We often think of freedom as a principle without consideration for its requirements or even of what it actually means. Impediments to freedom are experienced in many forms. Personal obstacles can be oppressive. The constraints and obligations imposed by our workplace, our families, and society in general are familiar to everyone.
Freedom for the individual, it seems, is conditional. Yet, we can choose to respond with maturity and self-control. We generally understand and accept the limitations we experience, however much they chafe. And there are principles we cherish despite the challenges they present.
There is much to talk about 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.
Most of us cooperate with most of what society asks of us most of the time. We accept the rules that regulate athletic contests, vehicular traffic, and commerce.
Rules make it possible to ensure fairness, to strategize and compete. It is the relative certainty of fairness and predictability that allows businesses to plan and invest in the future, an economy to be productive, and our personal lives to be sane.
Similarly, it is honesty, candor, and civility that are most conducive to constructive dialog and decision-making in any organization or community. These may not be “rules”, but they are values we cannot do without. They are shared norms that lead to trust.
When we are confronted with chaotic and unpredictable conditions, our first step can always be to address the need for conditions that allow effective communication and encourage practical dialogue.
Progress toward social and economic reconstruction will require that we work together in a civil manner, regardless of our differences. Problem-solving cannot take place otherwise.
Some folks think organized cooperation as impossible. But, it will be impossible to ensure safety or meet basic needs in our communities if our differences preclude collaboration.
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 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 rational judgment, motivation 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 and all limits provide the means for leverage. 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.
Our 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.
Please look for the next post on or about April 21: The Freedom Within.