The Paradox of Freedom

As a person who values individual liberty, it is not lost on me that there are many contradictions when it comes to the idea that we should focus on preserving the freedoms of people and not allow ourselves to become absorbed into groups that force their viewpoints on others. In an ideal society, everyone would have the same value system and there would be no need for groups because we would all be one big group. Unfortunately, this just isn’t how the world works. Conflict is an inevitable part of the human condition and our differences invariably cause us to form into groups in an effort to protect our ideology.

This is the paradox of freedom. There are forces in the world who wish to impose their rule on others, whether it be for selfish or ideological reasons, and if we are to maintain our way of life, we can’t do it on our own. When a powerful force comes knocking at your door, you need a means to defend against that force. How do you fight against ideologies that pull in huge communities when your principles define individual rights as the most important thing? It seems difficult to argue for individual liberty while immersing yourself in what typically becomes just another group. What makes you any different?

It is an unfortunate truth that no matter how strongly we believe in freedom, there will always be a price to pay for it. Part of that price might be struggle or sacrifice or privation or death. These are things that many advocates of freedom would willingly put up with to obtain or keep what they feel is the highest ideal. But one of the prices we pay that many don’t really pay attention to is accepting a certain level of the opposing viewpoint because it is a necessary small evil to combat a bigger one.

The idea of individual liberty is directly opposed to things like political parties. When we form into groups, we think we’re getting into them because we want to join up with people we think agree with our outlook on life. Where this becomes a problem is when the groups we think are on our side change into something we never expected, and then we feel stuck going along for the ride. The ideology is still close enough to what we originally wanted that we feel we can’t leave, but not close enough anymore to feel satisfied with where it is going.

This is the state America today. We have all formed up into these big groups for the same reasons we had in the Cold War. Our enemy is big, so we need to become bigger. They grow larger to gain an advantage, and we follow suit. What choice do we have? If we don’t play the game, the other side wins and gets to force us to adjust our lives to suit their vision of it. It becomes a vicious cycle that is nearly impossible to get out of.

It’s difficult to resolve this paradox of freedom. I think most people in the world place a significant value on personal choice, but it all ends up being drowned out by one form or another of “group think”. We stop thinking for ourselves and start toeing the party line, and end up giving up our freedom one small piece at a time because we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t have the protection of the group. Like many things in life, there doesn’t seem to be a happy medium; you’re either moving one way or you’re moving another.

How do we resolve this problem? If the answer were simple, it wouldn’t still be an issue. Part of the solution is simply keeping an eye on it. You’re never going to find a place where you can just set it down and leave it alone. We will always be moving either toward more power to groups or more freedom to individuals. It must be treated like trying to stand on top of a ball: constantly in motion and shifting from one side to the other. If we can keep it pretty close to the middle, we have a chance to get the best possible outcome.

What do you think about the paradox of freedom? Can you see in your own life how this applies to you? Are there any groups you disagree with that you feel you need help to resist? Understanding these things in our life that have no complete resolution doesn’t make things easier to do, but it can help us to find peace with the process. It is not hypocritical to value freedom and then band together in common cause as long as we keep in mind what the true goal is.

How much better could our country be if we could incorporate this thought into our ideology?

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