Winter Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) (I.26.2009) . . .
On the road in the American Northwest.
ON FREEDOM’S NECESSARY BALANCE
Primum non nocere
(First, do no harm)
Freedom is always a question of the balance between freedom to, on
the one hand, and freedom from, on the other.
I might feel, for instance, that I should be free to mine for gold up-
stream from your homestead. You, in contrast, may feel equally
strongly you have the right to be free from the danger of the cyanide
from my leech ponds getting into your well-water. Or I might feel that
I should have free, unrestricted access with my new snowmachine to
any wilderness I choose. While, you, in contrast, feel I shouldn’t even
be allowed to take the thing out of my garage.
Clearly, the task of the rule of law is to protect in a fair, balanced,
reasonable way both freedoms, carefully weighing the pros and cons in
each case in an ongoing way. Balance between the two freedoms is not
a fixed state, but more akin to keeping a bike upright as the rider shifts
his or her weight, now to the left, now to the right—counter-intuitively—
in the direction of the fall.
Notice, too, that freedom balanced in this way is always ethical freedom.
Why? Because real balance demands that there be no arbitrary
limit to the width of what we might call the circle of concern. That is,
it is freedom that must be necessarily mindful of the myriad potential
negative consequences of actions undertaken by free agents as they
reverberate throughout the wider community, or the human-plus-natural-
environment, as a whole.
As always, the first principle of ethics is: First, do no harm.
[ from page 299 of THE LITTLE CLAVIER [ PDF 110 MB]