What does freedom mean? My tea party friend (and yes, I do have one) says that his political views are all about freedom, but I can’t get a straight answer from him about what freedom is. Whatever it is, he is certain that it’s being taken away.
From what I can tell it appears that, from his point of view, the recognition of human and civil rights for others who have not previously enjoyed that recognition somehow takes some of his freedom away and gives it to someone else. Homosexuals are the targets of the day, but illegal aliens, women, Muslims, and people who are not Europeanish looking, have all had their moment. They still lurk in the near background.
I’m reminded of a few hours with another friend about fifty years ago. He was outraged that recent laws opened up housing opportunities for Jews and blacks in neighborhoods that had been restricted. His argument was that he no longer had the freedom to live where he wanted because he no longer had control over who his neighbors would be. He could not comprehend that everyone, theoretically, now had the same freedom to live wherever they wanted that he had always had. The only freedom taken from him was the freedom to tell others where they could not live.
I don’t see much difference between that fifty year old conversation and what’s being complained about today.
My tea party friend is angry about other threats to his freedom as well. The government is becoming tyrannical. It spies on us. It conspires to take away our weapons. It refuses to seal our (southern) borders. It’s laws and regulations infringe on every aspect of daily life. The undeserving poor get a free ride at his expense. Everyone, except people like him, feel entitled but avoid responsibility. We are surrounded by global enemies who intend to attack and conquer us. We have been infected by internal enemies who are agents of foreign powers. Secrecy and conspiracy abound.
Curiously, not a one of these fears surfaced until a black man was elected president, but he is angrily offended when that’s pointed out.
The thorn that keep jabbing me is that there is a tiny amount of truth in his litany of fears. We have become a society in which the tremendous ebb and flow of electronic information means that we have less privacy than we had a few decades ago. It’s not so much a matter of governments and corporations spying on us as it is us making ourselves more easily known to anyone who wants to know. Our disastrous military adventures, especially in the Middle East, have created enemies abroad. They don’t want to invade us, but they don’t want to be invaded either, no mater how vicious their infighting has become. Various domestic hate groups of one kind or another have been embolden to use violence to disrupt whatever it is about America they don’t like. And so it goes.
As for the government regulating us to death. I wrote not too long ago about an exercise we had a few years ago in which it was finally agreed that most regulations on the books were justifiable. The problem was the way they were enforced through difficult to follow, time consuming, uncoordinated, inflexible ways. A lot of truth in that.
And that brings me to a final observation about government control of daily lives. Here it is: The lower the level of government, the greater its ability to control the minutia of daily life. So quit haranguing the federal government, and pay more attention to state, county, and municipal governments. Think about it! What level of government tells you how fast you can drive, where you can park, what to do with your trash, whether hanging out with nothing to do can get you arrested, how loud you can play your radio, and so on? If you want responsive government, get involved at the local level and quit complaining. But be prepared for a fight if what you want is to use the power of government to impose your personal beliefs on others, or to prevent others from equal access to the public market place.