Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Freedom and the status quo

There is no better day to write a few words about freedom than on this most inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. Day (a day on which I had lunch with Michele Norris...you read that right!). MLK advocated for and engaged in activism that vehemently challenged the status quo, and envisioned a nation in which non-whites were freely accepted and integrated into the greater American community.

It is ironic then, that when viewed differently, freedom itself is the status quo and a small space around it. Freedom is comprised of the social and cultural norms that our lives are embedded in. It is the very average of our individual thoughts and opinions. Anything that falls outside of the bounds of this freedom is deemed "radical". And we all know what everyone thinks about "radicals"...

I find it extremely motivating then that Tim DeChristopher was able to find his freedom in committing an act that, under current laws, was illegal, and indeed radical. It was radical when viewed conventionally as outside the bounds of "normal", but more strikingly, it was radical in its originality. 

The most visionary acts are those that imagine a truly different world, and a truly different world must be guided by a completely different set of norms and moralities. Freedom then is the expression of discontent. This expression must come with the understanding of the brutal consequences one may face because of it. It is very true, though, that the nobility of an act of freedom, a freedom that is in the interests of all, not just a few, throws even more light on brutal repression. Such is what has transpired in Yemen and Syria, and such is what has transpired with Tim DeChristopher. 

Freedom manifests itself in different and contradictory ways in this culture. We have the "freedom" to consume, but not the freedom to change what drives ecological degradation. We are preached at, from young age, about the freedom we all have to determine the courses of our lives. We hear our politicians and leaders preaching to other countries about what freedom is to us, and what it ought to be to them. Freedom it seems, is about liberty and self-determination. However, it is as clear as the Michigan winter is long that the freedoms that have the largest effect on us as collectives are those that allow the almost free and limitless destruction of this world. They are the freedoms of free pollution, and the freedoms of the creation of a culture that has enslaved its people and left them in many ways bereft of the power to self-determination. (Many of the Republican candidates for president would think otherwise.)

On this MLK day, let's explore the faces of freedom from all angles. I am certain that once you scratch the surface, you will be shocked at what you find.

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