Oppression Must Be Stopped at the Beginning

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

– H.L. Mencken

I’m afraid our government is tending too much in this direction – limiting the freedoms of people who are simply anti-social (by our modern definition) because we think their actions might possibly contribute to harming someone. For example, the guy who lights up a cigar at the next table may (or may not) be an inconsiderate jerk, but do we really have the moral right to stop him with a law? And the person who says “your religion/opinion/lifestyle is stupid, and you’re an idiot for following it” is a boorish jerk, but that doesn’t make what he said “hate speech” and illegal. Free argument is a cornerstone of free government.

The law is there to stop people from hurting each other, but we’re letting the definition of “hurt” get wider and wider until it includes “endanger,” “annoy, and “offend.” Someday, you could “hurt” someone by wearing perfume in public and aggravating their allergies, or by putting your child in a car seat that’s more than 5 years old, or selling someone unhealthy food.

I’m not trying to scare anybody, and we’re still a long way from most of this, but that means now is the time to stop it. Sometimes, you just have to stand up for scoundrels.

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