Sunday, November 13, 2011

Freedom and Responsibility Revisited


Over the last couple of years I’ve been reading a lot about the various types of political and economic philosophies. This led me into a study of freedom and what being free really means. Being a veteran of the Vietnam War and having the privilege of meeting and serving those who have fought and suffered greatly for our country I have a love of our country and especially our freedoms. 

As I read the thoughts of the founding fathers, I came to realize that this essay should be a discussion of freedom from two points of view personal and economic. Personal freedoms are those freedoms guaranteed by the constitution that affect how we choose to live our lives. Economic freedom is the right of individuals to earn a living doing what they choose whether it is working for someone or being in business. In a perfect world economic freedom and personal freedom are free from encumbrances by governments, monopolies, unions, trusts and all such restraints. We do not live in a perfect world and there must, by necessity, be certain restraints on our individual and economic freedoms. We must give up some freedoms for the common good. It is important therefore to understand the nature of freedom and all it means. It is especially important in an age when freedom is in question and in some cases being redefined. 

As a result of my studies I came to the conclusion that much of what I am is the direct result of how I used my freedom. Years ago I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Emil Frankl. It changed my life. In his book Frankl tells of his time in a German concentration camp and how he survived. He concluded that though we do not often choose our circumstances we do choose how to react to them. It is a powerful philosophy that gives each of us the freedom to choose how we act and react to any situation. I have the freedom to choose how I live, act or react to the conditions I am born into or are forced into by circumstances.  

I chose early in life to make choices that didn’t work so well. I choose throughout my school years not to fight those who were bullying me. One bad choice led to more bad choices. I choose not to be involved in any school activities. I choose not to study which resulted in poor grades and two years of going to summer school. I choose not to apply myself and limited my choices after I graduation. Because I limited my choices there was only two places for me to go the factory and wait to be drafted or enlist. I enlisted in the Army, it ended up being one of the best choices I ever made.

Sources of freedom:

Freedom can have only two sources. It either comes from the state or from a source greater than the state, the creator; however the creator may be defined. For the purpose of this essay I define the creator as God the Almighty the Unchangeable. I do this because there needs be one final and complete authority untainted by mankind, the source of all things and the definer of all things. Only God the Almighty the Unchangeable fits this requirement. Therefore, if freedom comes from God the Almighty the Unchangeable, the state cannot define freedoms because they are given by an unchangeable power greater than the state. 

The key to freedom is the believed source of freedom. If freedom comes from our creator, as is stated in our Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . ”  

Our freedoms then are rights not given by the state but by God the Almighty the Unchangeable a source greater than governments and therefore are considered as being “unalienable”, “self evident” and universal. They are not dependent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any government, culture, tribe or any other entity man may devise. However, if freedom is a condition given by the state then the state not only defines freedom but controls those freedoms it gives.

Personal Freedom

Freedom allows each of us to choose to live and act as we will without any unwarranted restrictions. It allows all the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It allows us to work at wages determined by ourselves and the employer or to build a business without interference by the state or other parties, e.g., unions, trusts, monopolies. It allows the consumer to purchase in a free market those items we wish at a price the market will bear. Not a price determined by the state or any other entity.  

Personal freedom allows each of us the right to make choices right or wrong and live with the results of those choices. Freedom means that we may do what we will with the things we have earned. But freedom also means we are responsible for our outcomes, our choices, our decisions, and that we must accept responsibility for them.  If we choose to not learn we are then responsible for that decision and the limits of being unlearned. However if we choose to be constantly learning and improving ourselves then we will reap the benefits of that choice.  

Economic Freedom

Economic freedom is too often over looked and minimized. But in economic freedom all other freedoms are made stronger. Economic freedom gives us the power to be all we want to be. It opens doors to opportunity. It also means that we are responsible for how much we earn and how we earn it.

Economic freedom allows us to work at the wages and benefits negotiated between ourselves and the employer. Wages offered will, in an unencumbered capitalistic system adjust to a price the market will bear i.e., if pay is too little workers will go where wages are higher; if the pay is good better workers will apply. It is individual choice where the worker is free to accept employment and the employer is free to employ at a wage and benefit package agreed upon by each.  

Economic freedom pushes us to improve ourselves so that we may require better pay for our skills. The unskilled worker will, by the choice of being unskilled, earn less. By not acquiring marketable skills he limits himself. While the worker who wants more will, by necessity, learn a skill set that will make him more valuable to an employer. Dependent upon skills and motivation economic freedom motivates each of us to succeed as we are able. No one is kept back and no one is pushed forward.

The Key to Real Freedom:

The key to freedom is individual responsibility. If we want true freedom then we must accept responsibility for our choices. We have a tendency not to accept responsibility for our actions. This creates a scapegoat mentality for our failures. We have a tendency to blame, the rich, immigrants, undocumented workers, heartless businesses, and mother and father anyone but ourselves for our failures.   

In blaming others for our failures we inhibit personal growth. A good friend of many years lost his business due to divorce but rather than blaming his ex he opened a new business. He poured his heart and soul into his garage learning what it takes to please a customer and keep them coming back. When he finally retired and moved to Wisconsin the young man he sold the business kept the original name. I asked him why, he told me because it had such a good reputation. He would lose money if he changed it. 

I have a family member who worked hard growing up in a blue collar family. He started working in the steel mills in Chicago and when the plant closed he was out of work. He found a new job and was given an opportunity to go into sales. He could have stayed in the shop but instead he made the choice to stretch himself.  He went into sales. He worked hard and became a great success in sales making more than he did in the factory. 

Years ago I worked with a friend in a catering business. Bill, (not his real name), was a quadriplegic having been injured in an auto accident while on active duty. Bill could have collected disability from the VA, social security and stayed home.  But Bill even with all the health problems that comes with being a quadriplegic chose to do something. He started a catering business though the Paralyzed Veterans of America. One day we were at a luncheon meeting and as lunch was being served Bill asked me to cut his meat and feed him. I was taken aback because Bill though severely disabled never seemed that way to me. Later I asked him why he was working. He told me that he still had his mind and thought his body didn’t work his mind did. I learned a lot watching Bill and others in PVA some choose to be disabled while some with the same conditions chose not to be.    

During the early 1980s I was the executive director of the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program.  I was responsible for developing jobs and counseling veterans on job seeking skills. I counseled many veterans who were unemployed. Several were so because they refused to accept certain positions because the pay was lower than their previous union jobs. Many said that they were worth more than what was being offered. The problem was that many were unskilled union workers whose plant had closed. They were no longer viewed as valuable at the union wage they were once paid. Some veterans worked to retrain themselves and started over at much less pay but many after a few years had surpassed their union wages. While others remained unemployed for years only to continue as unskilled and unemployable refusing to learn or retrain. Choices affected the outcome. Freedom allows us to choose while responsibility forces us to choose wisely.  

Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanac and other writings that the poor should never be made comfortable in their poverty. But that is exactly what we’ve done. We have given the poor no challenge to succeed. Welfare resulted in generations who never worked and who are content to collect aid including healthcare. While others work and pay the taxes that support them. As a result of our misguided benevolence the poor live in areas of high crime, rampant addiction and helplessness.  Welfare is simply not and never has been the answer. We have lost generations of business leaders, religious leaders, community leaders and scientists. By trapping them in welfare we have robbed them of their freedom to be the best they can be.  

Many would rather blame someone for their condition than accept the responsibility and change their circumstances. I didn’t study hard in school. As a result I limited my choices. I couldn’t go to college, nor could I go to a trade school because my grades were poor. When I graduated in the spring of 1964 I knew I was going to be drafted sooner than later so I chose to join the Army.  The Army allowed me to make choices and held me responsible for those choices. While in Germany I made bad choices resulting in two article 15s. The Army took corrective action and I learned to succeed because of it. I learned what it takes to make a good soldier. When I left active duty I was a sergeant and when I retired from the Army National Guard I was a First Sergeant acting Sergeant Major.  

When I was discharged from active duty I choose to go to college and get a degree. I choose to work for the government. In choosing to get a degree I broadened my career horizons.  My choice to work for the government resulted in an over forty year career helping veterans. Positive choices brought me positive things. 

Over the years I have made many bad choices. The difference for me and what helped me through them was to accept that I made a wrong choice. Once we learn how to accept responsibility then we can learn how to correct the choice process. Many though would rather blame someone or accept victimhood rather than accept responsibility.

A child of the 1900s and one who saw sweat shops first hand and a survivor of the Great Depression my grandfather truly believed that big business was the scourge of the “little man”. I loved my grandfather but over the years I have learned that he was wrong on many of the things he believed. He believed that the little man had no chance except for unions and the government.  I have realized that there are no little men just men who limit themselves with small thoughts; those who have no dreams and are content to live lives of quiet desperation.  

These are the cold timid souls Teddy Roosevelt wrote of in his piece the Arena. They criticize those who take risks and by daring succeed, but they themselves never get into the game never take risks. They are not like those who dare to dream big dreams and work to accomplish them. Who as Roosevelt says, fail again and again but never give up until they have succeeded. They know that they may fail but if they fail they fail by daring greatly. In the end they have the knowledge that they will never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.


Our freedoms must by the nature of our society be limited both personally and economically. Clearly we cannot allow business to put on the market those things that are dangerous to the consumer. Caveat Emptor at this point in our society simply is not enough to protect a population of millions. However government protection should not and cannot be so pervasive that it limits innovation by oppressive government regulation. Especially government regulations based upon politics and political favor not the good of the people.
Nor can we allow someone’s free speech to by its nature to cause physical harm to others. Nor can we allow demonstrations where public safety and property are damaged. We must however, be judicious in how we limit Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Press; Freedom of Assembly; the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Many of those who served this nation to protect our freedoms gave their bodies and lives so we may be free. We should not and cannot sell our freedoms bought as such a great price cheaply.
When one freedom is limited all freedoms are limited. Freedom is like a rope where one strand weakens the whole rope. Offensive words and offensive speech may be hard to hear but not allowing it is a step closer to the loss of free speech. Limiting the freedom of assembly especially after violent demonstrations may sound good at first hearing. But limiting freedom of assembly may also affect the practice of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. There are some who want to limit the second amendment. Believing that limiting the possession of fire arms will save lives. But history teaches that when the people give up the right to protect themselves their government becomes more and more oppressive. Freedom carries with it opportunity and danger but the alternative to being free is being oppressed.

A culture of Victims and Victimizers:

The acceptance of victimhood is rampant in our nation and is a direct assault on individual freedoms. When we accept victimhood we give control of our lives and future to those we accuse of being victimizers.  Victimhood allows us to never take responsibility for our decisions and actions it’s always someone else’s fault.
 The victim mentality like a genetic disease is passed from parent to child. Never making their children responsible for their actions and rarely requiring them to account for wrong decisions.  Parents perpetuate yet another victim who accepts failure as being someone else’s fault. There is rarely self examination as to why they failed or fell which limits their growth. We teach our children by both words and those unseen acts that are seen none the less. I remember when I was a preteen being at a friend’s house and him showing me his dad’s stash of Playboys, hidden nicely in the back of his closet. Our children learn how to act from us what we do, what we say and how we say it all impacts them. Why are we surprised then when they do what we do? Act how we act? Talk how we talk? 
Many of those who identify themselves as victims are good people who have bought into the idea that they cannot succeed because someone or something is keeping them down. Our own government does much to perpetuate the myth of victimhood. Let’s face it many a politician stays in office and in power by pandering to those who are in the victim category. As do other community leaders who make fortunes and get political power pandering to the victim mentality among their community group.
These leaders promise government help for everything. They feed into the “us versus them” mentality. Rather than provide incentives to succeed and encourage success they do everything they can to keep the poor and disenfranchised exactly that. Perpetuating an ever increasing class of helpless hapless victims who believe they are incapable of any success without help.
Corporations have become succumbed to disease of victimhood.  They blame the government and congress, the economy, unions and foreign competition for their failures. The simple fact is that corporations fail because of incompetence, failure to adapt to changing environments, failure to innovate and not because of outside factors; though those factors may contribute in the end they are not the root cause of failure. The bailing out of corporations who are “too big to fail” relieves them of the responsibility of doing those things that make for success.
Corporate welfare is no better than welfare for the poor in fact it’s worse. The poor have limited chances for success while corporations have everything needed to succeed. Common sense shows that if a corporation fails it’s because of their mismanagement or failure to adapt to a changing environment both financial and physical. While a poor person who fails often fails because of his environment, poor education and poor parenting. It is a given that there needs to be something in place that helps those less fortunate to succeed in life and not to keep them bound to the state for financial support. Corporate welfare however is never the right thing to do. It keeps in business those who because of incompetence should fail.
While failing may devastating for those employed. Failing will in the long term make room for those corporations who are stronger and more able to adapt and succeed.  It will also keep existing corporations sharp and strong. Survival of the fittest in the corporate world as in nature creates a stronger and more able species and business.
The public is best served when business are forced by competition to adapt or die. It’s better for the public because strong competition brings innovation and better products and lower prices. It’s better for business because it forces business to keep competitive and not to become complacent like several of our automakers, airlines, and such. It’s better for labor because forces organized labor to negotiate contracts with an eye to keeping their employer able to compete in a competitive world market. Our current system of protectionism, monopoly and cronyism are destroying our national economy and government’s direct involvement in business stifles growth, competition and innovation by over protective regulation and regulation based upon politics.  


Whenever humankind is involved no matter how great the cause or perceived solution we will find some way to take unfair advantage of the weak.  There is no point in human history where humankind has not applied the first law of evolution, survival of the fittest. Though the definition of fittest may have changed over the centuries the one fact remains those who are mentally and/or physically fit always exert control over those who are not.  Those thinking socialism, communism, liberalism, capitalism or any other ism will work are fooling themselves. As long as humans are involved every cause no matter how noble or great will be corrupted and serve the “more equal than others” group.
There is good cause why socialism and communism have come into being. The genesis of socioeconomic movements is the direct result of businesses and rulers who made power and greed a way of life. As the industrial revolution started to change the way goods were manufactured some business leaders over worked and miss treated their workers. The tragic results of these abuses are part of history disasters like the Triangle Waist fire of March 1911 and other such disasters; child labor, unsafe factories, mine disasters all cause labor unrest. The six day work week and low pay and many other abuses all created the environment of unrest. In all to many cases governments as well as business leaders  allowed this mistreatment and in some cases governments even encouraged it as a means of keeping the “the great unwashed” in their place.
In the end though, it is we the people who allow others to abuse us. It is we the people who allowed the Hitler types and the so called robber barons to thrive. It is we the people who allowed one form of tyranny to be replaced by another as was done in Russia in 1918.  It is we the people who stood by and watched as Hitler murdered innocents in the 1930s.  If history teaches anything it’s that mankind is corrupt and that it is impossible for us to consistently do what is right. It is especially impossible without a moral compass given by a power greater than ourselves. I believe that God the Almighty the Unchangeable fills that need; no matter how he may be defined or worshiped.          
There are those who believe in no greater power than mankind. They believe that man will become a better, higher more compassionate animal over time. If there is no higher power then man must seek to leave a better world for his progeny, survival of the species. It is only logical then if we are nothing more than intelligent animals that we want our species to continue and to continue to evolve. That can only happen if we are obedient to the laws of evolution. We must insure that only those who are capable pass on their genes. Weakening the gene pool weakens the species leaving, as with all animals that have become extinct, a weak and vulnerable species incapable of adapting to an always changing environment. Therefore it is important to our survival that each human learn to survive and thrive on his own. I choose to believe however that God the Creator has better plans for us.


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