Thursday, May 20, 2010

What if we tried this?

“Freedom” is one of those words that get tossed about like a pod full of dried peas, and often the only sound that emanates from it is a death rattle. The whole political spectrum wants to claim the word as its very own, and it is used as a rationale for everything from dropping Hellfire missiles on innocent civilians in the AfPak Theater to raucous West Coast orgies.

Frances Moore Lappe believes Progressives should make freedom their number one issue. She defines freedom as, “[O]ur power to make real choices, about not only our personal lives but about the forces determining the quality of life in our communities.” She then points out that, “In very real ways, basic economic security established through social rules we create together isn’t a threat to freedom; it’s essential to freedom.”

Then she skins her shins on the one rock Progressives seem to stumble into, no matter how high or bright the sun, when she says, “Progressives should challenge all Americans to a useful debate about what really restricts our choices and what actually does make us free.”

You can’t debate a sound bite. The problem is not to educate, it is to inspire. I once heard Drew Weston, author of The Political Brain speak, and he opened his talk by asking how many people in the audience remembered Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Plan” speech. King didn’t have a plan, he had a dream and he took the country with him.

One problem with those who talk about freedom is that they fail to take a good hard look at the type of soil freedom needs to sprout. Like Lappe, many writers put a great deal of emphasis on economic security. Yet, many of the marchers in the Civil Rights movement were dirt poor and hadn’t known economic security for generations.

What is freedom if not a demand for a decent society? As I have pointed out in previous posts, four moral imperatives are the foundation upon which such a society is built; do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; do not exploit. These, in turn, require courage. This explains why history has seen so few decent civilizations. Decency embraces and affirms all of God’s creation. When confronted with evil its response is measured and adequate to deal with the problem rather than one of fearful overreaction.

From the above, it is patently obvious that we will never achieve a decent society. And the results would be rather deadly if we tried to. Because to achieve a fully decent society, we would have to turn decency into an ideology, and ideologies have a nasty habit of turning to social engineering to achieve their goals. This raises a problem of what to do with those individuals who don’t want to buy into it. The traditional response has been prison camps and death squads. In the end decent people end up saying to the indecent, “You will either live a life of empathy and compassion or we will kill you.”

Rather, the push for a decent society should act as a counterweight to the unholy copulation between feral capitalism and a toxic beltway that are the twin albatrosses around Liberty’s neck.

The desire for decency is one that cuts across class and ethnic lines. Without this foundation of decency, freedom spins off and fragments into an atomized void of self centeredness and self interest. This is why so many individuals equate freedom with the freedom to buy. This is why the hedge fund manager defines freedom as the right to make obscene profits even if doing so threatens to bring the economy down.

Decency resonates with a public that is strung out, uncertain and frightened. The courage that the drive for decency would demand, along with its attendant empathy and compassion, would be an effective antidote to the fear-mongering that spews forth from the demagogues who dominate our airwaves.

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