Understanding and ignorance both shape our choices. The latter may limit freedom with or without an encroachment of our rights, in that we approach the choosing point with its long-term possibilities distorted or otherwise misunderstood and pass freedom by without recognizing it.
Formal education addresses this need but the informal education of honestly shared experiences can be timelier. Here I look at informal messages: the ways we cut ourselves off from some and are undone by others.
After years of debate Massachusetts adopted a seat-belt law. Our gall was divided into three parts: one part imposed itself upon what had been a private decision; another set its own understanding above the very real experience of unencumbered beltlessness; and the third brazenly detracted from life’s centerpiece daring. Even afterward that tough plastic constraint, seeming more shackle than freedom, often went unused. I know this from the string of fatal traffic accidents that have since befallen the unbuckled.
Centerpiece daring celebrates a skill where no skill is involved, courage where no caring gives sustenance. It squats up to friendship, as though friendship would have it endangered for so little; and puffs its way into a what-happens-to-you-happens-to-me windshield, addiction or sexually transmitted disease.
Princess Diana’s buckle—right beside her—was freedom; her break-away chuckle at the trailing paparazzi, bondage. Benazir Bhutto’s house arrest was de facto freedom; the warm adulation, wordlessly beckoning her (as it had J.F.K. and Anwar Sadat) to stand before it, bondage. All persons of great courage, they failed to realize that they had become so important that, at a particular moment, the less apparent courage of staying alive trumped any centerpiece daring.
Long after Massachusetts buckled up, there was an horrific accident that took the lives of two sisters, and possibly the governorship from a friend of their family. This letter of mine appeared in a local paper:
“The Murphy family’s loss is beyond comprehension, but freedom is not so ill-spirited that it requires each of us to bump our shins into all of life’s problems. Yes, it pays for itself thunderously on Middle Eastern soil but also quietly with revealed, costly mistakes. Those who encourage others to go unbuckled need to understand very clearly this consequence. If there is confirmation that Shauna was intoxicated when she got behind the wheel, that also needs to be understood by both those encouraging such a condition and those making alcohol available to her at age 17.
“The laws of the Commonwealth allow the speeding along of this final message through prosecution. We must not stifle freedom by denying its gift to families whose children are under similar pressures and confusions.”
At the time details of intoxication seemed a pittance beside the agony of daughters lost and the benefit of a code of silence broken. Freedom is for those who make mistakes and in our time the most actionable of all mistakes are those of reckless self-endangerment and what makes these actionable is noticing them and what brings them to our notice are we, through laws and revelations.
Freedom is also for those who get it right. As with mistakes, getting it right needs to be shared honestly as an example of good judgment; and that must give us pause. A process which legislates against the relentless commission of a mistake may also legislate against those who have gotten it right. For that reason, when the federal government sides on an issue setting personal freedom in conflict with the well-being of those down stream from that freedom, the resulting action ought to be subject to state override but only on those occasions when such a referendum would neither conflict with a constitutional right nor undermine enforceability of the national course.
Our great gift from American Revolutionaries is democracy. This decision-making process often goes unrecognized as freedom. The sticking point asks us how we can depend on, and perhaps enter into bondage over what may well be the misjudgments of that common denominator: one person, one vote. Many democrats (not a reference to party) feed this doubt by attributing democracy’s strength to the basic wisdom of all people.
I consider the attribution inverted. No one is born to vote or govern but by participating from birth in the electoral process, we are exposed to an understanding of the issues with which our communities must deal. Each of our citizens inherits a right to vote, but those who stay open to diverse political thought and to the outcomes of their own votes inherit the spirit of democracy.
In fact, they do so in the millions, each with a savvy extending beyond politics and from them emerge candidates against whom your typical dictator is no match. Young emerging democracies must tap into a citizenry whose awareness had already extended beyond its national boundaries; and thus, any “democracy” lacking a free press and the right of self-expression is forever one minute old.
Paramount to all of this is the free flow of information: free that is from our own and others’ interference. When one’s audience includes posterity, one’s message is subject to the vagaries of word meaning. Altering a word’s meaning is a bit like burning those pages of all the books in which that word had appeared. Had Fascism conquered all, the word love would have survived but with a much distorted meaning and persons or books hinting otherwise would have long since been put to flame.
- How much freedom does a person have in a democracy (wiki.answers.com)
- Democracies Within Politics and Religons (islandpress115.wordpress.com)
- Too Much Democracy? (gameofroles.wordpress.com)