I was in the car with my niece yesterday and noticed two children wearing helmets ride by on their bikes.  I mentioned to my niece that when I was a boy, I rode my bike around town without a helmet because they were not required.  That prompted her very insightful question: “Why do they call America ‘free’ when there are a thousand laws?”

A “thousand” laws is a very modest estimate.  Ask any CPA about the complicated tax code.  Add to that the problems of the thousands of vague or unenforced laws, as noted by James Madison among the many threats to liberty:

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.  Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”
— James Madison, Federalist no. 62, February 27, 1788

The helmet law is probably clearly written, but it is one of so many ever-changing laws that I couldn’t tell you for sure.  My niece’s question stands.  Can we continue to call our nation “free” when we live under a nanny state with an ever-increasing library of statutory requirements and interpretations?


According to the U.S. Census bureau, in 1790 the United States had 3.9 million persons in 13 states from Maine to South Carolina.  New York City had a population of 33,000.

Today, the nation has 308 million people, and New York City has a population of 8.2 million.  In other words, the Mayor of New York answers to more than double the constituents that George Washington did as President of the United States at the time the Constitution was ratified.

A small number of people produced a great document that currently governs a far greater number of people.  However, at the time that the Constitution was passed, the government was necessarily closer to its people because each representative had a much smaller constituency to please.  Has the nation out-grown the constitution, not in principles but in sheer representative force?  No doubt the refrain “I’m going to write a letter to my Congressman” carries even less weight than it used to.  Should the states be divided up for federal purposes, so that perhaps even each county receives a senator?

While such a change may sound radical and unfathomable, it might pose a beneficial check to the dual-party system imposed on the nation.

I was at the grocery store and found that a popular charcoal company has introduced a new line of “100% all natural competition briquettes”.  This raises a question for me.  Why would this charcoal, as opposed to the regular charcoal from the same company, be considered “natural”?  (As an aside, ordinary charcoal briquettes have chemical fillers in them that hold them together, in addition to charcoal made from carbonizing wood.)  Even the chemical fillers in the regular charcoal are “natural” in the sense that they exist in nature (they are not “supernatural”).  Why do consumers find the adjective “natural” so impressive in commercial products?

People seem to harbor the idea that “natural” means “before we humans messed with it,” as though humans tend to mess things up.  Honey is considered “natural” even though bees make it, so I don’t think “natural” as the word is used here simply means “something that was not made through the activity of some other organism.”  Humans are the targeted organism.  Things that humans make are not considered “natural” even if they are made from natural elements (as in the elements on the periodic table in chemistry class) with implements made from natural elements.  What is different about human production of food products as opposed to the honey production of a bee?

Could it be that we all know, at some intuitive level, that humans deliberate and make free choices, and those choices are subject to flaws?  Perhaps we also know that human choices in particular are more prone to error than the instinctual activity of a honey-making bee because humans have a tainted will, and they make choices they know are wrong for personal gain?

To believe that, of course, one must believe in free will, if not also a fallen nature and the concept of “wrong” or “selfish” choices, right?  Can one avoid the implied presence of some supernatural quality in humans?  Can atheists have any philosophical justification for using the term “natural” on charcoal bags and the like?