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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 7 years ago

Our Observation

Freedom or fear?

Like it or not, Winter Park is a dog town. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Most people love dogs and care for them well, especially in Winter Park, where a higher quality of life is more than just expected, it's demanded.

That higher quality of life should translate not just to the city's human residents, but to its pets too.

But over the course of the last few months, changes have been in the works to make life a little bit harder for dogs and dog owners in Winter Park. According to the recommendations of the Parks and Recreation Commission, dogs that are allowed to sit by our side as we dine along Park Avenue shouldn't be allowed to walk by our side in Mead Garden, the closest we get to raw nature in the city.

The reason? Fear. Fear that dogs will hurt conservation land. Fear that dog waste will be left behind to step in. Fear that it will bring disease with it. Fear that the worst among us will be careless enough to allow that to happen.

Pledging safety against the auspices of fear isn't a new trend in America. Our nation may have been born of bravery and sacrifice, but has itself bore a culture increasingly capitulant to its own fears.

In one of his most famous moments of prescience, Benjamin Franklin once said, "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security."

Along the roadways stand literal signs of the power of fear over freedom. Remember being able to turn left from the Chevron station just east of the city limit along Aloma Avenue? Not anymore. An accident happened there, and now a cement divider stops you.

Thousands of vehicles passed that way safely last year, but now they'll have to find another way home, because of fear of the one who didn't.

Fear can have power over our rational thinking. Despite the real danger posed by sex offenders in America, many states have allowed cities to ban anybody on a sex offender registry from living within a certain distance of where children congregate, leading to a domino effect. Yes, those registries include extremely dangerous people such as rapists, but because registries are senselessly broad, they also frequently include a high school senior who had sex with a girlfriend or boyfriend who was a sophomore.

In the name of safety, they're all lumped into the same group, and in many ways forced to serve out the same punishment over a lifetime.

Bullied by fear, we've also become victim to a cruel irony: A society that's grown increasingly punitive of minor failings of virtue, yet lies supplicant to the lowest common denominator in the name of safety.

If we continue to fear that dog owners will sully our city in increasing numbers, then we'll continue to curtail freedoms until our fear is quelled. But the cycle doesn't end there.

Humans have a history of sensitizing themselves to perceptions of safety, gradually pushing for more safety at the expense of more freedoms.

Once a law is established in the name of safety, it's nearly politically impossible to reverse it. Only a rare few politicians would gamble liberty against the widespread appeal of safety.

Stopping people from doing a pleasant thing for fear that they'll do something unpleasant isn't a ploy to improve safety. It's a quiet way of saying that we fear things are only going to get worse. That's not a Winter Park way of thinking.

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