Two men without masks scream into the face of a person wearing a mask; a man without a mask comes up behind a masked man in line for coffee and standing inches away breaths loudly on him; a man without a mask punches a grocery store worker who asks him to please put on a mask. You have heard of these and many similar incidents. What is this all about? It’s about freedom of course.
There have been more opportunities than usual to contemplate the meaning of freedom in these not-so-United States in the last year, and people calling their refusal to wear masks during the pandemic exercising their right to be free is just the latest manifestation.
It was not always like this. Freedom, the word and the concept, have changed. They have been co-opted and purposely redefined and politicized. When I grew up, sometime between the invention of fire and the creation of the internet, we didn't talk about freedom much, and when we did it meant something quite different.
Freedom meant freedom for community and for country. Freedom was why we fought WWII; freedom meant never again to the holocaust; and freedom meant helping other people to be free, to be safe. Now people make it individual - freedom for them but not necessarily for you. Freedom is a right at least for them. They demand their freedom even if it is at your expense. How else can you view freedom to make other people sick, to put health care workers, grocery clerks and care givers at risk, to seemingly not care if your actions result in other people dying.
In the Declaration of Independence it says "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Notice that life comes before liberty. The pursuit of happiness for most people does not include being seriously ill or dying. Without life neither liberty nor happiness have much meaning.
I think it started with the guns. Guns used to be something that lots of people I knew used to go hunting. They were mostly for procuring food to eat and for some sport. They were not political weapons. No one ever mentioned anything about their right to have a gun and if it symbolized anything it was self sufficiency.
As late as 1968 the NRA supported a federal Gun Control Act which created a system to federally license gun dealers and established restrictions on particular categories and classes of firearms. But in concert with the political move to "law and order" by Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan and finally Bill Clinton, the NRA found it much more profitable to make guns not just a political issue but a cultural one. Guns joined the cultural parade along with abortion, welfare, immigration, gays and religion. The drive to make guns a personal right culminated in a group of "conservative" judges overturning 200 years of judicial precedent so that guns were not a right limited to "a well regulated militia" but an expression of personal freedom. When coupled with stand
your ground and similar state laws, guns brought the "freedom" to kill people you didn't like.
Freedom of religion has been similarly perverted. It was once assurance that no one, especially the government, would prohibit you from the exercise of your religion. Now it has become the freedom to discriminate against those who do not believe as you do, or who you just don't like, and increasingly, again thanks to more "conservative" judges, enforced by the government. Freedom to not bake a wedding cake for a gay couple turns into the freedom and the power to deny health care and employment to people who offend your beliefs and your religiosity, even if flying in the face of the real teachings of most religions. If this trend continues the Christian right would have the US governed by a religious leader in much the same way that Iran is.
It goes beyond simple hypocrisy that some people, who proclaim themselves as pro-life and will lecture you on the sanctity of all life even the unborn, claim the freedom to endanger the health and very lives of other people. The state motto of New Hampshire proclaims "Live Free or Die". Now some seem to be saying live free and die at least if it impinges on their rights as they define them.
In 1941, when FDR gave his famous four freedoms speech, one of those freedoms was the freedom from fear. Today we have to fear people exercising their freedom to make you sick, to threaten or kill you, to decide if you can receive health care, with no sense of community, no commitment to anything beyond themselves. This is a definition of freedom that would make George Orwell wince.
This is not community. This not freedom.
One Small Voice
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