This may be the only blog in which you will find Britney Spears and Immanuel Kant mentioned in the same article. The reason is my concern regarding autonomy.
“Baby One More Time” and “Oops I Did It Again” Britney Spears is in the news at age 39, some 20 years after her greatest hits. She is seeking to end a long-standing conservatorship by her father. Discussion of this issue online is passionate, with most people supporting Spears’s bid for independence.
Her father’s conservatorship began in the context of some reckless behavior a long time ago. However, if she has a disabling mental illness, it has not stopped her from having a career as an entertainer, making a lot of money for a lot of people.
I have not heard anyone allege that Spears is suicidal or homicidal. She once shaved her head, but so what? Many of us have incidents in our own pasts we would rather forget. Perhaps she spends a lot of money, or drinks a lot – I do not know; but so do many others. I would also like to know the reason why she is compelled to have an IUD inside her against her will. If she has too many children she cannot care for – well, so do many others.
It is hard for a person to grow up and learn responsibility without being given the opportunity to make mistakes and not be saved from them. This is part of the essence of autonomy.
For Immanuel Kant, acting autonomously – subject to no external coercion – was at the heart of ethics.
Kant believed that no decision is truly ethical unless it is completely uncoerced – even by God! One must arrive at one’s decision solely through the use of practical reason (that is, informed by experience and history). The action you undertake must be one that, at least in theory, could be undertaken by everyone else as well.
With all due respect for Kant, my knowledge of practical reason informs me that most people are capable of a great deal of rationalization. I am happy that God provided my ancestors with an instruction book called the Torah (Hebrew for instruction or teaching).
Kant would say that I am not acting ethically when I am obeying God’s commandments for His sake. Of course, I can reply and say that as Creator and King of the universe, God has the right to command whatever He chooses.
Maimonides urged a middle path. He said that Israel is compelled to obey God’s commandments; nevertheless, we should expend every effort to understand the rationale behind them. It turns out, not surprisingly, that many of them, the so-called ethical commandments, satisfy the generalizability criterion for categorical imperatives (actions that must be taken, or avoided, for their own sake).
This is where planning for a new America becomes difficult. How can someone like me insist on the importance of Judeo-Christian Biblical values in a society without trampling on autonomy, which is just as important to me?
The answer, I believe, is to be able to find a community of like-minded people. I agree with the Qur’an on just one point, stated in the Meccan (early, peaceful) verses: there must be no compulsion in religion. If others wish to engage in activity that the Torah describes as abominations, I will not stop them; but neither will I be compelled to approve those activities.
The only way for all parties to be content is to separate into two nations. One nation can be the nation of decadence and abomination; the other nation will be the nation of ordered liberty. People who find themselves living in the wrong nation can immigrate to the other nation, but without voting rights for a period of time, such as ten years, until they assimilate to the new culture. Those who do not assimilate will be repatriated.
Happy Independence Day!