Friday, March 15, 2013

Prioritizing Freedoms

Illusion of Freedom

Are we free?  Can we be free?  Is freedom a given?  Or perhaps freedom is only an illusion?  Can any freedom not come at a cost to another?

One view of freedom
High above a police drone flies, camera pointing down upon a young couple as they skinny dip in a secluded park.

Buying a pack of cigarettes at the local gas station, purchase data is analyzed for poor health choices and insurance coverage denied.

Attending the start of school, a child’s hand is placed on heart and pledge recited while peers and teacher watch, ensuring compliance to accepted behavior.

Pushing a broom on Saturday, the Jewish laborer knows there will be no future employment for him if he does not.

Another view of freedom
Blowing his nose, the old man wishes he was free from the pain of allergy.

We use the word “freedom” frequently in our culture to mean that we are able to act on our will.  Our expectation of deeds without restraint leads us to believe we are at liberty to live our lives.

The reality is we are only free in part.  Actions have consequence.  Freedoms are not equal. 

Each thinking person finds their own view of how to live their lives.  Each living person is driven by causes beyond their control.  Freedom is a goal that may never be fully reached by all people, all the time.

Assumed Freedom

Our culture assumes we have some degree of free action.  Custom holds us responsible for deciding what we do.  Fate and destiny are assumed to be generated, at least in part, by each person.

We expect economic freedom to make contracts, buy and sell, and keep the money we earn.

We desire the freedom to worship or not as we choose.

We want to move freely about without interference.

We expect privacy in our persons and homes.

We demand freedom from harm; to protect ourselves, loved ones, and property.

We aspire to freely choose government and laws it creates and enforces.

We wish to make free choices for ourselves so long as no one else is hurt.

We insist upon speaking freely, to express our views, and join the public debate.

In all these cases, the independence of action, the ability to express our individual will is taken for granted.

Freedoms Conflict

Freedom during war is different
Each freedom does not exist alone.  They are co-dependent and conflict with each other.  The price of one freedom is often the limit upon another.

Our desire for protection causes us to desire police.  Giving police the tools they need to protect us limits our freedom of movement, our freedom of choice, and cost part of our economic freedom.

Our desire for pleasure has consequences on others. Smoking, gambling or drinking have a cost in resources beyond our own persons.  We limit our movement and privacy to ensure our pleasures do not harm others.

Our desire for lawful governance costs money taking away our economic freedom.  We give up our free movement to ensure regulated transport.  Our desire for protection from government means giving up privacy.  We limit our choices in order to allow the whole to prosper.

Our desire for freedom of speech allows bad ideas to be aired.  People with foolish thought or hostile intent can harm us all.  We limit our speech when it causes the society to suffer. 

Freedom in the Balance

Our balances of freedoms are the result of choices we make as a society.

We prioritize one freedom over another. 

Freedom during peace is different
Screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater when there is none is forbidden.  Such speech is prohibited so that fear does not cause a stampede of injury.  Freedom of speech is sometimes limited for freedom of protection.

Unwarranted searches of our homes are not allowed so that we can maintain the privacy of our lives.  We sometimes value freedom of privacy more than freedom of security.

Not paying transportation tax is prohibited so that we can move more freely.  Moving about freely has a cost we sometimes value more than economic freedom.

We choose freedoms differently with circumstance. 

At one time we thought limiting the vice of alcohol was necessary for other freedoms to endure. 

Feeling our security was threatened in time of war, we limited economic freedom so that money and material could be directed to the soldiers and battles.

Freedom Struggles

Any one freedom can trump the others.  Each of us has a different view of how we prioritize freedom at any time.  When enough of us want one freedom to override another we can collectively make it so. 

Struggling to define the next freedom balance
The balance between freedoms is under constant change.  First one type of freedom will dominate then another.  Later a different freedom will become more important to us.  War, disaster, or even our dreams of the future change our perspectives and thereby our priorities of freedom.

At no time will freedoms be equal.  Trade-offs are searched for in each time and place. 
We use our politics and government to move the balance between freedoms.

Freedom is not an absolute.  Freedom is a balance between competing desires and needs.

Next time you say you are “free”, stop and consider what you mean by it.  Is “free” what you meant before?  Is “free” what you will mean again?  What new balance of “free” are you willing to make?

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