Understanding and Misunderstanding Freedom
By Professor Ornery Dragon
The other day a friend on FB posted a meme/captured Twitter thread about a woman who had been through the wringer with a medical issue that tragically claimed the life of her small child. The rant was about how the insurance company reneged on paying after they received a settlement, how the hospital immediately put a lien on her house to insure she’d pay the PICU bill, and how in the end, they got nothing and had to deal with all sorts of crap while mourning their son. It sounded horrible.
As I read through it, I had my doubts about some aspects of the story, but whatever. It wasn’t designed to be accurate, it was designed to hit you in the feels and make the reader angry at the injustice of the American insurance/health/medical industry. And it worked on my friend and those who responded to the post.
The friend who posted it lives in the UK. Another friend of his commented that she was soooo happy to live in the UK with the NHS. My friend said (paraphrasing): yeah, I have to laugh at Americans who always go on about freedom. He then went on about how Americans pay about the same in taxes but get nothing for it. He ended with “No health care. No job protection. No state support. Americans are free to starve, free to lose their homes, free to die in debt and penury. They are free in theory, but not in practice.”
I choked on that. Among many other things, that statement completely ignores the base level of care available via the NHS or the quality of council (subsidized) housing, or the unintended consequences of job protection, and the moral hazard of state support.
Remember the story a couple of years ago where NHS refused to allow parents to take their sick, dying child (https://thenewamerican.com/u-k-denies-treatment-to-baby-won-t-let-parents-take-him-to-u-s/) to New York for experimental treatment that might possibly have saved his life. The state decided it knew better than parents what should be done for their child. The child died. How the hell does a government get the ability and power to prevent parents from making critical decisions regarding their child’s health?? Is that what the freedom of “state support” means? How is that freedom? Freedom to or from what?
No job protection…that cuts the other way as well. Ever worked with someone who is useless? But can’t be fired? I have. Guy spent the day running sports betting pools (against company regs), never did any work, but the union said he couldn’t be fired because he had seniority. Job protection for him, sure. But what about everybody else? What about those employees downstream from him? What about the employer who was dropping money into a black hole? They couldn’t hire somebody more productive to replace that guy. (They got bought out by the competition just a couple years later. Go figure.)
Free to starve, lose their homes, die in debt and penury… If one is completely dependent on the state for housing, income, and health care…how is that not penury? You are not contributing to the system, you are completely in debt to it. And depending on how it’s structured, you may never be able to leave that system. That’s freedom from penury?
I love my friend, but he clearly DOES NOT understand how freedom really works or what it really means. Of course, it does mean different things for different people, and yes, freedom itself can be relative to what one experienced before. For example: Russians find the ability to travel without state permission to be incredibly free. But, as an American, I have a very American view of freedom that I don’t think my friend understands. And, as an extension, I think he’s not allowing himself to experience true freedom. In other words, the freedom to succeed or fail on his own merits. Under the structure that he prefers, citizens are NOT free from the state. In fact they are beholden to the state and subject to its whims. I think he misunderstands the concept of freedom.
It is understandable, though, why European citizens would view freedom in this way. The political and social structures of Europe have historically been top down. Russia is especially easy to explain…they’ve always had an autocratic system whether it was headed by a tsar, a General Secretary of the Politburo, or Vladimir Putin. Nothing has changed politically in Russia for centuries. Their view of freedom is likely much narrower than ours.
But what about the rest of Europe? They were all monarchies as well – all top-down governing systems. A long history of monarchies tends to instill a cultural understanding of the “proper” role of government. Monarchs were supposed to look out for the welfare of their kingdoms and that meant the well-being of their subjects as well (for various definitions of “well-being”). Therefore, those outside of aristocratic social levels learned that the monarch and the aristocracy took care of the lower classes, merchants, artisans, and peasants. Rewards came from the monarch or his/her representatives. For example, the patronage system for artists meant that in order to be a “working” artist you needed the support of one of your social and economic betters. That has translated into state support for artists. But the patron/state can remove that support if the artist does something they don’t like. The artist is constrained, and without true freedom to create.
Freedom, to me, means relief from those sorts of expectations. I’ll figure out what situation works best for me, thank you very much. Yeah, my decisions could mean I die alone, in debt, sharing food with the cat (somebody please take care of the cat if that happens). And, yeah, that’s a worry. On the other hand, I can see that the state is in no small part responsible for making it more difficult for me to move myself as far away as possible from that scenario. We just dealt with our taxes. There’s a big way the state makes it difficult to take care of oneself.
I want the freedom to make both good and bad decisions. I want the freedom to work without a net if that’s what I choose (I left a tenured position to write fiction on a full-time basis. Look Ma! No net!) I want the freedom to live where I choose, and not in required housing. I want the freedom to take risks…or not. I want freedom from government interference.
Europeans, and the American left, define freedom as “chaos” and that worries them. Who will control the chaos? Bring in the state! Big Brother will provide for all and watch over you.
Americans define freedom as a “choose your own story” adventure and that energizes us. And if there’s a little chaos along the way, well, that’s fun too.
So head out and choose your own story!