The Narrow Definition of Freedom

“Don’t Tread on Me”  fanatics attempt to tread on commentator’s 1st amendment rights.

freedom of speech muffled

Perhaps one of the most cogent and succinct statements ever made that defines a free society was the one that’s been attributed to Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher but actually originated much later through a biographer of his

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. 

It’s true that some people can say some harsh things in public that get under our skin and there are those statements that could lead some mentally imbalanced people to act on them, sometimes with deadly results.   But the right of free speech is guaranteed in our Constitution and when statements are made that are not to our liking we need to keep in mind that we are also guilty of offending other’s view with our beliefs.  How many of us have had to tolerate the drivel from right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck  and Ann Coulter?  It’s an inherent characteristic of a democracy.

Yet somehow this always seems to go over the heads of extremists within some religious and social groups.  The ideals that make America appealing to many around the world however are not always played out in reality here.  This isn’t something new either.  Even Alexis de Tocqueville, a great admirer of the American people eventually made this observation in one of his best known treatises early in the 19th century

I know of no country in which there is so little true independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America   – “Democracy In America” by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831     SOURCE  

Things haven’t changed all that much after 175 years.  Today’s version of intolerance exists in great abundance amongst those who tolerate no criticism of their narrowly perceived views of God, guns, attaining wealth and the flag.  Step outside the restrictive definition they impose on everyone and your castigated as un-American, an atheist, a traitor and heretic.

If the Inquisition, the Salem Witch tribunals and full-throated McCarthyism were still operating today, these would be the people in leadership roles handing down sentences of death or ostracizing those who they deem unworthy.  If lynchings and tar and feathering were still practiced in society today these extremists would be inciting mobs and leading the angry crowds down the street.

Case in point.  Piers Morgan the British host of his own CNN program Piers Morgan Tonight, has upset some of those extremist by calling for tighter restrictions on guns in this country following the Newtown, Conn. massacre and calling a gun advocate guest on his program “incredibly stupid”.    In response to this, someone in my home state of  Texas (why is this not a shocker) initiated a petition calling on the U.S. government to deport the British citizen on the grounds that his view on guns is a “hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution” in regards to 2nd amendment.

Some have ludicrously claimed that unless Mr. Morgan is a U.S. citizen that he has no rights under our Constitution.  Though perhaps technically correct, it is the spirit of the law that is denounced here and thus a fallacious response.  Are such people unaware that Mr. Morgan’s homeland, Great Britain, is the origin of much that’s incorporated into our Constitution?

Freedom then, too often espoused by those on the right, simply narrows down to tight restrictive measures only they feel comfortable with.  There is no difference from this state of mind than there is with the Taliban ethos in Afghanistan and Pakistan or the measures iron-fisted despots like Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler used to subdue any threat to their interpretation of who and what was vital for the society they envisioned for themselves and a few others.

extremists

The law we have established through our courts and legal system is the only protection we have at this time from the low-brows who file nefarious petitions or generate legislation to eliminate “undesirables” from their purist ideals.  Without these restraints it is conceivable that we could live under a rule where freedom would be nothing more than a word that conceals a hate and contempt for “those people” who don’t share the complete set of values imposed by extremists.

Already we are seeing forces around the country that alter the laws to invade the privacy of a woman’s choice to end an unwanted pregnancy or where brown-skinned people are subject to deportation if they don’t have the right documents on them when stopped to confirm their citizenship.  Thicker and higher walls are being erected to assuage the growing fears of those who see terrorists around every corner.

The reaction to Piers Morgan’s gun control comments is yet one more example of how efforts will be attempted by some to quash such freedoms of speech and limit our exposure to the diversity that makes up our world.  I worry that this state of mind gets way too much attention and creates a greater risk of becoming more assimilated into the public consciousness.

It doesn’t take much for some articulate, charismatic figure to motivate people who are looking for a scapegoat to blame for their set of problems.  We dodged a bullet in this last election preventing the small-minded people from convincing enough of us of things that exists only in their sick fantasies.  But history has shown that eventually a society reaches a level that makes them more susceptible to the twisted emotions of pathological “saviors”.  How long will it be before the persistence of those who incite enough hatred and contempt for perceived enemies separate us from that culture that our laws to date have prevented?

home of the brave

 

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9 responses to “The Narrow Definition of Freedom

  1. When one’s grasp of the constitution is limited to the interpretation given it by the likes of Glenn Beck and David Barton, one ends up taking positions that are ironic and stupid at the same time. I’m not sure you could explain how asinine these people think if you charted it out in crayons. They will continue to use the constitution as their rallying flag when and if it suits their masters, and they will never be any the wiser.

  2. What an asinine notion – everyone and their dog now thinks a petition is going to answer their personal issues. These people are children. If you can’t play on the global stage, and deal with criticism from abroad, then shut up and let the adults take over. Enough of THEIR Constitution. As Sherry said, they use it for their self-serving needs.

    • There will always be people who claim to love democracy until it doesn’t give them the results they want. Then they want to impose a strong-man a rule by the minority, pretending all the while that they speak for the majority. It’s the ironic part of the Ayn Rand self-interests mindset so many faux Libertarians tout

  3. The petition will go nowhere. One of the things I’ve pointed out to a number of conservatives on various blogs is that the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances does not mean that the government will redress the grievances. All it means is that you have the right to ask. As with many things in the Constitution, they don’t get it.

    • It is indeed laughable that this small percentage of signatores on the petition feel that anything other than exposing their contempt for people who don’t think like them will go anywhere. But it continues to show a side of the simple-minded thinking within the ranks of ultra conservatives who have only a cursory understanding of a document they elevate above everything else.

      • It’s much like their interpretation of the Bible. They pick and choose which parts they think justifies them, and conveniently ignore all the other parts.

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