Category Archives: Freedom

Conflicting Freedoms

Our culture is moving forward very rapidly in some areas; zip, zip, zip, and especially in the new Supreme ruling on gay marriage. And in many ways most of us feel that it is about time. I think many of us became convinced when someone we knew who was LGBT? had to be treated in a hospital and their partner, no matter how long they had been together, could never have the solace of being considered a family member.

Many same sex couples wanted to raise a child, having worked hard and built a good life and a stable home, and yet the child could not be adopted by both partners regardless of how long they had loved each other. Situations like this also forced us to sympathize with colleagues or friends. If a couple was paired female-female, one or both of the pair could be artificially (or naturally) inseminated. But could the child ever really belong to both parties in the eyes of the law? I think that has been problematic. For couples paired male-male a surrogate probably had to be involved if they decided not to adopt or if the option was not available where they lived. And once again I am guessing there was no legal right to shared parenthood.

So what may seem like it happened zip, zip, zip to some Americans probably feels like it took forever to others. That Supreme Court decision to uphold marriage for all American couples regardless of gender (and also race just in case it ever came up again) took a certain segment of America by surprise, although it is sort of nice to think for once that “love wins”, as the current meme goes.

So, my questions are many. What do we do when granting the rights of one group of Americans seems to curtail the rights of another group, no matter how intolerant and unenlightened that second group appears?

If we separate government and religion, but live in a government that believes people are free to pursue the religion of their choice, does that mean that equal rights to your own religion suddenly do not count because of the court’s decision? How can we tell if someone’s objections truly are religious in nature, or if religion is just being used as an excuse to deny someone else a right because their expression of that right makes you feel uncomfortable? How would a system of exceptions work? Is there a chance that gay couples might be willing to steer clear of enlisting the services of someone with a genuine religious issue to wrestle with?

Obviously public servants should not be able to opt out, but what if every private business in a given state wanted to opt out? That would look an awful lot like that state’s refusal to obey the law of the land. In the case of Roe v Wade, we already know states that try to get away with taking away a legal freedom from everyone in that state simply because they say it is against their religious views. And in the case of abortion we are not forcing anyone to anything but mind their own business. How would this not be the same?

When it came to a celebration like a wedding I would want to hire someone who was enthusiastic about making my day wonderful. I would feel terrible asking someone to perform services they did not want to perform. But, again, suppose you encountered someone who did want to opt out? Will exceptions take the teeth out of the law? Would a business just put a cross (or other religious emblem) in the window so people would never be embarrassed? Would they have to go before some kind of board to get an exemption?

Equality and freedom are great concepts in the abstract, but they are hardly ever absolute in reality. One person’s absolute freedom can often run afoul of another’s. How do we offer the maximum amount of freedom to each party while granting an equal amount to both? We would need a full-time referee. Obviously that is where the courts come in, but we will have some very busy courts and people will have to wait a long time for decisions.

It seems to me that this is a thorny issue that we need some guidance on from our philosophers. I have no problem fighting against the establishment of a theocracy in America, but individual rights are a different matter and are protected by our Constitution. Fundamentalist Christians are unhappy and likely to make the rest of Americans quite unhappy unless we can strike a balance somehow.

Perhaps we have made such a giant cultural leap that some have genuinely not caught up, or maybe there are some who are quite disingenuous and are just using religion as an excuse to prevent changes they don’t personally like. I don’t know how to solve this argument over conflicting freedoms, but I hope everyone will give it some thought and discuss it with respect until we can reach some form of agreement that allows all groups to feel somewhat like they won, or that creates two camps where almost no one feels like a loser. Am I nuts? Well, perhaps that is another question for another time.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson

Trivializing Freedom

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. Some need is real; some is self-inflicted.

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, and I really mean a lot, more wonderful than that.
This is the view from the cheap seats.
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A Sublime Legacy

The New York City fireworks over the East Vill...Image via Wikipedia

It is the 4th of July and sometimes I think a lot about independence and freedom on this day and sometimes not, but this year, with all the courageous demonstrators in Northern Africa and around the world, I can’t help but give the condition more attention. These countries may not win their way all the way to a democratic society, but they are experiencing a measure of freedom which they may not usually enjoy. However some people are dying to do it. I wonder if I would risk dying to protect my freedom. I treasure it but I am also a great big chicken. I am in awe of these people who stand up against tyranny, who risk being mowed down like a blade of grass. How long would I have to be oppressed before I would rise up? How much oppression would it take? Would I want to wait until we had a plan for the future? Would we have enough freedom to have the luxury of planning for the future? I hope I don’t have to find out.

We worry that our own freedoms are eroding and that our government is trying to regulate every aspect of our lives. As world populations grow we may experience an even greater diminution of our freedoms; but we still have so much more freedom than so many millions of people around the world. Just the freedom to read what we wish to read and the freedom to speak what we wish to say (political correctness and appropriateness aside). We have the freedom to come and go as we please and the freedom to study what we wish as long as we do not seem to be contemplating terrorism or criminal activity. Obviously the current state of domestic and world affairs has also acted to curtail some of our freedom, but Americans have always had many ethical concerns that constrained total freedom. I try not to take our freedoms for granted and I worry, along with every other American that if we lose our ascendancy among nations it will be the death knell of our both our independence and our freedoms. How will we find the right path through our modern minefields and safeguard the sublime legacy of our forefathers and our predecessors?

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