Freedom Involves Responsibility (Yikes!)

Freedom Involves Responsibility (Yikes!)

By Bruce Fraser


freedom“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

Edmund Burke

The demonstrations in Paris in the wake of the murders of journalists, Jews and police officers last month certainly showed that millions of “good men” were at least willing to take to the streets.  Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, people from all walks of life renounced violence as a solution to social issues, and defended the freedom of expression globally.  It was an impressive display of unity on behalf of a basic principle of democracy.

The problem remains, however, that we also have a global society interspersed with crazies – people whose interpretation of right and wrong is, to varying degrees, much different than mainstream society.  Because they are a small minority, we tend to disregard these people and even mock them.  Magazines such as Charlie Hebdo print clever cartoons that amuse the intelligentsia, but insult and anger some of the crazies. 

As old-timers used to say when the circus came to town, “Don’t poke the bear!”  But, of course, the youth of the town thought it was pretty smart to sneak into the tent and give the captive bear a couple of pokes.  Most of the time, it was pretty safe to do so.  Every once in a while, though, the bear would be able to break loose and lay a few licks on his tormenters.  Did the good burghers discipline the boys?  No, they shot the bear.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

Sigmund Freud

Along with all of our freedoms comes responsibility.  If we marginalize individuals and groups, every once in awhile one (or some) of them will retaliate.  Then, we will have a “disaster.”  If France has the resources to track 5,000 alleged terrorist suspects (as per CNN’s broadcast of events on Jan. 7), why are there no resources or no will to intervene on a preventive basis?  If these people are susceptible to the persuasions of radical recruiters, can we not create some options for them that would divert them from a violent path?

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”  

Noam Chomsky

What happened in Paris last month is going to happen again and again unless we can find some way to channel the emotional and intellectual energy of minorities (and disadvantaged majorities, such as the poor in Mexico) into peaceful and, hopefully, developmental actions.  We have the resources – just look at the billions and the brainpower that are being allocated to contain and eliminate the crazies.

“True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.” 

 Pope John Paul II

Anyone who has taken a commercial flight in the past 13 years can attest to our freedom having been reduced considerably by the threat of terrorism.  What additional inconveniences will we have to endure in the wake of the Paris killings?  As impressive as the demonstrations in Paris appeared, I can’t help but conclude that we are missing the point.  At the same time as we see the newspapers and magazines of Europe rally to assist Charlie Hebdo to meet its publication deadlines, we are all spending an extra hour or more at an airport for every flight we take, international banking has become more complex and costly as banks have to prove they are not receiving funds from or moving funds to terrorist groups, and our taxes have increased as we pay more and more for anti-terrorist security.  Who is really free?

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”  

Patrick Henry


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