Deciding who needs what can be risk business!

What do you need?  It’s an interesting question, much discussed in the wake of the current gun debate.  I frequently hear this statement:  ‘no one needs a rifle with a magazine that holds more than ten rounds.’  One caller on a radio show said, ‘nobody needs more than six bullets.’   Others have said, ‘I can’t see why anybody needs more than one gun; it’s ridiculous.  I certainly don’t need one!’

Obviously, there are millions who take the opposing view.  But gun-control aside (as if that were possible in the current political climate), it’s time we start to ask ‘who decides who needs what?’

I can tell you a lot of things I don’t think anyone needs.  Nobody, in my opinion, needs Methamphetamine. Well, not at first, anyway.  In the big picture, it isn’t essential to life.

Of course, having cared for countless intoxicated individuals, young, old, male, female, rich, poor, comic and tragic, I can say that I don’t need alcohol, so perhaps nobody needs alcohol.  Yes, some research suggests a health benefit to certain amounts of alcohol consumption.  But it’s likely that humans were healthy before the first one found a container of fermented fruit juice, drank it inexplicably and woke up with the first hangover.

Cigarettes come to mind.  Who needs them?  Not me.  They cause enormous suffering and death, even though many find them relaxing and pleasurable.  But then, over-eating causes harm as well.  Do we need access to endless calories all day long, as much as our prosperity and ingenuity provide?  Nobody needs cheeseburgers or fried mushrooms.  Of course, I love them just the same.

Americans love their pets.  But are pets necessary?  Who needs a Pit-Bull? Who needs a Burmese Python? I’ll take the former over the latter any day, but I would never feel that I needed either one.  And really, as much as I like cats, who needs a house full of them?

Advocates against over-population often suggest that no family needs more than one or two children. Polygamists might feel that they need more than one wife.  One man feels he needs to leave his wife for another; one woman is confident she needs to hit her husband with a ball bat.  Need is a little subjective, isn’t it?

Is the Church necessary?  I think so, although I wouldn’t impose it on anyone.  I find it necessary for me and for my family.  I’m certain I could find those who would suggest that it is a remarkably destructive force and not only unnecessary but dangerous.  They would say I don’t need it.

Who needs a fast car?  Who needs a large house?  And what about money?  How much money do the rich need? Or the poor, for that matter?  So much of our economic debate hinges on the idea that some people have more than they need, and some have less, and that some transfer based on need has to be effected.  But who can decide such a thing as financial need?  Oh, right, the government.  But is it based on some algorithm?  Some formula?  On dated, failed economic and political philosophy?  Or perhaps on future votes…

Unless by ‘need’ we mean only the most common and basic things like food, water, clothing and shelter,  the rest of our attempts to determine need are often based on ideology and emotion.

You know the perennial argument that ‘ you can’t legislate morality?’  Well, we do it all the time; sometimes wisely and sometimes poorly.  But seldom do we legislate morality more than when we discuss who needs what; whether it’s money, vices, food, weapons, freedom or family.  Because when you tell me what I need, or I tell you, it’s a ultimately a moral judgment about what one of us ‘ought to do.’

We all have different motivations and different reasons to try to shape society and culture in the way that seems best to us.  But whether the issue is taxes, guns, relationships, free speech, school prayer, or any other hot-button topic, we should remember something important.  That is, our claim to know exactly what another free citizen needs only leads to frustration, bitterness and ultimately revenge, once the pendulum of opinion, or power, swings the other way.

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