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.

1 Response to "Whatever freedom means."

monda Says:

Looks like 70% of South Carolina agrees with you. I'm sure the Constitution is breathing easier.

Sometimes it's the most simplistic assignment that haunts us.

Post a Comment