Freed or Afraid?
Anyone who’s seen or even heard of Braveheart knows the line. Show someone a photograph of a bald eagle and if they’re American, chances are the first word that comes to mind is “freedom” or “liberty”. It’s become commonplace to think of freedom as being a virtue, however, less common now is unanimity of what freedom actually is.
Don’t believe me? Ask 20 people on the street “what does it means to be free?” and enjoy the ride. Everything from specific activities they like or want to do to nebulous proverbs like “all man are created equal” or “It’s what we are here in America”. Once you start trying to nail down what freedom actually is though, eyes glaze and palms start sweating. Reasons for this helplessness in the realm of defining liberty are many, everything from apathy to cognitive dissonance could be blamed but that’s not exactly what I would like to talk about here. Rather than investigations as to why the average man wrestles with the definition of freedom, I would rather look at a deeper and perhaps more pernicious problem with peoples views of freedom in action.
Of the twenty people asked before about the nature of freedom, no matter their answers, I would be willing to bet that 19 out of the 20, if not all, would say that freedom is a virtue to be to be sought after. However, once freedom is actually applied, whether theoretically or in reality, answers begin changing. Ask them what they are free to do and the hairs will start splitting. “Well,” they might say “You are free, but not to do (X). That’s illegal.”.
If you were to now ask them again “What does it mean to be free?”, they might alter their definition of freedom to fit their current political paradigm.
You could hypothetically keep going through this cycle of questions until you created a list of all of the things you can and cannot legally do. Many items on the said list they will agree with and some they won't. Now ask both them and yourself, “What is freedom?”
Liberty, when defined by what the state has decided you are or aren’t allowed to do starts to become muddy and cheap. Freedom on a modern political level can be bought and sold at a going rate you can find by asking your nearest friendly neighborhood lobbyist. While these faceless unions, corporations, and unelected bureaucrats barter with politicians for our souls, we argue over facebook and the like about which group of slave traders (the Reps/Dems) get to put our lives on the market! Rarely, if ever, asking whether they need be solicited or not.
I Have a different definition for freedom though, one those familiar with philosophic writings of Isaiah Berlin would describe as negative freedom. Man is and ought to be respected as autonomous in his being and justly acquired property: a man may do with his life and property what he pleases.
That is all freedom need be.
Why though, isn’t it that simple? Why do we fight so bitterly about what others are or aren’t allowed to do? My thoughts on that, simply put, are that people are afraid. Plain and powerful. Think of every last war we have fought, both at home and abroad; one example being the war on drugs. Fear that people will burn the country to the ground in a fit of opioid or THC induced psychosis has resulted in the stripping of real freedom on several fronts.
Think of the many social programs implemented by the state, behind every program is a void of belief that humanity can solve its problems peacefully, that it can care for it’s poor, disabled, or elderly voluntarily. Filling this void is a fundamentally irrational faith that men and woman willing to expropriate funds from members of their community at the point and threat of a gun will be able to better provide welfare for the poorest in their communities.
Brilliantly put by Philip G. Zimbardo in his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil:
“Fear is the State's psychological weapon of choice to frighten citizens into sacrificing their basic freedoms and rule-of-law protections in exchange for the security promised by their all-powerful government.”
Take a look at all state action. You’ll find one of two things: fear that people either will or won’t do something they want or don’t want them to do, “they” being used purposely to convey the vagueness with which the rule of law is administered. in order for the state, that complex of laws, rules, and regulations which have no reality for the cipher individual, to successfully control a population they must find an enemy. Whether the perceived threat is real or fake, it’s crucial for the health of the state to create a culture of fear. Upon the Soviet Unions collapse, Soviet foreign spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov told the USA:
"We have done the most terrible thing to you that we could possibly have done. We have deprived you of an enemy."
Now, with this in mind, there are two critical points to be noted in connection with this train of thought. 1) That fear is the fuel which keeps the flames of the state raging, however, it is malice and idealism that spark the fire into existence to begin with. It is the work of ideologues and extortionists of the political and intellectual class to convince the population that their submission and forfeiture of their rights is imperative to their wellbeing and that they simply cannot do it on their own. 2) Fear in and of itself is not bad. Fear is obviously a powerful evolutionary tool of self-preservation when used at the moment of danger, with that being the case it can also be a powerful tool of manipulation when applied to indistinct and varying externalities.
The list of legislation proposed and propped up by fear mongering goes on for as many laws as there are in the books. There is an obvious acceptance of doublespeak that prevails in western culture at large, most people don’t actually value freedom, they value supposed safety at the altar of the state. If this is what the people want then that is what they must say, but no favors are done for either side of the argument when definitions are skewed for the sake of political correctness.
So, do you want to be free or afraid? Will faith that the government can protect you from those things which you are most afraid save you?