Monday, April 15, 2013

Many Americans Don't Understand Freedom

Again and again I hear Americans--especially of the conservative bent--talk about freedom as if it is an either/or proposition; "Homosexuals should be free to marry", or "the government cannot infringe upon our freedom to own guns", or "we should have the freedom to drive any kind of car we would like", and on and on.

The thing many folks don't understand is that whenever a person or population endorses one freedom, they are denying another one. Take our examples one by one: to allow homosexuals to marry, the freedom of bigots to force their subjective moral choices upon our culture is infringed upon. When a government does not regulate gun ownership, the freedom of citizens to live in communities without automatic and semi-automatic weapons is infringed upon. The freedom to drive any kind of car you like--with whatever mode of propulsion--infringes upon your freedom to breathe clean air.

There is no such thing as a free society. The libertarian worldview is truly a fantasy. Every freedom granted to a population or person comes with a freedom denied. What needs to be decided is what the underlying philosophy of the freedoms afforded a population are. A totally free society is not possible, but a just society is.

It is an infringement on the freedom of the wealthy to accumulate and horde wealth to re-distribute that wealth. It is an infringement on the freedom of those whom the wealthy exploit to accumulate and horde their wealth to self determine and self actualize by not re-distributing the wealth concentrated amongst such a small percentage of our population.

The question we have to ask ourselves is 'Why should we grant freedom in one area in this scenario and not the other?'

My personal operating philosophy when it comes to supporting certain freedoms and opposing others are as follows: I support freedoms that promote equality, justice, and human potential. I oppose freedoms that cause harm to others while unfairly benefiting a specific empowered group. I support freedoms that allow individuals to self actualize, and oppose freedoms that cause individuals to stagnate.

I'm sure there are other aspects to my personal view of how freedoms should be allocated, but that's a good snapshot of my personal metric.

We should all have such a metric, and should all understand that when you're talking about freedom, you're not just talking about positives and negatives. With each positive comes a negative, and vice versa.


2 comments:

Jeff said...

Freedom is a slipery slope and one i find myself still arguing with myself about. On the one hand i love freedom and freedom for all. That's my patriotic side. on the other hand i have my religious and morl views telling me that certain things are moraly wrong. (i won't get into those as that is not the point of this debate). I, however, find myself completely torn on a regular basis. i haven't found a decent common ground with my two halves yet. will i ever? i'm not sure i will. but for now, the best i can do is acknowledge the conflict and know that it troubles me.

Bridget said...

I highly recommend reading John Stuart Mill's On Utilitarianism. It's definitely a bit dated, but it provides a pretty good understanding of utilitarian morality and legal philosophy.

I tend to feel like laws in general should be concerned with just a couple of things:

1. Providing a framework within which we can punish actions that are objectively harmful (e.g. murder, rape, most theft).
2. Providing guidelines for the effective and efficient function of the government (e.g. judicial and legislative procedures, law enforcement regulation, establishment of voting rights).
3. Regulations designed to ensure that all citizens are provided for at some basic level (housing, healthcare, food, education, equal opportunity).

I'm with Spencer on my support of various freedoms, although I expect we have a couple of differences of opinion on specific issues. I would also say that it's not just balancing the freedoms of various groups, it's balancing the freedoms of powerful groups with the RIGHTS of other (generally less powerful) groups. For example, an employer's "freedom" to pay his employees as little as possible shouldn't trump the right of the employee to eat or to go to the doctor when they are sick. And certainly things like freedom of religion should never be interpreted to mean "freedom to enforce one's personal religious beliefs upon others."