Freedom

March 04, 2016  •  2 Comments

"Nationwide, we're seeing a relentless and wide-ranging assault on our fundamental freedoms" reads the opening line of a survey I recently received in the mail from a liberal organization that defends individual rights and freedoms. The accompanying letter began with the even more ominous "They are coming for our fundamental freedoms--and they're playing for keeps.

After I read this, I quickly realized that conservatives say exactly the same thing.

Do we have more or less freedom today than years ago? That's an open question that could be debated endlessly. There was a time when many of us couldn't vote because of our skin color or gender; and some states now have laws designed to make it harder for people to vote. We can now marry someone of any gender identity, but we can't smoke in a public building. We can carry a gun into a supermarket, but we can't carry a bottle of water onto an airplane. You can probably come up with many other examples of laws that grant us more freedom than we used to have, and laws that restrict our freedom more than they used to. How can we come to a conclusion about the overall trajectory of our freedom? Do we try to count all of the instances and compare the number of freedoms gained to the number lost? Do some get weighted more than others? And how can we judge if others are trying to give us freedom or take it away?

There is no objective answer that I can see. But what people across demographics and political beliefs have in common is a feeling that our freedoms are being taken away, and a belief that others are imposing their power and agendas on us. (I find it striking that so many people feel so powerless, and fear having the little power they do have plucked from their grasp. Even the most powerful and influential seem to have this fear.) Where we differ greatly is in which freedoms we believe that we are losing. And what is behind these differences are differences in worldview and ideology. What you believe about who you are and where you fit in the world determines how you feel about the state of your freedom, and which freedoms you fear that you're losing or at risk of losing.

Are we really so driven by ideology? Let's try a little thought experiment to find out. With the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia, there is a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court to be filled. Scalia was considered a very conservative judge, and President Obama is considered fairly liberal. The arguments among Senators as to whether the next justice should be appointed by President Obama or the next President (to be elected in November and take office next January) have fallen almost entirely on ideological (and political party) lines. What's your view on who should appoint the next justice, and what is your reasoning? Now consider this: would your opinion change if the current President were a Republican instead of a Democrat? Be honest. And then consider this: would your opinion change if you believed that the next presidential election would go the opposite way from how you currently believe it will? Be honest. If your opinion changes based on these or other circumstances, then you are probably not making objective decisions based on the law and the good of the nation; you are being driven by ideology.

A bigger ideological question, one that is more encompassing than the issues of which freedoms are being gained or lost, and that underlies the question of whether we're moving towards greater freedom or greater restriction, is this: What is freedom? I will suggest this perspective: It's not the issue of owning a gun, or even the principle of one's feeling of safety or right to self defense. It's not the issue of the right to legally marry, or even the principle of equality and non-discrimination. Freedom means not being driven by ideology. It means not being attached to a worldview or a set of beliefs. It means being able to see what is in front of you, as it is, without imposing ideas or beliefs or opinions on it. Ultimately, it means letting go of--being free from--our identity, which is the ideas about who we are and where we fit in the world. If we are driven by ideology, then we are controlled by our own minds, particularly by the myths, beliefs, and fears of our minds. And if we're controlled by our own minds, how can we possibly be free?


Comments

Steven McAfee(non-registered)
Hal’s blog- response
"Nationwide, we're seeing a relentless and wide-ranging assault on our fundamental freedoms" reads the opening line of a survey I recently received in the mail from a liberal organization that defends individual rights and freedoms. The accompanying letter began with the even more ominous "They are coming for our fundamental freedoms--and they're playing for keeps. After I read this, I quickly realized that conservatives say exactly the same thing.

RESPONSE:
Fascinating. I am curious which liberal organization published this. I have seen many conservatives present this position, but not seen any liberal groups do so. They usually argue the exact opposite, that government is enhancing and improving our lives, not restricting our freedoms or intending to take them away.

Do we have more or less freedom today than years ago? That's an open question that could be debated endlessly. There was a time when many of us couldn't vote because of our skin color or gender; and some states now have laws designed to make it harder for people to vote. We can now marry someone of any gender identity, but we can't smoke in a public building. We can carry a gun into a supermarket, but we can't carry a bottle of water onto an airplane. You can probably come up with many other examples of laws that grant us more freedom than we used to have, and laws that restrict our freedom more than they used to.

RESPONSE:
Excellent examples in contrast!!!

How can we come to a conclusion about the overall trajectory of our freedom? Do we try to count all of the instances and compare the number of freedoms gained to the number lost? Do some get weighted more than others?

RESPONSE:
Good question. The “fundamental freedoms” usually refer to those enumerated in the Constitution, specifically in the “Bill of Rights”, that recognize the individual’s sovereignty, in which the State is tasked to protect and serve the rights of its citizens and be subject to them, and not the converse. These enumerated core “freedoms” would be weighted more heavily than, for example, one such as “I want to wear cut-off shorts to work but the mandatory dress code denies me that freedom.”

And how can we judge if others are trying to give us freedom or take it away?

RESPONSE:
If we are speaking of judging another’s motive, then I see no way. However, if we are judging another’s intent, we need only look to their consistent actions. If you knock me down once, that could be an accident; if you do so repeatedly every time I try to stand, there is an intention behind it. If you lie once, it could be from fear, embarrassment, or other self-interest, without the intention of specifically deceiving or controlling me. But if you lie to me repeatedly to deceive me about important choices I face or about actions you have taken but now deny, that lie is a character statement; and the manipulation shows intent.

There is no objective answer that I can see. But what people across demographics and political beliefs have in common is a feeling that our freedoms are being taken away, and a belief that others are imposing their power and agendas on us. (I find it striking that so many people feel so powerless, and fear having the little power they do have plucked from their grasp. Even the most powerful and influential seem to have this fear.)

RESPONSE:
Yes, and the very prevalence of this sense may indicate a truth inherent within it.

Where we differ greatly is in which freedoms we believe that we are losing. And what is behind these differences are differences in worldview and ideology.

RESPONSE:
So true!!

What you believe about who you are and where you fit in the world determines how you feel about the state of your freedom, and which freedoms you fear that you're losing or at risk of losing.

RESPONSE:
Absolutely, and this is such a critical factor.

Are we really so driven by ideology? Let's try a little thought experiment to find out. With the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia, there is a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court to be filled. Scalia was considered a very conservative judge, and President Obama is considered fairly liberal. The arguments among Senators as to whether the next justice should be appointed by President Obama or the next President (to be elected in November and take office next January) have fallen almost entirely on ideological (and political party) lines. What's your view on who should appoint the next justice, and what is your reasoning? Now consider this: would your opinion change if the current President were a Republican instead of a Democrat? Be honest. And then consider this: would your opinion change if you believed that the next presidential election would go the opposite way from how you currently believe it will? Be honest.

RESPONSE:
Yes, probably so. I want whoever is appointed to be an advocate of maintaining and protecting the Constitution, regardless of who is President or which party is in power. There are already sitting Justices who have expressed personal opinions that are contrary to the values contained in the Constitution, including some who would abolish, or radically revise, some of its first ten Amendments, most notably the second. Some Justices have even taken positions that amount to writing law, which is beyond the purview of the Court, belonging exclusively to the legislative branch of the government.

If your opinion changes based on these or other circumstances, then you are probably not making objective decisions based on the law and the good of the nation; you are being driven by ideology.

RESPONSE:
Yes, but isn’t the concept of what is good for the nation is a part of our ideology? It involves our understanding, not only of who we see ourselves to be individually, but how we see this nation and its purpose and values. So choices for the good of the nation must be ideologically driven. We cannot answer the question of what is good for the nation without asking the question (as you did in asking “What is freedom?”), “What is this nation? What gives it its unique identity? Upon what principles was it built, and adherence to what principles will sustain it? And, should be sustained?” All of these answers form a part of our ideology.

A bigger ideological question, one that is more encompassing than the issues of which freedoms are being gained or lost, and that underlies the question of whether we're moving towards greater freedom or greater restriction, is this: What is freedom? I will suggest this perspective: It's not the issue of owning a gun, or even the principle of one's feeling of safety or right to self defense. It's not the issue of the right to legally marry, or even the principle of equality and non-discrimination. Freedom means not being driven by ideology. It means not being attached to a worldview or a set of beliefs. It means being able to see what is in front of you, as it is, without imposing ideas or beliefs or opinions on it. Ultimately, it means letting go of--being free from--our identity, which is the ideas about who we are and where we fit in the world. If we are driven by ideology, then we are controlled by our own minds, particularly by the myths, beliefs, and fears of our minds. And if we're controlled by our own minds, how can we possibly be free?

RESPONSE:
This is a brilliant paragraph! It illuminates what freedom is really all about and re-orients the whole conversation in a very important direction. It raises the question of whether it is even possible to see something “as it is” without seeing it through any of the filters of our ideas, beliefs, or judgments. As I believe it is possible, it also raises the question of what form of government best honors, supports, and protects that freedom and its oral, written, and active expression in individual citizens. And, in a way, that starts the dialogue about the interplay between “fundamental freedoms” and the reach of government’s power all over again.
Ani(non-registered)
Very thought-provoking, Hal! I like the idea of freedom from within...and am grateful for all the outer ones, too! But, yes, if we do not have the inner freedom, the outer ones cannot be nearly as fulfilling, can they?
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