THE REAL COST OF FREEDOM

The libeeral in me decries the hypocrisy of politicians who pass legislation to satisfy the biases of the radical right and then balk when the legislation is opposed by the corporate interests that provide the money to fill their campaign coffers. There is, however, a far deeper perversion here. To put it bluntly, freedom is being equated with license.
As I have pointed out before, the ideals of the American community are expressed in the Declaration of Independence: that all humans are created equal, and that every human has been endowed by her or his creator with cetain inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As I have also said before, this is not a proclamation of individual lack of restraint. It is rather the commitment to an inexhaustible and unconditional obligation to recognize the inherent and inalienable rights of every other human being. It is inexhaustible because I owe it to every human on the planet. It is unconditional because it does not depend on the response of other humans to me. So others may wish to limit or even destroy my inherent rights, but that does not erase or curb in any way my obligation to them. The much misinterpreted Golden Rule does not read, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you so long as they do it unto you.” If it did, there would be much truth in the cynical reinterpretation of that rule that states, “Do unto others before they do it to you.”
The point here is that, before I am free, I am bound, obligated, responsible. I am not like some random wandering atom. I am connected, driven, intended, called out by the people who surround me. But is that not bondage? Is there any freedom here? If by “freedom” you mean license, you are not free. However, if by “freedom” you mean fulfilled, given a meaning, able to become a true human, then you are free in the deepest and most significant sense. You are free in the sense that education frees one from ignorance and good government frees one from social chaos and good business frees one from poverty.
To sum up, freedom, real freedom, meaningful freedom, has nothing to do with license, is diametrically opposed to license. License is a cage. A life grounded in license, in the refusal to recognize one’s obligation to others, is empty, meaningless. It renders its proponent alone, just another dry leaf blowing in the wind, just another unconnected atom taking its random and fleeting walk. Gandhi, locked in prison for making salt, was free. Mandela, imprisoned on an island for twenty-seven years for opposing apartheid, wsa free. King, in the Birmingham jail for opposing racial discrimination, was free.
If, whether in the name of personal prejudice or in the name of God himself, you deny your responsibility to others, you are denying the American ideal. More importantly, you are denying the very core of your own meaning. If I refuse to serve a person based on his race, even if I refuse in the very name of God, I have violated my own meaning. If I refuse any service offered to the public, based on age or gender or disability or sexual preference or national origin, or for any reason not recognizing that person’s inalienable rights, I have violated my own meaning, and I have insulted the American ideal.
We live in constant peril, perhaps greater today than in earlier times, of surrendering the American ideal in order to preserve some demented mutant veersion of what it is to be American. Jefferson said that the price of freedom is constant vigilance. Perhaps most of all, we need to be vigilant about ourselves.

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