Maybe I grew up a little too close to New Hampshire, whose motto is the title of this blog. I used to think this was a little drastic–live free or DIE? What kind of choice is that? But the longer I live, the more I see the wisdom, and the warning, in those words. That a life in servitude is not a good life, and that freedom is something worth fighting and even dying for.
To my earlier post, “Is Abortion Wrong?”, A reader calling him- or herself “August” responded in the following way:
We do not have the right to do with our own bodies what we want. That is why there are all kinds of laws against things like heroin use, suicide, prostitution etc.
I don’t know about you, readers, but when I hear that I don’t own my own body, my response is a very visceral and angry, “SHOW ME TO THE MASTER’S HOUSE THAT I MIGHT SEE THE DEED!”
I am not sure there is an actual law prohibiting suicide, but I also know that a person who attempts to do themselves in isn’t terribly concerned about what the government says they can or can’t do with their own bodies.
They don’t put you in jail for suicide (umm, stinky!) or for attempted suicide. They may put you in a mental institution if they find you are clinically depressed, though it is my contention that not all those who commit or attempt to commit suicide are, in fact, clinically depressed. They might have simply decided they were done living, and are not under the impression that they shouldn’t end their lives because their corporal being might in some way belong to the State.
In terms of heroin use or prostitution, I believe our laws against them are based not on government ownership of our bodies, but that we find such behaviors, as a society, socially objectionable. Having seen the results of our ongoing “War on Drugs” for so many years, I see a lot more that is socially objectionable in the war on the behavior than in the behavior itself.
As far as prostitution, countries in which it is legal and well-regulated provide a much safer experience for their sex workers and clients, and are better at avoiding the coercion, spread of STDs, and abuse (especially of minors), than the countries in which the sex trade is underground. Prohibiting the oldest profession, much like prohibiting drugs, alcohol, abortion, or homosexual unions, does not make the so-called “problem” go away.
But back to New Hampshire, and “Live Free or Die.” Knowing that I grew up in the east, some readers might be quick to label me an “East Coast Liberal Elitist.” While I find such labels amusing and not of much value in a reasonable discussion, I’ll just tackle it and get it out of the way.
I like brie, but I like an extra-sharp Cabot Co-op cheddar better, and I prefer red wine to white. Heck, I’ll drink PBR in a tallboy can if the mood is right. I don’t often drink lattes because they upset my slight lactose intolerance, and I’m not into thinking my two M.A. degrees entitle me to tell people how they ought to live. I also appreciate other people minding their own damn business about how I choose to live.
I grew up on the West Coast of Vermont, which is to say in the Lake Champlain Valley. I came of age on the side of a mountain, in a family of hunters, trappers, and fisher-folk. Vermonters are fiercely independent people, and as my grandfather from upstate New York once said, “those Vermonters get up in them hills–they ain’t comin’ down, and they sure as hell ain’t gonna let you come up.”
Vermonters Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys fought both New Yorkers and New Hampshirites who tried to claim our verdant hills, and dealt both with Canada and the Continental Congress to see which country was a better fit for our people. They fought the British in the Revolutionary War, besting Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, and settled down to become citizens of the 14th state of the Union in 1791.
All this is to say that we don’t suffer tyrants lightly, and we don’t believe we need to be “subject” to a king or other monarchy. But some people seem still to yearn for a king–someone to keep them safe and warm–to be a father figure to lay down the patriarchal law–laws they believe constitute the moral line–if something is illegal it must therefore be immoral, and if something is legal–well, it’s probably moral, too (at least until the king declares it illegal).
Like most native Vermonters (and I believe South Dakotans, too), I don’t need the government to govern my soul or own my body or to legislate morality beyond what is reasonable and necessary for us all to live together peaceably. We need the government to help us organize–to do projects to benefit us as a society and to organize an army of citizen-soldiers to protect us from real external threats.
I do hard physical labor with my body, and that labor forms a good portion of the income that helps me and my family make a living. I do not appreciate being told that my body does not belong to me, that my body belongs to, and should be watched over by the state.
I believe that as a person who owns her own body, I should not be subject to my government telling me that if become pregnant, I will be a murderer or a criminal if I do anything that might compromise that pregnancy. I laid mulch and dug holes and planted close to 100 tomato plants when I was 6 months pregnant with my son–had I miscarried, would you call me a murderer because I planted a garden when I should have been lying in bed like a good mother-to-be?
I find Intitiated Measure 11 to be a slave law–a law that tries to tell me and other women that we don’t own our own bodies if we are of childbearing age, and that we must submit to the tyranny of those who believe they own the moral high ground.
I say if we live in a free country and not under tyranny that we should strike down a law that gives the government rights that rightfully belong to the individual.