By TERRY MANNING
I was on the phone with one of the nicest people I know, talking about an article I had read online. She suddenly blurted out, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Up yours, jerk!” and hung up on me.
In the old days, she would have slammed the phone for emphasis in ending on our conversation. You can’t really do that with smartphones, but the sentiment was conveyed. She was not happy with me.
The article I was telling her about, “How Freedom Became Free-dumb in America,” was written by Umair Haque, a business consultant and former contributor to the Harvard Business Review. Haque is a prolific author of post-capitalism, promoting the idea that much of Western civilization is on the verge of collapse due to its focus on profit over people. He prefers the phrase economy versus eudaimonia.
I have not read much of his catalog, but this particular article hit me like a bolt of lightning.
Haque adapts Isaiah Berlin’s concept of the duality of liberty.
One component is “freedom from,” the idea of being free from subjugation or interference. That ranges from government overreach to the bad supervisor who overworks his employees so he can get bonuses down to that neighbor who won’t stop planting his tomatoes on your side of the property line.
He compares that with “freedom to,” the right to be self-determining and do what each finds in their own best interests.
But what if one person’s “freedom to” becomes a problem for another person’s “freedom from?” A serial killer might simply be trying to self actualize, but his victims would rightfully feel less enthusiastic about his reaching his higher self.
Haque proposes that instead of conflicting, “freedom from” and “freedom to” must interact dynamically for the social good. To his mind, too many Americans have taken the worst aspects of both and created a toxic “free-dumb,” what he calls “the absence of any kind of obligation or responsibility to anything greater than narrow, immediate, infantile self-satisfaction.”
“Free-dumb” is why we are having a debate over wearing masks to slow the coronavirus. “Free-dumb” is why there are dozens of videos online of people lecturing well-meaning city leaders about why being asked to wear masks violates their right to breathe freely. “Free-dumb” is why armed gunmen marched outside the Michigan state house to protest COVID lockdowns.
“Free-dumb” is why maskless people stalk public areas waiting for someone to ask them to put on a mask or leave. “Free-dumb” is why many employees just let those maskless customers pass, knowing management likely won’t stand behind them should a confrontation erupt.
“Free-dumb” is parsing the instructions on the side of a box of masks and convincing yourself that since they aren’t “100-percent effective” it’s better to not wear one at all.
“Free-dumb” is people chanting, “Mah rahts,” to the point you wonder whether they understand the concepts of citizenship, society and living in something called The United States of America.
The friend who hung up on me was upset because, in her mind, the term “free-dumb” disrespects the servicemen and servicewomen defending our country. Her son is one of those people fighting for our freedoms.
What I didn’t get to explain to her was that their sacrifice means more, not less, when we behave like we actually value the country and the freedoms they are defending.
Ultimately, our military personnel are defending us, the American people. And if we, the people, won’t do simple things to take care of ourselves, our personnel aren’t fighting for freedom, they’re fighting for “free-dumb.” They deserve better.
Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a graduate of Clemson University with a degree in English and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He also has a Master’s in Business and Technology from the University of Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.