Freedom is just a word, to many people, with no real attached meaning. To others, it is an ideal worth dying for. What is freedom, then?
At it’s very simplest, freedom is the most basic state of being. A man on a deserted island is about as free as a human being can get. That freedom comes with a price, though, as the man is responsible for everything that is involved with his day to day survival. He has to find or produce his own food, his own water, he has to defend himself from predators. He may be “free”, but it’s not a freedom many would seek. The freedom most desire is also free from these worries. This requires a society, and no society can function that allows freedom to go without limits. Each individual must be reigned in so as not to trample on the freedom of their neighbors. The society has to come to some agreements on what is best for the society. Murder must not be allowed, obviously, but most other concepts are really up for debate. Thee are plenty of ideas out there on what works and what doesn’t. Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy, Oligarchy, Theocracy, Republics… All of these are different ideas on how to make a functioning society, and freedom is more important to some, less to others.
The United States, the country I live in, was based upon the idea that individual freedom was the most important concept of all. It has not always applied this idea equally, and after nearly a quarter of a millenium, is still working to flesh out the concept.
Discrimination and security appear to be the two major issues which seek our attention. The government is placed in a position of trying to balance the importance of individual freedom with the security of the individual and society. It has to decide how best to ensure that groups within the society are granted equal freedom and are safe from discrimination. Human nature itself acts against our desires for freedom, as every act of bad behavior is held up as a reason to reduce individual freedom in the interests of overall security.
Part of this problem is that people tend to forget that freedom comes with certain responsibilities, that in order to have freedom yourself, you have to allow those same freedoms and expect the same responsibilities to be upheld by others.
At the same time that all of this is an issue, we face a state of societal decay. Our values are not what they once were. Honesty, honor, compassion, justice, humility, valor, all of these things are portrayed by our society as great things, but generally unattainable. We are told these are the virtues for which we should strive, yet we watch as those who are ruthless liars and cowards proceed to the forefront of society, gaining fame, power, and riches while any that strive for these virtues are used as tools by the unscrupulous.
We expect deceit, cowardice, avarice, bigotry and hatred from the people we place at the helm of our nation. We laugh it off, it’s all a joke. We pay to watch people who follow these “anti-virtues” and encourage them. Our children watch these things and absorb them as “the way people are”. We watch, and through our own titillation we absorb these concepts as “the way people are”.
The problem-simplified-is that we want to have individual freedom, but no society can maintain itself and allow these strong aberrations to exist within it and still allow individual freedom. Legislation is enacted. The people cry out for the government to step in and limit activities, limit freedoms, and are then surprised when the government does exactly that, reducing individual freedoms in the process.
This all brings us to the question,”What is this freedom that we value, and is it something we should have?”
I’m sure there are many answers to this. Being a simple man, my answer to the question is this: Freedom, the idea we value, is an idea that must be first applied at the cultural and individual level, before it can be ensured by a government. Freedom within a society requires that there be a level playing field. All of the individuals must act in certain ways, acceptable to the rest of the society. Freedom can then be secured at different levels.
One level of freedom is the freedom of your thoughts and actions-whatever one person wishes to do, so long as they harm no one else, they should be allowed to do. This works until we bring people into closer contact with each other, and protects individual freedom at it’s most basic.
The next level of freedom is freedom of the household or family. A step up from the individual, the same concept applies, but with one further stipulation. Whatever a household or family wishes to do, they should be allowed to do, so long as they harm no individual or other family in the process. This covers religious acts, choices in child-rearing, marriage equality, noise ordinances, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
These are simple things, and require some further oversight. For example-the acceptable noise level a family makes which lives miles from a neighbor will be different from the acceptable level within an apartment complex with paper thin walls.
These are the things that legislation should be built around. The very highest levels of government should be seeking to protect these things first, and severely punishing those who act against them. The federal government should not be legislating marriage, abortion, recreational activities, because these things should fall within the protection of the individual and the household and family. These things should not be taxed, but the federal government should be taxing the states themselves, and having the states tax the individual and household.
States, counties, cities, and towns should be making slightly more restrictive laws, refining and defining the freedoms of people to create the society they wish to have within their borders. If the people within a state want something to not occur in their state, such as recreational drug use, then the state should pass legislation to make it more difficult to do, while offering encouragement to find other choices. This protects the freedom of the individual and the household, while allowing there to be variation within the national boundaries.
In protecting these freedoms, however, comes the part most overlooked. In order to have these freedoms, the individual and the household have responsibilities they must seek to uphold before all else.
The individual must contribute to the household, and the household to the greater society in some way. They must deal with other individuals and households on the “level playing field” mentioned previously. When two groups deal with each other, they must both be honest, seek to honor contracts, humbly do what is necessary, be compassionate within the group and with those they deal, act justly within their group to uphold these ideals, and valiantly assault any actions that go against these things.
If the individual and group cannot do these things, then the government finds itself in an awkward position. It has to act to limit the freedoms of these groups and individuals. Unable to selectively apply these limitations, they must apply them across the board, and the higher the level of government, the greater the amount of freedom is reduced.
All of this brings me to another question. Do we, as individuals, as households and families, have the ability today to act with these responsibilities in mind? In other words, is individual freedom something that our society can successfully have, or will the acts of the few aberrations require greater and greater control from the government? Can the government be trusted with such powers, or will it, like a beast at the first taste of fresh blood, seek greater power at every turn?
This brings me to another question as well, has our government gotten to the point where it’s lust for power and control has overcome it’s desire to protect individual freedom? Is it now a mad beast that needs to be controlled? Or are we the mad beasts that it is forced to attempt to reluctantly master?
Can YOU be free? Can you act honorably and honestly, expecting other individuals to do so? Do you need a master?