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La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) 1830
"Insisting upon absolute freedom seems like just another insidious form of slavery."

Contrary to popular misconception, freedom is not now and never has been just another word for "nothing left to lose." What could this assertion possibly mean? Freedom might more reasonably be considered another word for "everything left to choose," if only because freedom seems to strongly imply an ability to choose for one's self. But freedom to choose does not impart the judgement or foresight to choose wisely. Your choice might infringe upon my choice or even upon your own well-being, and I might end up having to clean up some mess your choice produces. Unlimited freedom falls into the old Insidious Assumption Of Unlimited Resource Trap, an initially comforting latitude destined to do in somebody. Freedom only seems workable within some probably undefinable constraints. People sometimes go to war to determine these limits.

My neighborhood has rules governing what colors I might paint my house, a clear infringement upon my freedom to make different choices, though I explicitly agreed to this limit.
A few homeowners, either not reading their HOA agreement or defying it, chose some garish alternatives and the HOA ganged up on them so that they would make good on their original agreement. Freedoms unavoidably intersect and sometimes conflict. Resolution can get messy. The curious freedom to bear arms once centered around a general consensus that "arms" excluded obvious war-making weapons, but no more. A minority began asserting less limiting gun rights, under a banner of freedom, and began infringing upon everyone else's freedom from terror. Nobody's likely to feel satisfied with any "common sense" compromise on controlling gun ownership. Everyone's freedom should properly feel threatened by any limiting agreement, some because it seems to go too far and others because it falls too short. Freedom becomes unworkable without generally agreed upon limits. Unlimited freedom seems the most onerous imaginable serfdom.

I figure that my freedom extends from ear to ear, crown to jawline, and not any further beyond. In my head, I feel perfectly free to chose, though even there, some topics seem unthinkable, and so I never go there. Outside, I seek to understand the natural limits to my choosing. I limit my whiskey consumption to the occasional dram because drinking more might threaten who I am and who I aspire to continue to be. I watch my diet, limiting some foods and outright rejecting others as a self-preservation strategy. Absolute freedom to choose would have probably kept me smoking and I would have likely developed COPD by now. I won't even choose to always drive the speed limit because keeping any system red-lined tends to shorten my lifespan. My choices often involve the freedom not to select some option for which no explicit prohibition exists. I say that I've learned better than to shop in the frozen food aisle, though nobody's going to try to arrest me for exercising my freedom to choose crappy pre-chewed frozen food for supper.

In a 1941 speech to Congress, President Roosevelt outlined what he referred to as The Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The freedom of speech excludes yelling fire in a movie theater unless there actually is a fire in there. It also excludes, by law, certain sorts of so-called hate speech. Courts exist to sort out the details. The freedom of worship does not guarantee the freedom to worship in those cases where one's worshipping tromps all over another's freedom FROM worship. Burning crosses on perceived enemies front lawns is not considered a freedom, but an intrusion, whatever one's religion might insist. Freedom from want does not mean that wanting in any way guarantees receiving. Nobody guarantees anyone's sacred right to drink Diet Coke®. Freedom from fear cannot be delivered. Some lilly liver will always be quaking in some corner, and it seems to me that I hold much of the responsibility for delivering this particular freedom. Yes, I hold the freedom to take a midnight stroll through Hell's Kitchen, but I probably forfeit my freedom from fear should I so choose.

Insisting upon absolute freedom seems like just another insidious form of slavery. Our liberty might be best described by what we choose not to choose rather than what we insist we should choose. Insisting upon any choice eliminates the possibility of making a choice. Self-discipline might most deeply influence the degree to which anyone feels free, though I acknowledge that having been born into a privileged class, this might seem easy for me to say. Wars of liberation will continue, with freedom taking both sides. The winners will decide which freedoms matter. The losers will disagree.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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