Freedom or Paralysis

We all know the discomfort of unwelcome constraints imposed by our workplace, our families, and society in general. Freedom for the individual, it seems, is relative. As we mature we come to see purpose in the underlying order of things and recognize that often we cannot advance our interests without it.

We generally understand and accept the limitations we experience in life, however much they chafe. Still there are aspects of freedom we value highly despite the complications and challenges they present.

As individuals we value freedom of opportunity. We also have preferences concerning the control of processes that impact on our personal lives, and preferences concerning the processes that operate in society.

There is much of value to discuss here, but I wish to focus on our response to life’s inevitable constraints, especially in the context of crises, and the choices we can make if we wish to work effectively with others.

There are rules we accept that regulate such things as athletic contests and the marketplace, which make it possible to ensure fairness, to strategize and compete. And, it is the certainty of fairness and predictability that allows an economy to be productive and our lives to be sane.

Similarly, it is fairness, honesty and respectfulness that are most conducive to constructive dialog and decision-making in any organization or community. This is what leads to trust, and trust is essential if we are to reach our compatriots.

When we find ourselves confronted with unpredictable and chaotic conditions, our first steps can always be to address the need for order that allows respectful and meaningful communication.

Progress toward social and economic reconstruction in our communities will require that we work together in a civil manner, regardless of our differences. Problem-solving cannot take place otherwise.

We cannot assure safety in our communities or create effective organization if form and structure, or varied opinions, are viewed as limitations to liberty.

The iconic conservative philosopher Richard Weaver, who we heard from in the previous post, would say this goal represents a formidable task; that it would require us to confront a national character uncomfortable with form, resistant to leadership, and impatient with any systematic process. He called America “a nation which egotism has paralyzed.”

We have seen how this egotism has diverted our attention from serious purpose: in our infatuation with expensive toys, in our descent into personal and public indebtedness, and in a sordid media voyeurism that forgoes all pretensions of privacy. Weaver called it “the spirit of self, which has made the [citizen] lose sight of the calling of his task and to think only of aggrandizement.”

Is it this “spirit of self” that has led us to the meaningless disorder in which we now find ourselves, where self-indulgence overwhelms motivation, rational judgment, and foresight?

I see some truth in this, but I believe we must look more deeply into the character of a people who have risen to every test in the past. Americans are smart, resilient, and creative. In the difficult years ahead I expect we will gain a deeper understanding of freedom and will respond with a maturity imposed by necessity.

All form has structural limits. It is the consistent dependability of this reality that allows us to launch ourselves into new frontiers of learning and experience, to control the direction of our efforts, to instigate, organize, create.

Without the constraints of necessity, which include our own values, we would have no capacity to direct our energy and intelligence, to explore new ideas or undertake new ventures.

For the individual, the ability to exercise discipline overcomes the limitations imposed by nature and society. Surely the discipline to leverage inspiration against the constraints we encounter in life provides the power to actualize our freedom and transcend the material difficulties in life.

We cannot leap without a firm foundation beneath our feet; we cannot fly without wings.

It is in the encounter between discipline and necessity that we find the ground of freedom.


Next week: The freedom within.

Dear readers: Your thoughts and feedback will be very helpful to me.