Recent events have gotten me thinking about liberty and personal freedom. Here in the United States, we recently seem to have had an unusual amount of trouble defining just exactly what those are. To whom should they be extended, and in what measure? There seem to be different standards, depending on who you’re talking to, and about whom they’re talking.
Yes, I know. We Americans are kinda famous around the world for having staked a claim, back in the day, that “all men are created equal.” But the qualifiers were there, even then. At the time, they literally meant only male humans. They also assumed these “endowed by their creator” male humans were white landowners.
A whole bunch of people fell outside of that definition, but the Founders didn’t seem much inclined to talk about them (indeed, the less the better, they judged, for the sake of the union).
Today, it seems that liberty and personal freedom – at least, for some of us – are once again under assault. I suppose, when are they not, in one way or another? But by golly, if I were Queen of the Universe . . . oh, wait.
In one particular universe, I am the Queen.
A few Words from the Queen of . . . A Universe
The realm where I actually am the Queen of the Universe is a place where I’ve been running a little thought experiment on Rana Station, in the Chayko System of Alliance Space. As I explained in an earlier post, I’ve been exploring a kind of outrageous idea.
It’s a human-run system that tries to create an environment where all of its citizens have the tools to reach their full potential. Strange idea, right? We certainly don’t have such a system around my neck of the woods, “equal protection under the law” notwithstanding. How would such a system even look? How would it operate?
Rana Stationers value their liberty and personal freedom as much as anyone. But how is ‘liberty and personal freedom” understood in Ranan culture? How does it compare with the way we understand these concepts in the United States?
Rather than speak in broad generalities, let’s look at a particular point of friction in the United States, especially after the United States Supreme Court’s most controversial recent decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Health Care on Rana Station
Readers of my books probably have observed that on Rana, unlike in the United States, both mental and physical health care is considered a basic right. Even if you’re poor. Even if you’re not a citizen. And even if you’re a criminal suspect. Access to care is essential if liberty and personal freedom are to translate into reaching one’s full potential.
My readers know some things about Ranan health care because my characters spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Ranan health care system. Most of them have dangerous jobs. They get banged up sometimes (some more than others). And some of my characters work in the Ranan health care system.
But except for passing comments, none of my characters or situations has directly addressed reproductive health yet. That’ll change in future books, but here’s an overview. Because space is not unlimited on a space station, the population’s size must be carefully controlled.
Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health on Rana
I know I’m not the only teacher who’s sometimes been exasperated by the fact that people don’t have to get a license to be a parent – even when there’s ample evidence of malpractice. So, when I conceived of Rana Station I decided to explore that idea.
On Rana, you really do have to apply for a license to have children. You have to show you have the mental and physical capacity to parent a child and an understanding of child development and appropriate care. But how can that square with liberty and personal freedom?
It’s not an ideal situation, and it definitely puts limitations on adults and their free exercise of the right to bodily autonomy. But let’s be clear. The focus isn’t on the adults.
Call it a “Nanny State”?
Social and legal structures are in place on Rana to ensure that parents and children have strong support networks. Call it a “nanny state” if you must. But on Rana the focus is on child care, not on needlessly coddling adults in the pejorative sense that some conservatives and “rugged individualists” use the term. When the state is dedicated to ensuring that all of its citizens have the tools to reach their full potential, it has certain responsibilities – especially to children.
And perhaps the most important of those responsibilities is making sure parents are equipped and empowered to care for their children well. Most of us want this for our kids, but in the American system it’s hideously easy to fall through the cracks, especially if you are poor or part of a minority community. Of course, in any human-run program, things will not go perfectly.
The Crucial Trade-Off: Fertility and Autonomy
If a state is going to require a license to become a parent, it instantly brings up some very sticky points, if one is focused on liberty and personal freedom. Remember China’s misguided and draconian “One Child” policy? Outside control of an individual’s fertility is always, without question, coercive and invasive.
Today, young women in the United States are properly alarmed at the prospect of being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term (or dying for lack of needed health care). But the “flip side” of forced sterilizations is just as horrifying. Its oppressive and racist applications in the past were unconscionable. That in some cases the practice continues today should be an automatic argument for public scrutiny.
More horrifying questions follow. The power to choose between who may become a parent and who may not is frightfully open to abuse, even when it’s kept transparent and carefully safeguarded. Americans, Europeans, and especially the Nazis enthusiastically embraced the eugenics movement that began in the late 19th Century. Eugenics history alone should offer more than enough nightmarish warnings. Here on earth, many people rightly see reproductive rights as human rights, essential to liberty and personal freedom. Yet new biological advances force us to confront new ethical questions.
Contraception and Yet More Ethical Questions
The fact remains that Rana Station is a carefully-balanced, closed ecosystem. Its sovereignty and national security require that it be a self-sustaining island in a great sea of space. They have to be able to feed themselves and meet all other needs through internal resources. Too much dependence on outside resources makes them vulnerable to powers in the system that definitely don’t see liberty and personal freedom the way Ranans do.
It’s all too easy to throw a balanced system out of safety margins and risk famine. The population, among a laundry list of other things, must be meticulously controlled. It’s not a “Cold Equations” scenario, but sober caution is an existential necessity.
That means there can only be a limited number of new births and immigrations allowed in any given year, to balance the “expected deaths.” In its 90-plus years of history, the Station has only expanded its territory once, by adding Wheels Seven and Eight. That was a difficult and expensive venture, one the government is still paying for. Unlimited reproductive freedom simply is not practical.
So, How do the Ranans do it?
Any tight control of population growth requires an ironclad means of contraception, something we don’t yet have in our contemporary world. Science fiction, y’all. I’m assuming someday we will have such a thing. I can do that because I’m the Queen, remember?
Given this infallible means of contraception, certain rules fall into place. From the onset of puberty, all Ranan kids must undergo a reversible procedure that renders them temporarily sterile. Same goes for anyone seeking to immigrate, even on a temporary visa. It’s a requirement that the law mandates must never bent or fudged.
In this situation, abortion is a non-issue. No pregnancy gets that far. No one can force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term if she doesn’t want it, because she and her partner(s) have to literally sign up for it. This also means that one form of bodily autonomy – and a measure of liberty and personal freedom – must be subsumed for the greater good.
Most Ranans have long since accepted it. But of course, not everyone is happy with the trade-off. Therein lies the seed of conflict, and conflict is the stuff of which plotlines are built! Stay tuned.
We have lots of people to thank this week, most especially AZ Quotes, which provided the quote-images from both Margaret Sanger and Jonas Salk. Other excellent sources included Quotefancy, for the Timothy Keller quote and Ms. Mullins (teacher extraordinaire) for the quote from Charles de Lint. Medium published the article that included the quote-image from Dr. King. Jan found the quote from “Laws of Modern Man” by Erik Angstrom via Connie Young’s “Let’s put children first” Pinterest Board. Finally, we’re grateful to Quoteslyfe for the words of Richelle E. Goodrich, from her book Slaying Dragons. Many thanks to all of you!