By David M. Greenwald
The forces of repression have done a masterful job of flipping the concept of freedom on its head. But there is really nothing new with that. The history of this nation has been largely founded on the concept of individual freedom… at the expensive of the other.
Frame it up now. Once upon a time the US fought a civil war over state’s rights. Of course what they didn’t want to tell you is that they wanted the right as the white male citizens of a state to enslave Black people. To this day, many will tell you that the rebel flag stands for freedom and state rights, and a memorial of history rather than… slavery and racism.
Not much has really changed. Last year people were protesting – sometimes with guns against… mask mandates that were designed to slow the spread of COVID to buy us time to develop a vaccine. And of course once we developed said vaccine, people are now protesting being compelled to take it or lose their jobs.
People want to argue – my body my right. But of course they forget – my body, my right as well. Freedom in the US is about *me* not *we* and especially not *them* as in those people over there.
Being a Republican, one will tell you, “a Republican is about individual liberty and personal freedom.”
There is a problem with this philosophy – it’s not that freedom isn’t an important concept. We would have no government by consent without the freedom to vote one’s conscience. The problem is that it also gets complicated once we realize that freedom is not conflict free and it cannot be unidimensional.
Take state rights. Should states have the right to by popular sovereignty (or as we knew in the 19th century – a very limited concept of popular sovereignty limited to white males) in effect vote to take away the freedom of others?
That was so contentious we actually fought a civil war over it.
In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen Douglas, in some ways a more moderate on the slavery issue argued over and over against that states should have the right to decide whether to be slavery or free – but he made it very clear that by state, he meant the voters and by the voters, he meant exclusively white men.
“I hold that this Government was made on the white basis, by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men and none others,” he argued.
It is easy to look back and see the fundamental flaws in the logic. Even if you believe it was wrong for only white males to have the right to vote, the very notion that the issue of slavery should be consigned to popular sovereignty, we understand now to be tyranny of the majority (at best).
In more moderns times, this freedom argument however is just as much one-dimensional. They will argue: I should have the right to choose not to wear a mask. You can choose to wear a mask or not. So should I.
It makes sense to a point – until you realize that your freedom infringes on the freedom of others – the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to access to public accommodations without fear of health and safety.
But we quickly forget that something has to give here – either it is your freedom or mine and that every time freedom conflicts, there was be a legitimate arbiter of rights and that arbiter in civilized society is not force but government which see can boil down to the legitimate use of force as opposed to the illegitimate use of force through mob rule that many are advocating de facto.
This debate quickly loses sight of the bi-directionality of freedom.
They forget that their right not to wear a mask infringes on my right to go to a public place without exposing myself to the risk of getting sick.
They then argue that if I’m too fearful to go to a public place, I can choose to stay home.
It works the same for vaccination.
It sounds like a powerful argument – just like state rights for slavery, until you realize that you have tilted the playing field. Their freedom, puts everyone at risk here. It continues the proliferation of a disease that has killed over 700,000 in America and millions worldwide.
It’s counterproductive because it has prolonged the disease, it has continued the economic slowdown and continued the curtailment of freedom.
But fundamentally it falls on its face because it only considers freedom in a single direction – freedom for themselves rather than freedom for all. You may be free to go maskless and risk your own health, but you are assuming the freedom to risk other people’s health too and that is where this notion falls down. They have mistaken freedom for tyranny.
In the case of slavery, that was tyranny by a voting majority or numerical minority and in the case of vaccines and masks, it is tyranny by a minority. In this case – cruel, unreasonable, and arbitrary use of power or control.
By refusing to protect others, you are exercising an arbitrary form of power and control over others. You don’t have the right to that power – you have simply taken it. And the government has a legitimate purpose in arbitrating the points where people’s freedoms clash.