Freedom: it’s something we all prize. America proudly proclaims itself to be the land of the brave and the land of the free. It could easily be argued that a life without freedom is hardly worth living.
But what are we trying to obtain freedom to do? To make our own choices? To define our own future? Few of us would argue that we are free from the turning hands of Fate. If our life can turn on a dime, if the plane can veer off course and bring down the tallest building in NYC, if disease can rob us of our loved ones, if the right combination of numbers can bring sudden millions; how can we suggest that freedom buys us the chance to choose our future?
So what does our freedom buy us? Maybe the chance to make our own mistakes. To run down the side of a mountain in a giant hamster wheel because some man in a bar dared us to. To find love and hold onto it with all our might. We often assume reflexively that freedom is the freedom to do as we choose without repercussions.
We also expect that technology will increase our freedom. Our phone will mean we never lose touch with our loved ones. The funny thing we saw on the way to work can be immediately photographed and saved for prosperity. When my music collection can go wherever I go, I can dictate the soundtrack of my life.
The same technology that gives us freedom can also curtail it. Governor Christie is battling for his future political life in a scandal that started with an email. A trail of computer files has led to the downfall of countless collectors of child pornography. In these cases, one might argue that the absence of freedom to do harm is a sacrifice to the greater good.
In a move worthy of George Orwell, the Ukrainian government was able to pinpoint cell phones in the vicinity of anti-government protests and send threatening text messages. Following the outcry over the NSA recording phone calls in the USA, we see that even the freedom of private citizens might not be as free as we hoped.
Should this send us into a frenzy of anti-government protest? Should we all take to the hills ready to protect our families from the men in black? Maybe it’s time to recognize that we were always being watched.
We have never had the freedom to conduct our lives unobserved. All our deeds have been noted and duly recorded, and not by Santa or the NSA. As the illusion of freedom without being called to account for our choices falls away, we see that we were always required to make choices that would withstand the test of scrutiny. We are being watched and come the final accounting we will be free to be judged by the content of our character alone.