I. Freedom versus Safety
II. Personal Choice versus Public Health
To look at the first item, freedom versus safety, we have only to look to airport security and internet access. Trudging through the airport security lines, we remove shoes, empty water bottles, and have squeezed toothpaste and shampoo into tiny non-identifiable vessels. Our freedom is limited but we have safety. There has been a strong push to keep the world wide web open across countries but that can compromise an individual's wellbeing or security, especially because the internet footprint can be permanent.
Freedom can be intimidating because it requires taking on responsibility for our choices. At times this freedom can lead to crisis: are we making the right choices? is this the direction that holds meaning? what makes most sense for me to do next? Yet the concept of being denied freedom, denied choice, even for improved safety, cuts at the core of individual rights for people. Think gun rights in the United States. Even in the face of school death tragedies, there is more access to guns and more places allowable to bring guns.
Living in a democracy, freedom is expected. I look to Hong Kong. The Umbrella Revolution seeks a free election not directed by China and may come to a head today, Wednesday, October 1, 2014. In the United States, we have the freedom for a democratic process but many people choose not to vote. Maybe it is like wanting to be asked to be a bridesmaid at every wedding invited to, with the option of delicately declining.
In examining personal choice versus public health, there is overlap with the previous dialectic. We want the freedom to make our own choices even when unhealthy. Michael Bloomberg's botched attempts to ban 16 ounce soda containers is evidence of that. Still, when looking at the concept of optimal default: setting the default to be a healthier choice, increases the likelihood of healthier choices. An individual can still imbibe 16 ounces but has to now purchase separate drinks.
One of the first examples of this tension was requiring seat belts. At first, people were resistant to the idea of being required to wear seat belts and penalized for not doing so. The turning point was recognizing auto insurance savings due to the reduced injuries and saved lives: the public health component.
Lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods don't have easy access to full grocery stores. A public health policy to create a healthier optimal default is to subsidize lower fat milks and fruits and vegetables in bodegas, the local convenience stores. This is a stop gap until we increase accessibility to grocery stores across the economic strata.
We want the freedom to eat three hamburgers and drink a 24 ounce soda but the cost impacts the entire whole nation.
In sum, it is important to look at the costs and benefits of freedom and safety, of personal choice and public health.
I have one question for you, the reader:
How are you using your freedoms, today?