“Liberty is not collective, it is personal. All liberty is individual liberty.” — Calvin Coolidge
Freedom: The fundamental value on which the United States’ economy and political systems were based on. What does freedom mean exactly? John Locke famously identified what he thought to be the three core human ‘natural rights’: Life, liberty, and property. Of these three, Liberty captures the largest essence of “freedom”. John Locke defined liberty as “Consist[ing] of being free from any superior power on Earth.” This meant that no power on Earth had the right to dictate what we, as individuals, do. Additionally, he added that when it comes to a country no one but the commonwealth agreed upon government had a right to put laws in place. However, I think a more simple definition could apply universally: Any being with self-consciousness and sentience has the right to do what it pleases as long as it does not cause harm to another. This brings in the core values of the personal pursuit of happiness, something Thomas Jefferson replaced “property” with in John Locke’s natural rights in the final draft of the United States Declaration of Independence, as well as morality. I believe that these two things are what true success is made of and therefore what any population should base its philosophy on.
When I first learned about communism I, like probably many others and most likely Karl Marx himself, thought it sounded like a great idea. Everyone gets all of their necessities, no one goes without the things that they need and everyone plays their part in making society successful. Then you hear that, while it sounds great on paper, it hasn’t ever really worked that well. This is for a couple of reasons. First, when it comes to humans if there is no set power inevitably somebody seeks to become the power. Even in a system where everyone is supposed to be equal, there are people who end up on top either through doing more desirable jobs or through attempting to be the ones who decide how the entire system runs. The second reason is that it completely takes away the role of the individual and their freedoms. This is why most Americans are so terrified of and hate the idea of communism and anything that sounds like it. Because it encroaches upon one of the fundamental values our country was based on. I do think that there is a great value to helping everyone receive their necessities but that isn’t the most important part of life and therefore shouldn’t be the main focus of a policial system. Additionally, I think there are much better ways of going about achieving this goal which I will write about in my next post.
So what is the most important part of life? There is a good reason why Thomas Jefferson decided to put “The Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Happiness, as elusive of an experience and even a definition as it is, is the most important thing in life. If we have all of our necessities but aren’t happy then where is the meaning in all of it? All humans after having their needs satisfied turn towards enjoyment and fulfillment. Which, has been argued is a higher level need by Abraham Maslow and others. Happiness doesn’t have to mean the fleeting moments of joy we experience but can mean satisfaction with one’s occupation, spiritual achievement, creative achievement, and simply being at peace with yourself and how things are. Without the ability to pursue this, humans cannot reach their full potential, individually or as a society. Emphasis on the individual is something that our country truly got right when establishing itself.
Of course, we all know there are a plethora of issues in this country, so where exactly did we go wrong? I truly believe that it all comes back to inadequate education and upbringing. Of the problems that I see, the main ones are a lack of focus on health, a loss of what it means to even have true liberty either due to fear or the last problem on this list: greed. I think that greed is something that is allowed to flourish like no other political and economic system would allow in a capitalistic and free society. However, the system isn’t to blame for this. Greed is something that easily becomes part of human nature if not cut off at the roots by good education and upbringing. It’s such an unfortunate quality to be prevalent because not only does it cause detriment to the surrounding people and communities but doesn’t bring happiness to the one who holds it and even arguably drives it further away. So how could education and upbringing fix these problems?
I think it’s important to first see how each of these problems is caused to find the solutions. Because greed is so prevalent it causes corporations to not care about the health of the individuals they are serving or affecting with their products. Fast food and oil are prime examples of this issue. The fast food and processed food industries focus more on making things taste good and last a long time so that they can sell a lot of product without much loss and don’t focus on the longterm health outcomes of their regular consumers. The oil industry finds oil at all costs, destroying natural places, wildlife, and polluting the air. It will be a long fix to help extinguish greed through education and upbringing but trying to prevent the actions of greed through laws doesn’t work because it makes these people feel like their freedoms are being taken and don’t cut it off at the root. Teaching and raising children with morals and teaching them to only have what they need and to help others in need brings adults with these same values into the world and it could only take a generation if we act now. Health is a much more obvious and easier fix. Teaching our children and modeling for them what true health really means and looks like is a straight forward approach and if companies are becoming more focused on health the decisions will be easier for them.
Lastly, the loss of certain liberties will possibly be the most complicated to fix. One of the most forefront examples of this is the war on drugs. Drugs like marijuana, LSD, and psilocybin being illegal are the result of fear and often discrimination which is another result of fear or just bad example. This is connected to, but also an independent issue, of the injustice of the disproportionate population of racial minorities in the US prison systems. These are two huge examples of how liberties have been taken from the whole population or large parts of the population in the United States due to fear, ignorance, and prejudices. This, I think can obviously be easily contradicted by education and upbringing but it will take the courage of people in power and the willingness to listen to facts by those stuck in their ways to make a change. As new generations start to take their place in politics this has already started to change but it is going to take a lot more.
With this fix, raising our children with morality and values, and remembering what first established a great system, individual liberty, I think we can mold a truly successful society.