Friday, March 22, 2013

We talk about freedom, but what is it?

The right wing likes to talk about freedom, and how it is guaranteed by the Constitution.  As Americans, we often take it for granted.

But what IS freedom?  What does it mean?  How do we exercise it and how is it protected?  More importantly, how is it abridged, why is it abridged and why is it that abridgment of some freedoms a good thing?

First of all, what it freedom?

The Constitution, in the Preamble, tells us that the Constitution exists "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity...", but the Declaration of Independence says that we are endowed by our "Creator" (a very Deist term) "...with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

Hmm, lots of stuff there, but very little to be gleaned as freedom, per se.  Lots about rights, though!  It does, however, speak of liberty.

Merriam-Webster says about that:

1  the quality or state of being free:

  • the power to do as one pleases
  • freedom from physical restraint
  • freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
  • the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
  • the power of choice
Aha!  Now we're getting somewhere.  When our founding documents talk about Liberty, it is freedom they mean!

Now, as we talk about these, the very first item here brings up a very good question.  If you are free to do what you please, what if the thing that pleases you doesn't please me?  Yep, things are getting a bit sticky already, aren't they?

Well, there's a very good quote that covers that one, "Your freedom to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose."  In other words, our freedoms are not unrestrained.  The Supreme Court has ruled that one's right to speak your mind is pretty unrestrained, as far as political speech is concerned, but, you cannot shout "fire" in a crowded theater, due to the imminent danger to life and limb represented by the panic and chaos unleashed by such a shout.  Other words, termed "fighting words", are similarly restrained under certain circumstances, due to the incendiary nature that utterance may have on others' minds and behaviors.  Again, the imminent nature of the danger is paramount.

So, no, you can't always do what you please!

How about being free from physical restraint?

Again, the rights of others are the major constraint on each of us.  We all have the freedom to move about both on our own property and in public spaces - but are restrained from trespassing on others' property, and the government has the power to control public spaces for such purposes as public safety, national security secrets, traffic control and so forth.

Break the law, and you'll find out about another aspect of physical restraint as well!  So, no, that freedom isn't unrestrained, either.

How about the freedom from arbitrary or despotic control?

Ok, that one is pretty clear, on the face of it.  The very nature of the Constitution is supposed to be proof against despotic control, isn't it?  Arbitrary?  Well, theoretically, yeah, but from a practical standpoint, government by nature can be arbitrary, and the fix for that, going to court, is expensive and tedious!  But, the right wing is adamant that freedom means free from government interference in our private lives.

Ok, the next one is a good one!  Positive enjoyment!  That's my bag!  Social, political and economic rights and privileges!  Yeah!  Well, then again, I AM white, Anglo-Saxon Protes... well, ok, I'm not Protestant, so let's toss that one out, but hey, nobody's perfect, right?

But wait.  There's a problem.  A very practical problem.  A lot of people are not what the majority of this country have traditionally seen as "normal" Americans.  Minority ethnic groups, minority religions, atheists, "foreigners"....and women.

The political right wing have traditionally been defenders of Conservatism.  Which is the defense of "the good ole' days" when the majority ruling group felt comfortably in charge, unrestrained, and able to define "freedom" in their own terms!

The days when gays had to be in the closet just to stay alive, blacks were free to live on the poor side of the tracks and were free to work in the poorest jobs available, hispanics were free to work anywhere they wanted, as long as it was limited to field or yard work and Asians were preferably just invisible.  Atheists were also supposed to be invisible, if not just a nasty myth.

And, of course, women.  Ah, women!  The flower of motherhood!  Yep, barefoot and pregnant was the preferred mode, kept in the kitchen, unless being "pampered" as an expectant mother.

Which brings us to Choice.  You know, the choice women have never had until the Twentieth Century came along and gave them the power of the vote, release from the restraint of needing a husband to own property and the freedom to divorce.  The freedom of contraceptives which gave them the freedom for the very first time to have a career outside of the home and away from the overpowering control of hubby.

You know, all those hard won freedoms the right wing want to take back?

Freedom is not an arbitrary word defining something nebulous or hard to come to terms with.  It is at the very heart of our founding documents, both of which mention Liberty as one of the most important things we went to war with Great Britain to obtain and built a new form of government to protect.

It is something which must be constantly under guard, and is also something constantly being re-defined, from generation to generation.  It is so important that the most important freedoms were enshrined in the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, to restrain the government from violating them.

That includes the States, brought under the aegis of the Constitution's restraints by the Fourteenth Amendment.  You know, the States which have been busily taking back the essential rights of women that the Twentieth Century gave them?  The States which have gone to great lengths to constrain abortion rights which were guaranteed under Roe Vs. Wade and would, if they could, take contraception as well, which would lead to the loss of so many other freedoms women have enjoyed as a result of.

Yeah, that's what this is all about.  Freedom, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness.

And a conservative Party which would take all of that away to redefine this country back to what it was over two hundred years ago.

Indentured servants.  Slaves.  No middle class, no birth control, no divorce, no reproductive rights at all.  All of the economic rights and privileges reserved for the wealthy and the white landed men.

Even if I were religious and fit their definition of the ruling class, I don't think I'd be comfortable there.

I don't think most Americans today would either.

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