I have to craft an argument on the rights of an individual vs. the safety of the society but I have no idea which side I'm on or where to start. I really am so lost.
Man's relationship to the State has been a point of discussion ever since the Enlightenment, when such thoughts were able to be explored for the first time in human history. The philosophers of this time (Locke, Montesqie) and even into our own time (Rand) argue that individuals have rights, and that it is the function of government to safeguard them.
Possessing rights implies that one may do as one wishes, as long as ones' actions do not impact the rights of another individual. Laws exist to insure that rights are preserved; governments create and maintain such laws.
If individuals are safe, then the society is safe. "Social" safety is only a function of individual safety. Therefore, as post #4 states, there really is no conflict between what is good for the individual and what is good for society.
The conflict comes about when the percieved "social" safety is threatened, and the response is to curtail individual activities. It is the erosion of indivudual rights that allow governments to wrongfully expand their power at the cost of individual liberty and freedom.
And for those who would argue that individuals must be curtailed for the "greater good," I refer you to a quote by Benjamim Franklin: "Those that would sacrifice a little liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
I'd think you'd want to start by stating the case for each side. Some ideas for each:
Safety of society: If society is not safe, individuals essentially don't have rights anyway because they have to live in fear. Political thinkers like John Locke have said that we give away some of our rights in exchange for government protecting our most important rights (life, liberty, property).
Also, if by exercising your rights, you harm more people than you benefit, then it can be argued that you shouldn't be allowed to exercise that right.
For Individual Rights: If society is taking away important rights then it doesn't deserve your respect. In the Decl of Indep, Jefferson says that governments that don't protect the rights Locke mentioned deserve to be overthrown.
Last thing I'd say is that you might want to specify in your paper which individual rights you're talking about, because that could have a large impact on what you ought to think. I mean, are we talking about your right to free speech or are we talking about your right to use drugs? Depending on which right you're talking about, I bet you'd answer differently. Good luck. Feel free to post again if you have further thoughts/questions.
You might want to do a little research on this issue before you take a side. If you have access to the "Opposing Viewpoint" series at school, that is a good place to begin. There are other nonfiction anthologies available that present an article or more for each side of your topic.
Personally, I think that the safety of society trumps the rights of the individual, but often governments take action in the name of "safety" or the good of all, and simply use those terms to give themselves more power. Idealistically, if a society can produce individuals who exercise their rights effectively then when that society's safety is at risk, it will not come down to an either or situation. It is possible to maintain an individual's rights and encourage a safe society in most situations, but that has to be the true goal of those making policy.
Society consists of individuals. Safety of the society cannot be achieved if individuals in the society are not safe. Society exists to serve the individual. And society gives to individuals more than what it takes away from them. If it was not so, there would be no need for the society. Then every individual will be on his own acting in his own self interest, unmindful of what happens to others. But the fact is that in this way the position of individuals, including their rights and safety will be much less than what is available through the society.
Thus there is no conflict between good of individuals and society. The conflict appears to be there only because people want to get more and more for themselves from the society, but are reluctant to make any contribution from their side for effective running of the society.