If freedom isn’t free, how come I can’t sell it?

I don’t know about you, but I would sell it and use the money to get something more practical.

Why would anyone want to sell their freedom? That sounds awful! But when you think about it, “freedom” isn’t much of anything at all.

I’m just saying. Maybe we could all be a little less clingy about it.

I know, I know. We all went to elementary school together and read the Weekly Reader in 1995 – and we all know that we are in AMERICA and we have FREEDOM, because it’s a FREE COUNTRY and the rest of the world WANTS WHAT WE HAVE because our freedom is the BEST OF ALL FREEDOM. Even the liberals know these things. It isn’t about republican versus democrat, really. Even the liberals think the Bill of Rights is just the bees knees and that nothing is more important than the freedom of speech. Rock and roll!

Do you think you’d even notice if the Constitution got erased tomorrow? The answer’s not as simple as you think.

Quick Bill of Rights test: can you name the Best Freedoms Everrrr included in the 10 Constitutional amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights off the top of your head? I bet you can’t. I can’t either, but you’re the one who says it’s the shit and nobody’s got better. I’ll even bet at least half of my lawyer friends can’t do it (the other half of you, okay, probably). Nobody knows what the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights are. That’s how crucial they are to your everyday life. It’s all so important to your happiness and prosperity that you don’t even bother to know what it all is or what it means. Do you even think you’d notice if the Constitution got erased tomorrow? You heathens probably don’t even know what the 10 Commandments are.

This eagle is actually a slave. This is a guy who truly knows what "freedom isn't free" means, because his freedom *literally* costs money.  Chew on that.
This eagle is actually a slave. This is a guy who truly knows what “freedom isn’t free” means, because his freedom *literally* costs money.
Chew on that.

All right, obviously I am trolling a little. I know it is good to be able to speak my mind and not go to jail, and freedom from search and seizure is a great thing when it is carried out in practice. Cool. But bear with me a little bit, here. The Quick Bill of Rights Test serves to demonstrate the fact that we don’t even bother to know the specifics of the thing we insist is most important in life.

When you say the word “freedom,” all anyone gets is a vague sort of impression of a feeling that serves as surrogate for actual meaning. Let’s not kid ourselves – nobody agrees about what it means. I always love that great Lenin response to the notion of freedom – “Yes, but for whom? To do what?” – but in practice, I think the lack of definition is even broader than that. To some people, “freedom” doesn’t require a whom or a what, it just is. Like a spirit or some shit. Here are some facts and opinions about the nature of freedom, just a smattering sample:

  • It isn’t free. Obviously.
  • At one point, a free country referred to one without a king. Not too many kings around…did we win?
  • To a slave, freedom is not being a slave anymore. According to white people. 
  • “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson Sooo, like, from time to time we should attack Washington, DC, and/or die in the attempt, because of a thirsty tree?
  • “Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost OK, that’s it?
  • “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Soren Kierkegaard All right, so then klonapin must be the Tempurpedic of oppression.
  • “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela That one I can get down with.
  • “Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.” – Jean-Paul Sartre That sounds shitty.
  • “I mean, I’ve always been a libertarian. Leave everybody alone. Let everybody else do what they want. Just stay out of everybody else’s hair.” – Clint Eastwood You stay in your yard and I’ll stay in mine, and don’t get too close to the fence, because fuck other people. 
  • “You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.” – Robert Heinlein …I get to pick? Let’s do peace.
  • “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” – Thich Nat Hanh Yeah, but the other guy just said anxiety is from freedom? Confused.
  • “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She well knows that by enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom.” – John Quincy Adams You sure, dude?
  • “Forgetfulness is a form of freedom.” – Kahlil Gibran Rock on, bro, I forget all kinds of shit. 
  • “I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.” – Timothy Leary Well…great! How much longer do I have to wait?
  • Then of course, as the person who once rode on a truck with Bobby McGee said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”


Guys, nobody agrees on what the word means. There’s not even a vague consensus as to what freedom is or what it does. I didn’t even include all the quotes (and there were a LOT) about how someone is ALWAYS trying to take freedom away from us and we’d better keep fighting because if we ever chill out, freedom is headed down the shower drain in a hurry!

If we aren’t careful, Vladimir Putin is gonna suck a pile of freedom straight out of Missouri, and once that shit’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Plus, guns. GUNS.
If you think it might be something other than freedom, fucking shoot it. 

No, but seriously, who is coming to take the freedom? Where will they take it? If we don’t invade Iraq every couple of years, will a military coup overthrow Congress and hide all the copies of the constitution? What about militiamen from Michigan? Are they the ones who will take our freedom? Is Kim Jong Un using Dennis Rodman to freeload some of our freedom? Nooo, it’s Putin – just look at how he doesn’t want our troops standing with guns at his border! Ergo…he’s plotting to suck a pile of freedom straight out of Missouri, and once that shit’s gone, it’s gone forever. 

I’m sorry to repeat myself, but I feel like I have to ask it again – let’s say we hung back and didn’t invade anybody for a while, maybe did some poverty programs instead or something wasteful like that. Is there someone actually out there with the intent and the ability to swoop in and take away the freedom of religion while we’re too busy wasting time helping others?

Has anyone ever been a threat in this regard?

I feel like you can make a much more concrete argument that the greatest threat to our freedom – the greatest contribution to things that might constrict our movement and permit us fewer courses of action – is the job creators. The employers. The wealthy, in other words. They decide when we work, how we work, what we get paid, and then their brethren decide what we must pay and what will happen for the rest of our lives if we don’t. These factors, collectively, decide where we must live and basically all of the other major components of our lives. So, sure, I can go down to the center of town and yell, “Freedom is dumb, THANKS OBAMA, I hate you (except when I’m very lonely)!” and I won’t get in trouble. That’s cool. But if any of us start talking about carving up some richies so we can use their blood to water some weird tree on Thomas Jefferson’s slave plantation and get ourselves some real, high-test freedom, we will get in trouble.

Is that freedom of speech? If not, then what is?

The air force.
The air force.

See, I don’t even agree with myself half the time about what freedom is. I don’t generally like to equate it with self-expression, I’ll tell you that much. It’s great, I’m doing it right now, but it’s just not really near the top of the hierarchy of needs, if you know what I’m saying. To make my best attempt at what could be considered my personal definition of freedom, most days, I would refer to two of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – freedom from fear, and freedom from want. If your economic needs are fully satisfied and nobody is out to kill you, you’re free, as far as I’m concerned. All other freedoms, to me, are only worth a damn in the service of freedom from fear and want. The purpose of freedom of speech is not so that you can say what you want, it’s so that you are permitted to openly communicate in pursuit of what you need. The reason they can’t just search you and take your shit is so that you don’t have to live in fear. I get very dissatisfied with the commonly revered Enlightenment Bundle – whup, we’ve got speech, religion, maybe guns, soldiers can’t just walk into our houses and go to sleep, and you need search warrants before you can break the door down, sweet guys, I think we’re done! Nice job. Let’s congratulate ourselves for the next few hundred years while everything burns to the ground. We won!

I really don’t understand any practical model of freedom that names most of these freedoms as inherently virtuous, in and of and ends unto themselves. And if rights only protect us from “the gubmint” but mean nothing in our homes, our schools, and, most significantly, our workplaces, what is “inalienable” and given to us by God? Doesn’t anybody ever think about this?


But even within my own self, I can’t keep it straight half the time. Sometimes I think of new beginnings and uncharted territory as freedom. Sometimes I think freedom is being zonked out of my skull on a hill listening to music in the sunshine FOREVER. Sometimes freedom is the ability to build something new and wild – which is scary, because it makes me no better than the fuckos who say freedom means being an entrepreneur, full stop. Hey, I only said sometimes. Not very often. But still, even my own most practical and committed personal definition of freedom – no fear, no want – is perceived by my own self to lack a certain…wildness.

I have an easy time picking on myself, but if you pay attention to your own thoughts and words, I bet freedom means different and even contradictory things to you, too, at different times, in different places, and when you’re in a different mood.

Bottom line: a word with no agreed-upon meaning is not the be-all-end-all of civilizational aspiration, because it can’t be, because a word with no agreed-upon meaning is just gibberish. Or a swear.

So now that we’ve had some fun and you’re probably pissed at me for one reason or another, I’ll leave this with a question instead of a conclusion:

If “freedom” doesn’t mean anything, but everyone thinks it’s one of the most important things there is, does that mean we shouldn’t waste our time talking about it?

Or does the malleability of such a powerful word represent a tool which, used in the right way by the right mechanic, might turn into a whole lot of good?

I report, you decide.

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