Monday, July 07, 2008

Some Tentative Thoughts About Freedom

With the Independence Day holiday weekend now behind us, I've been thinking about the concept of freedom. This is hardly unplowed ground, of course. Along with the founding documents of the United States and countless other countries, freedom's contours have been explored by scholars over the centuries and across the political spectrum. FDR's famous "Four Freedoms Speech" -- describing freedoms of speech and expression, to worship, from want, and from fear -- sets a rather high standard as well. For a simple blog post on a Monday morning, I offer two much more modest thoughts.

First, freedom is one of those words whose meaning has become hopelessly muddled. Along the lines of the argument from George Orwell that I noted in a post last week, this lack of clarity makes the word both potent for demagogues and -- more to Orwell's larger point -- potentially confusing for its users. If we do not really know what we mean when we use the word freedom, invoking it can be meaningless at best and misleading at worst. For example, an advertisement for Dan Rather's new show on HDNet shows an unidentified soldier or militant of some sort, wearing a mask and being interviewed by Rather. The interviewee says: "We want freedom, and we are willing to die for it."

What does this person really want when he says that he will die for freedom? If, as we often believe, the U.S. is the model of freedom, what part of what we have is worth fighting to replicate elsewhere? A bicameral legislature? Adoption of the Bill of Rights? The Bush administration has often acted as if holding contested elections is both necessary and sufficient to declare that a country has been given "freedom," which merely demonstrates the point that meaningless words can lead to muddled or disastrous policy choices. "We gave them elections, so they have freedom. Why isn't everything better now?" Although it is easy to imagine that some people in positions of power use the word cynically, it seems at least plausible that much of the difficulty stems from insufficient appreciation that the word freedom has become a feel-good word that means everything and nothing.

Second, beyond abstract concepts of freedom in the context of constitutions and governance, what does freedom mean in people's lives? Again, this is hardly a new question, and it would be too ambitious to hope to add much to the idea that many of the freedoms that Americans often debate are meaningless to people without enough food to eat. Still, one of the concepts that, I strongly suspect, Dan Rather's freedom fighter most likely did not have in mind was expanding freedom to vulnerable groups in society. Almost twenty years ago, for example, I had occasion to drive across the United States alone. One afternoon, I stopped for gas in the middle of Wyoming. Even dressed in casual summer clothes, I couldn't help feeling great discomfort and even fear for my safety as I waited for the tank to fill up. The men at the gas station made it very clear that I was an outsider and that I should leave quickly, which I did. As I drove away, I thought, what if I were a woman, or black? Would I have even considered stopping there? What if I had no choice? With that as a possibility, would I even have considered driving across the country alone in the first place? At that moment, freedom took on a meaning that was quited unexpected (though, I readily admit, hardly novel). As a white male in America, I had the freedom to do something that I wanted to do, and that very freedom was fundamentally tied to the fact that I did not have to worry about my personal safety before deciding whether to do it.

The freedom to get in one's car and drive across the country might seem a bit frivolous -- especially given climate change and the price of gas -- but the larger point is that freedom can sometimes be captured in what we take for granted. We still have some distance to travel before we can say that all Americans, much less all human beings, enjoy the same freedoms. We would do well, at least, to stop using the word casually.

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan


Sobek said...

"We gave them elections, so they have freedom. Why isn't everything better now?"

How exactly are you defining "better" in this sentence? It seems indisputable to me that things are better now that Saddam Hussein is gone.

egarber said...

Dan Rather's freedom fighter most likely did not have in mind was expanding freedom to vulnerable groups in society.

Freedom fighter is even more elusive as a term. After all, Reagan called the Afghanistan Mujahideen brave "freedom fighters". As we know, that bunch included extremists (bin laden, among others) who supported / support harsh versions of Islamic law.

SJW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

免費A片, ut聊天室, AV女優, 美女視訊, 免費成人影片, 成人論壇, 情色交友, 免費AV, 線上a片, 日本美女寫真集, 同志聊天室, 聊天室交友, 成人文章, 成人圖片區, 色情網站, 辣妹視訊, 美女交友, 微風成人區, 色美媚部落格, 色情影片, 成人影片, 成人網站, 免費A片, 上班族聊天室, A片,H漫, 18成人, a漫, av dvd, 一夜情聊天室, 微風成人, 成人圖片, 成人漫畫, 情色網, 日本A片, 免費A片下載, 性愛, 成人交友, 嘟嘟成人網, 嘟嘟成人網, 成人貼圖, 成人電影, 成人, 中部人聊天室, 080中部人聊天室, 成人貼圖, 成人小說, 成人文章, 成人圖片區, 免費成人影片, 成人遊戲, 微風成人, 愛情公寓, 成人電影, A片, 情色, 情色貼圖, 情色文學, 做愛, 成人遊戲, 成人影城, 色情聊天室, 色情小說, 一葉情貼圖片區, 情色小說, 色情, 寄情築園小遊戲, 色情遊戲, 成人網站, 麗的色遊戲, 色情網站, 成人論壇, 情色視訊, 情色電影, aio交友愛情館, 言情小說, 愛情小說, 色情A片, 情色論壇, 自拍, 癡漢, , 俱樂部, 豆豆聊天室, 聊天室, 色情影片, 視訊聊天室, 免費視訊聊天, 免費視訊, 視訊交友90739 情人視訊網影音視訊聊天室 免費視訊聊天室 視訊聊天 視訊交友 美女視訊 視訊美女 視訊 免費視訊 免費視訊聊天 視訊聊天室 辣妹視訊 一夜情 色情a片 aio交友愛情館 情色電影 情色視訊 色情遊戲 色情 情色小說 一葉情貼圖片區 色情小說 色情聊天室 情色交友 成人論壇 成人網站 色情網站 情色論壇 小高聊天室 女同志聊天室 6K聊天室 080苗栗人聊天室 080聊天室 聊天室尋夢園 UT男同志聊天室 男同志聊天室 尋夢園聊天室 UT聊天室 聊天室 豆豆聊天室 A片 成人電影 成人貼圖 嘟嘟成人網 美女交友 本土自拍 成人交友 成人影片

Anonymous said... .
[url=]puma shoes[/url]
[url=]chaussures puma[/url]
[url=]nike air max ltd[/url]

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

酒店經紀人, 菲梵酒店經紀, 酒店經紀, 禮服酒店上班, 酒店小姐兼職, 便服酒店經紀, 酒店打工經紀, 制服酒店工作, 專業酒店經紀, 合法酒店經紀, 酒店暑假打工, 酒店寒假打工, 酒店經紀人, 菲梵酒店經紀, 酒店經紀, 禮服酒店上班, 酒店經紀人, 菲梵酒店經紀, 酒店經紀, 禮服酒店上班, 酒店小姐兼職, 便服酒店工作, 酒店打工經紀, 制服酒店經紀, 專業酒店經紀, 合法酒店經紀, 酒店暑假打工, 酒店寒假打工, 酒店經紀人, 菲梵酒店經紀, 酒店經紀, 禮服酒店上班, 酒店小姐兼職, 便服酒店工作, 酒店打工經紀, 制服酒店經紀,,