I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the concept of freedom and personal liberty. In the lead up to the 2016 elections, it seems as relevant a conversation as ever.
Sadly, it seems like no matter which way you turn someone is trying to find a way of imposing their will and belief system on others.
The Christian opposes the marriage of a gay couple because it is a sin according to the Bible, even though the Bible is not meant to be a standard for those who do not follow its teachings.
The Atheist wants to remove any mention of belief in god from the public sphere. For example the effort to remove the motto “In God we Trust” from US currency – even though according to some polls less than 15% of the total population of the United States does not adhere to any particular religion and can be considered atheistic.
The Attorney General of the United States wants to pursue legal action against people who do not agree with her opinion on climate change.
Students at Universities across the country are protesting to have comedians banned, and even to have certain words banned from use on campus, in an ongoing campaign against freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Some students have gone as far as to say that freedom of speech should not be allowed if such speech is emotionally hurtful to another.
We have universities banning speakers over offensive jokes. Celebrities complaining irrationally about whatever buzzword cause they feel like promoting on a particular day. Student movements on college campuses demanding that words like “crazy” be banned, saying that we should use less offensive verbiage like “wild” … that is of course until that word also becomes taboo and we are forced to trim our vocabulary once again.
There is such an emphasis on avoiding offense that, ironically, people are being called all kinds of horrible things in an effort to curb the use of offensive words.
Terms with serious connotations and historical significance such as racist, homophobe, and others that I will not write here, are thrown around on a whim as if they were candies at a children’s party.
From what I can see, the issue at hand is not the words themselves, it’s about control. It’s about forcing people into a certain belief system because that system is currently considered “right!”. It may even be right. But how often, throughout history, have tragedies occurred on the back of attempts to force what some considered “right”?
The danger with this type of coercion and censorship lies in the fact that the ability to decide what is “right” to think or say should not be in the hands of a few people. Should the “right” course of action or the “right” point of view be dictated? if so, how do we determine who gets to decide what is censored? Who gets to have the power to choose what’s right and wrong?
Has there ever been a satisfactory outcome when ideas – especially those opposed to the status quo – were suppressed? What comes next? When people refuse to be censored, what is the next step?
If history is any indication, what comes after censorship of speech is violence. First, violence as those in power crack down on those who speak up and finally violence against any who has the potential to speak out, as Stalin did in the Soviet Union, or Hitler or Mao.
The next step is the violent suppression of all who do not fit in the collective mold of how things should be, after all, they are horrible bigots or climate change deniers, or …insert whatever counter-culture concept you don’t like here.
At the heart of almost every controversial social discussion we have today, you will find someone trying to force someone else to think or act a certain way. Someone trying to force their beliefs on others, and using the powerful force of the law to do it.
If you look up the word tyranny in the Merriam-Webster dictionary the first definition is: “cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others,” a little further down it is defined as, “a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force”. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we see it all too often these days.
How can this happen in a nation literally founded on the idea of individual liberty? A nation founded by men who made statements like “Give me Liberty, or give me death!”. A nation which has often been the example of what a free society should be.
Dr. Os Guinness (sociologist, author, and social critic) once said in an interview: “in a convulsion of the global era, the most precious thing is human dignity. What is it that expresses and protects human dignity? Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion… and the arena that enhances that is the civil public square.”
By “the civil public square” Dr. Guinness is referring to the ability of people from many backgrounds, in any community, with various beliefs and values, to come together and discuss issues, to debate ideas, and to let those ideas rise or fall on their merit.
Sometimes the ideas one holds will triumph… sometimes they will fail to live up to scrutiny, but the ability to approach a controversial concept and allow it to be scrutinized is key for any diverse and strong society.
I think, in the end, we all want the freedom to live our lives how we see fit.
Left or Right, we each want to be free to do what’s best for ourselves and our families: Whether it’s the ability to defend our homes, or the freedom to love whomever we choose; the wish to worship within our chosen religion, or the freedom to walk away from it without fear of retribution; the freedom to grow our own food, fly our flag, or assemble in groups of like-minded individuals. Most of all we must have the freedom to express our thoughts without censorship or fear of legal recourse for having a “wrong” opinion.
If we keep heading down the path of collectivism and of censorship towards anything that opposes the accepted thought, we will be just as guilty of stifling science and progress as the Catholic Church was during the time of Galileo… if not more so.
This is the importance of liberty for all under the law, without exceptions.
Ayn Rand wrote that the “smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”
Throughout history, there has always been a struggle between Liberty and Tyranny.
Tyranny hides behind many veils and takes on many forms. It can look welcoming, comforting, and it is very easy to fall into, but will always show its true colors in the end.
Liberty, on the other hand, isn’t glamorous. It can be scary; like leaving home as a young adult, you don’t have the state as a parent looking out for you. There are dangers that come with it, but what would you choose for your life? Would you prefer the continuous comfort of childhood? Or would you choose the, sometimes scary, future that life holds for you?
When we decide to limit people’s freedoms, when we pull at the threads of the rights of the individual, we’ll soon find the entire tapestry unravels into a type of despotism.
I will leave you with this thought:
“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” – John Adams
* Arthur Cleroux is an INFJ and a bit of an idealist, with a logical and rational preference in his approach to politics and political issues. He considers himself slightly right of center when it comes to the political road map. He recognizes that there are nuances in every position and realizes that there is no such thing as a perfect world, though we can still strive to make it a reality. He does, however, feel very strongly about the way the world is going these days, and how liberty is being replaced, more often than not, by a mandated party line that must be adhered to. He would like to help put a stop to that and be a part of setting up a world for his children where liberty is the basis of our thought process, and individuality and liberty are cherished rather than ostracized as outdated concepts.