An Evil Choice Destroys Freedom

In an obscure old text entitled New Seeds Of Contemplation, Thomas Merton considers the ubiquitous term “freedom.” The first paragraph of “What Is Liberty?” starts off inauspiciously enough (page 199):

“The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.”

Well, yes, that seems to resonate even today, over a half century after it was written. No biggie. Most exchanges regarding freedom assume as much. Merton then goes on to write:

“To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom.”

Intriguing. Followed by:

“We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free.”

Cognizant of the incredible morass of philosophic argumentation possible with considering such a provocative position, Analysis would prefer to consider its place in the contemporary interface of current events and “choices.” Merton was primarily interested in the spiritual aspects of liberty and freedom. To channel Robert Mueller, that is not within the purview of this blog. However, curious things unravel and evolve when considering those three paragraphs in light of events and situations that we, as humans and/or citizens, believe we have some say so in today. Belief was Merton’s domain. For the sake of essay, Analysis would like to assume that we have some say in these things, therefore the relevance of freedom and what was written. Global warming immediately springs to mind. “An evil choice destroys freedom.” With regard to the planet, get it wrong and there won’t be the civilization left that we’ve become accustomed to. Other choices that deny this efficacy, appear to promote “we do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so.” Usually this promoted good that elides long term implications is couched in terms of “jobs,” “consumer demand (for central heating or AC, mobility, commerce, etc.)” or “impossibility (unaffordability).” Analysis finds Merton’s insight to be dead on when it comes to what happens to freedom, along with the belief that we have some say, if the wrong choice is made. “An evil choice destroys freedom.” certainly rings true with regard to the outcomes (and inputs) of global warming. Freedom is certainly something assumed, even taken for granted as a necessary component, of democracy. How else could the demos within the polis have a say otherwise? History has repeatedly revealed sham democracy, with sham choice, here in the US as well as internationally. Currently, in various parts of the globe, struggles exist where the demos takes to heart that “An evil choice destroys freedom.” (recent events in Hong Kong, Sudan, Puerto Rico come to mind). Though written in the interest of spiritual matters, Merton’s words have an application, and resonance, with what is currently occurring regarding the governance of the US today. “An evil choice destroys freedom.”

 

 

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