I sometimes ponder the concept of freedom after hearing about or reading about yet another person imprisoned or executed by an oppressive regime because she or he said or wrote something the regime did not like.
There are many freedoms we might categorize as subsets of the overall concept of freedom. Freedom of speech is high up in the hierarchy of freedoms because without it, we cannot advocate for freedoms we lack nor point out when freedoms are being taken away.
Of course freedom of speech is useless if we do not have freedom of thought. When we are forced to believe certain concepts and restricted from thinking about other concepts, our mental world remains small and our attitudes narrow-minded. We become afraid to think about subjects the dominant culture has deemed taboo.
When our freedom is restricted or completely taken away, we live at the pleasure of the powers that be.
I do not take freedom for granted. My personal freedom and liberty were hard won. My personal freedom must be cared for and advocated for. There are extremely powerful institutions and leaders who are eager to abridge and obliterate my freedom. There are many people who believe that people like me should be put to death simply because I exist as I am.
This is no small matter. There are oppressive regimes around the world who control their residents by severely restricting their freedom of speech, their freedom of thought, and their freedom to exist.
It is up to each generation to protect our fragile freedom. We inherited it from the previous generations for safekeeping. In turn, we must preserve and build upon and increase freedom as our own legacies to hand down to future generations.
We people in the western democracies believe that freedom is the default way of life. We comfort ourselves and become apathetic because we’re told we live in a free country. The notion that freedom is automatic is disproved by the annuls of history. The Magna Carta came about after costly struggle and loss of human lives. The United States came about due to the desire for the freedom from a colonial power.
A casual perusal of American History reveals the series of struggles to achieve freedom and liberty. The first chapters reveal the desire to free ourselves from the evils of monarchy and theocracy. The nation’s territory expanded via oppression of the native peoples and genocide. The memory of slavery is still relatively fresh in the national mindset. Women only received the right to vote and participate in democracy after a long and continuing struggle. LGBT people very recently won a few basic rights–our rights are still restricted in many states and municipalities. Minorities are currently witnessing the wholesale rollback of civil rights. Freedom is not automatic nor guaranteed.
“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.”–Franklin D. Roosevelt
It’s easy to think happy thoughts about our freedom and wax nostalgic about the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, heroes and heroines of past wars. We throw all of that away when we decide to remain apathetic about our freedom. I know that if I would ever take my own freedoms for granted, other people will eagerly take my freedoms away. This is only one reason I write about freedom, liberty, civil rights, and liberation so often.
I not only want the freedom to exist and live my life as I see fit; I want to be able to think about topics that are forbidden in many cultures and to express those thoughts.
Many of the things I write about and ponder would be cause for imprisonment in some countries. The reality of my very existence as myself is reason enough for theocracies and dictatorships to sentence me to death. There are even political and religious advocates of such oppression here in the United States.
Hence, I will not become apathetic about freedom. My very life depends upon it. Freedoms of speech, of thought, and of life are mind-expanding concepts. Freedom has never come from the dominant culture. Freedom has always arisen by conscientious objection to stultifying, restrictive mores of the majority. The struggle for freedom is ongoing.