Friday, June 29, 2012

Purchased Valor

Apparently the Supreme Court is on a roll while I'm abroad. If you have any visibility into the Internet at all, particularly on Twitter or Facebook, then you're aware of the recent ruling on government healthcare. I don't really follow it, mostly because I don't really care. (Though I am thoroughly amused by the people who claim that they will now move to Canada in order to escape socialized healthcare. Bloody brilliant.)

But there was another decision that, at least in my social circles, has caused a stir. The Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act. For the uninitiated, this act was passed several years ago in order to make it a federal crime to use otherwise-acquired military decorations of valor (Purple Heart, Medal of Honor, etc.) to falsify a decorated military career. Basically... You can wear costumes of course; You can keep your dad's medals around; You can even buy medals as a collector; But you can not claim to have earned those medals.

Makes sense, right? Wait, does the act make sense or does the overturn make sense? It's an interesting debate, and one that apparently made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, I'm about to make a statement that will make me very unpopular with some of my friends...
I agree with the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Stolen Valor Act.
Hear me out. Don't just get all emotional and fly off the handle. (Or, to put it another way... At ease, soldier.)

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with the motives behind the act. What the act was attempting to prevent is, in every way, reprehensible behavior. It is morally and socially corrupt. It is, for lack of a better vocabulary on my part, a really shitty thing to do. And people shouldn't do it. Period. End of discussion.

But it should not be a state-prosecutable crime. I do not agree with heavy-handed government. I do not support the endless creation of more and more laws to make more and more things illegal without a damn good reason. And, I'm sorry to tell you this, but moral outrage is not a good enough reason. Just because something offends you does not make it a state-prosecutable crime.

A lot of people are offended by homosexuality. A lot of people are offended by the Muslim religion. A lot of people are offended by pornography. Should these be state-prosecutable crimes? You may argue that these are not morally reprehensible things and that stolen valor is. I agree with you. Seriously, I do. However, while these are values that we share and upon which we agree, they are not immutable principles of social interaction. And, to that end, the government has no right dictating our values. Other people have different values.

Just because you are offended does not mean that somebody has done harm to your person or property. Whether or not you are offended by it is entirely internal to you and has no bearing on the act itself. While I agree with you that it's wrong, I do not support the state detaining and prosecuting people because of it. That's a pretty serious line to cross and, again, you need a damn good reason to convince me to cross it.

We live in, for lack of a better term, a free country. Sure, people bitch and moan all the time about how our freedoms are being eroded away and how we're not allowed to do whatever we want and blah blah blah. Many times I agree with them, other times I don't. But that's not what freedom is. Don't confuse liberty with anarchy. Freedom is at its core our ability to be heard and be counted.

For example, an old friend of mine was recently ranting about how we're not a free country because he's not allowed to drive without a seatbelt. Again, don't confuse liberty with anarchy. Here's a list of things he is free to do:

  • He is free to openly complain about it.
  • He is free to fight it in open court.
  • He is free to appeal the court's decision.
  • He is free to appeal to the press for public support.
  • He is free to gather public support himself (petitions, etc.).
  • He is free to publicly speak out against what he believes is an unjust law.
  • He is free to assemble and lead others who support his cause.
  • He is free to openly protest.
  • He is free to appeal to his legislative and executive representatives.
  • (He is free to realize that it's a state law and not a federal one.)
  • (He is free to understand that local municipalities can locally overturn state laws.)
  • He is free to propose ballot questions and gather the requisite public support to get those questions on the ballot.
  • He is free to vote on such a ballot question.
  • He is free to vote against any representative who does not agree with his position.
  • He is free to vote for any representative who does agree with his position.
  • He is free to run for office.
  • And, of course, he is free to choose to do none of these things.
A lot of people have laid down their lives to defend and uphold these freedoms. A lot. And while this may be a comparatively minor case when considered against directly attacking any of those aforementioned freedoms, it's still a case nonetheless. I refuse to erode personal liberty just a tiny bit more. It's a very short path between a government which mandates that a morally reprehensible act is illegal to a government which mandates a set of morals. The latter sounds a bit more frightening, doesn't it?

Doing something that offends you does no harm. Wielding vast state power to incarcerate somebody does. Without a truly compelling argument, I will err on the side of limiting state power.

Now, maybe there is a compelling argument. Maybe there's something I haven't considered. (Could it be? Surely you jest!) And I'm willing to hear such an argument. (With the caveat that arguing on the internet is a fool's debate and I wouldn't give that debate any serious attention. But I'm still willing to hear it, so go ahead.)

Now there are websites which actively seek to "out" these individuals in their morally reprehensible act. And for that, bravo. If someone has the freedom to lie then someone else has the freedom to call them a liar. Tread carefully, mind you, lest you wield the great arm of the social mob to bring undue harm upon such an individual. Don't cross that line. If you provide information about somebody's public actions, that's one thing. If you incite people to act against that somebody, you start to enter dangerous territory. However, without such crossing of lines to be had, I'm all for it.

The act of stealing valor is a heinous and terrible thing to do. The Stolen Valor Act is not a just response. Sorry, but being an asshole isn't a state-prosecutable crime.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sure, I Can Write Something Again

For some reason this blog got a bunch of page views a few days ago. I have no idea why; I haven't written anything in almost a year. But, hey, what the hell, I can write again I suppose. So, what random bit of nonsense crosses my fancy right now...

You know what really bugged me about Star Trek: First Contact? I mean, aside from the fact that it was terrible. No matter what happened, no matter how many sharks they jumped, no matter how many times they used the word "time" in a pun, there was one thing that bothered the crap out of me.

When Zephram Cochrane was standing on the hillside and Geordi La Forge said, "You know, I wish I had a picture of this."

How do you not have a camera?

You have bionic eyes. Your bionic eyes can see light on all spectrums. They can record and transmit sensor data that your writers can't even fully explain. Also, you're carrying all kinds of gadgets and gizmos for taking sensor readings on things.

Here in the beginning of the 21st century everything has a camera. Why don't you? If this movie had been made 40 years ago then you might have an excuse. But this movie came out in 1996. Camera phones weren't around yet, but they were getting close. Surely it wasn't a stretch of the imagination. Especially not for a science fiction show set in the 24th century filled with amazing technology.

Handheld device that can record vast amounts of information on all measurable matter and energy? Check. Bionic eyes? Check. Ability to capture a single image of your surroundings? No.