Give me liberty or let me know what the word means

By Mike Weland

Sometimes you get called something you thought completely ludicrous for so long and by so many you begin to wonder if it’s you who’s fallen down the very rabbit hole you’ve been signaling warning to others to stay clear of. And in trying to find the answer, you discover you’ve wandered into the tower of Babel and you suddenly find that you no longer seem to share a common language with about half the people you once thought of as acquaintances, if not friends. And if there’s an answer, it’s they who could help me find it.

But I no longer understand them, nor do they understand me. As an example:

In an article this week on local land use law, I wrote, “A hint of the true impact this amendment would have had can be found in the staff report, initiated November 30. It’s a brief entry in the summary of proposed changes as regards the current code: “Allows a violation to continue if a fine is paid.”

That seems plain to me.

“Mike, I dont believe you even attended the meeting to come up with your baseless fact as to why it was turned down … it was turned down because that was the right thing to do. As the one man stated, and was backed by another man attending, it is the same exact wording as Mariposa County. That stunt did not bode well for those commissioners. You could see the look on their three faces when asked who supported it – not one would raise their hand. The commissioners had heard enough to make a good decision. And the one guy, they need to make an example out of him. He’s a crazy loon that thinks he is above the law.” (He wasn’t speaking of Owen Benjamin, though he should have been.)

I can read his words. But they make no sense to me, and it’s obvious my words fell as gibberish on his ears as well … welcome to the Tower of Babel.

I was born to a Tower of Babel. My dad was a U.S. Army private in Germany standing ready, as a military policeman, to defy a Russian invasion, but he chafed subjecting himself daily to an inferior man, a black sergeant, and married to a white German woman too, no less. Of being forced by military protocol to prove respect for the rank by acts of social civility.

My mom was a German girl, born in Bavaria in May, 1940, and raised to believe how much Adolph Hitler did for the German people. She died thinking him a great man.

By all accounts, I should have grown up to share their view, but somehow I could never reconcile their convictions of superiority with the world I saw.

Today, I’m baffled as to why I am so often denigrated for my inability to reconcile the noble words so many people and groups proudly wrap themselves in to define themselves in comparison to what they actually do. It’s as if the words suddenly and without warning changed for about half our population between the blinks of an eye. The Tower of Babel.

Except on rare occasion in this odd era in which we find ourselves, and never as regards politics, has any group or organization incorporating the words “Liberty” or “Freedom” in their name espoused anything that rises even close to the soaring heights conveyed by the principals those two words define, nor do any individual politician that I’ve heard who incessantly uses either or both words come close to credibly defining themselves.

To be sure I didn’t just miss the memo, I took time and looked both words up:

Liberty

Oxford Languages:

  • the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views. “compulsory retirement would interfere with individual liberty”
  • the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. “people who have lost property or liberty without due process”
  • a right or privilege, especially a statutory one. “the Bill of Rights was intended to secure basic civil liberties”

Britannica:

  • the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely: freedom; a nation that values liberty and democracy; soldiers willing to die in defense of liberty
  • the power to do or choose what you want to; They gave him the liberty to handle the problem himself.
  • a political right; hard-won liberties such as freedom of the press; personal liberties

Freedom

Oxford Languages:

  • the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. “we do have some freedom of choice”
  • absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government. “he was a champion of Irish freedom”
  • the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. “the shark thrashed its way to freedom”

Britannica

  • the state of being free: such as the power to do what you want to do : the ability to move or act freely; ie religious freedom, academic freedom
  • the state of not being a slave, prisoner, etc.; a political prisoner struggling to win his freedom’ the state of not having or being affected by something unpleasant, painful, or unwanted
  • a political right; an important freedom; basic human freedoms

Those definitions are just as I remember them, but they can seem confusing to those lacking the ability to parse. They sound the same; interchangeable. But are they?

The Declaration of Independence declares without equivocation that all men; all human beings, are equal and each born with inalienable rights, to include the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Bill of Rights specifies certain rights that our citizens enjoy and against which our nation’s legislators shall create no laws which would infringe upon, or diminish, and, if such laws are passed, our judicial system shall not uphold, our executive branch shall not execute.

These include the rights to free speech, to worship as you see fit, to due process under the law.

But that last right, due process. If, following due process of the law, a defendant is found guilty of a crime, the court can and does take away an individual’s liberty, even their life. How can that be? And how is it that a convicted felon, who, having served their sentence, can be denied their right to keep and bear (carry) arms.

Says right here, “shall not be infringed.” “Shall not … what part of ‘shall not’ do you not understand?”

Let’s go back to the Declaration of Independence and that brief phrase, “All men are created equal.” Do you really believe that? Some are born to rich and successful people from affluent neighborhoods, others to the sick and afflicted in the slums. Go to a neo-natal intensive care unit. Of course not all are created equals.

According to a study by Stamford University historian Jack Rakove, when Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” in the preamble to the Declaration, he was not talking about individual equality. What he really meant was that the American colonists, as a people, had the same rights of self-government as all other peoples, and hence could declare independence, create new governments and assume their “separate and equal station” among other nations.

But after the Revolution succeeded, Americans began reading that famous phrase another way. It now became a statement of individual equality that everyone and every member of a deprived group could claim for himself or herself. With each passing generation, our notion of who that statement covers has expanded. It is that promise of equality that has always defined our constitutional creed.

It is the same concept often overlooked in discussions on the rights enumerated in the bill of rights. They do not nor were they intended to give rights carte blanche to each individual any more than was the Declaration intended to say that every individual was equal to every other.

The right to free speech does not mean everyone has an absolute right to say anything they have the temerity to utter, and there has been no clearer or nearer example as to why than former president and potential next president Donald J. Trump, who by virtue of speech alone convinced millions now dead that COVID was a hoax, who by virtue of an oft repeated lie convinced nearly half our population that our elections can’t be trusted.

The right to keep and bear arms does not and should not extend to every individual, the proof being that every federal law prohibits the sale of a handgun to those under 21 … a concession to the fact that pistols are inherently dangerous and a measure of maturity is necessary for their safe deployment. And even then not everyone can or should be trusted to act responsibly with a loaded pistol.

And to readers who’ve read this far who understand what I’m doing my best to say, even if you disagree, I ask you to read and consider just a little more.

“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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Even in the Tower of Babel. I believe there is little difference in our interpretations of the definitions those two powerful words, “freedom,” and “liberty.”

Where we differ, I’m afraid, isn’t the definition, but in the application.

The liberty minded, as far as I can tell, construe themselves to be the “all men,” referred to in the Declaration of Independence: The people, and only people, referenced in the phrase, we the people.

Somehow, I just cannot reconcile their notion of superiority, coupled with their actions and edicts, with the world I see daily.

What part of, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” do they not understand?

One thought on “Give me liberty or let me know what the word means

  1. One of the reasons we’re in a sort of Tower of Babel now is that while most Americans, whether born here or immigrated in, understand English, we do not all accept the same set of facts.

    Clear back in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time, when he organized the New Deal to raise up the lower and middle classes, individuals and organizations now calling themselves Christian Nationalists began their campaign to control all levels of government, public schools and libraries.

    Although the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan and others didn’t identify publicly as Christian Nationalists in their peak membership time, Jerry Falwell and other Christian leaders formed the “Moral” Majority.

    That public change meant the campaign to make everyone and everything in our American society in their specific Christian and nationalist image was out in the open.

    Now and from the beginning, while demanding government for “America First,” the Christian Nationalists also cry “socialism” or “communism” whenever fellow citizens advocate equal rights for all, not just those of pale complexion who arrived on our shores from Europe.

    In our current times, Christian Nationalists have upped their game, thanks to a willing pawn who once again wants to be President. The masses who worship Donald Trump have taken over many state legislatures, including Idaho’s. They got their far-right US Supreme Court and are well on their way to achieving a total ban on abortion nationwide, regardless of dire consequences. They totally took over what I used to respect, the Republican Party, and remade it into their vehicle for their so-called Christian values. Those values are not what Jesus taught, and their use of Christianity in their name and campaigns is repugnant to very many of us Christians whether we are in the old Republican camp or the new Democratic camp.

    While simultaneously continuing to fight against human rights, these same individuals and organizations have recently increased their fight against science, as you pointed out.

    If I did not know better, I would hazard a guess that every Christian Nationalist wants unlimited births, regardless of the dangers to women and children. Not only does each man want a “full quiver” of his own children to help him battle people who don’t agree with his specific theology; each also wants the “less Godly” than himself to catch and pass along all manner of preventable diseases to thin the herd.

    As I wrote above, “if I didn’t know better…”

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