Zenos Frudakis Freedom Sculpture
On December 10th 1948, the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration enshrined the principle that human beings could no longer be treated in law or public policy as mere tools of the powerful or subjects of the state, but that they possess inherent value, and must be permitted to live their lives according to the priorities they themselves identify, in so far as they do not infringe the rights of others. This enshrined the definition of freedom that extends beyond international borders and political regimes.
Personal freedom is “the legal allowance to do whatever a person wants insofar as he or she does not offensively harm or coerce other people against those other people’s wills”, and insomuch as the desired end does not constrain, suppress, or deny the freedom of others. Remember, this limitation is a logical requirement. Freedom obviously cannot include the legal right to limit other people’s freedom because that would be illogical. Ensuring the freedom and rights of others in pursuit of what we desire for ourselves is commonly known as the principle of self-control (or “self-ownership”).
Social Freedom expands the concept of personal freedom to include sharing equally and without general exceptions the rights and liberties of one’s fellow man. Taken a step further; freedom is not true freedom if one accrues such rights and privileges while turning a blind eye to freedom denied his fellow man. Freedom gathered to oneself while others are denied theirs is not in fact freedom. It is, rather, class privilege. For example, freedom does not include the legal right to enslave someone else because freedom includes the legal right to not be enslaved. In another example, freedom does not include the legal right to non-defensively punch other people in the face against their will because freedom includes the legal right to not be offensively punched.
Freedom is being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint, unless such restraint is in place for the protection of society as a whole, and insofar as such restraints are the minimal necessary to ensure society’s safety and does not excessively limit the human rights of the confined, and remaining freedoms not deemed harmful, of the restrained. Our eyes must always be cast upon the horizon; the day in which our words and our actions restore and enshrine full freedom for others. We must draw from the well of tolerance, acceptance, and, yes….love. In doing so, we find that freedom for which we so eternally thirst.
To this end, I would suggest that it is time to revisit the treatise of Animal Rights. The ascription of moral and legal rights to animals and their enshrinement in a United Nations Declaration of Animal Rights is a logical and inevitable progression of ethical thinking. Inasmuch as there is ample evidence that many animal species are capable of feeling, we should condemn totally the infliction of suffering upon our fellow creatures and the curtailment of their behavioral and other needs save where this is necessary for their own individual benefit and protection.
This 4th, we are all invited to celebrate the current state of our freedom and personal/national independence. It cannot escape the historical reality that we bear a responsibility to remember those we enslaved and those we continue to oppress as we continue to work toward “a more perfect Union.” We can never be truly free until we acknowledge the bitter lessons of slavery and the marginalization and exclusion of individuals and groups with whom we might take exception, be they gender, race, creed, sexual identification, or other “freely” embraced definitions of self-determination. Freedom is the inherent right not only to hold an opposing view, but ensuring holding one’s view is coupled with the responsibility not to impose such views at the expense of the freedom of others. We must resist arriving at an ego-centric idea of freedom, but instead move toward a definition of liberty that embraces full and unencumbered freedom for all.
In conclusion, it is helpful – in fact it is essential – that we view the concept of freedom and self-determination as an evolving and fluid pursuit. We have not arrived at, but are on a continuing journey toward discovering of ourselves and our collective values.
It is also helpful to acknowledge that the most important tool we possess in achieving persona freedom is tolerance. Equality means equal opportunity for all. It does not mean “the same.” We are individuals first, and members of a social network second. Respect for the unique individuality of others should be the unshakeable foundation upon which we build upon and define our personal freedom.
History is replete with the atrocities, pain, and horror of forming a definition of freedom and tolerance for others. We cannot, and must not, view this from a “Me” perspective, but rather a view always be in a state of embracing the “We.”