Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Safety Fourth, Freedom First

“Stay safe!”

This is how people who have never missed a meal are telling each other goodbye nowadays.

People who have never been near a war, who have never heard a shot fired in anger (perhaps until the tumult of this hideous summer), are now going about masked in conformity and draped in self-congratulation, hailing one another as intrepid survivors.

On some level, they have a point.

You are going to die. Perhaps it will not be for many years; conversely, you may slump over lifeless before you finish reading this sentence…this sentence I am typing now…period!

You made it. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are never safe.

“Safety first” is one of those anodyne expressions people mutter, assuming universal agreement, even as it is obscenely wrong.

The magnificent society we have inherited, the capital of which we are rapidly burning, is based on two concepts, neither of which is “safety.”

They are, in order, free speech and private property.

Within free speech is encapsulated the concept of liberty itself. Whatever amalgam of matter and spirit you consider yourself to be, if you are unable to express yourself, what freedom do you possess?

Speech is the child of thought, inwardly conditioned and refined before being released into the world. When outward expression is blocked, the inability to speak inhibits thought itself.

America’s Founders knew this and, wherever you find yourself in the current upheaval, you know it, too.

This is not a political issue. As with so many things, freedom of speech is not right because it is a law; it was made a law because it is right.

Private property has a “get off my lawn” vibe, but it simply means something to call your own.

Your home, your family, and your life’s work qualify as things for which you are responsible, and the best of which you strive to present as part of that symphony of interests we call society.

There are places and resources we all share but, without personal territory to which to retreat and refine, all of life reverts to the tragic commons.

Significantly, that which is ostensibly owned by the people is nothing of the kind. It is financed by them, whether they wish to or not, but the control and de facto ownership of such resources is effected by those who have climbed the greasy pole of politics and bureaucracy (in my financial incarnation, I was bemused at the muddled argot by which the “privatization” of a previously public utility was the only way in which the public could have any meaningful ownership of it).

There is one more crucial element of our still-free society that outranks the social and soul-distancing “safety” we hear so much about: Purpose.

This is not so easily defined as it differs for every person, and it requires the synthesis of many people to discern the purpose of a nation. But in the latter case, a handy shorthand would be the things we have in common; the truths we hold to be self-evident, if you will.

Until recently, we could at least pretend to agree that America is a noble if imperfect nation, worthy of preservation. In 2020, traditional Americans maintain this view, but an opposing faction loudly and ubiquitously proclaims its opposition.

I suspect this second group, despite their myriad complaints, holds no informed opinion on America one way or the other. They simply desire power over their fellow human beings. Ironic that this cohort seeks to cancel some of history’s greatest men for owning slaves.

They boast they are speaking “truth to power” when their real aim is power over truth. Such people are ready allies, and often one and the same, with the creeping totalitarians you never wished to know, but who will not leave you be.

Those who, in the name of safety, daily find new ways to control your life – a checkpoint on the road, an edict that you wear a mask in the bathtub, whatever – will never stop. This is because they know no higher ideal. Safety, control, and compliance are their Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Can you blame them? If people have no concept of freedom, no aspiration to or prospect of property, and no defined purpose either for themselves or their nation, what remains?

The fetishization of safety is a shortcut to power and balm for the amputations where America’s ideals ought to be. This need not be our future.

Revolutionary War hero Gen. John Stark assessed it neatly: “Death is not the worst of evils.”

To adapt the other portion of Stark’s declaration, made famous by the good people of New Hampshire:

Live free, then die.

Theo Caldwell wanted to be left alone. Contact him at