Are We So Free That We Can Live Free To Die?


I am sad this morning with a sadness that I can’t shake. My sadness comes from from the nagging thought that has bothered most of my life since my late father-in-law said it casually at the dinner table when we were discussing politics. From a man who was denied an education because he was poor Jew in Poland, who lost his first wife and family in the Holocaust who escaped the Nazis and fought with the Polish Troops fighting with the Russians and who barely spoke the language of America and who worked tirelessly in a sweat shop to provide for his new family, he said to me words that haunt me to this day. “Eddie, you know Americans have too many freedoms…they have it too good.”

Now we all know that many Americans don’t have it good at all and it took me a while to understand the wisdom of what he was saying until perhaps this week. He was talking about the freedoms we have and in particular the freedom to be wrong and sometimes dead wrong as we are starting to witness from observing senior members of our government having had the freedom and protection of those freedoms allow them to make deadly choices first for others and now for themselves.

Americans have grown up with the mythology that there are checks and balances in our governments that ultimately protect the people and place a check on those who would abuse power. Well, America we are witnesses in the last few days to the extraordinary consequences of having allowed those checks and balances to fail and perhaps wipe out an entire government who exercised their freedom to make deadly decisions for others which has resulted in possibly their own demise.

One by one, in this Republican administration we are seeing potentially deadly casualties of what my father-in-law was discussing, the freedom to make bad choices. With all of our freedoms right and wrong has been supplanted with risk-benefit ratio and “it is what it is and live free and die” mentality.

The rather inspirational Marlo Thomas song for children, “Free to be you and me…” has been twisted into “Free to be myself without any regard or responsibilities for what I say or do.” Freedom of speech has been twisted into, “no matter what I say or do, that’s my right under the Constitution, regardless of who gets hurt.”
Our national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” (out of many, one), has been twisted into almost a communistic threat to our freedoms as we engage in tribal and individual selfishness. We say we are our brother’s keeper, but we have freely elected our leaders to strip the safety net of health care and social security in favor of higher profits for the 1%. We have been free to allow our leaders to practice genocidal eugenics to thin out the herd to get more for themselves and their cronies. We have been so free in doing that that now the leaders have been caught up in that exercise by convincing themselves that they were free to defy the laws of nature, the laws of science, the fundamental humanistic teaching of all major religions, the fundamental precepts of human decency to to chose excess over sufficiency and personal privilege over concern for all.
This is what he meant…that when people had too many freedoms they could become victims of it. We see this with people, who in the midst of a pandemic, rather than chose rather simple self survival skills put themselves and others at risk with behavioral choices that not only others at risk, but themselves as they attend spreader functions and boldly pronounce that they will not live in fear. In doing so, they perhaps have chosen to kill others or even die themselves probably in great fear. There are reports that infected members of this administration and those following them who are not infected are “freaking out” in fear. Dare I say it, it’s the predictable response from having exercised one’s right to be free to do as they please. It is the predictable consequent for making bad choices.
For those of us who survive this pandemic, we will need to have a difficult discussion about our freedoms and what they really mean. How many lives could have been saved if all of us had followed the science and not the now very sick and infected leadership? Even making difficult decisions to do the right thing has its risks and there are no guarantees of success, but the odd that more people will survive if we are all committed to following the experts rather than jingoistic self-serving leaders pandering to our lowest instincts instead of our best behaviors. We can do better. We have done better and we must do better for our children, others’ children and all of their children. My father-in-law was right, we are now suffering from the delusion that we have too many freedoms and that doing whatever we want, whenever we want, for whatever reason and at whatever cost is a G-d given right. It is not and there are always consequences.
About the Author
Retired College Professor, President Emeritus & Co-Founder Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. Founding Publisher and Editor Kol Central Pa; Philadelphia JCRC; Academic Engagement Network, Residing in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania
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