From My Cold, Dead Fingers

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Janice Joplin

Well Ms. Joplin, you should know that’s a crock. You had the freedom to OD. When you exercised that right, look at what you lost. What we all lost. When you took your life you took a piece of our hearts with you.

Freedom is indeed a blessing, but, when not paired with responsibility, it can be a curse. As my freshman English professor told me, “freedom is not license.” Even in a free country, we can’t just do anything we feel like doing. Especially if it endangers ourselves or others.

During my career as a psychiatrist, I had to exercise my power to hospitalize patients against their wills when their inability to exercise their freedom responsibly posed a danger. They all hated me for it. Until they came to their senses and thanked me. Most were suicidal, but you didn’t have to be suicidal to be committed involuntarily. If you were just plain psychotic or, for any other reason were at the point where your decision making ability was so impaired it made you dangerous, you were a candidate for involuntary hospitalization.

Today, our freedom obsessed nation is, in many ways, taking freedom to the point of dangerous license. This undermines our legitimate freedoms. It’s most apparent in two epidemics, guns and Covid, both of which too many people take too lightly.

Your freedom to own and carry around guns without any rational limitations impinges on my freedom to walk around feeling safe or to attend large events without wondering if some nut won’t walk in and blow me away. Virtually unlimited freedom to own weapons has led to an explosion of gun ownership, gun deaths and a brisk traffic in the illegal sale and transfer of guns to the small number of people who are still not legally permitted to purchase them. It’s too late, way too late to do a damn thing about the shooting epidemic. Forget it. We blew it. Short of forcefully removing weapons from their owners, a thing they say will happen only when they are pried from cold, dead fingers we are so awash in guns, no legislation could get that genie back in the bottle. It’s not in the DSM-V, but gun nuttiness is one of several obsessions we have pushed to the point of insanity in this freedom intoxicated nation.

In contrast, the Covid epidemic is one that we have the power to stop, but can’t because so many people, many of them the same ones who demand their guns, are so freedom crazy they would rather die than get a safe, effective shot in the arm or wear a mask. Equally nuts, in the name of freedom we permit them to refuse. I read that many of them, when they are about to go on a respirator, plead for the shot. It’s hard to believe they actually don’t know it’s a preventative, not a cure. Ignorance and license are indeed a deadly combination. On the other hand, I read that many who are in a terminal state, and knew very well they were courting death, when asked if they regret not having gotten vaccinated say, “Hell no. Nobody’s going to tell me what to do.”

Nobody’s going to tell them what to do. Really? So nobody is going to tell them they must get a driver’s license and insurance to drive a car? Or even get a dog license or keep the pooch on a leash. That they are required to wear a seatbelt? May not go through red lights and stop signs? That they can’t walk around town naked or relieve themselves in the street? That they are required to have similar inoculations to travel to some countries or to attend school? That they can’t just refuse to show up for jury duty? That they can’t just hang out a shingle and claim to be a physician, a lawyer, a pharmacist? Can’t impersonate a cop and pull drivers over for kicks. Can’t dump their garbage wherever they feel like it. Can’t carouse around the streets in the wee hours making a disturbance? It’s odd, it’s downright absurd, that in a nation that, for good reasons, has laws that impose coercive measures on those who might be a danger to selves and others, there are no laws that rein in their ability to perpetuate a deadly gun or disease epidemic.

Odd? It’s insanity. Gun nuts and antivaxers fit the criteria I followed when I locked up those who were dangerously insane. In the name of freedom, we give them license to kill themselves and others. When there is too much freedom of the wrong kind, apologies to Janice, we indeed have a great deal to lose. The lives, liberty and happiness for which our reasonable freedoms exist in the first place.

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