves” quality to all of them. If drug laws were simply there to protect consumers from purveyors, fine, mandate honest labeling. If building codes were there simply to protect tenants and other occupants from landlords or to protect buyers from sellers, mandate honest disclosure…………But noooooooo, mandating honest disclosure and honest labeling isn’t enough. If that were the case, drug consumers and building tenants would actually have to be credited with exercising free will and they might actually choose to take the risk of using an un-approved medicine, partying with a drug that they know is bad for them, or living in a building that they (constructively) know is dangerously unsound. Behind the intent of so many laws is the assumption that either we’re too stupid to make decisions ourselves or that we might make a decision knowing that it will harm us.
Oh yeah, helmet laws and seatbelt laws. There are many others, but you get the point.
The point overlooked in a lot of debate I see online and on TV is the fact that we own our own bodies and have the right to harm ourselves and that interference with this basic right by the government is never, ever, ever justified. To deny this basic right is to deny people ownership of their own bodies, the most basic and fundamental of property rights.
If you can’t exercise ownership over your own body, how real is your right to own property? If you can’t choose to harm your own property, how real is your ownership of it?
I’m pointing out this basic right in the hopes that it gets articulated more often and its violations called out for what they are. No need to cede ground within the idea space to the collectivists and statist busybodies on a particular issue if the issue can be boiled down to the right to own one’s own body. And I think there’s no better way of shoving this concept right out there in their faces than to articulate, up front:
the right to self-harm.
If you deny me the right to harm myself, then you are denying me property rights over my own body. That simple.
You say seatbelts save lives, health insurance is good for my health, marijuana is bad for me, too much salt is bad for me, getting a haircut from an unlicensed barber is bad for me? I don’t need to bother getting into the nitty-gritty of seatbelt statistics, the status of Obamacare lawsuits, studies on pot and short term memory loss, studies on sodium and hypertension, sanitary conditions and risks involved with getting a haircut and all that side topic minutiae. All I need to do is to assert the right to self-harm, giving the nanny stater no where else to go and perhaps even granting him some of his health-based points for the sake of argument.
You say it’s bad for me? I say, “so what? I have a fundamental right to self harm.” You say I don’t have a fundamental right to self harm? I say you are denying me basic property rights including the ownership of my own body. You deny me the right to own my own body? I say goodbye.
I have no need to speak to you or engage you unless I work for you or need something from you, and even in those cases, I don’t trust you.
Those who deny the basic right to self harm, either in their actions (obeying orders, rules, or “department policy” is not an excuse) or words ought to be named, shamed, and ignored in the future.
Why do I harp on this? What’s so important about this right to self harm? Why would someone want to harm themselves? Forgive me for answering a question with a question: Why would someone not want to testify at their own trial or answer police questions unless they were guilty of something? Why would someone need protection from unwarranted searches and seizures unless they had something to hide?