Why Does Freedom Matter?

I saw a video yesterday that had a gentleman who stated that Americans tend to be “freedom obsessed”, and it struck me as odd that anyone would view it quite that way, especially because over the years Americans have slowly given up certain freedoms for the sake of the public security. Still, there are far worse claims that can be made against us as Americans, and I know that for my part I am absolutely obsessed with freedom. While this is fueled by an emotional need, there are many good reasons to see freedom as a critical part of a meaningful life.

First and foremost, freedom is essential to a person’s emotional well being. While we tend to think it noble to put our community before ourselves, the reality is that we struggle to feel like it really means anything if there is no individual reward attached to that service. It may not be a monetary reward, but the feeling of helping others can be a powerful form of compensation that affects us on an individual, selfish level. The only way one can truly feel as is if they are helping others is if they feel as if they are freely choosing to do so. A system where a person is coerced into helping others results in a dissatisfying effort at best and resentment toward the people receiving the help at worst, which is not what charity is all about.

Security is another important result of a free society, despite what certain other ideologies might believe. While it is true that in societies with strict rules that the state itself is far more secure, history has shown us that government overreach causes far more harm to its own population than good. This is because a society that puts the state before the people is willing to do anything to those people to ensure the security of the state. It is when individual rights are put first that the safety of citizens is at its highest because no person is viewed as expendable.

Not only is individual safety objectively more likely, but we actually feel safer in a free society as well. Putting aside the more factual and logic based arguments, a person living in a free society will tend to be happier because he believes that he is generally safe from the oppression of others. He may become unlucky and fall victim to some random act, but on a daily basis he has no conscious fear that something bad will happen to him. There is an explicit social agreement that it is not acceptable to harm others for personal gain, and there will be consequences for anyone who does so. Though the state is not able to impose strict safety measures to protect its citizens, a truly free society still feels safer because there is far more chance of danger from a huge, omnipresent government than from some random person on the street.

Another very important aspect of a free society is the advancement of society in general. It is clear that countries with open and free societies display a much higher rate of progress in the fields of science, economics, and artistic expression. Every example of communist or heavily socialist countries have shown that they are generally unable to develop anything truly revolutionary on their own and are forced to receive that information from more open societies, typically through the use of espionage. This is because innovation requires a new way of thinking, and state run societies tend to discourage new thinking to protect itself from revolutions.

When a society limits the rules they place on themselves, individual people feel more free and are more willing to take certain chances. A person sees the potential for personal reward for opening a new business and takes on the risk of a loan to see if he can make it happen. Inventors spend their free time coming up with useful new things because they think they might discover something the brings them success. Activists feel free to come together and demonstrate for a cause because they feel strongly about it, and are able to make their voices heard because we agree they have the right to do so.

None of these things are truly possible in a society where individual freedom is not the primary goal. The future business owner does not take the risk because there is no longer any meaningful reward for him. Most or all of the effort he puts into his own company benefits the state, not himself. Fewer inventors are willing to spend their time coming up with amazing new things because if they did come up with something useful, the government will take that idea “for the good of the public”. What benefit is that to him? And of course activists will no longer have a voice because in a restrictive society voices of dissent are actively silenced. Even the people who pushed for that government in the first place become enemies when they finally express a point of view that doesn’t align with the current regime.

Lastly, basic human rights simply aren’t a thing in countries where the state is more important that the people. Putting aside the safety of citizens, which we discussed earlier, a country where the state is the driving force is far more likely to commit acts of atrocity against others. When a faceless committee that holds state security ahead of human dignity has the power of life and death in their hands, the result is almost always the same. A group of people, or even another nation, who have become a nuisance lose their right to life and are forcibly silenced through “relocation” or murder or war. A state centric government has no value for individual life because it can justify taking that life for the greater good. And when it becomes acceptable to take one life purely to silence dissenting opinions, it isn’t long before it is a daily occurrence on a far grander scale.

People use the phrase “slippery slope” quite a lot these days. For many things this is an exaggeration, but when it comes to individual liberty history has shown that the slippery slope is a real thing and constant care is required to guard against it. When people begin to give up their own freedom for the sake of security, we run into two problems.

The first is that any sense of security is purely false. The government can no more protect you from random incidents than you can. They can’t even reduce the likelihood of it happening to you. They just make you feel like they can, and that makes you far less safe because you lower your guard and stop paying attention. You are at far greater risk from harm from a large and powerful government than from some random person on the street, and that false feeling of safety makes you feel protected from the smaller danger and blinds you to the bigger one.

The second is that each of us has some particular freedom that we simply can’t bear to lose. It might be the freedom to travel where you want, or the freedom to protect yourself in the manner that you choose, or perhaps the ability to work in whatever career field you wish to. Whatever the freedom is, we all have at least one thing that we feel no one has the right to determine for us. When we start allowing anyone’s freedom to be reduced, we start running a very real risk that the freedom that is important to us ends up being taken away as well when enough people start to believe it is a threat. How will you feel then?

This is why freedom is important. Not just your freedom, but the freedom of the person you disagree with. You may not agree with their point of view, but if you start to understand that their right to choose is equally important to your own, it becomes much harder to suggest that laws should be pass that prevent that person from doing something that they feel should be their own free choice. When you imagine how you would feel if your own right to choose was taken away for something you feel strongly about and use that feeling to empathize with that person, it becomes almost impossible.

So how does this knowledge help you to live a more free life? Does thinking about other people more like yourself change your perspective? Could you truly empathize with someone who holds a different view from you and concede that maybe they deserve to choose their own way just as you do? The conversations in our country would be far more productive and civil if everyone thought this way, and I certainly hope that the type of message contained in this post is something that finally catches on and spreads. We need it so very badly, but it can only happen if people start listening to and sharing this idea with others. Will you?

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