“You can’t take away people’s right to be assholes.”
– Simon Phoenix, Demolition Man
Demolition Man is one of those sci-fi action films that examines the human condition and summarizes with beautiful simplicity the struggle between chaos and order, freedom and control, and the need for balance.
Simon Phoenix, as a mass-murdering psychopath who thrives on pain, suffering, disorder, and death, is one of two villains in the story. The other is a man who prizes order and perfection as he defines it, with himself at the top. The latter tried to use Phoenix as a pawn with which to wipe out his enemies and gain complete control of the world around him. He pays for that scheme with his life, just as he is basking in the opportunity to turn everyone who lives into idealized, perfectly behaved drones, and these are among the last words he hears.
Of course, coming from such a villain as Phoenix, there is a certain amount of ground that needs to be given. He, after all, absolutely glories in wanton destruction. He talks about not being controlled, but he also stands for having no self-control, and demonstrates the madness of such. Indeed, he exemplifies how some external controls, such as the police, are needed in order to safeguard others from those who will not control themselves in the slightest. The law is often a sword, but it is meant to be a shield, first and foremost.
However, once the need for protection has been met, anything further turns the law from a shield into an anvil, a chain, an iron collar.
Once the rights of a people are protected, their freedom depends on that being the very limit of what can be legally done to them. By anyone. For any reason.
One doesn’t need to look very far to find people being offended about… anything and everything, including how others talk, how they walk, how they dress, how they do their hair, what they have, what they believe, how they present themselves… the list is truly endless. And, in truth, some offenders really are rude, disrespectful, bigoted, etc. In short, they may be assholes. But that is something that we just have to live with.
It is incumbent on all of us to control ourselves, and it is also necessary to enforce certain controls upon others for the safety of those around them, but it is a long and slippery slope indeed to try and force others behave in any sort of idealized fashion. It simply doesn’t work, and, sooner or later, we will find a Phoenix rising to burn us for it.
We may demand that our rights be respected, but to demand anything further is to invite enslavement.
The asshole must be free to be an asshole, or else neither he nor us will truly be free to be anything else.