In the United States, liberty is a core principle and a core value; but have we debased the real meaning of liberty? We seem more concerned with our freedom to make money at any cost, to pursue materialism at any cost, to manipulate through advertising at any cost. And we appear more committed to resisting any and all regulations and restrictions on such freedoms – as if protecting the commons isn’t tantamount to protecting other, vastly more important freedoms.
No one actually believes in unlimited individual freedom. We all agree that our personal freedom mustn’t tread on another’s personal freedom to be safe from abuse, harm, theft, and so on. And yet, we often forget that there are core freedoms we take for granted and therefore often fail to protect. For example, shouldn’t we all be allowed to breathe unpolluted air, drink water free from toxins dumped into it by another party, and have the ecosystems upon which we and all life depend protected from destruction? Shouldn’t we be free from the devastations that come from a planet that’s warming rapidly due to human impacts?
While some argue that regulations to protect our shared environment are limits on freedom, a different, and I believe more accurate, interpretation, is that they are true protections of our freedoms. Freedom within society is a complex affair. We depend upon one another and an intricate web of ecological balance. This, in fact, is the basis for any other freedoms (speech, religion, congregation, and so on), but we are currently treading on the very freedoms that underpin all other liberties. Ultimately, the pursuit of profits will mean little in a desecrated world, and such freedoms we once held sacrosanct will seem flimsy at best and ultimately foolish if we fail to protect the commons upon which we all rely.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: “Solutionaries”
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach“
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