Your Freedom Ends Where My Nose Begins

There’s a quote erroneously attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.”  For me, it used to, and still does, apply to toxic cigarette smoke, and the selfish misbehavior of smokers in public.

During the COVID pandemic it’s been echoed in vile tirades of anti-maskers, folks demanding that their “liberty” trumps rights constitutionally mandated for all of us, as well as our physical health and wellbeing.

With the debate over wearing masks post-vaccination, for me it now relates to littering, as in your right to dump discarded dirty masks should end where my yard begins. Not to mention the curbs in my neighborhood when I’m walking my dog each morning.

It’s bad enough dodging cigarette butts, broken glass bottles and used condoms in Las Vegas residential areas, but the ridiculous amount of masks strewn in streets has only gotten worse. It didn’t help that casinos began giving out free blue paper masks last year. You’re sure to see them in gutters on weekend mornings, near poorly parked vehicles.

The misappropriated aforementioned quote about rights and noses might have derived from that espoused, not quite so succinctly or eloquently, by one Zechariah Chafee Jr. in the Harvard Law Review of 1919: “The right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

It was the kind of saying evoking free speech rights in time of war, used at pro-Prohibition rallies and meetings, as well as by educators who once presented it as a moral rule for children.

I’m more a proponent of personal ethics than subjective social morals, and I would never have been in favor of Prohibition or subsequent blue laws, but the quote makes sense if you take into consideration the behavior of drunk drivers. As in, your right to drink whiskey ends…once you get behind that steering wheel. And perhaps drunkenly dump your COVID mask in the street.

It’s deep into 2021, and humans still haven’t figured out that littering is stupid and rude, and that selfish rants about their not being able to smoke in public places, or being required to wear a mask in the same, should have gone the wayside of silly tantrums in toddlerhood.

I touch upon littering, and other selfish sociopathic behavior, in the novels of my Other Worldly series. And despite what many people might project, it isn’t aliens who are destroying our planetary environment and eroding all modicums of basic human decency. Towards each other, and other species. Cigarette butts are terrible for birds, dogs and other living things. I suspect filthy masks are, too.

When I studied law one summer in Scotland decades ago, I bought a refrigerator magnet depicting a puffin with a red circle and slash. It said, “No puffin.” A play on words meaning, “No smoking.”

Maybe my nose and lungs would have been less distressed if I’d been wearing a mask all those years around folks who smoked at tables next to me while dining out, holding the disgusting smoke away from themselves to float under my nose, and everyone else’s but their own, of course, unless they were taking another puff.

We don’t have to worry about that anymore, unless you’re seated at a bar. Or stuck next to a driver puffing away, their window rolled down while waiting at a stoplight.

Masks, too, will soon also be a thing of the past.

How many years will it take for the littered trash to biodegrade? How long until the selfish and vile find something new that they must be privileged to do, or not to do, at the expense of everyone else?

Coming this fall to online bookstores: Being Alien, fourth book in the Other Worldly series. Featuring Scotland and its puffins, but no puffin of cigarettes occurred while writing, and no mask needed while reading. Plus, all trash was disposed of properly in the making of this novel, and no birds or other living things were harmed.

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