Freedom

Freedom is such a burdened concept. I guess that’s why it needed such a ginormous statue.

The word means all kinds of things to all sorts of people. It is something individuals construct their lives around and nations promise to their people.

Everybody can agree that captivity is the opposite of freedom. However, poverty could also be seen is an antonym of freedom, as well as servitude and suppression.

In theory, freedom is something we would want everybody to have all the time, everywhere. Sadly, with our species, universal freedom has proven to be an impossibility.

The tragedy is that, when put into practice, complete and total freedom tends to translate into individuals stepping on (and over) the boundaries of others. I teased my brain about this dilemma before, but it is something that continues to puzzle and sadden me about our species.

The chapter in history embodied by POTUS-45 has also demonstrated that freedom in the hands of sociopaths and narcissists is harmful for the collective.

Freedom of religion

Every modern day western society has some mention of freedom of religion in their constitution. With it, people have basically institutionalized the principle of “agreeing to disagree”.

The rule of thumb has mostly been “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. Do not demand pork or lobster in a Jewish household, do not order beef in a Hindu establishment and expect no meat when visiting a Buddhist. As a woman; cover up some what when entering a Catholic church, cover up some more when entering a mosque. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Aside from the five major religions we count today, modern day society has made room for surprising new ideologies like Wicca, Scientology and the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All these things have to be taken seriously in equal amounts because of the structures we have created to protect freedom of religion.

But the 21st century has been an uphill battle in this regard, with radicalism chipping away at the foundations of tolerant ideas. The terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001 were a breaking point that have continued to divide us up to this day.

Because what do you do when you are not only expected to “do like the Romans” when in Rome but also when you’re hanging out in your own house in Paris, New York or London?

Is it fair to be expected to respect the values of a religion that is not your own? How do you react if it doesn’t even matter what you do, but your mere existence is considered an insult? And what do you do when the price you are being asked to pay for disrespect is death?

How do you deal with the contradiction of protecting values like “live and let live” if doing so might mean the end of them?

I feel empathy is a key concept in all of this, but at this point I still only have more questions, and no answers…

Freedom of Speech

This modern era has given certain words meanings, beyond their literal definitions. Or perhaps it is not a symptom of the 21st century, but just the way language evolves… I’m thinking of how referring to someone as “politically correct” has become an insult.

On the other end of that is the way we use “freedom of speech” as a way to justify bullying or rude behavior.

After the horrific series of terrorist attacks in France of the last few weeks, I heard my dad asking the TV: “Why would you use freedom of speech to insult others, particularly if you know how sensitive they are about it?”.

I wrote something in a blogpost almost 6 years ago, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo as a soul search of my own, investigating how much leeway should be given to satire, if it knowingly insults specific groups of people. So much has happened since then. In regards to the question my dad asked, seemingly rhetorically, my perspective has hardened.

From my point of view, humor has always been a useful tool to take painful truths out of the realm of taboo. Even back in medieval times we enjoyed the company of fools and jesters to challenge our thinking. The veil of clownish clothing and silly behavior protected them from persecution, in the same way that today TV presenters like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah (and Arjen Lubach, in my own country) can justify all sorts of statements with the magic words “Relax. It’s satire”.

Given the fact that pioneering comedians (and cartoon shows like South Park) tread on new grounds, they should be allowed to experiment with controversial thoughts and send some gasps through a crowd. Some of those gasps will come from people who feel their values have been disrespected or misunderstood.

What satire does is shine a torch on aspects of our being that have been kept in the dark, either by design or not. The goal is not to insult, but to reveal uneasiness. Sure, it might be embarrassing. Some comedians may take it a bit far, pushing beyond mere ridicule and into the realm of bullying.

But still, I don’t think we should give it up.

If we want to save freedom of speech, we have to continue to make room for each other’s opinions. We need dialogue for that. If there’s an elephant in the room getting in the way of a conversation, no better way to help it move on than to mock someone else’s big buttock first.

Also, from experience I can say that it actually helps your self esteem to learn how to take (or make) a joke about your lesser features. Self-mockery is an excellent tool to help you become more comfortable in your own skin. I truly recommend it.

Freedom to summarize

As this blog has been a long time in the making, I have collected quite a lot of random ideas and unfinished thoughts. The leftover scribbles might get their own blogpost one day, but for the sake of readability I will not elaborate further on them in this one.

Because I do feel it is all relevant somehow, I will just include my ramblings as food-for-thought bulletpoints below.

More on Freedom of Speech

  • When does freedom of speech become hate speech?
  • Should words be punishable by law?
  • Does the expression revolving around “Sticks and Stones” stop applying after elementary school?
  • Has snowflakism broken freedom of speech or are we saying more assholey things to each other?

Freedom of Opinion

  • A modern misuse of freedom is the way groups and individuals are applying it to set science aside as “just another opinion”.
  • There is a contradiction in people using freedom as a justification for gun ownership.

Complicated socio-political screwballing

  • What does freedom mean on a macro level?
  • Do European countries have any right to tell Brazil what to do with the Amazon rainforest (and is that a limitation to its freedom)?
  • Can it be considered “aid” if it is also an encroachment of an other nation’s sovereignty?

Non-freedom / Incarceration

  • Taking away somebody’s freedom is a universal form of punishment.
  • How and why is that?
  • What does the expropriation of freedom do and mean to an individual?
  • And what does it do to the person responsible for this captivity?
  • Is incarceration enough or should a stay in jail be unpleasant in other ways as well (meaning we shouldn’t provide prisoners with TV, games, good beds, etc)?

Like I said, freedom is such a burdened concept.

Also, I think too much.


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

The Donkey and the Gremlin

In three words I think I would characterize my current relationship as being humorous, inspirational and affectionate.

We challenge each other on an intellectual level and will leave no stone unturned when we run into a surprising new fact or notion.

I like to go all the way down the rabbit hole with him when confronted with an oddity. We, take our time with our analyses and make sure we understand each other before moving on (as much as our schedules permit).

Also, in the decade I have spent with him, I don’t think we have ever left any uneasy feelings undisclosed nor left to fester into something big and ugly.

Even though communication is super important for us we don’t necessarily have the same approach to it. I guess that might have to do with our upbringing or just simply with the fact that we are different individuals.

The pushy gremlin

If something sparks my curiosity my mind goes into philosopher-mode. I can stare into blank space (or a crackling fire) for hours, drifting off into a maze of thoughts that might take days or weeks to figure out. Blogging helps. So does talking to fellow maze dwellers.

I like to think I always try to understand a puzzling fact by doing my best to approach it from different points of view. I end up making my own opinion but not before giving every idea I come across a fair chance.

G and I have similar ideas about many things. That awesome fact sometimes actually ends up being the problem.

If I notice he is not agreeing with me on something, I tend to think I just haven’t explained my point correctly. An expression of disagreement or confusion turns into a stimulus for me to introduce more ideas and arguments, as I myself have probably also gone through stages of confusion before forming my final opinion.

But as I push my point further to bring him on board I sometimes end up empty handed. My perception of “giving context” ends up tipping the scale towards domineering behavior, resulting in annoyance on both sides.

The ease with which I sometimes dismiss someone’s ideas without giving it a second thought is disrespectful, I see that. I just haven’t figured out how to keep myself from turning into that pushy gremlin yet.

I still need some more time staring into a fire to untangle that one…

The donkey

Geronimo is a self taught intellectual. All though our ideas are often quite similar, he likes to get his information from different sources than I do, which keeps our conversations interesting.

G’s opinions are no less strong or present than mine. However, he does back down from a discussion in cases where I would not. If he feels there is no point to it he shrugs, puts on a certain (slightly dismissive) face and goes on with his day.

To him a discussion is pointless if the other is not listening well enough (up to his standards) or if he senses the other is not prepared to change their opinion.

Also G is very wary for signs of manipulation (some would say he is oversensitive). When a question of mine turns out to be a cloaked demand, he goes into full donkey mode.

And don’t get me wrong… I adore donkeys…

So yes, I don’t always agree with his judgements on these moments and sometimes feel unfairly shut down. And that in turn is something I find wildly interesting and am still in the process of trying to fully grasp.

Luckily, in the end, we always figure out which wrong turn we took and like I said, no hard feelings are ever left to fester, which is so important.

We celebrated our anniversary last month and I expect to celebrate many more!