Let Freedom Ring
May 6, 2010
Erich Fromm wrote a book called Escape from Freedom. Ironically, he published his book in 1941. I guess he only had to catch Hitler’s act for a little while to figure out what Hitler was up to. He tried to understand why Europe had two World Wars in such quick succession. This book was required hippie reading in the 1970’s and it has stayed with me all these years. In this book Fromm’s premise was that freedom is so scary to people that, as soon as people win their freedom, they start to give it up. He puts lots of interesting analysis in his book to back up his argument.
In America we believe in freedom, we write songs about it. We have a cult of the “individual” which is also about freedom. We may have achieved more personal freedom than any other culture. But, are we piece by piece giving our freedom back in exchange for things like health care, safety, security? That’s what some Americans say. At what point does my individual freedom curtail yours. After all, if there is one other person nearby there is no such thing as absolute freedom, and freedom is a meaningless concept if you are alone.
Is freedom really free, or is freedom also a responsibility? We have the freedom to go to school or not after age 16, but we have the responsibility to take care of ourselves as adults, to earn enough money to house ourselves and feed ourselves, don’t we? So, although we are free to leave school a consequence is that we may experience less freedom in our adult lives because our choices may be more limited.
Are we free to be evil? I’m pretty sure we all agree that the freedoms of good people are a higher priority than the freedoms of bad people, although this is not always practically possible. It is, though, a matter of self-preservation. We are free to travel almost wherever we want, to sleep on the beach, to party all night, but bad people are free to mess with us when we do these things, they are free to “play” with our safety and security, to terrorize us.
Perhaps the freedoms we treasure most of all are the freedoms of the mind, the freedom to think as we wish and to speak and write as we wish. Even here we have to accept limitations.
Freedom is a touchy thing, a squishy philosophical concept. It is a goal that perhaps cannot ever be reached. We will always have to accept relative freedom as opposed to absolute freedom. How will we know when we have let too much freedom slip through our fingers? People have different “freedom thresholds.” I guess we have to be vigilant that the limits of freedom are not set so low that we wake up one day to find ourselves oppressed or dead. Although in America we have given up some of our “freedoms,” so far, we have not given up our “Freedom.”
It may be uncomfortable to live in a country that allows a wide range of diversity, but tolerance does taste like freedom. We are constantly threading our way through a maze of decisions to either keep a freedom or give one away, or to find a balance that allows us to feel free enough. The fact that we make these decisions every day and still seem to come down on the side of relative freedom is America’s most wonderful and admirable trait. We must continue to choose as much freedom as a situation will allow.
January 4, 2022
(Here we are a decade later and our Freedom has never been in more jeopardy. Some people define freedom as not having to wear a mask in a pandemic that infects others by traveling as droplets through air from our noses and mouths. That seems a twisted, selfish, unscientific, and shallow way to define a concept as complex as freedom. Others define it as a right to refuse a vaccine that would shorten the pandemic, save lives, and save America’s economy. They have decided that the Health Department and the US Government have colluded to force them to do something harmful, when all they really believe (or have been told) is that those agency people are trying to take away some of their freedoms.
Another thing that many Americans know is that the people described above have put their trust in the wrong people. These Americans are trusting the very ones who are trying to curtail our freedom, dismantle our republic, turn our democracy into an illiberal democracy aka a dictatorship, and steal from us freedoms far more precious than their right to defy health guidelines. We know who is giving some Americans the “Kiss Me Kate” treatment or the “Taming of the Shrew” treatment, training them to say that day is night if Trump and Fox news and the Republican Party says it is. When/If these Americans lose their freedom, we know that we will be dragged into their brainwashed world, a world where voting has been tampered with to keep the brainwashers in power, a world where neighbors are threatening neighbors at school board meetings. These Americans, twisted by the Republicans, will be so happy in their victory over the “libs” that it will take them a while to miss what they so blithely threw away, but by then it could require a war to get our Freedom back.)
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