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Freedom Is Not About Ideas

I personally hold a number of social/political ideas: capitalism is creating increasing income disparity and undermining the public good; many law enforcement agencies treat minorities unfairly compared to how they treat Whites; it is immoral and unfair to send law-abiding undocumented immigrants who have established a stable life in the U.S. out of the country; everyone in the country should have free healthcare; the greatest threat to the human race is climate change and we need to use government regulations to control it; virtually all religions create more animosity than they do good; the greatest social challenge we have in this country is to improve the lives and economic prospects of people of color… I could go on.

There are many Americans who believe the opposite of me. America is not a great country because it contains citizens who hold both my beliefs and beliefs that don’t agree with mine. America is a great country because it allows its citizens to hold such diversity of beliefs and protects the right to hold them. We have laws that guarantee that one group cannot impose its ideas on another, except through the mechanisms of the democratic process. And even then, our Bill of Rights guarantees that the majority cannot intrude on the minority’s expression of its beliefs beyond certain limits.

What makes America free is that we all agree to abide by a set of rules, which apply equally to all of us. It is not that we believe a particular idea, it is that we cannot be restricted from expressing our opinion about it. It is not that we believe religion; it is that we are not allowed to impede its expression. It is not that we value the individual dignity of life, we are not allowed to take it or the opportunity to achieve it, away from others. It is not that we value any particular race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender; it is that we are not allowed to discriminate against people because of any of these characteristics. It is not what we believe about these values that matters with regard to preserving freedom, it is that we all agree that our laws must protect all of us by limiting the kinds of actions we can take, regardless of our positions on these values.

Today, there are many of us who believe that the ideas we either believe in or fear are so important that we are justified in setting aside the rules that govern our society in order to either achieve or combat these ideas: Certain ideas must not be allowed expression. Religion can be used as a basis of restrictions if it is a religion we think is harmful. Some gender identities can be discriminated against if we believe they are unnatural. Violence is a legitimate tactic to use against those who express ideas we believe are dangerous.

A democratic society delineates the mechanisms for achieving consensus so that actions can be taken by the society as a whole. Undemocratic societies use other methods that do not depend upon consensus or they use the power of consensus to restrict the rights of those who don’t agree with the majority. These other societies are not free. They are run by despots or by majority religious or ideological groups who are determined to allow only their own values to be expressed within the society and often employ Draconian methods of suppression of their opponents.

America needs to reaffirm the importance of living by the rules that protect its freedoms.


Reader Comments (3)

I believe the opposite of nearly everything contained in the initial paragraph. These are the same Marxist/post-Modernist talking points espoused by many so-called progressives who fail to see the inherent regressivism in their philosophy. It promotes value subjectivity and cultural equivalency over obvious and scientific binaries of truth and reality. It promotes feelings over facts and desires group justice for preferred sub-groups as opposed to individual justice based on the merits of someone’s particular situation. The philosophy of the opening paragraph invokes dissension by creating and then perpetuating a system of oppressed and oppressors where the allegedly oppressed are rewarded and praised simply for not being a member of the majority. This system is the primary dynamic though which freedom of speech and freedom of expression are quashed. Yet the adherents of this socio-political religion are so fervent in their belief, that they easily ignore this and can only see the false promise of a non-viable, socialist idyll where the self-reported, most aggrieved are not required to achieve in order to earn anything. The bizarre and self-defeating justification for this is apparently due to of all the horrible ways these identities and their predecessors are and were oppressed at any time in all of human history.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

You've made my point. Freedom, in America, allows me to express my views and you to express yours. Freedom consists of neither my views nor yours. It consists of the agreement we have,through our constitution and our laws, that we can both express our views.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

I agree. My intent was to show that you have the right to an anti-intellectual, self-defeating ideology, but only as long as a freedom-based democracy and a free market win out. Once these fail, neither of us will have the right to say much of anything. It's pretty basic stuff.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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