Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

An Evil Choice Destroys Freedom

July 29, 2019

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.”




Analysis Goes Way Back In The Way Back Machine

June 18, 2017

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who never before had appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been “spoiled” by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

pg.311-312, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, 1951

Living Does Matter

January 21, 2015

Another day, another council meeting, another big crowd. What brings people out? Occasionally past Newark City Council meetings have drawn some numbers over issues like substandard housing, absence of public transportation, or children’s welfare. What is it about pets that mobilizes such a multitude? True, they are considered children with fur coats by many, just another part of the family. The passion with which people have come together over how their critters are defined, identified, and treated appears to be unrivalled. Analysis wouldn’t anticipate such a response if Council were to consider the diet of Newark’s youth, their living conditions, or what they do after school lets out. These same parents of children in fur coats would not be incensed if their natural born offspring, not covered in fur, were detained for trespassing on a neighbor’s property or were identified as troublemakers for “hanging out” on the street or at the mall. After all, young people are required to learn the rules, respect private property, and know better. It is de rigueur for being an American. But pets – not so much. Analysis shows this passionate response to be one of freedom. Put crassly, “You can tell me what to do but don’t tell my fur clad kid what to do.” It differs markedly from the cold logic of gun ownership that simply concerns itself with what can be owned by a single individual. That thinking is akin to the “rights” of hoarders to accumulate as much stuff as possible. It’s a capitalist “thing”. But with pets it’s different. The pet is a “thing” of nature, not so much a thing but a living creature. A living creature has the capacity to do, uniquely and unpredictably. We’re not talking about pet rocks here. Living creatures engage in spontaneous interactions as well as develop natural relations with other living creatures without regard for the prescriptions, efficiencies, and restrictions of the economy. A natural creature doesn’t “know better”, will never “learn” the rules (of nature or the market), and certainly has no notion of what fences are all about. This freedom gives those with fur clad buddies great pleasure. Could it be that what generates this joy makes up for a lack that is unacknowledged but acquiesced? Maybe there’s something we could learn from all this. Living does matter.