Freedom is–has to be–more than just a word or slogan. And it’s not what people say it is.
This being Independence Day, there’s going to be a lot of rhetoric floating around about freedom. Defending our freedom, enjoying our freedom, the freedoms established by the founders of our country, and so on and so forth.
It’s a word Americans use a lot, without really thinking about what it means. If asked, we tend to say something about being allowed to call the president an asshole without getting arrested. It’s this kind of curious blindness to the details of our supposed highest ideal that lets us sing “the land of the free” before ballgames without thinking about how we have more of our population in prison than any nation on earth.
This is not to denigrate the importance of freedom, or to say that America is necessarily terrible at it. We just need to understand what we’re talking about when we use the word, or it becomes a meaningless piece of noise.
Freedom is sleeping late.
Freedom is spending more time with your kids.
Freedom is a beer with some friends.
Freedom is saying “Take this job and shove it.”
Freedom is writing and saying what you want without being afraid of who might read it.
Freedom is not having to put up with mistreatment.
Freedom is not living in fear.
Freedom is taking some time to focus on your music.
Freedom is knowing that you’ll be okay if something goes wrong.
Freedom is being able to take a chance.
Freedom is waking up in the morning and deciding what you want to do with your day, simply because it is yours.
Freedom is, simply put, having a minimum of things in your life that you must do or must not do, and a maximum of things that you want to do or you choose to do.
Most people’s lives in America don’t meet this standard. They don’t come close. Ask yourself: are you afraid your boss will read your Facebook posts? Are you afraid of losing your job because you can’t get another? Are you afraid your kids won’t be able to see a doctor if they need to? Do you tolerate treatment you shouldn’t have to because the alternative is ending up on the street? Can you decide what to do with your paycheck, or is it all spoken for the minute it arrives? Can you honestly say that you freely choose to do your job, or are you scared not to?
There is a lie some people tell in this country, that the only thing capable of impinging on freedom is law. They believe only in the freedom to starve and the freedom to oppress others. That isn’t freedom; it’s serfdom by another name. If we don’t reject that definition, we will see our standard of living continue to slip, as it has done for over thirty years. We have tested that vision of freedom for decades, and it has not worked.
So when I hear people talking about freedom, there’s a simple test I can apply: does their vision of freedom result in more people being actually free in real terms in the real world, or does it not? And if not, why should I take their rhetoric seriously?
Some will say that I’m setting the bar for freedom too high, that it’s a standard impossible to meet, that nobody can be as free as that. Could be that’s true. But if America isn’t about setting a high standard for freedom, then what exactly is it about?