Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Politics of Choice

As I was driving to work this morning I listened to CBC's show The Current, and one of the topics was a review of the impact of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms (http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/coming-up/2012/04/17/tuesday-charter-of-rights-freedom---30th-anniversary/). We're now 30 years in and the discussion was around the question of whether or not the Charter has been a "good thing" for Canada. It got me thinking...

Do you suppose that efforts to bolster "individual rights and the freedom to choose" may actually be a symptom of a society's inability to provide conditions for its citizens to live the life that they might prefer? Here's the thing. We've been conditioned to think that the promotion of a culture that favours individual rights and freedoms - to live as we wish, so long as we're not hurting someone else in the process - is a way of limiting the state's control. In other words, the state can't tell us what to do. We're free to do what we want. We're free to make "bad choices" - choices that might negatively affect our physical, emotional, relational or spiritual health, or the health of the environment - and it's nobody's business but our own. But what if a relaxation of conventional moral codes (our collective conscience of what is "right" and "wrong") is really about diverting our attention away from the fact that the state is not providing the levels of support necessary for us to choose what we might most want to do or be?

On The Current, the two issues that seem to have generated the most public debate in the last 30 years under the influence of the Charter, are abortion and same-sex marriage. Supporters of the Charter cite these two issues as "successes" that indicate that the Charter is protecting individual rights and freedoms. But maybe - if we dig a little deeper on these and other issues - we'll discover that there are more profound realities at stake. I've talked a bit about the abortion issue in several previous posts, but let's think about it for a minute from the perspective of the Charter and the perspective of the woman who determines that terminating a pregnancy is the best option in her particular circumstance. Does anyone ask if she LIKES the circumstances that she's in? And by that, I don't mean the fact that she's pregnant. I mean the fact that she - perhaps - doesn't have the financial and/or social support she needs to have the baby. So - in a Charter-based, individual rights and freedom driven society, the state has no obligation to address THOSE issues. If she can't afford to have and raise a child, or doesn't have the kinds of supports in place that would make having a raising a child a healthy option (for herself and the child), no problem. She can CHOOSE to have an abortion. But is it really a CHOICE? If her circumstances were otherwise, would an abortion still be the thing she'd choose to do?

There's no doubt in my mind - now that this thought has taken root - that it is far easier and cheaper (at least in the short term, and from a political perspective, that's what counts!) for the state to give people the opportunity to do things that are neither best for them nor for the broader society, than it is to provide the infrastructural supports that make it possible for them to truly choose what they would most desire, if all options were truly available.

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