Monday, June 11, 2012

Freedom isn't free redux

In Longmont, the town where I've lived for the past twelve years, the City Council has been grappling with the issue of whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, more commonly called fracking, to take place within city limits. The predictable arguments have already begun: Do you heat your house or drive a car? Then you're already pro-fracking, because being against it makes no sense. Do communities want to risk groundwater pollution and other unknown effects of the practice of fracking? Then let municipalities, rather than state and federal governments, decide if and how they want to proceed with fracking.

Last weekend the fracking debate literally came to my door, or rather, the door of my current workplace, Cheese Importers. A local group was collecting signatures for an initiative they seek to put on the November ballot that would ban fracking. One of my co-workers argued that these people are stupid.

Now I do have some questions about the wisdom of fracking in urban areas like the one where I live, so I might very well be one of the "stupid" people who signs the petition. I may even vote for a continued ban on fracking in Longmont, if enough stupid people actually sign the petition. I''m also trying very hard to reverse a lifelong tendency to personalize everything that is said and done in my presence.

"They do have the right to petition. It's a First Amendment right." (Pretty smart response, huh? I'm still drafting off my trip to Washington.)

"Yeah, the right to be stupid," he said, before walking away.

True enough. Everyone risks being stupid when they take a stand, especially when opponents are at least as equally convinced that their viewpoint is correct. I also wanted to laugh, because that's a funny thing to say. But I have to be honest, I was also personalizing. I flinched at the thought that he might think I'm stupid.

Just so you know, I have a lot of respect for this guy. He served in Afghanistan, and the dude knows how to work. He doesn't think anything's beneath him. One thing I'm wondering, though--isn't one of the things he served for was for peoples' right to petition, even to be stupid?

Or is the freedom isn't free argument really about ensuring that everyone sees the world in the same way, i.e., that every military action that our country takes is morally sanctified? I won't be coy about stating my opinion--freedom of speech trumps a country's freedom to make war against any other country it pleases.

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