When I was in college at UMBC one of my favorite professors was Dr. Kate Drabinski. In my first course with her, Studies in Feminist Activism, one of our term paper options was to write about “freedom.” While reviewing the list of final topics Dr. Kate said , “and freedom, because why not?”
I was in that class in 2013. Nearly 4 years later as I write this in 2017 I still find her questioning of that topic deeply meaningful as I think through my life, my politics, and especially the current political situation.
In the term paper I wrote half of and then deleted I began my argument with the following quote…
“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.” – Simone de Beauvoir from The Blood of Others
At the time I saw that as a great way to begin a paper. So simple, so fresh. I don’t find it so simple any more. I mean, what does freedom even mean, really?
According to my good friend Merriam-Webster:
1: the quality or state of being free: such as
a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another :independence
c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care
d: ease, facilityspoke the language with freedom
e: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken answered with freedom
f: improper familiarity
g: boldness of conception or execution
h: unrestricted use gave him the freedom of their home
2: a political right
First of all how anyone considers the United States “free” or built on “freedom” shows an absolute lack of historical understanding and is probably unlikely to consider histories of enslavement and genocide as continuing to be huge influencers on life chances and experiences. But let us briefly remove freedom from it’s specifically American connotation and focus on the word in a broader sense. I yearn to squeeze some meaning out of it – to have it be a way I understand the world and my place in it.
At my most innocent and naive, days when I forget that most people want things other than peace and beauty, I truly believe that every human life could be “pure transparent freedom.” I tend to have less of these days as I get older, or perhaps as the world is changing around us. But for a time I really thought that life tended towards goodness, order, and beauty…that in the utopia of my dreams people’s inherent goodness would shine through, and it would all be okay one day if we just worked hard enough.
I really don’t think that’s true anymore.
As I grow older, wiser, and more cynical, that utopia becomes ever muddier for me, hidden behind more layers of the clouded glass of life experiences. Goodness is a completely unhelpful concept. Freedom, like beauty, is truly in the eye of the beholder, and the universe tends toward chaos, rather than order.
Still freedom, like beauty, remains a useful way for me to think about my life. In a recent conversation with a friend we talked about freedom as an important way we navigate through the world. Though boundaries are important, and they have to be respected, sometimes we have to walk away from people, relationships, or situations in order to protect our own freedom.
Yet there are millions of people all over the world who do not have the chance to walk away from the circumstances that limit their freedom. I think about all of the people who would fly, who would create and cultivate such beautiful and wonderful things if given the chance. I am lost thinking of the world we could all create if we cultivated freedom rather than the exact opposite.
I just don’t understand. What in a person would cause them to look at my life, at anyone’s life, and decide it is too free, too open, not religious enough, too or not enough anything? How could you ever look at a person’s choices and decide they are incorrect?
This argument is pretty easily turned completely around. Is it not, then, a matter of freedom for people to be openly racist and anti-semetic? To actually be straight up neo-nazis? For business owners to refuse service based on whatever categories they deem fit?
If I yearn for freedom, they must too…and I’m stuck. Philosophically, morally, socially, stuck. We all want freedom, but we all want different things. And I think what they want is wrong.
How do you convince someone else of another person’s right to eat? To have a home? To be alive? How do you make someone see your humanity?
I don’t think I have anything useful to say here. I feel worn down, I feel hopeless. I feel like we are losing. To pretend to feel otherwise would be disingenuous. I don’t even want to publish this blog, but maybe the hopelessness in you will recognize the hopelessness in me. Perhaps it is better to be hopeless together. We are just so very far from the world I wish we had. We are so far from freedom.
However you are feeling, friends and folks, I see your freedom, as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s. I hope you see mine too.