By Me, Robin J. Engel
The beauty of this country, as we all know, is the fact that we have the freedom to live and think as we please. Even the people who don’t support our political ideologies and vie instead for Communism, even the ones who think we are too oppressive, even the right wingers who think we are too permissive; they all know in their hearts as well as their brains that they couldn’t get away with any of the things they do or say in another country.
The fact is, that because of our intense passion for liberty, the right wingers, the moral majority, and the Communist sympathizers are able to exist on the same soil. The question we must all pose is, “What is freedom?”. It appears to be a rather nebulous concept that alludes to being able to do whatever you want. The conservatives proudly announce that their fathers and sons died “defending freedom” while the draft dodgers claim it was their ” freedom to choose” not to kill or be killed. Everyone seems to have their own idea about what “freedom” is.
According to webster’s Dictionary, free is defined as: the state of not being subject to determining forces / immunity to or release from obligations or undesirable states of being 1/ unrestricted use or enjoyment / an absence of controls/l spontaneity unfettered by rules and conventions…… Can an entire society live with complete, absolute freedom? Can a democracy exist as a completely “free” state?
Firstly, a free democracy is actually a contradiction in terms since democracy denotes majority rule and not unanimous rule, thereby eliminating a portion of society by definition. The minority must go along with the majority consensus and compromise their beliefs or so called freedoms. What’s more, by applying the concept of the “rule” or the “law” as in “majority rules” you have now imposed structures and restrictions on people, thereby negating the true concept of freedom.
The next question is ‘what about the rights or freedoms of the individual?’ This country was founded on the principles that we could be free to choose any of system we wanted and live accordingly. That’s a wonderful idea, but there’s a catch 22. What if my ideals and actions conflict with another person’s? What if my actions cause the other person harm or discomfort, be it physical, mental, or spiritual? That other person can no longer exercise complete freedom because I have imposed my values and my limitations on them. In order for the other person to be as happy as I am in my endeavors, I must confine my freedom to myself. Therein lies the paradox of freedom. The word itself implies no limitations or obligations, and yet, if everyone’s freedom is to be had, then I must take responsibility upon myself to act with control, lest I be infringing upon someone else’s freedom. Thus, true freedom requires responsibility.
The question of freedom pops every now and then when we are trying to determine what to set down as our laws. It came up in the Scopes trial and reared its head again in the “separate but equal” education trials. Presently, we are confronted by controversial issues such as abortion, flag burning, and perverse lyrics by rock’n’roll bands. What should we do about them? (Please note, dear reader, this essay was written over 20 years ago, and while we still battle many of the same issues, the concepts still apply.)
I am inclined to say that we should allow anyone the freedom to do as they please, because if we restrict their choices then somebody might soon be tampering with our own freedoms. Where does it end – in a Fascist sate? Walls are coming down around the globe and we are trying to erect them right here in the land of the free.
But age and reflection has led me to consider other avenues. Although I may think Joe Smith from Kalamazoo has the inalienable right to write whatever lyrics he pleases, do I not also have the right to determine whether or not my child can listen to that song? Why not have a rating system that enables me as a parent to preview this material? (updated note: The internet was not as prevalent when this essay was first written. This issue is even more difficult to get a grip on in this modern age.)
While group A thinks that aborting a fetus is murder, does not group B have the right to exercise their religious beliefs that a fetus is not a human until the soul enters it at the moment of birth? Group C may believe that a fetus is not a functional human until it is able to survive independently from its’ mother. Do these mothers not have the right to determine the fate of “a part of their own bodies”? And what of the pro lifers who decree that only God can determine the fate of the unborn, except in the case of rape or incest? Is this not a human value judgement, then and not a divine declaration? (as of this writing, and after 50 years, Roe V. Wade was overturned, even though the majority of the people in the United States disagreed with that decision.)
And what of war? While we are defending our way of life, attempting to eliminate the propagation of the ideas we disagree with, are we not ironically stopping their freedom to choose? Are there not millions of people who are caught in the web of our military machine , crying while they watch their babies die, all because we dislike their way of doing things? Yet, we would be fools not to defend our way of life.
What about the flag burner? Does he not offend you? Is he not destroying the very symbol of everything we are? Or is he exercising his right to do as he pleases, so long as he doesn‘t hurt anyone? Is he really doing anything besides eliciting a response from you? * We need to determine as a society what limits we are going to impose on ourselves. If we intend to live by the decree of democracy, then the majority of us will have to agree on some things and set the rules. A society need rules to follow, like the players of any game. Nothing in the universe as we know it exists without laws.
If something or someone is without direction, it will eventually conform to some structure at some time, like a liquid in a container. Humans without order will either go mad or gravitate to the closest and safest structure they can find. For example, street gangs in Los Angeles appear anarchistic in the eyes of society when in retrospect they are pathological “social structures” consisting of lost boys who have found a place within a whole array of rules and conformities, however distasteful they may be to society.
Perhaps we have gone beyond the pinnacle of freedom and are on our way to anarchy. I have come to the conclusion that neither anarchy nor freedom can exist in its’ absolute state, except as a reference point. Life is not a static, motionless state of being. Instead, it is volatile and dynamic, a constantly changing process. Absolutes exist only as the beginnings and ends of ideas. (Case in point: capitalism. While the principles are sound, we have not been able to roll it out the way it was intended. It is rife with inadequacies, flaws, and cognitive dissonance.) In order for life to continue, we must aspire to reach these ideals and yet never reach them. If we were to attain the state of being we were hoping for, then we would no longer need to continue to act. Society’s pendulum is constantly swinging between anarchy and totalitarianism, with freedom as the fulcrum.
I can’t give you your answers to all these ponderances – for those you must search your heart. Actually, most people will already have their minds made up, never hearing what the other side has to say. I am merely presenting some ideas for you to contemplate and mull over before you make your ruling absolute. Please be aware that things in life are rarely absolute. Life is flexible and compromising. Were it not for the polarity and plurality of minds then the entire concept of America could not exist. We need to open our minds before we make decisions that may come back to haunt us, and realize that we must think before we act. If I am correct, people in America want freedom for all, but not a free-for-all.