Freedom’s Price (or Autonomy’s Accounts)

Posted: 1 August 2012 in Faith and Life

Find the cost of freedom

Buried in the ground

Mother Earth will swallow you

Lay your body down (Stephen Stills)

Does anybody out there disagree that freedom has a cost? The typical American would most likely shake her head–no. We know that Freedom has a cost. I would concur. But, perhaps, not in the way many people might think. I see the cost of freedom at two levels and neither of them is heroic (as in, “he paid the ultimate price to help keep us free” or the patriotic slogan “Freedom isn’t Free”).

At each level we want our freedoms—perhaps more accurately, our autonomy—to be no-cost propositions but they rarely are.

I have nothing against owning a gun. The National Rifle Association certified me as a safe hunter when I was 11 and I appreciate people who can handle a gun safely to the end of supplying themselves with food. I can go even further and say that I am agnostic about what the “framers” meant when they talked about the right to bear arms. Whether they meant we should be formed into gun owning local militia (a la Switzerland) or merely keep a gun handy in case the government (at any level) comes unglued and seeks to oppress us; I can live with the ambiguity and allow people to own arms.

But like too many freedoms these are not enough. We (and I include myself in the broader society that holds to such desires) want the freedom to own semi-automatic guns that hold multi-bullet clips. Further we want the freedom to anonymously purchase large quantities of materiel which we can then squeeze off in a big hurry.

Why do we want these freedoms? Because we do. And affliction be the lot of anyone who tries to take these freedoms away. After all, we argue, it is not my fault that some (other) people misuse this freedom to hurl their projectiles in a hurry to end the lives of many people in short order. In a narrow sense this is undoubtedly true. I am not responsible for you.

But in a society, any society, if a thirst for a certain kind of freedom leads inevitably to death for a known number of people per year, then that society (typically) starts asking how that freedom might need to be limited in order to save lives. We don’t seem to be capable of doing that when it comes to the freedom to own a weapon, the clear purpose of which is to waste lives at an astonishingly fast clip. In this sense we are responsible—seemingly willing to pay the cost to keep this particular freedom intact.

So this is the cost of freedom at this level: 12 lives here, 10 there, 7 there… Every year or a couple of times a year when someone “goes postal” or when the “quiet guy” or “troubled kids” take the freedom into a crowded _____________ (fill in the blank: school, theater, mall…) and use it to terrible ends.

But there is another level at which the cost of freedom is even higher and even more “intentional”—if I dare say it that way. Our participation in this act is at a greater distance but arguably more “direct”. What I mean by this will become clear but here is the point: I if I don’t own a gun and willingly give up my freedom to do so then I am only indirectly involved in extracting the cost of this broader societal “freedom” at the first level.

Not so at the second level.

I am talking here about the “drone war.” This war (wars?) is about freedom too, is it not? I say more direct because I directly “benefit” from this war but rarely raise a voice in protest or consider limiting my freedom in order to see it stopped.

Did you ever ask—I mean really ask—why the US government sends bombs down from unmanned planes, teleguided from thousands of miles away? No you didn’t. You already know why—to kill the bad guys whom, if we do not kill them first will kill us. This is the proximate explanation and it is clean and morally unambiguous.

But frankly, what this is really all about is freedom—the freedom to practice our collective lifestyle without restriction or change. Give it to the Neo-Cons on this one, at least they were honest about the GWOT when they said it was about preserving our way of life.

So, at a larger level this is the cost of freedom: a certain number of dead terrorists and the unfortunate but inevitable collateral damage of their wives, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.

The cost of freedom is, indeed, buried in the ground: in the ground of Blacksburg, Aurora, Littleton, Salamat Keley, Mami Rogha, Sararogha, Bangi Dar, al-Wahdah, al-Amodiah, Zinjibar…

  1. jack young says:

    ‎”So war and peace start in the human heart. Whether that heart is open or whether that heart closes has global implications.”
    (Practicing Peace in Times of War) Pema Chodron

  2. jack young says:

    … and what do we really mean by “FREEDOM” anyway?

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