In today’s society freedom is a scarce commodity. If I’m going to maximize my own freedom, I have to decide what form of it is most important to me. I have to make tradeoffs, giving some things up in order to have more of the liberty that I want.
For instance, we don’t have the freedom to travel as we choose, subject only to reasonable restrictions for the sake of safety. I can choose to continue flying from US airports and be subject to intimidation, humiliation, and the possibility of worse at the hands of the TSA, or I can give up some opportunities and keep myself outside their reach. I choose the latter. This might not be your choice, even if you’re equally outraged.
I think it’s outrageous that if you live in New Hampshire and work in Massachusetts, you pay income tax to Massachusetts, and if you live in Massachusetts and work in New Hampshire, you pay income tax to Massachusetts. Some people would refuse to pay the tax. I pay it, since if I refused it would just be taken from me one way or another, with extra pain along the way. It’s not a battle I choose. If you choose it, have a good lawyer or a quick escape route.
Whenever you exercise a disputed freedom, there’s some risk. For me, the freedom to speak out is especially important. I can’t be directly punished for it under American law, but I risk making enemies who might retaliate at me. I’ve posted cartoons of Muhammad, made no secret of my being a libertarian and an atheist, and declared plainly that office holders have engaged in wrongdoing. As a result I’ve sometimes been harassed. In my college days I was punched in the nose and the sweater I was wearing was set on fire. In Hollis, NH, I was banned from a town meeting and subjected to slanders for saying that the library trustees’ use of public funds to influence the vote was immoral. A pair of lunatics once ran a years-long harassment campaign against me. I take due precautions, such as having an unlisted phone number. I don’t want to give the wrong impression — on the whole I’ve lived a tranquil life — but there would have been fewer stresses (and far less enjoyment of life) if I’d just shut up.
The point is to care about some freedom strongly enough to take some risks for it. Without that commitment, you just become a pawn of others. It’s easy to slip into going along and getting along. Many people gladly sell their freedom for freebies. I wouldn’t mind that so much except that my freedom goes down the drain along with theirs. Worn down by pressures to conform and bought off by stuff at other people’s expense (while not noticing how much other people get at their expense), they end up grateful to their masters, but there’s nothing I can do about them. It’s the people who still care about some liberty who matter, those who, as Rand wrote, “have retained some sovereign shred of their soul, unsold and unstamped: ‘—to the order of others.’”
What freedoms do you choose? What are you willing to risk for them?