On the eve of Independence Day here in the United States, and just following Canada Day (my home country) and especially in these extremely interesting political times, my thoughts drift towards freedom. Growing up in Canada means one is intentionally exposed to as many Canadian writers, singers and artists as possible (I think Trudeau made that a policy or something back in the sixties) so of course I read a lot of Margaret Atwood. If you’ve never read her, I strongly suggest checking out her work. My go-to’s are The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake (no, the Hunger Games did not advent the awesome post-apocalyptic dystopian genre :)).
In The Handmaid’s Tale, we are pulled into a world where the government controls everything, including women’s reproductive prerogatives. Pollution and possibly nuclear fallout have rendered most of the population infertile and so women able to bear children are forced to be ‘breeders’ for the wealthy and powerful. People, especially radical thinkers, are interred in camps where they are ‘re-educated’ until they satisfy the government that they accept the party line. At one point, one of the indoctrinators informs the prisoners that they need to realize that although before they had “freedom to”, under the new regime they have “freedom from”.
Freedom to: speak freely, choose one’s religion, vocation, life partner, number (if any) of offspring…
Freedom from: rape, murder, terrorist attacks, hurtful comments, conflicting points of view, confusing dogmatic differences
It’s interesting when you think about it because there is always a potential overlap between one person’s freedom to, and another’s freedom from. We certainly are seeing this magnified greatly in the current political arena. There doesn’t seem to be room for both a shopkeeper’s freedom to do business and perform services for whom he/she chooses vs a person’s freedom to have service provided and not feel discriminated against. At one point, at least in post-apocalyptic dystopian novels, a society that chooses freedom from almost always needs to remove most of the freedom to’s (usually by force and with no small amount of brainwashing propaganda to convince people to willingly surrender their freedoms to in the face of the fear generated by the objects of freedom from).
There is certainly a line between freedom of speech and freedom from hate speech. Then there’s the Melting Pot vs Mosaic mentality. In a melting pot, everyone is blended together. The idea is that a medley of different cultures, thoughts and beliefs make up a glorious whole that is more than the sum of the parts. But individuality is lost. In a mosaic, each piece remains separate, and that separateness is what contributes to the unique and beautiful whole. In a mosaic, if every piece is the same you have no picture. In a melting pot, it is impossible to retain individuality – you must get assimilated because the point is the assimilation. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be in a melting pot that doesn’t reflect their own personal beliefs, expression or way of being. It would feel very isolating and even scary.
In the 1700’s, Voltaire said “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death your right to say it”. That is a freedom to philosophy. Freedom from would say “Disagreeing with status quo leads to arguments at best, war at worst, and so is forbidden”. I suspect a transitional statement may be “Your dissenting opinion makes me uncomfortable, so I will brand you a hater if you say it and suppress your voice”. But, I may just feel a little uncomfortable myself, because my belief system and chosen lifestyle is outside cultural norms. I am extremely grateful that I still have the freedom to gather in my place of worship, vote, exercise freedom of speech and that others do as well.
That is definitely something to celebrate!