Whatever freedom means.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Saturday, January 19, 2008 4:53 PM

Sorry for the hiatus, folks, but I'm back at school and fighting the hectic currents of school, work, friends, and family.

This last week I had to write a mini-essay over the definition of freedom and what I think it is. At first, I tried to be funny about it. It's the kind of essay prompt you give to elementary school kids, not college students. At least, traditionally. While I don't think that second graders should seriously be contemplating freedom instead of learning history and English (how will they really understand what freedom is if they don't learn about the past and where and what we came from?), that's how it usually goes. Despite how good of an exercise this could have been, I hated it.

So, like I said, I tried to have a sense of humor, but the assignment just seemed all wrong. Is "freedom" really only worth 1 1/2 pages? Dissertations have been written on it, and I was expected to sum up what freedom means in a page and a half? It seemed like a cheap assignment. Then again, I don't know what's more telling: that we were only to write 1 1/2 pages on something so fundamental to the American way of life, or the trouble I had writing it.

It's not that I can't define freedom. I can think of many ways to do so. The problem is that I can't really grasp how my definition of freedom can be anything but a regurgitation of Webster. In my sorry paper, I went ahead to say that I was a product of freedom (I fall into a combination of "minorities", "statistics", and "exploited" groups that have received some sort of freedom, limited or otherwise), but that's as personal as I could get. It's hard to define freedom in the U.S. What we perceive as injustice and unfairness is often nitpicking, and what the majority perceives as what is right and fair is often where the real infringements are. I relied on that majority vision of freedom. Otherwise, it would have been a moody, stupid paper.

But I did go so far as to say that a free country would not allow the beliefs and ideals of one social group dictate the laws and limits of the American people. Was that a shot at evangelicals? Yes. If I had to choose one social group in the United States that has an ultimate agenda with a planned tangible outcome, evangelicals - especially those who dabble in the political arena - would be it. In fact, Huckabee, the champion of those whom I have accused, said this on January 14 before the Michigan primaries:

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do, to amend the Constitution so it's in God standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family."

In a roundabout way, here is my point: I can't define what freedom is until I've pointed out all that I believe freedom isn't. What Huckabee describes, what many Americans feel is right and free, is exactly what I'm scared of and what I don't want and what I believe freedom not to be and what I wish people could see as no different than the unjust indoctrination of communism, fascism, or any other -ism. What Huckabee proposes is what I wanted to relate to my professor in my 1 1/2 pages as exactly what this country was meant to stand against, not for. But, instead, I took my shot at evangelicals and ran away from it like it was radioactive. For the most part, that's because I can't read my professor, and I don't know whose "side" she's on. But there is a small part of me that desires civility to cheap shots - that I've got to give everyone the elbow room they need to pray, punch, or "apathize" without my meddling. In other words, I don't want to make myself a target by being so openly critical of any and everyone around me.

In the end, the assignment made me learn something powerful about myself: I'm just as susceptible to the politics of fear as anyone else. I'm willing to go with "the other guy" as long as "the other guy" isn't directly threatening me. But what does that say about me? That I'd rather fly blind than knowingly get in a plane with a faulty engine? It just means I'm an ignorant sheep, and not as critical as I should be of what's going on around me.

I'm not free. Chances are, you aren't either.

Firestarters: Highlights of the Highly Miscellaneous Part III: New Year Edition!

Posted by Whit Barringer , Tuesday, January 01, 2008 9:18 AM

Though not all of these link posts will be themed, I thought I would theme this as Hope for the Future.

  • The Year's 10 Craziest Ways to Hack the Earth (Wired.com)
    • Geoengineering the next frontier? "Scientists have come up with extreme -- some might say crazy -- schemes to counteract global warming. This year saw the most radical geo-engineering ideas yet: man-made volcanoes, orbiting mirror fleets and ocean re-engineering to cool the planet and absorb carbon dioxide." It's awesome how creative we can be.
  • X-Prize Foundation
    • Though this organization has been around for a while, it's recently made news with its focus on designing energy efficient cars. One of the front runners going for this prize is a company in California that is planning on releasing 300 MPG hybrid within the next two years. They are the organization to be watching in the future.
  • World Wildlife Fund and the Golden Compass
    • I'm a regular donor to the WWF and a lover of the Golden Compass (as you all know), so this site is very exciting. Don't forget about animals in the coming year. While I don't believe that humans are a privileged kind among the animal kingdom, I do believe that we have a responsibility that comes with our intelligence and that we must work toward saving all creatures. This world would be a lonely place with just us, wouldn't it?
  • The Year's Top 10 Science and Tech Stories (Slate.com)
    • Some of the advancements on this list are absolutely amazing (regeneration? cyborgs?) Some are also very troubling (embryo manufacture? non-lethal beam weapons?). It's worth a look. If you're like me, you'll be shaking your head in disbelief of how far we've come (and how far we've yet to go).

Filler #3: The Right to Vote [Happy New Year Edition!]

Posted by Whit Barringer 8:56 AM

I'm going to be leaving soon for St. Lou-ay to see Wicked (yes, I'm excited). So instead of laboring in what time I left between today and tomorrow morning to put up another heartfelt blog entry, I'll leave you with filler (and maybe a Firestarter) that will have to tide you over until I get back on Friday, if not Saturday. This is another article from Helium. Since the Iowa caucus will happen in the time that I am gone, I thought I would offer up a voting-themed entry.

Anyway, here's wishing you a Happy and Safe New Year! Many blessings upon all of your families. Enjoy!

Q: Is eighteen too young to vote?

A. No.

Eighteen is just old enough to die for God and country without parental consent. I don't understand why they can't vote for the people who would send them off to war for causes not necessarily their own. This isn't something as simple as full driver's licenses and being able to buy cigarettes. This is something much much larger than that, and it cannot be underestimated.

I understand the arguments. Teenagers don't really keep up with politics. That demographic is one of the lowest in the voting ranks. They are not really old enough to take full responsibility for themselves. Those who are going to college haven't had enough education to vote responsibly, and those who aren't going to college haven't had enough real world experience to understand what it means to vote and how it affects them.

Somehow, the millions of adults who don't vote, don't have experience, and don't have an education get whittled down to a bunch of kids who are about to graduate high school. When less than a third (compared to over 95% of France in their last election) of eligible voters are going to the polls, I think it's private interest that would rather see the voting age raised to exclude idealistic 18-year-olds. What else would please old despots and oligarchies more than to cut out new ideas and young minds.

Honestly, this isn't about Republicans and Democrats, Capitalists and Communists. This is about democracy and the rule of the people. It's long been held that 18 is the threshold that young girls and boys walk through to become strong women and men. So what does 18 become without the right to vote? It becomes a somewhat destructive milestone because it means cigarettes, gambling, driving, and military service. Make that age synonymous with responsibility and duty to one's country. Make it worth more than a pack of Marlboro Reds and a trip to the casino.

Coming of age should most certainly mean more than that, and the right to vote is one of the most positive ways to plant the seeds of responsible citizenship into the soil of the mind. Taking that away creates an entire class of disenfranchised youths who have the potential to give so much back to the world. Taking away the right to vote takes too much from those who haven't really had a chance to impact the world yet. If anyone deserves the right to be taken away, it's those who have never voted and are old enough to have done so many times. They've squandered their rights. Give the 18-year-olds a chance to prove that they won't do the same with theirs.