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Define “freedom”

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 16:04 EDT
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Scott Swenson has an interesting piece about the way that the right has warmed up so much to the use of lies to push their agenda that they’ve gotten so thick in it that they probably have problems telling lies from the truth.

Let’s be clear. I don’t know anyone who would take away the right for a person to believe what they choose, to follow their faith, however they interpret it. The Culture of Lies is not about what the far-right believes or their right to believe it. The lies are about how they distort facts trying to impose what they believe on everyone else, taking away other Americans’ rights in the process.

If you want to believe dinosaurs and man walked the Earth together 6,000 years ago, when the Earth allegedly began, go right ahead — but let’s not teach that in public schools. If you hold, as a matter of faith, that pregnancy begins at an unknowable moment of conception, most people I know will fight for your right to believe that, but will oppose any effort to impose that ideology over basic medical facts in public policy. If you believe that teens really will remain abstinent and thus need no knowledge of prevention methods, that may work for you, but to continue wasting $1.5 billion dollars on programs that don’t achieve that goal, and actually put teens at risk, seems odd to many taxpayers. You believe that gay people “choose” to live a “lifestyle” that subjects them to discrimination, fine. You believe that women should not be allowed to make their own personal life decisions — that’s your choice — no one is forcing you to use contraception, plan your family, have an abortion, or work outside the home. And at death, should you suffer from a terminal illness and want every possible technology and treatment to keep you alive, no one — other than your insurance company — would deny you your belief that only God can end life, no matter how much science you use to keep yourself alive. The question on the table is whether your personal, individual beliefs should apply to everyone else, regardless of their personal, individual and deeply held beliefs.

For a generation, the far-right has promoted the biggest lie of all — that they are the ones fighting for individual rights, the ones whose values are threatened.

And that really is what’s fascinating, because of all the lies they tell, the one many seem to have convinced themselves of the most is the idea that their “freedom” depends on your compliance and submission. This video from yesterday is a good example. Yes, it’s a remix, but the original and the remix had the same language, about how legal same-sex marriage would subject homobigots to horrible intrusions on their freedom. Why? Because they might be labeled “intolerant” and subject to social ridicule. I fail to see why legal same sex marriage is the breaking point, though. I’m not waiting for it to be legal to subject these assholes to ridicule and call them intolerant, an accurate label. And it’s really rich that the very homobigots who have launched a campaign of severe homophobia on the nation that has resulted in many queer kids suffering from depression and even suicide would deride ostracism as a tool. But that’s how they think—their freedom depends on your compliance. It never seems to penetrate their thick skulls that if they want to have the freedom to be raging bigots, they have to extend the freedom to live as they see fit to their neighbors.

FDR named the four freedoms that have become standard-bearers in liberalism: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Right wingers seem to have changed these up for themselves to be freedom of speech (for right wingers), freedom of religion (for misogynist Christians), freedom from thinking, and freedom from challenge. The latter two seem to be the underlying values of all right wing culture war movements. Gay rights and evolutionary theory violate their “right” to be free from having their beliefs challenged so that they have to think about them. Birth control, abortion, and the right to die with dignity make it hard for them to make the “right” choices because they’re sorely tempted to make choices that have the power of reason behind them but are in violation of their religious beliefs. Having options forces you to think about what you want, and that violates their freedom from thinking. Honestly, I think a lot of the energy driving the remains of the McCain campaign now is a specific kind of racism—racists are sincerely, and reasonably, afraid that if we have a black President and other white people in the country get to know him and his family, then they will start to be more tolerant and open-minded to black people they encounter in real life. Which is to say that the uglier racists are probably facing a world where their beliefs get challenged more often by other white people, and that violates their freedom from challenge.

I think that this is why so many of them have convinced themselves that it enhances freedom to deprive people that Sarah Palin apparently doesn’t consider real Americans of our freedoms. Their freedoms can’t exist as long as we’re out there and they have to find ways to get along with us.

It’s baffling to liberals when we see right wingers get in a huff about how they’re pro-freedom. But if you think about the four freedoms I outlined above, it sort of makes sense. A classic instance is the wingnuts who went absolutely apeshit when PZ Myers threw a consecrated wafer in the trash. They tried to get him fired and otherwise use coercion to block that kind of free speech. I have zero doubt that most of the people who tried to get him fired would fully back a law that made blasphemy (defined by them) illegal. Nor do I doubt that they’d do this in the name of “freedom”—because they have a right to be free from even thinking about the possibility that their religion might not be true, and they have a right to be free from having their faith challenged. It’s bullshit like that which makes me roll my eyes when people whine about “fundamentalist” atheists. It’s not rudeness that defines the fundamentalist. It’s the willingness to use coercion to keep others from challenging your beliefs. Most atheists are big believers in freedom of religion for everyone. Certainly it’s the only thing that protects atheists from government coercion.

When you realize to what extent right wingers consider “freedom” to mean freedom from challenge and freedom from thinking, then the levels of lying that they’ll resort to in order to save the social order make a little more sense. How they can be self-righteous about freedom while hypocritically working so hard against it. They have a different definition of “freedom”.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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