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Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Atwood’

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

– From The Handmaid’s Tale

I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time when I was still a teenager and it had a profound effect on me. I have read it several times since. The above bit of dialogue is what comes to mind first whenever I think of the book and its relevance to our current society. Which do we want? Freedom to do as we please as long as we’re not causing harm to others (or maybe even if we are, according to the judgment of some), or freedom from a subjective list of harms that could befall us? Obviously there is a very messy line between the two, and potential for a lot of overlap, but in my mind the conceptual difference between them is vast.

I live in Chicago, a city that recently has gotten some attention for its infamous and failed ban on foie gras, and also for its recent designation by Reason Magazine as the country’s worst nanny state:

Chicago reigns supreme when it comes to treating its citizens like children (Las Vegas topped our rankings as America’s freest city). Chicagoans pay the second-highest cigarette tax in the country, and the sixth-highest tax on alcohol. Chicago has more traffic-light cameras than any city in America (despite studies questioning their effectiveness), restricts cell phone use while driving, and it’s quickly moving toward a creepy public surveillance system similar to London’s.

Chicago also has banned handgun ownership (and has made no move to reexamine said ban in light of the recent Supreme Court decision), limits trans fats in restaurants, has only 1,300 bars (compared with over 7,000 in the 1940s). I will also include in this category the unfortunate city of Bensenville, which has the tragic honor of being adjacent to O’Hare airport, and atop the new expansion site. It is now a ghost town of boarded up houses and businesses, awaiting its final and inevitable fate at the hands of the courts (let’s call this one “freedom from property”). I should also mention the ban on cell phone use, but not cosmetics application, newspaper reading or picking one’s nose, while driving (“freedom from distraction by cellular communication”), and Mayor Emperor Richard Daley’s approval and support of relocating the Chicago Children’s Museum from Navy Pier to Grant Park. Grant Park’s 1836 mandate describes it as “a common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstruction whatever” (“freedom from open public space”). Chicago is even considering a ban on text messaging while walking in intersections (“freedom from death by idiocy, OMFG, LOL”).

Nationally, to this list I’ll add our expensive misadventure in Iraq (“freedom from the presence of Islamic dictatorships in strategic oil-rich regions”), the likewise expensive and ultimately ill-fated border fence (“freedom from feeling like the government isn’t doing anything about the immigration problem”), the war on drugs (“freedom from mind altering chemicals without a prescription excluding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and chocolate”), the government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with other bailouts and corporate subsidy programs including the Farm Bill (“freedom from capitalism”), and some dubious social programs and “incentives” (“freedom from personal responsibility”).

Add to this a plethora of local and municipal fees and regulations, vehicle and pet registration dues, sin taxes, bottled water taxes and taxes to fund mismanaged, woefully inadequate prisons and public school systems (“freedom from liquidity”).

Personally, I would like to live in a nation where “freedom to” is the guiding principle. I would like to live in a city where owners of private businesses are free to allow their customers to smoke cigarettes, with thanks to those who, thinking like entrepreneurs, also offer well-ventilated, smoke-free areas. I would like to live in a city where, in accordance with the Second Amendment, I am free to legally own a hand gun, just like city officials currently are. I would like to live in a state where I am free to decide if my child is tall enough or weighs enough to safely ride in the car without a car seat. I would like to live in a city where, while driving, I am free to take or make an important phone call. I would like to live in a state where I am free to send my child to private school using my un-property tax money. I would like the freedom, as a law abiding citizen, to talk on the phone with confidence, knowing that the government respects my right to privacy. I would like the freedom, here where I live, to breathe unpolluted outdoor air, to drink pharmaceutical and chemical-free water and to have access to a renewable energy grid. Most importantly, though, I would like my country to preserve my freedom to live under a faithfully observed Constitution, and likewise to preserve my freedom from tyranny, including from laws that attempt to protect me from myself. I’m doin’ just fine, thanks.

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