| Soft Porn Writer, Dictator, Rock Star, and others Weigh in on Freedom
|Is it a lifestyle, a mindset, or a right?
Janis Joplin famously sang the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson and
Fred Foster in the song Me and Bobby MaGee, “Freedom's just
another word for nothin' left to lose.”
But is freedom simply the lack of entanglements, obligations,
and responsibilities? Is the homeless beggar on the street
corner free? He certainly doesn’t have to be at work by
9:00AM, pay rent or taxes, raise children, or keep up with friends
and family. There might be freedom from stress in such a
lifestyle, but is he free? I think most of us would answer, “No.”
Some say that freedom is a spiritual concept. Osho, an Indian
spiritual teacher, said, “True freedom is always spiritual. It has
something to do with your innermost being, which cannot be
chained, handcuffed, or put into a jail.” Is freedom then a
mindset? Being able to be at peace regardless of the conditions?
An example of that might be this quote from Holocaust survivor
Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning which
recounts his experience in a German concentration camp during
World War II: “The highest and greatest of the human freedoms
is to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
Which leads me to think of the debate over Free Will vs.
Determinism. Are we free to make our own choices, or are our
actions and behaviors determined by either a higher power or
our background and environment? I’ll leave that argument to
the professional philosophers and psychologists, and for the sake
of this article assume that we have free will.
I recall my father telling me when I was a child, "Your freedom
ends where my nose begins." My father was always saying funny
things, so at the time I wasn’t sure if he was being serious. In
hindsight, I think what he meant is that I am free to do anything
I want as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s freedom
to do what they want. Which brings to mind this example:
freedom of speech does NOT mean you can yell, "Fire!" in a
crowded movie theater when there is no fire.
Milton Friedman, in his bestselling book titled Free to Choose,
talked about having choices in everything we do - especially
economic choices - as the basis of freedom. French philosopher,
Simone Weil, concurred with her statement, “Liberty, taking the
word in its concrete sense, consists in the ability to choose.”
As did the power hungry, Napoleon Bonaparte, who, perhaps
paradoxically proffered, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore
more precious, than to be able to decide.”
The founders of the United States were motivated by what they
considered to be the inalienable or nontransferable rights of
life, liberty and the pursuit of property. Their belief in the Right to
Life means an individual owns his or her life and body. That right
in turn gives the individual the Right of Freedom to pursue and
produce the sustenance necessary to maintain life and body. The
time and labor put into producing life’s sustenance creates
property we then own. This is how the concept of property rights
is derived from the right to life. Therefore if someone takes your
property, they have stolen your time and labor, and therefore a
portion of your life and freedom.
Slavery is the opposite of freedom. Harriet A. Jacobs, in her
book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, wrote from firsthand
experience, “[A slave is] entirely subject to the will of another.”
But, what if we are not "entirely" subject to the will of another?
If a politician can use the force of government to take a portion
of our time and labor (or the fruits thereof), does that mean we
are partially free or partially enslaved?
Others have said that freedom is not a right, instead that it is
something that must be acquired - even fought for. Novelist
Aldous Huxley wrote, "Liberties aren't given, they are taken."
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Freedom is never voluntarily given
by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Malcolm X stated, "If you're not ready to die for it, put the
word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary." And, President
Woodrow Wilson, who conscripted millions of men to fight in
World War I, and who gave America its tax on the fruits of
men’s labor, ironically agreed, “Liberty has never come from
the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects
of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
Concurring with this line of thought are Somerset Maugham:
“If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its
freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money
that it values more, it will lose that too.” And, Voltaire: “So long
as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who
wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent,
and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods,
religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.”
Former slave, Frederick Douglass, also agreed, “Those who
profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are
people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want
rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without
the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one,
or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be
a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never
has and it never will.” And, as many have declared: "Eternal
vigilance is the price we pay for liberty."
How is our freedom lost? Novelist, D.H. Lawrence observed the
reason, “Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their
children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools.”
It is a death by a thousand tiny cuts. While the people sleep,
governments pass thousands of pages of laws, regulations,
and taxes. An unknown author noted, “Men fight for freedom,
then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from
themselves.” In the United States, there are more than 3000
federal criminal offenses. Add to that state and local crimes.
Whatever happened to the simplicity of “Thou Shall Not Steal
or Kill?” Perhaps our behavior is “determined” by a higher
power after all - a powerful government!
On the other hand, freedom is NOT valued by all. Newspaper
editor H. L. Mencken observed, “The average man does not
want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” Playwright George
Bernard Shaw stated, "Liberty means responsibility. That is why
most men dread it.” And, Ambrose Bierce, in his sarcastic
book The Devil’s Dictionary, wrote, “Liberty: One of Imagination’s
most precious possessions.”
It seems that whether freedom is a lifestyle, mindset, or natural
right; it comes with a price. And, if we want to keep it and use
it, we will have to stand up for it.
© Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.