I hope this node will be a repository for the ideas formerly expressed in Americans enjoy the greatest freedoms in the entire world.

In the United States, we are trained to believe that we possess the most freedom of any people in the world. I fact, we are trained to believe that 'America' and 'freedom' are synonymous, and even that freedom is an American invention. I suspect that a similar process might occur in other western nations.

In this node, let's discuss how valid these ideas and conclusions are. Are some nations freer than others? What is the situation in your country?

Being an American, I am most qualified to comment on the situation in my own nation. As a freedom loving person, I worry that we fall short of other western nations in the following areas:

1. Probable cause and seizure
a) In Canada and other places, the police must have probable cause to detain someone, whereas in the US anyone can be detained for any reason and it is only the formal designation of 'arrest' that requires probable cause.
b) In no other western nation can one be arrested and held for up to 36 hours following a minor traffic offense, with no justification or explanation needed whatsoever. We can thank a recent ruling of the Rhenquist court for this one.

2. Speech and expression
a) In no other western country are schoolchildren required by the state to begin their day reciting the words "Under God"
b) There's only one western democracy where it is punishable by jail time to merely hyperlink to a web site that explains how to crack copyrighted material...and it's the one south of Canada.
c) I'm not aware of anywhere else where it is a crime to possess written descriptions of pedophilic activity, as it is in several U.S. states.

3. Personal sexuality
a) In western Europe, and in Japan and Australia and Canada, homosexual sex between consenting adults is not a crime, as it is in 15 or more states of the U.S.1
b) In none of these nations is heterosexual anal or oral sex illegal as it is in several U.S. states.1
c) I'm not aware of any other nation in which it is illegal to 'use a dildo for its intended purpose,' as it is in at least one U.S. state. Read about that here.
d) An adult paying another adult for sex is not illegal in many countries of Europe, and is decriminalized in others. Not so in America.
e) In many countries of Western Europe, and in Australia, committed homosexual couples can be married and receive the same benefits under the law as committed heterosexual couples, as they cannot in the U.S.

4. Personal drug use
a) In many countries of continental Europe, possession of a small quantity of marijuana is not a felony punishable with prison time, as it is in most jurisdictions of the U.S. Some nations have even gone so far as to decriminalize it entirely.
b) In no other western country is possession of a gram of any drug punishable by a life sentence, as with crack cocaine is in the U.S.
c) The drinking age is not 21 anywhere else.

5. Random stuff
a) In Texas, it may soon be illegal to bicycle in groups of three or more on public highways. (http://www.bicycle-law.com/txaction.htm) 2

I reluctantly conclude that the United States is not the bastion of personal freedom, and that bastion must be somewhere else. I'm grateful for the freedoms that we do have, I just wish we lived up to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill Of Rights and had more.


1 As of August 2003, the Lawrence V. Texas Supreme Court ruling has struck down laws against Sodamy when applied exclusively to homosexuals. Still, the ruling allows laws against heterosexual and homosexual sodomy, which are on the books in four states.
2 I have been informed that this bill has been defeated in the Texas legislature for this session. Lance Armstrong is safe for now.

If you are American and disturbed by the flaws I point to in our land, do not respond with some example from the Middle East or China or somewhere like that of a ridiculously oppressive regime. Reread the title of this node, paying close attention to the penultimate word.

The people of the United States of America enjoy, by far, the most complete set of personal liberties and freedoms in the developed world.

That's the thesis.  Read it again.  Ready?  Let's continue.

We can separate, for the sake of discussion, basic liberties/freedoms/rights into several categories.  NOTE: These are not official or academically recognized categories.  I have made them for clarity and for organizational purposes.

1. Liberties necessary for the immediate functioning of a legitimate state (Translation: Really Really Important Liberties)

This category consists of those liberties that, when missing, prevent the government from fulfilling its most basic duties to its people.  These duties include subjection to the will of the people, defense of the citizenry's physical well-being, and providing the structure for carrying out said duties.  Infringing on one's basic liberties implies that the government is not delivering in one of these areas. 

To ensure that the government listens to what the people say, you have the right to vote, freedom of speech(as long as you're not inciting public violence), freedom of assembly, and the right to be elected to a public office. 

To make sure that Big Brother protects you (and allows you to defend yourself), you enjoy the expectation that your goverment will use the military to defend the country from outright attacks, the right to bear arms, the prosecution of violent criminals, the right to fair detainment, arrest, and trial for criminal activities, and the right to self-defense (including lethal force) in situations that threaten your safety or the safety of family members. 

The government also has the responsibility to provide the institutions that ensure all these rights (military, justice system, legislature, voting equipment, etc.) Without these correctly functioning institutions, the government cannot fulfill its duties to society.

These three areas are the most basic, vital set of liberties any citizen can possess.  Without them, citizens would constantly be running the risk of being killed, living under a dictator, or being stuck with a government that refused do anything to help its citizens.

Another essential liberty which doesn't fit into any of the above sections, but is generally acknowledged as vitally important: freedom of religion and nonviolent religious expression.

For those reasons, these rights are absolutely essential, and any country failing to give these rights to their citizens are failing them on the most basic level.

2. "Good Life" Liberties

These are rights that everyone wishes they had, but that aren't essential for a state to operate. Some examples include right of citizens to welfare or government aid, minority sexual rights, right to privacy, right to a 30-hour work week, and right to pornographic material.  While both positive and negative arguments can be made for most of these issues, it should be immediately clear that a citizen lacking these liberties is almost never in danger of violent death, subjugation under an oppressive regime, or an inactive "dead weight" government as a result.  For that reason, these Type 2 rights are significantly less important than Type 1 rights.

3. "Liberties"

"Liberties" belonging to this category are those which when governments recognize, they infringe on more important, basic rights afforded to their people.  The supposed "right to openly violent or terroristic speech" implied by the conduct of many nations is a prime example.  By allowing public figures such as anarchists or radical religious fundamentalists to openly incite violence against other citizens, the government infringes on the basic right of the people to a safe and secure environment. NOTE: These are not protected by either free speech or freedom of religion. Note the phrase "free" in both of those liberties. Another example is the "right" to use dangerous or harmful drugs or chemicals for non-medical reasons. By allowing people legal access to these drugs, they 1) allow citizens to engage in reckless, harmful behavior and 2) take pressure off of the violent, criminal industries that make said drugs available.  Acknowledgement of this right by a government is once more a failure to respect the basic right citizens have for a safe environment.

Due to the problems they cause, any nation that acknowledges Type 3 "liberties" fails to respect their populations' more important right to Type 1 liberties.

Comparison of Liberties

I'm going to assume that the developed world includes the following nations: the US, UK, IrelandCanada, Australia, continental Western Europe, most of continental Eastern Europe, and Japan.

The US - The US fulfills all of the basic Type 1 liberties for a vast majority of its citizens.  The freedoms of speech and assembly are almost universally respected.  It has the longest continually working representative democracy in the world.  It maintains an army well large enough to defend its citizenry from foreign attacks.  It has a comprehensive law enforcement and legal system, while allowing citizens the right to take action for personal defense in extreme circumstances.  It provides institutions for the fulfillment of these rights.

The US also allows for a substantial number of Type 2 liberties.  Privacy is generally respected, although in some cases this right is disregarded when the general public's right to safety is threatened.  Needy and injured people are finding it easier than ever to recieve government welfare.  Many states are making steps towards legalizing same-sex marriages.  Adult citizens are free to access legal pornography.  However, you still have to work 40 hours a week.

The US allows for few major Type 3 liberties.  Some of the only noteworthy examples are the continued free reign allowed to big tobacco industry, and the grossly overextended influence of large corporations.

The UK - Follows many of the same policies as the US.  However, there are several key differences.  They allow their defense to be outsourced to the US, and concentrate more on Type 2 liberties such as welfare.  In addition, the questionably annexed area of Ulster (Northern Ireland) has been agitating for independence for about a century, and nothing meaningful has been done to accomodate the will of these people.  Self-defense is frowned upon and only legal in certain rare cases*, and the civilians do not have the right to own operational firearms.

Ireland - closely follows the UK except for the subjugation of Ulster.

As far as policy is concerned, Canada, Japan, and most of Europe (excluding the UK and Ireland) can be lumped into one group.  Their domestic and foreign policies, while not identical, are following roughly the same trends. 

Canada, Japan, and Europe - It is quickly clear that these nations have a skewed sense of what is important.  Type 2 and 3 liberties frequently take precedence over Type 1's.  These governments often protect public announcements made by radical fundamentalists inciting violence. At the same time, they stifle the reactions of those who speak against this violence as racist or discriminatory.  They outsource the vast majority of their national defense to the US, and use the funds they save to create bloated and costly welfare systems.  Gun ownership is usually banned, and oftentimes legal systems include no room for self-defense, leaving the population completely dependent on government law enforcement for protection from internal violent crime.  In some of these countries, the public will can do little to affect the choices of government, and public votes are, in some extreme cases, ignored outright by those in power.  In many of these countries, marijuana and other drugs are legalized, allowing the often violent institutions that make, distribute, and sell them to operate unhindered by the government.  These nations are more of a present-tense culture than the US can ever be; there is too much focus on the liberties that don't matter and not enough acknowledgement of those that do matter.

Conclusion

When you look at the liberties that really matter, no one does it like the Americans.  Other developed countries do not allow enough of the basic, essential Type 1 rights to fully respect their citizens' inalienable freedoms.  So the next time someone rants about the US needing to "catch up" with the rest of the developed world, politely remind them that not everyone thinks France is the pinnacle of democracy and human effort.

*I have been informed by Unitedite that Britain does, in fact, allow for reasonable self-defense. However, I feel that this mistake has a negligible effect on my thesis.

Insert here a long winded self-defined set of "freedoms" and "liberties" which happen to match what my culture will have me believe is important.

Conclusion

When you look at real things that matter, the US is the developed nation with the most overtly expressed racism, homophobia and bigotry. The US has the worst level of education. The US has the most people who are not covered by a satisfactory health insurance.

The US is a place where organised religion is slowly triumphing over science and where individual people are finding it increasingly difficult to have a say in how they are governed.

Next time you feel like telling us how great the US is, please can it. You are only exposing your ignorance of the outside world.

Thank you

I would like to politely remind the alert reader that not everyone thinks that the US is the pinnacle of democracy and human effort.

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