Thursday, January 3, 2008

Appreciating Freedom

This column appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, December 29th, 2007.

As we head into 2008, there is something happening that scares me.

No, I’m not talking about the Yankees possibly signing Santana, or Rosie O’Donnell getting another show of her own. I’m talking about the truly scary stuff – like what today’s younger generation is prepared to sacrifice in the name of safety and security.

Increasingly the current administration in Washington has told us we need to sacrifice our individual liberties to ensure our collective security. We must be willing to forgo protections built into our system for the innocent in order to catch and prosecute the guilty.

We are told we must keep the Patriot Act, under which the government can investigate and detain just about anyone for just about any reason. We must accept that our library records may be studied by the government without our knowledge or consent.

There are an increasing number of surveillance cameras in our local school buildings. Police dogs are brought in to search local school lockers just to let the kids know it can happen. Breathalyzers are used indiscriminately at proms.

And yet, there is no great outrage among the younger generation – or the older ones, for that matter.

In this post September 11th world, we have come to accept these things as necessary to provide for our safety and security. Like longer lines at the airport, they are just things we seem to feel we must endure.

But I worry every day, not about what our government is doing to us, but rather what we are allowing it to do. I worry about a growing generation seemingly out of touch with the true meaning of freedom.

Freedom is not the right to live safely or securely. Freedom is the right to live as you choose.

While we all must conform to the basic laws of society in order to function, America has always been the Land of the Free. We are not the Home of the Safe, The Land of the Efficient, or the Home of the Financially Responsible.

The government does not – or at least did not – track our whereabouts at all times. Unlike other countries we have no state-sponsored religion. Morality is something to be interpreted here, where in other countries it is simply enforced.

Keeping track of our enemies, as well as those we think could become our enemies, is much tougher here than in the rest of the world. That damn concept of “freedom” keeps getting in the way.

Now, I am not na├»ve enough to believe things don’t have to change as the world around us changes. Security is certainly a necessity. Freedom is great, but a free individual who is murdered does not get to enjoy it for long.

Still, I worry about what our younger generation locally believes is their role in this world of ours today.

I know when I was growing up, we questioned everything. We not only pushed existing beliefs in areas such as science, we also questioned the rules surrounding us as a nation.

Maybe I’m just getting old and crabby, but I see less of that today. I see young adults who think it is no big deal for the government to check their library records. After all, if you have nothing to hide, why should it bother you, right?

Wrong. It should bother you, it should make you angry, and it should scare the living you-know-what out of you.

You can call all this the wild rantings of an aging liberal (as my kids do), but I disagree. If we have gotten to the point where defending freedom and liberty is a political position, we are already in more trouble than we think.

In 1776 Benjamin Franklin told the Continental Congress “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty or security.”

Old Ben was right on the mark then, and remains correct today. I’m just hoping today’s younger generation pays him more heed than the older ones are currently doing.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who, contrary to popular belief, did not know Benjamin Franklin personally. He can be reached at

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