Freedom: Personal liberty, non-slavery; civil liberty, independence; liberty of action, right to do; power of self-determination, independence of fate or necessity; participation in privileges of citizenship; unrestricted use…Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964
(Map credit: 19FortyFive)
The above dictionary definition about covers what people generally mean, at one time or another, when they speak of the concept of freedom. These days in much of the West the term has become mostly focused on a very personalized notion of “personal liberty …, right to do [as I please, when I please, how I please], independence of fate or necessity … unrestricted use [and too bad if that runs you over]”.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the fundamental meaning of fighting for freedom is being graphically illustrated for the whole world to see. This graphic live-streamed horror has put our petty quarrels here in Canada and elsewhere over COVID restrictions and governmental “overreach” into a humiliating display of moral infantility. How far we have fallen in our understanding of the most fundamental notions of living in a “free” society!
Winston Churchill once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Anyone who has come out of an anarchic free-for-all situation where law and order come down to the whim of the people with the biggest clubs (name your favorite failed state or inner-city “no-go” zone) can appreciate the brutal simplicity of it.
The vulgar fallacy and dreadful lie we in the West have progressively saddled ourselves with are that I am free to choose any outlandish form of acted-out self-discovery, self-expression, self-actualization (choose the moniker that you like to say it!) that suits me and you have no right to be offended or even express your disapproval. If you dare, I’ll sue the tights off you, or drag you before some tribunal that will. At the very least, they`ll humiliate you and make you a social pariah and maybe even put you in prison for “hate-speech”.
Besides actually going to Ukraine to see how real live defenders of freedom behave under real live-fire with thousands dying, how do we spoiled children of democracy regain a real sense of what life in human society and its future is really and truly about, or should be about? Is it really just about glutting my personal appetites to numb the pain of my instinctual sense of living a meaningless life – like the inhabitants of the Capital District in The Hunger Games? We in the West have become “the Capital”, and if we don’t truly wake up soon (and I don’t mean in the illusory sense of the WOKE-Folk, who are one of the prime symptoms of our chimeric mirage of “freedom”), the “Districts” will rise up in revolution.
To try to recover a rudimentary sense of the what democratic “freedom” is, many sources are available. First, I will suggest one very succinct and brilliant article recently published in The Globe and Mail, a prestigious Canadian newspaper. Its author is Justice Beverley McLachlin, now retired, 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (2000-2017). https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-ottawa-truck-convoy-has-revealed-the-ugly-side-of-freedom/
Another I recommend is an eminently readable and brief personal account from a very different, non-academic approach: Freedom by Sebastian Junger, published by HarperCollins, 2021. This little book is only 147 pages and a far cry from didactic in the sense of “here are a bunch of theories and notions about freedom you need to learn and understand to pass the test”. Instead, Junger takes you on a walk, literally, across remote parts of the eastern USA, in the company of three like-minded companions who just want to escape the ubiquitous grip of The System and The Man. If you can’t learn something true and real about freedom from this journey (one with feet on the ground and your head cleared of all the BS, getting down to basics again), well – ‘nuff said! If you can’t make some sort of similar pilgrimage, this is a next-best-thing!
Freedom is never an isolated thing. And it is never an absolute thing. Even hermits are not totally free – as the ancient and medieval (and even modern) Christian hermits have said over and over again. Their bodily needs constrain them. Their minds imprison them. No matter where they take refuge, other people keep coming along to bug them and make demands on them. Buddhist monks, Hindu gurus, and Muslim dervishes all say the same thing. How have we in the West somehow bought into a completely delusional notion that freedom is all about me and what I “need” (when the real word is want) and to hell with you? As the Beatles once aptly phrased it “All through the years, I-me-my, I-me-my, I-me-my!” What a lie!
Deep down, you know that all your screaming about your rights and needs, however legitimate, cannot justify your taking what someone else equally needs or wants to appease your ego or sate your undisciplined will and appetites. Let’s be honest, much of this psychodrama is contrived by our own appetites and the delusion that we have some sort of “right” to have them satisfied regardless of the cost to other people.
That is what billionaires will rarely admit. Getting generates more wanting, more lusting. Being spoiled from toddlerhood up generates infantile adults who know only how to scream about freedom and demand it for their most outlandish interpretations of what “happiness” must be for them. As the old African story puts it, the Dog you feed will finally be the Dog who eats you when you run out of food to give it.
Which brings us around to our present World Crisis – notably, as in the bad old age of Colonialism, being generated from the old Imperialist homelands of Europe. The West emerged from there. Now, grown fat and rich and accustomed to be fed by the lesser Districts (returning to the The Hunger Games allegory)to satisfy all its most salacious and vicious appetites, it is facing a rebel mad-man’s will for vengeance and payback for having robbed his Motherland of her rightful place in the sunlit uplands of the elite nations.
God have mercy, and may there arise some farsighted prophets of peace even now in the West and other lands who can steer us out of this Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23, if you are not familiar with the expression). And may the sobering of a near-death experience wake up the West to its moral slavery and a will to recover the spiritual heritage of the knowledge of real Freedom.