Archive for category Freedom

Liberty!

iberty

On a libertarian-leaning blog, a usually rational and interesting poster made this comment:

It’s all so pointless. We will never convince the majority of people to embrace liberty, instead of looking to government to be Mommy. At least not until government fails so badly that its incompetence is made clearly manifest. And even if that happens, I suspect that the majority of the electorate will look for a man on a white horse, rather than freedom, and the responsibility for their own lives. There’ll always be a cohort that thinks government could do everything for everyone if only the right people were running it. And, it seems, quite a lot of people will listen to them.

Arguing with progressives is pointless, too. It’s like arguing with people in a movie theater who won’t stop texting. It’s a waste of time to say anything to them, because if they had a shred of civility or decency, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you’re a Progressive, I just assume at this point that you’re too abysmally stupid to waste time with on reason or debate.

There are some breathtaking assertions there.   Progressives are abysmally stupid, don’t use reason, have no shred of civility or decency…all because they have a progressive political perspective.   That means, according to this blogger, that progressives refuse to embrace liberty, want government to be mommy, and don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives.

Wow.   If people on the right or libertarian side of the isle really believe that about progressives, no wonder they hate us so!   Any one who knows me or reads my blog knows that I am a firm believer of people taking responsibility for their lives and choices – students hear that mantra from me all the time – your future is up to you, you can’t blame anyone else.   I’m also for  liberty – human liberation from all forms of oppression so we can live as freely as possible – as my primary value.

My biggest critique of government programs is that they can create a psychology of dependency which harms those receiving that aid.  I don’t think the answer is to cut people off – often when children are involved that would be cruel.  But rather right and left should create more effective social welfare programs which are built around community action.  Community organizers should be the hub, and those who can should contribute to building community in order to get aid.

I daresay I’m not abysmally stupid either.  Yet I’d describe myself as a progressive.

partisanship2

Why are we at a point in this country where the political sides can believe such caricatured images of the other side?  I have no doubt that the poster, while perhaps recognizing that he is being a bit over the top and venting, truly believes that progressives oppose freedom and want the government to do everything.

And its not just progressives who get caricatured, the right is often portrayed as heartless, emotion driven nationalists who don’t care about the destruction caused by war, who would love to see the poor suffer, don’t care about pollution in our rivers, or the potential damage caused by global warming.  They just want what they can get, selfishly consuming with no regard for others.  I know lots of conservatives, and that caricature doesn’t fit any of them.

But how to get past this kind of rhetoric?   One way is to think of the concept of freedom.  I submit that both right and left generally have freedom as a primary value.    Neither has it as the only value, otherwise they’d oppose all laws.  For each having a stable and effective community is also important.   So perhaps part of the difference is how they draw that line.   Both might agree that a police force is necessary to maintain order, but they might disagree on health care.

health

From the left:  not having health care denies the poor (nearly 50 million) true freedom because they are more likely to avoid seeking health care and may die or suffer, they are vulnerable to health cost bankruptcies, and their children are less likely to receive quality care, and thus do not have equal opportunity.  Universal health care enhances freedom.

From the right: having guaranteed health care denies the wealthier true freedom by taking their tax dollars, and mandatory insurance does not allow them to opt out.  Universal health care harms freedom.

OK, you know what – there are ways to understand where both sides are coming from.   Yet the two sides usually shout at each other (I think the right shouts and ridicules the left far more than the reverse, but I understand that could be a biased perception) and don’t stop to think that their disagreement is not about core values, but how the system functions.

The left tends to view freedom in two ways: 1) negative freedom or freedom from external; and 2) positive freedom, or the possession of the resources and power to fulfill ones goals.    Poverty, lack of education, lack of health care, structural barriers hindering the capacity to achieve ones goals (racism, etc.) all limit freedom.   Often these limits come from the way society is structured, whereby the wealthy elite achieve more positive freedom at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged.

freedom

The right tends to view liberty as simply not being hindered by laws or external restraint.   Maximum freedom is when external constraint is non-existent.   Because people are not angels, you have to have some laws to prevent overt exploitation, but while the left sees structural exploitation as the problem, the right (or libertarians) tend to focus purely on actual physical violence.  The religious right also sees a role for laws to protect basic traditions and customs.

Again, there are solid arguments for each.  The right has an agent-based view of human relations – society is the result of individual choices that each actor is responsible for.  The left has a structure-based view: society is structured in a way that empowers some and disadvantages others.

The fact is that neither extreme view can be correct.   No one can deny that structure matters – it takes a lot more effort to make it out of rural poverty or a ghetto to be successful than it does from a wealthy suburban family.   Even though its possible for both, one is more likely to be successful than the other.   But it is possible for both – structure doesn’t determine everything, one can make choices to rise from poverty to become successful.

So reality is somewhere in the middle – and that means that disagreements on the nature of freedom are legitimate, one doesn’t have to dismiss the other side as opposing liberty.    It’s too bad that as a society we’re more likely to ridicule the other side and caricature them than actually discuss these issues.   Because frankly, the US is facing numerous problems and neither side has the power to simply implement their “solution.”   We either sink or swim together.

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Proud to be a Vikings Fan!

Rookie Blair Walsh in his first NFL game hits a 55 yard field goal with time expiring to send the game to OT (he’d kick a 38 yarder to ultimately win it).  Walsh is #3, his holder punter Chris Kluwe is #5

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh and punter Chris Kluwe had very good weeks, though in different ways.   Walsh, a rookie playing his first NFL regular season game was called upon to tie the game with a 55 yard field goal as time expired.  He did it.   My youngest son had soccer, so I cheered him on while watching play by play updates appear on my Iphone, meaning I tended to cheer at inappropriate times.

Walsh’s holder was Chris Kluwe, who punted five times for an average of 44.4 yards, keeping returns to 4 yards on average.   Kluwe’s consistency is why he’s been the Vikings punter since 2005.    He’s one of the league’s best.

His biggest contribution of the week was off the field, however.

It started when Baltimore linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo donated two Ravens season tickets to a group supporting the ballot initiative to allow same sex marriage in Maryland.    His support of same sex marriage isn’t new; he wrote about it in 2009 for the Huffington Post and made a video to support the Maryland effort for marriage equality.    This incensed Maryland Democrat Emmett Burns, who serves in the State House of Representatives.    The black veteran of the civil rights movement felt compelled to write to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asking him to shut the trouble maker up.

Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens

He said he thought it “inconceivable” that an NFL player could support gay marriage (I mean, the NFL is for the tough guys, not the sissies, right?)

“Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.  Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement,” Burns said, noting that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.” Instead the linebacker should “concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.”

Burns, a 72 year old black Minister might be excused for simply being behind the times.    He’s old, after all.    On the other hand, one wonders what he would have thought if someone had made comments like that about support for blacks during the civil rights movement!

Kluwe, Ayanbadejo and Burns

So Vikings punter Chris Kluwe decided to stand up for his fellow NFL player and wrote an open letter in response, which can be found here: Kluwe’s letter.   It is one of the most refreshingly honest and hard hitting take downs of a politician I can remember, even if you don’t like the “colorful” language.   A tidbit (but read the whole thing):

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population, rights like Social Security benefits, childcare tax credits, family and medical leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA health care for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gay Americans? Full-fledged citizens, just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter in some small way causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot-in-mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I’m fairly certain you might need it.

P.S. I’ve also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage, so you can take your “I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing” and shove it in your closed-minded, totally-lacking-in-empathy pie hole.

Kluwe, here with his family, is not afraid to speak his mind – he recently criticized the NFL replacement officials, saying the league should settle the labor dispute

It ends well.   The Ravens stood solidly behind their player.   Others came out in support of Ayanbadejo, showing that the cultural change in attitudes on gay rights is evident even in the macho world of professional football.   Burns has backed down, saying on reflection the first amendment does indeed grant the right for football players and politicians to state their opinions.

Sadly, it seems lost on Burns how ironic it is that he fought for civil rights for blacks while now wanting to deny them to homosexuals.    He’s old physically but that’s no excuse for him to close his mind and hold on to past bigotry.   From his tone, though, it sounds like his contribution to this civil rights movement is to make those on his side look ridiculous.

As a human who believes in equal rights, I applaud Ayanbadejo and Kluwe for speaking out.   As a Viking fan for over forty years, I’m proud that Kluwe puts my team in a good light.   It may be a small story in the grand scheme of things, but it’s symbolic of how our culture is changing.   And with all due respect to Reverend Burns, it’s changing for the better.

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What is Independence?

Independence Day.  The 4th of July.  A day of parades, fireworks, picnics, games and celebrations.  I remember growing up in Sioux Falls, SD, spending a day at “Westward Ho” playing games, enjoying a greased watermelon in the pool contest, swimming and at night going out in the country to shoot fireworks.

Fireworks in South Dakota was fun.   We’d drive out into the country, find a gravel road and locate a spot to shoot off a bunch of fireworks we’d bought at the big firework store on the edge of town.   South Dakota had (and I believe still has) very lax fireworks laws.  I recall as a kid lighting cones, roman candles, firecrackers, and a bunch of other things.   My dad would give me the punk (a slow burning small stick used to light fireworks), my mom worried that I’d burn myself, and I felt proud to be old enough to light the fuses.  By the time I was 12 I had taken over virtually all the lighting duties!

Later in high school and college July 4th meant 18 hour shifts at Village Inn Pizza.   I didn’t have to work so long, but I liked the idea of getting so many hours in one day so I volunteered to run the store all day.    Being in charge I’d try to make the day fun for the workers, though it was often pretty busy.   The Assistant Manager was always grateful – he was supposed to run the day shift!

That’s me with the pizza pan in hand (turning it so sauce spreads across the whole pie), back in 1981 running a shift at VIPP! Those were the days…

This year in Maine we went to Jay for fireworks last night, and today in Farmington there was a typical small New England town parade.  Some antique tractors, people representing companies and churches driving through town on makeshift floats, and local political candidates/parties dressing up, shaking hands, and of course, handing out candy.   Tootsie rolls, suckers, taffy and other candy thrown to the kids on the curb who rush out to grab it.

From the Daily Bulldog (an online Farminton newspaper), the 2012 Independence Day parade in Farmington Maine

The parade included calves for the kids to pet, a couple small bands, youth organizations, and at the end a line of eight firetracks from local communities, blazing their sirens in turn to the delight of the kids.   The firetrucks signify the end of the parade.  It was rainy, but the parade went on undaunted – and most of the time the rain was so light people put away their umbrellas.    The community is out, people chatting with each other…you can buy some strawberry shortcake or hot dogs (only $1), and it seems timeless.   One doubts the parade was much different thirty years ago or will be thirty years from now.

So what does this day mean?   Everyone knows what it signifies – the day the United States declared its independence from Great Britain.   But while the Declaration of Independence states vague ideals – all people are created equal, we have inalienable rights, and we should not be governed without the consent of the governed – what those ideals mean and how they are to be implemented are unclear.     When the Constitution was ratified 13 years later it still allowed slavery, women couldn’t vote and since then independence – freedom – has been an on going project.

Another photo from the Daily Bulldog: http://www.dailybulldog.com/db

To me independence day is a recognition not of a past event or ideal, but of the on going process of building true freedom.   All may be created equal, but some are born in poverty and others in plenty.    We fought to end slavery, to give the vote to women, to create civil rights for blacks, and now to provide full rights to homosexuals.   We worked to create public education so all could have opportunity.   We’re trying now to figure out how to make health care something all Americans enjoy, how to expand economic opportunity, and how to handle an economic crisis thirty years in the making.

There is something this day does not represent: selfish individualism.    Kurt Anderson may have a point in the New York Times today that the problems we face come from the triumph of radical individualism over our sense of community and shared duties.   Freedom was once an ideal that had a context – we are free in a community, our freedom is connected with duties and obligations to those around us.

Now it seems that many people see freedom simply as a desire to be able to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences to the rest of the community.   If a CEO at a financial firm can earn $25 million bonuses thanks to bogus mortgage backed CDOs, hey, that’s fine.  So what if it brings down the economy, the market decides they get a bonus and who are they to question the market (especially when they can manipulate it!)

But it’s not just the bigwigs, it’s all of us.   I know that my thinking is quite often very selfish.   Yes, that’s human nature, but it’s also human nature to be connected with others.   Freedom is the proper balance of ones’ own individual desires and interests and the sense of duty to the community.    Ignore the community and things start to fall apart and the capacity to achieve ones desires and goals becomes more difficult.

Farmington has been a community since the late 1700s…I’m not sure what year this picture dates from.

That’s our challenge now – independence means rediscovering the balance between selfish pursuit of whatever we want and the recognition that we need to care about our environment, community and neighbors.   We’re all hurt when any American goes hungry, lacks adequate health care, is denied equal opportunity, is unfairly put in jail or in any way mistreated.

In that sense the parade today in Farmington – a community coming together – reflects what we need more of.   And it’s already beginning.   People are starting to focus on eating local food, buying from area merchants, and working together to maintain that sense of community that has traditionally defined American life.    Strong communities will yield a strong country.   Crass individualism and selfishness will tear us apart.

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Love is Beautiful

A naval tradition has a crew member being chosen to be the first off a ship returning to home port and get the “first kiss,” marking the safe return and homecoming of the crew.   Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta (23) and her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell (22) had the first kiss on the return of the USS Oak Hill from 80 days at sea.  It’s the first time a same sex couple has been granted the honor of the “first kiss” — before repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” such action would have had them kicked out of the Navy.

It was in many ways what Commanding Officer David Bauer called a ‘non-event.’  The crew’s reaction was positive, their kiss was greeted with flag waving and cheers, and otherwise it was a normal return.   Normal.   No protests, no public debates, just a couple in love returning home from serving their country.   Even the choice to have them get the first kiss was not some kind of effort for historic symbolism — they simply won a raffle to determine the first kiss.

A year ago when DADT was repealed there were numerous efforts by social conservatives to stop the action.   Senators pointed to Marine Commandant James F. Amos who opposed repeal, as a sign that military preparedness was being sacrificed for political correctness.    Now even Amos is convinced that repeal was a good thing, and the Marines are actively recruiting gays.

As 2011 nears an end there is a lot to be concerned about.   The economic recovery is slow and the global financial system is still tottering with more uncertainty than most people realize.  Change in the Arab world, while good in the long run, brings real short term uncertainty and danger.   Political fights seem as partisan and bitter as ever.

But as a culture we are progressing.   A story like this would have been impossible just a few years ago.   Same sex marriage is slowly expanding, with a majority of Americans now approving of it.  Here in Maine there is a good chance a public referendum will approve it next fall (a state law approving it was very narrowly repealed by referendum in 2009).  On many levels freedom is expanding and old prejudices are giving way.

In this season of joy, love and faith this simple “first kiss” reminds us that despite all the political turmoil, progress is being made in the fight against ignorance, bigotry and prejudice!    There is still a long way to go on a variety of issues, but this kiss should cause us to pause and celebrate the progress so far.

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