I think freedom is a simple concept that nevertheless has convoluted effects on human society. So when people refer to applied freedom as an absolute value, I tend to disagree. I believe the zero-sum theory applies where freedom is relative to those who are unbound and inverse to those who are restricted. In other words, one person’s freedom is another person’s slavery.
So, if you say you’re fighting for freedom then you’re not really saying much because you aren’t specifying who the freedom is for. These half truths permeate society across the world and across history.
In 1835 the British began emancipating slaves in the West Indies and in the Cape Colony. The Dutch (Boers) in Cape Colony disliked it. Here we have a multi-level case where the freedom of black natives were being compromised by the Boers’ freedom to enslave them. This freedom to enslave blacks was itself compromised by the British legislature. The Boers wound up leaving and establishing a new place a little further north were they could continue to enslave the blacks. They called this place the “Orange Free State” because they were free to own slaves.
Another example is the freedom of tyranny as opposed to the limits of democracy. Saddam Hussein had a greater measure of freedom than Bush ever had. The inverse of this freedom was the oppression of the Iraqi people. The U.S. forces in Iraq today can be called champions of freedom because they have destroyed Hussein’s tyranny and unleashed the freedom bottled inside. But it’s still unclear at this point where this loose freedom will actually settle. Will it settle in free-trade, where Western corporations will enjoy the benefits? Will it settle amongst the Shi’a Muslims in a new Iraqi Constitution, or will it settle amongst the insurgents who are still fighting to be free of Western influence?
In yet another example (added 06/09/09) of monochromatic thinking, I remember a discussion with a New Hampshire native about the states motto… “Live Free or Die” (which seems kind of aggressive for a state motto) but he explained that they should just drop the “Live Free” part because of all the Democrats moving in. To him Democrats and their “socialist” inclinations impede freedom. Yet, two minutes later a newsbreak come over the radio saying that the California supreme court overruled the appeal to reverse proposition 8 which says that gay people are not allowed to get married. The New Hampshire man cheered. “I thought you stood for freedom?” I asked. He said “Religious freedom is different.” He didn’t say much after that. I don’t know if he suddenly realized how one-sided he was being or if he just wasn’t interested in discussing it. In any case, it was clear that he supports the religious freedom to tell others what they can and can’t do.
In general, I feel certain that for every person basking in the brilliance of freedom, there is a potential inverse effect for someone we aren’t thinking about or simply don’t care about and when cheering for freedom it would be nice if we had the intellect and consideration to ask who those other people are. As for me, whenever I am approached with a question about freedom, I will always ask… “freedom for who?”