Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#299 / Living Within Our Limits #2

Human actions create the world in which we most immediately live. Individual actions clearly have such world-creating consequence, and so do our collective actions. In the case of both individual and collective action, we "tell ourselves what to do" by the rules we develop and enforce. The process is called "government."

Government requires, among other things, that we decide, collectively, how much restraint and control we will exercise over individual actions, and how much restraint we will impose over what we do collectively. Since every human being is both an individual and a part of the whole, we tend to have a divided mind about how to set that balance. The natural tendency is to want lots of "freedom" for our individual actions, but to "control" other peoples' actions in the name of the "public good." The never-ending debates and discussions, and the ongoing conflicts and controversies, are what "politics" is all about. The decisions we make, as we set the balance, are always only temporary, since all of our political decisions are continually subject to change and amendment.

If the truth of this basic schema is admitted, one extremely important part of governing ourselves well is to define and set "limits" on our individual and collective behavior. Mandates for affirmative programs and activities are also vital (providing education, provisioning an army, and delivering the mail come to mind), but we need also to decide what we are "not" going to do, or to be allowed to do.

In the arena of land use (one of my special areas of interest), we do this best by setting Urban Growth Boundaries, or Urban Limit Lines, and then living within the limits we set. The image is of a famous growth boundary, defining the urban areas of Portland, Oregon.

Setting such urban growth limits does mean that landowners and others can't do whatever they want, beyond the limits. Their "freedom" is curtailed. But such a curtailment of individual freedom leads to a better overall result for everyone.

It's a pretty good principle. We should try to follow it more often! It works in other contexts, too. Take water, for instance!

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