Right vs. Left (Me vs. We?)

I was treated to an interesting cartoon this past week. It showed a city street filled with demonstrators. On the right side of the street, everyone was holding a sign that said “Me.” On the left side of the street, everyone was holding a sign that said “We.” That, in a nutshell, may be what has come to define the difference between the political right and political left in the year 2021.

Another cartoon made the point in a slightly different way. It told the story of a man on a cruise who chose to drill a hole in the bottom of his cabin. When the water began to fill the ship and the captain threatened him with eviction, the man replied, “Listen bud, I paid for this cabin. So, for this week, it’s my personal property, not yours. Stop with your mandates.” According to the cartoonist, the moral of the story was that a man may be free to sink his own ship, but that doesn’t give him the right to sink a ship carrying other people.

The point, of course, is that people should be free to walk around without a mask or a vaccination so long as they’re willing to steer clear of other people. Once they “board the ship” (i. e., walk into a restaurant, or a Wal-Mart, or a football stadium filled with innocent strangers) then they no longer have the right to claim it’s all about individual freedom and personal space.

In a past life, I taught a variety of college classes, including health law and business law. At some point during the semester I would ask students whether it was true that government regulation always tended to decrease freedom. At first, I could count on at least one student describing how a stupid regulation a family business. I would then agree that stupid regulations should be eliminated or amended. But I would ask the following question: “Do traffic lights, which are a form of government regulation, tend to increase your freedom or decrease it?” At that moment, the discussion would shift in the opposite direction, as students began to understand that most government regulations tend to expand some freedoms while restricting others.

If no traffic regulations exist, and if people feel free to drive on either side of the road—right or left as they please—then no one would feel safe driving anywhere. Our collective freedoms would all be curtailed.

Ironically, it was the folks on the political right who first coined the phrase, “My right to swing my fist ends at your nose.” I also recall older folks telling me that I couldn’t expect to enjoy rights without accepting the responsibilities. They were talking about the rioters of the 1960s and how important it was for citizens to respect law and order.

Funny how times change.