For all that Freedom


Today on Memorial Day, I ask you this question. What did they all die for? When we talk about the concept of freedom, many of us don’t understand what freedom means. It does not mean do whatever you want to do.

The fight for freedom in America came from people who did not believe in absolute freedom for everyone. Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator 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.” They did not consider certain groups of people men. They considered them savages. They also didn’t consider women. All said, they still had a revolutionary approach during this time in history. It is important to note that other human civilizations achieved similar kinds of freedom and democracy many years before this. Still American freedom is what we die for. So, what about it?

“These freedoms, of course, aren’t absolute. I can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theater when I know no fire exists, to cite a famous example of the limitations imposed on free speech. Nor can I threaten to detonate an imaginary bomb on a plane (even writing that phrase in a post is likely to attract the attention of the Office of Homeland Security). Nor, to paraphrase another famous line, can I swing my fist into the space your nose happens to occupy. In other words, to state the obvious, we’re all free within limits.” Alex Lickerman M.D.

This is particularly important to understand. Freedom means there are boundaries to which a person has an ability or should have an ability to seek out and achieve happiness through the exercise of their own choices. When we fight for freedom, we fight for the people to have more choices. It is said that we have rights, but no person has open-ended rights. Many would disagree as they hold on to the constitution and cite it in the same manner as scripture. The constitution was intended to support the idea of happiness and liberty in the frame and scope of the times.

Carli Conklin in The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History, happiness in the 18th century meant “man’s ability to know the law of nature and … to choose to pursue a life of virtue or, in other words, a life lived in harmony with those natural law principles.”

Natural law and principles as men could define these at the time. Fundamentally, these are what Americans fight for. This is critically important because we do not have education in our classrooms that digs into what freedom was designed for. What the constitution actually meant and what it means today. However, we are at a critical impasse for America and the world. The idea of freedom is now translated to mean that we can decide on our own how we perceive and interpret what used to be facts. Today, we are losing facts through campaigns to spin or change them. The colors of the rainbow are no longer ROYGBIV they are now whatever we want them to be. The problem is that we are losing common ground with each other because we contest facts. If we don’t have a basis of where we can agree, we start to lose our ability to have dialogue built from facts. While I am not looking to challenge how the reader feels about any topic, I am sharing the idea that intractable conflict is becoming more prevalent due to our inability to stay grounded.

When I was in the service, I was a child. I thought that fighting for freedom meant that I could do much more than I really could do. Think about this for a moment, you must put on a seat belt legally even though the chances of hurting someone else are low. In many places, buses do not have seatbelts. If a bus gets into an accident, nothing will happen to you but in a car, you are toast. It is quite a simple example of issues that show the complexity of our freedoms. If it makes someone happy to use drugs and they don’t bother anyone else, should they be free to do it? If it makes someone happy to build an addition to their home and there is no impact on anyone else, they can’t do it without a permit. A permit means permission, is that freedom? If someone wants to marry a car, because they love it, can they, do it? I believe officials turned him down, but I am not sure of the end.

If someone wants to have more than one spouse, shouldn’t they be able to do that? If we are free under the terms of the constitution, shouldn’t we have the right to happiness as long as we aren’t harming others?

People don’t spend a lot of time reading history. They may not understand what freedom means as the founders wrote it, and they may not care. They know they have an opinion, and it is likely that given facts, they still may not change it. This is called belief perseverance. This refers to people’s tendencies to hold on to their initial beliefs even after they receive new information that contradicts or disaffirms the basis for those beliefs (Anderson, 2007). 

It is important to understand that many countries are democratic and have stated intention of rights and freedom. Democratic countries may share these common traits:

  1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections
  2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life
  3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens
  4. A rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens

Additionally, the democracy index is shared by Economist Intelligence which uses these factors to rate countries:

  1. pluralistic system in which at least two legitimate-but-different political parties coexist
  2. A free and fair electoral process that enables the people to choose between candidates from those parties
  3. A government that operates openly and transparently, works for the good of all the people, respects its own rules, has proper checks and balances, and gives its citizens free choice and control over their lives
  4. Politically engaged citizens who support democratic principles, “fight fair”, vote regularly, accept the will of the voters, and commit to a peaceful transfer of power after each election
  5. An emphasis on preserving civil liberties and personal freedoms of both the majority and minorities
  6. A free and independent media unhindered by government interference, influence, or intimidation

Believe it or not, the United States is not ranked in the top 10. Number 1 is Norway!

This leads us to the question of democracy and freedom. Democracy does not equal freedom. This is the topic of many lectures, papers, and books. Does a democratic republic equal freedom? In democratic experiment there is a delicate balance between “freedom” and “equality”—two core values that, paradoxically, exist in tension with each other. After all, if we are to be “equal,” then none of us has the “freedom to be unequal.” And if we are to be “free,” then inequality will be inevitable. These are extremes, of course, and we know what those look like: freedom without the restraint of law and civic responsibility is anarchy; equality devoid of human aspiration and real choice is communism.

So, we fight for equity? If we are all hampered in our ability to that which we want to do, then we are all equal in not being able to do anything we want. It is pretty complicated to work this out. I’d say along with financial literacy, we should have a year of school dedicated to freedom, equity, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness.

Why did I take you through all of this and what is my expectation beyond this post?

Memorial Day is a day to honor members of the military who gave their lives in defense of America, her people, her ideas, and principles. These people made the ultimate sacrifice for America itself regardless of its complexity. I know running into a tough situation and hearing someone yell “this is real” means that we are ready to do whatever it takes in the situation regardless of our fears. There is a passion for the simple idea of service to our country. There is a passion and a physical feeling associated with sacrifice and duty. As I honor these people today and consider my role and responsibility, I ask that we think about how we can find our way to educate our children with information that we can validate and call facts. I think we should read about history and never forget the real things that happened. We should honor our fallen and understand their intention. We may also consider that many of those who died didn’t have much of a choice as they were selected for service.

If we lose ourselves in our idea of uncommon and fact-based reality, we will find ourselves fighting until none are left. If we do nothing to solve the problem of skewed facts and warped perceptions based on agenda, they will have made the ultimate sacrifice to what end?

Posted in KM.