The Challenge For Freedom
Do we want a world in which freedom is a quaint word reserved for the privileged?
Copyright © 2003 Dorian Scott Cole
This commentary is about the challenge of gaining and maintaining freedom in all governments.
This article is about the opportunities freedom provides to people, not about particular styles of governing, or rights, that may or may not make freedom possible. Even in the bastions of freedom, like the US, opportunities are not equally available. This article looks at the role of government in ensuring opportunity. Every culture and government develops differently, and so have the need for different customs and laws. Freedom is enabled differently in each government.
Assuring freedom has three decisive aspects. First is freedom "from" those tyrannical things which restrict people from living without fear and oppression. The second, which is more positive, is the freedom "to" do those things we want to do. Emphasizing the positive, rather than the negative aspect, makes a difference in approach to giving people the ability to do what they want. And third, the thing which is most elusive, is the "probability," not just the possibility, that people can do what they want to do.
The purpose of freedom
The six freedoms in the bullet points below are challenges. From experience and world observation, I believe these are worthy of note:
- Freedom from tyranny (see the list down the page)
- Freedom of behavior (purpose and action)
- Freedom of identification
- Freedom to communicate
- Freedom of spiritual expression
- Freedom to act responsibly
The above are tempered by the requirement that activities don't harm others, or aspire to harm others; and that they enable constructive action, and not destructive action. There will always be a debate within society over what is constructive and destructive, especially when experience is inadequate to the determination.
Our wants and our "social environments," have a great deal to do with our perception of freedom. If we have no desire to do something, then the freedom to do it is irrelevant. On the other hand, if we do want to do something, our ability to do it may be found in various ways within our specific culture and government. It is up to the specific culture and government to enable our ability to do something.
To enable freedom and opportunity, society (culture and government) must think in terms of enabling probabilities, not just possibilities. Just because something is possible doesn't mean that those who seriously want to can take advantage of it. In providing opportunity, we need to think in terms of opportunity for all, not just what is possible but is only actually available to an elite few.
On the other hand, if everything was easily obtained, the value of it would be diminished. Part of the effect of striving to reach a goal is to realize the journey's value. Thinking in terms of "possible and probable" opens up windows of exploration for people as well as expression, which is equally as important to humanity.
Freedom from tyranny through governmental action
Preventing tyranny means providing or ensuring the ability for people to live their lives without fear and oppression. Tyranny is the oppression of people so that their lives are restricted to the point of interference, or that they are forced to support corrupt or brutal powers. These powers might be governmental and legislative; religious; intrusive individual observation and monitoring; political; corporate and industrial; police; economic; terrorist; disease, disability, and genetic condition; lack of education; intolerance; hate groups and bullies; greed, lust, murder; criminal; foreign military; or human activity, condition, or organization.
The following list itemizes tyrannies that incapacitate the pursuit of opportunity in our individual lives, and that our collective (governmental) effort should be charged with eliminating:
- Disease: Primarily provide freedom from disease, disability, and genetic conditions, and continued research; or secondarily, provide the ability to cope in the modern world with their effects. Make medical assistance available to all at a price that doesn't destroy their lives.
- Lack of education, or having learning disabilities: provide the ability to cope with the modern world, and make quality education available to all who will work for it, regardless of their economic or geographic status.
- Religion and intolerance: Ensure the freedom to be different and express these differences outwardly (within the law), without negative repercussions. (That is, respect for individuals and individual differences.)
- Economic security: Ensure the opportunity for all who will work to make a reasonable living, and provide security for those who can't reasonably work. (A reasonable living provides the ability to secure adequate food, housing, utilities, fournishings, medical care, insurance, and transportation for individuals and families.) Prevent economically destructive actions by business entities to the ability of people to make a reasonable living, and to the environment.
- Security: Provide for the common defense from enemies or criminal activity, within the nation and from outside, and when prudent and appropriate, assist others in other countries to secure freedom and democracy. Provide freedom from unwarranted or overzealous police action, and from intrusive observation and monitoring by any person or organization. Prevent destructive actions by business entities to people and the environment.
The above are minimal things that I believe we can reasonably accomplish through our collective efforts, basically through the government, to prevent tyranny, that is the absolute, unjust, and cruel, power to not just hinder, but totally incapacitate the pursuit of opportunity in our individual lives. Any society should be built on this foundation of the minimal welfare for its people.
Politicians and political action groups should focus on eliminating these tyrannies until they are accomplished.
Through freedom and democratic action we can accomplish much more than this.
Freedom of identification
The thing that has recurrently impressed me the most, in over 50 years of observing people, is the need for people to have a sense of who they are as a collective people. History, culture, ethnicity, and geography are very important to them - perhaps sometimes too important. But individuals and people have a great need to be identified with their heritage.
The fundamental thing that creates problems for governments is trying to mold people of different heritages into one culture, without their prior acceptance of it. The phrase that always comes to my mind is, "Let people be who they are." Even people who migrate voluntarily to the US, typically unite in communities with others of similar heritage.
Governments should leave groups of people alone, and then if the people find enough benefits in annexing to the government, then let them annex themselves, but leave their identities intact.
Colonization was an attempt to spread the empire, making clones of the larger country. From the time of the Hittites, Assyrians, Romans, and later British and Soviets, colonization was only partially successful in transforming the people in the countries that they dominated. Even the Native North and South Americans kept their heritage while adopting only some of the ways of the invaders.
The differences that divide us are typically much smaller than what we have in common. Trying to transform away the differences of others makes us all a smaller and less vibrant culture. "Let people be who they are."
Others of the six freedoms at the top of the page may be commented on in future articles.
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