Your Fist, My Nose

NoseFist2

Do as you would be done by, my favorite prescription for not being a dick is a pretty good starting point for considering the restrictions allowed on freedom of action. Another is the old favorite, attributed to any number of sources: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends precisely where my nose begins.”

In a free society, we are allowed to do what we want as long as our actions do not injure others, and because it’s a complex matter, we have laws setting out just what constitutes injury. Punching someone in the nose is easy to understand. Calling someone names is a little less clear. But we do speak of hurting someone’s feelings, so, though sticks and stones are obvious, names can hurt too and there is some allowance in law for that. In general, merely being upset isn’t enough. You have to prove some loss of business resulting in loss of income or some kind of defamation arising from the name calling. That’s why cases of libel or slander are tricky. Interestingly enough, telling out-and-out lies about your opponent in politics doesn’t seem to be grounds for a lawsuit, even if the lies affect the outcome of the election.  It may be that we have different standards in politics. Or it may be that a lot of politicians are dicks.

In any case, in matters of free speech, I think the fist/nose dichotomy is a good one to remember. You might not like what the speaker from the Monster Raving Loony Party has to say on the matter of which end of the egg to open. You may even feel that his inflammatory remarks about people who eat their boiled egg from the Big End put you at risk, as a Big Ender living in a Little Ender community. But before you get up a petition to have Monster Raving Loonies banned from speaking in your town, consider two things. First, has he hit your nose yet? Second, do you want your rights to preach the Big End Gospel curtailed? If the answer to either is no, then let him rave away. You don’t have to listen if it offends you. Remember, I have the right to be offensive, and you have the right to be offended. But as soon as you think that being offended gives you the right to punch me in the nose, we are in trouble. Big Trouble.

An interesting thing happens when the Raving Loony goes from saying that all Big Enders are stupid to saying that all Big Enders should be punched. That is incitement. Then, even if he isn’t hitting your nose himself, he is encouraging others to punch you. And that, quite rightly, is against the law. Especially if, on previous occasions when the Loony has spoken, attacks on Big Enders have followed. In that case, it is not only a right to shut the dick up, it is a duty.

But remember, because some dick is advocating violence against you, this does not give you the right to be a dick yourself. It certainly doesn’t give you the right to punch him.

Now, in general, most political differences are somewhere around the level of what end of the egg to start from. But recently, in many countries, including our own, the question has become one of whether everyone should be allowed to eat eggs at all. There are some politicians who think that if you can’t afford eggs, it’s your fault. Doubtless you are lazy, or you would keep chickens. Never mind that you don’t have the money, or feed, or space to keep a chicken.

There are others who think that there aren’t enough eggs to go around as it is, so outsiders shouldn’t be allowed to come over here and eat our eggs. Never mind that many chicken farmers are immigrants. Clearly, if there weren’t so many foreign chicken farmers, the poor would raise chickens. Never mind that they don’t have the money, or land, or …. Well, you get the picture.

Now the thing is, up to this point, no nose-punching has been involved.

But there are Raving Loonies out there, who are advocating random nose punching, and there are politicians who are getting our public servants to do the punching for them. Police. ICE. Border Patrols.

Now, as part of the social contract that we call citizenship, we all voluntarily give up the freedom to punch noses for the right to be protected from nose punching. What is more, on the basis of do as you would be done by, we extend this right and that protection, to everyone living around us. Because unless equal rights and equal protection are granted for all, no one has rights, and no one is protected. Today the Big Enders, tomorrow the Toast Eaters.

But you know, a curious thing happens when people get elected to high office. For some reason, they begin to think that the principle of do as you would be done by doesn’t apply to them. They turn into dicks. Or maybe they were dicks to begin with, and that’s why they went into politics. In either case, they show all kinds of dickish behavior. They talk down to people. They refuse to listen to the people they are supposed to represent. They change the rules to suit themselves and cheat when they do play the game. They use threats and lies and fear to control people. Some are even so dickish that they use their position to make fun of others for being poor, or weak, or having an accent, or being female, or even being disabled. Picking on people just because you can get away with it is serious Big Dick behavior.

And it doesn’t matter if you are a Big Ender, or a Little Ender, an Egg Sharer or an Egg Hoarder, being a Big Dick is terrible for everyone around you.

In fairness to politicians, I have to say that this is not restricted to them. Middle managers. Heads of Departments. Union leaders. School bullies. Police officers.  Anyone who uses their little bit of power to treat others in ways they themselves would find unacceptable are Big Dicks. It is only a small step between “You’re fired!” and “Off with his head.” That kind of talk tends to lead to, “Up AGAINST THE WALL, Motherf**ker”

Do as you would be done by. Or in the end, people will do it back to you.

 

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