When "Freedom" Is Problematic, Discussion Ends
The word “freedom” is one of the most important concepts in Western society. We learned long ago that tyranny wasn’t a winning strategy and have structured our governments in such a way to try and maximize freedom for the individual.
At least, that was the theory.
In reality, many supposedly free nations are nothing of the sort. After all, a couple was recently fined in England for the unforgivable sin of planting a vegetable garden without asking the government for permission first.
But here in North America, we still try to hold onto our freedom as best we can.
We do better in the United States, but as the trucker protest in Canada shows, folks up that way aren’t ready to just roll over and give up their freedom either.
Now, though, the concept of freedom is under attack.
As demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions continue across Canada, the word freedom is on the lips and placards of many protesters.
Often associated with protests and rallies in the United States, the term has taken hold among protesters who are part of the Freedom Convoy, which rolled into Ottawa in late January and has become entrenched in the city's downtown.
For many, freedom is a malleable term — one that's open to interpretation.
That flexibility, in part, has fuelled its growth among certain groups, said Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the Oshawa-based Ontario Tech University.
"It is a term that has resonated…. You can define it and understand it and sort of manipulate it in a way that makes sense to you and is useful to you, depending on your perspective," she told Cross Country Checkup.
It's also a term that has thrived among far-right groups, said Perry, one of a number of experts who say the presence of far-right groups in Canada is growing.
The problem here is that freedom isn’t really that malleable. You’re either free or you’re not. There’s not a lot of interpretation needed to determine that if you’re forced to get a vaccine, you’re not particularly free.
But here they’re trying to demonize the idea of freedom by associating it with “far-right” groups. They want people to legitimately be afraid to advocate for freedom out of fear they’ll be labeled as such.
Control the use of language and you can successfully control a people.
And they’re being kind of ugly about it, too.
Concept of freedom can be used to reject equality
To see the word freedom bandied about as part of these protests points to a broader circulation of what Elisabeth Anker calls "violent" forms of freedom.
"Freedom is a slippery concept," said Anker, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University and author of Ugly Freedoms, which examines the history of how freedom, as a concept, has been used in American society.
"On the far right, [individual freedom] is often translated into somebody who refuses to be bound by norms of equality, treating all people equally or norms to remedy inequality, whether that's trying to remedy racial discrimination or gender discrimination."
The word has been used by far-right groups as part of push-back against efforts to remedy inequality, she added.
She leaves out that these “efforts to remedy inequality” are really nothing more than an attempt at creating a whole new flavor of inequality.
The problems of inequality were generally the result not of freedom, but of denying people freedom. Slavery, segregation, and various other institutionalized forms of racism from days gone by were, at their very core, anti-freedom efforts.
You don’t erase the sins of anti-freedom through anti-freedom policies.
That’s like trying to cure cancer by causing cancer. It’s insane.
They go on to lament the idea of pursuing individual freedom over social good, but as I just pointed out, most social ills are the result of too little freedom at some point or another, not too much.
Plus, the individual is the smallest minority possible. If you protect individual freedom, you protect freedom for each and every collective group you care to name.
That is unless your goal isn’t to protect their freedom but to set them on a whole new pedestal.
Which, when we get down to it, is what we’re currently looking at.
What we’re seeing is an attack on freedom as a prelude to something else, something darker. They want to create a new aristocracy, but one based not on elite families or even wealth, but one based on race and they don’t want you to question it by demanding your God-given freedom.