I spend quality time thinking about freedom. I wake up in the middle of the night, 2 am or 3 am, and I am trying to grasp what freedom means. Freedom is a word that contains so much sweetness. It is an ideal to strive for, never to be reached, but it is also real, real because it has relative reality. We know what freedom is when we see those who are not free.
I believe our forefathers had it right when they put freedom of speech at the top of the list. The mind is what must have freedom. Of course, it is true that even when the body is shackled the mind may be able to roam free, but obviously, although freedom of the mind may come first in the hierarchy, freedom of the physical self, our corporeal person must be present as well. Our American freedom, I believe, is where our true “exceptionalism” lies; it is the heart of our democracy.
But many philosophers have written about how difficult freedom can be; to define it, to hold it, to keep it, to live it. Where do the limits of our freedom lie? What if having our freedom serves to curtail someone else’s freedom? Are we free to be bad, evil, immoral? Apparently we don’t believe we are and that’s why we form a government and become a nation of laws.
In real estate they say that ownership of property allows the freedom for the “peaceful enjoyment” of that property. Suppose you have a neighbor who likes to party, who has vehicles parked all over his lawn, who blasts loud music day and night. He is always nice to his neighbors, always helpful. He is a happy man enjoying his freedom. Are his neighbors free? Are they happy? Free to move perhaps; happy when winter comes perhaps – but if the quiet people ask their neighbor to enjoy his freedom a little less so that they can enjoy their peace a little more and if he agrees, then no one has the same degree of freedom or of the deprivation of freedom as they previously did. One neighbor has gained freedom; one has lost some freedom.
I don’t think freedom means absolute freedom. It looks like freedom is always a relative construct. Perhaps we should not be free in some of the ways Americans have come to interpret freedom. We may not be entitled to the longer and longer childhoods some people in America experience. We are not really free to swallow as many alcoholic beverages as we do or spend as much time as we do getting high, or partying. An addiction is not freedom – it is another way to be chained. It interferes with the freedom of others. It costs others money and time and anguish and it sucks other people down with it. What you are free to do is take care of your body, feed it properly, i.e. exercise it, feed your brain, i.e. educate it. Otherwise you are actually restricting your freedom and that of others. There is no freedom in wasting or being wasted, but in a free society these decisions, in spite of the weight they place on others, are freely made (although illegal). If you take a moral approach to freedom you cannot choose these things because freedom should lift you up and these things keep you (and your culture) down.
In America these days we are like children who just discovered their freedom and want to be as naughty as possible. We are wasting freedom, mistaking freedom for hedonism. With freedom there is responsibility; there is gravitas. Look what our obsession with mindless stimulation is doing. We end up having a group of people who are in the virtual mosh pit, just throwing themselves onto the arms of the rest of us to float above life’s realities (realities like the need to eat, to earn a living, to contribute of your free will to the society in which you float). How naïve and self-destructive is it to get so wasted that you throw yourself on the trust (mercy) of your fellow peeps, who are often as wasted as you, or who have often declared that they will express their freedom as predators? You are perhaps assuming that you will be rescued by someone who mixes some values in with their freedom, who uses some of their precious freedom to rescue drunks and druggies, extreme partiers, and gang bangers.
The very freedom to be a criminal that is exercised so often these days in America is actually freedom to become extinct. It is not the freedom that soars and that is worth fighting for and that sets us apart. We need you imbibers, and ingest-ers, and indulgers to stop. You’re killing our buzz. Our America is becoming sleazy, disgusting, adolescent, mentally unbalanced, wasted and unsafe. We already did the tune out and drop out thing; now we ought to try the tune in and stay with it thing to see if it’s better. I have a feeling it will be.
I don’t think we are free to stop being our brother’s keeper and I don’t long for the freedom of anarchy. I grew up in a family with eight children. Mom was anarchy; Dad was order; we benefitted from the mix. I don’t want to stop all programs for the least fortunate among us. I would rather see us create a strategy to gradually nudge those hedonists among us to find satisfaction in a deeper form of freedom, as opposed to that mindless interpretation of freedom so many seem stuck on now.
The very drugs that were supposed to deliver our citizens from mental illness are, when taken for recreation, destroying us. We can’t afford to give Americans the freedom to be self-destructive because it ends up ruining us all. We are certainly not making freedom look as appealing to the rest of the globe as we should be. People must just shake their heads and decide that if this is where freedom takes a nation, then perhaps they don’t want to drink that Kool-Aid. In fact, this is not where freedom should take us. What good does it do us to be free to puke in an alley? Freedom is a lot more wonderful than that.