On Liberty

25 Nov

This Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for the fact that you can celebrate Thanksgiving any damn way you want to. That is the true mark of America: very individualized personal freedom.

Big BirdThe irony is both the Left and Right are constantly trying to control the general public’s behavior, and find great offense and shock (SHOCK) when their opponents do the same.

The Right wants your children to listen to prayer in public school. They want Manger scenes outside of city hall at Christmas (not Holiday) time. And most of all, they want you to keep your baby in your womb until its time to for him or her to come out.

While expressing constant outrage at these attempts to push personal beliefs on others, the Left simultaneously wants to you to hand in your gun, stop driving your gas guzzling SUV, and otherwise reorder your life to stop destroying the planet.

For both sides, the quest to change the individual behavior of every American is a matter of great moral and ethical importance. For every F-150 pickup with an “Abortion Kills Children” bumper sticker, there is a bicycle with a “Save the Earth” type decal.

The culture wars will continue in America, but do not fear. Soon gays will be able to marry and we’ll all be smoking pot – the arc of the American story is a constant bending towards personal liberty. And not just happy-fuzzy personal liberty. It will bother Libertarians to hear, but America is indifferent to offensive, destructive, bad-for-the-common-good personal liberty.

You will continue to be able to own guns with no training required on how to use one, or registration of how many guns you own. You will continue to be able to kill your baby as long as it hasn’t been born yet. You will continue to be able to smoke tobacco your whole life and then get the government to pay for your lung cancer treatment. You can drive a tank that gets 3 mpg, skip all public transportation, and never recycle a blessed thing in your life. You have the personal freedom to not just be destructive to yourself, but to others as well. In America, we err on the side of liberty, with little regard to offense or impact.

Of course, there are certain behaviors we as a society have deemed favorable, and while we don’t mandate them, we do encourage them. This is well established, but is changing as well. Traditionally, our society thinks owning a home and having children is a good thing for the general welfare. Therefore, there are tax incentives (and some straight handouts) for doing those two things. These are carrots – do what you want, but if you do these couples things, we’ll pay you a little extra.

What is changing is the coming round of sticks to add to the carrots. Our list of advantageous behaviors to modify is growing. And when the carrots don’t seem effective enough, we turn to sticks. There are plenty of carrots for employers to offer healthcare to their employees. But not enough companies are participating. So, for the first time, sticks in the form of penalties to companies who fail to provide are proposed. There are ample tax rebates for companies who upgrade their manufacturing processes to be more environmentally friendly. But the carrots are not enough – a cap-and-trade stick-based program is coming soon.

The arc remains to liberty. Americans don’t like curtailments on their freedoms. And sticks are supposed to be for rogue regimes, like North Korea. Is non-health-insurance-providing Walmart a rogue regime? Don’t answer that.

Be thankful for your liberty today. It is the defining mark of our nation. Do whatever you want today, like read a blog. Or go eat turkey. Or tofurkey. And think about how much behavior modification you advocate and deride (but only if you want to).

22 Responses to “On Liberty”

  1. Danielle at 8:36 pm #

    Well done Brian!

  2. Alan Bedenko at 9:35 pm #


  3. Alan Bedenko at 9:36 pm #

    Obviously, I’m just kidding. Happy Thanksgiving to you & yours, Brian.

  4. Brian Castner at 9:47 pm #

    Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Hitler-Stalin.

  5. Dan at 12:31 am #

    This is a perfect piece of Bolshevik propaganda. The whole idea who should control you ,the commie left or the psycho right leaves no other options.
    God made men
    God made men free
    Gods laws are pretty simple and easy to get along with.
    Mens laws are pure perverted invention.
    Abortion, Gays,drugs ,tobacco, the environment are giant divisions from the reality of issues.
    Try War, personal freedoms, all controlling disconnected government, ersatz education, ruined cities, stolen Labor and the genocide of western culture.

  6. Paul G. Justinger at 10:19 am #

    What a lot of people seem to forget is that we are an erxtremly cyclical race. It always comes back around. From Truman to Eisenhower to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Bush from G W to Obama. That is the great thing about America. At least four out of every 8-12 years one side wins and the other side does not. With the diversity that we have in America yoiu will never see a positive consensus until everybody looks at everybody else with the same eyesight.

    Happy Tnanksgiving to all, and I do mean ALL !!!

  7. Brian Castner at 12:03 pm #

    @ Dan: The only way your post makes sense is if 1) you don’t understand what Bolshevism was, 2) you don’t understand what propaganda is, or 3) you think war and “stolen Labor” are primarily about curtailing personal freedom. I don’t even know what to say, so here’s a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head: http://www.sugarsays.com/.a/6a00e54ff18131883401053497806b970b-800wi

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving in your ruined genocidal city.

    • Dan at 11:11 pm #

      Re: Bolshevism
      I think I have a pretty good understanding about this. It was the Soviet State as the empowered entity.
      Everyone worked for the state and they owned everything. This whole apparatus was backed by a system of coercion in the gulag.
      The biggest employer in Erie county is the County
      Nest is the State etc etc
      They own or take tribute from almost everything.
      The schools are state run
      My kids and I are now share croppers to the amount of $60,0000 each for the governments debts.
      I always ask people what they get for their federal taxes, no one seems to know.
      Gulag: We have six times the people in prison per capita as Canada, are people here that bad?

      Propaganda: If you don’t see reality network news makes perfect sense.

      War freedoms: War is always an excuse for governments to greatly expand their control.
      They start the fight , we suffer , pretty simple here. The greatest lie in the 20th century was that WWII was a “good war”. That is the ultimate line of bullshit. Was Hitler a jerk? Of course .There were and currently are a lot of demagogues. I don’t see destroying civilisation as a reasonable cure.

      As for the pancake ……Its been a long time since I was in 8th grade. The humor escapes me.

  8. Pete@BuffaloStuff.net at 10:27 am #

    Brian – I would like to talk to you about your gallery for an article for Buffalo Stuff. Can you contact me at peter (at) buffalostuff (dot) net

  9. Pete@BuffaloStuff.net at 10:39 am #

    Can I use a stick to beat the “urkey” out of Tofurkey? Just kidding. Excellent points. I particularly like this….. “The irony is both the Left and Right are constantly trying to control the general public’s behavior, and find great offense and shock (SHOCK) when their opponents do the same.” oh yeah, and….. “For both sides, the quest to change the individual behavior of every American is a matter of great moral and ethical importance.”

    Not many people out and out say that this is a problem of both sides, but it is.

  10. Ethan at 11:09 am #

    I could nit-pick others of your points, but the one that really gets me is the overall implication that American freedom is somehow superior to everyone else’s. As though, say, Canadians or Netherlanders are somehow breaking under the yoke of oppression thrust upon them by their government. Nothing is more boring–or erroneous–than American Exceptionalism.
    You know what’s better than freedom? Happiness. The two may be (weakly, positively) correlated, but they are not the same thing.

    • Brian Castner at 12:03 am #

      Of all the possible critiques, this isn’t the one I expected. I say nothing about anyone else’s freedom or liberty. I imply in no way that ours is better, or even good for that matter. I simply seek to describe it. I can describe our liberty without implying it is better or worse than Canada’s. You use the term American Exceptionalism, not me.

      • Ethan at 1:55 pm #

        It’s all implied; indeed, you didn’t USE the words “American Exceptionalism.” You simply wrote a paean to it.
        “You can be thankful for the fact that you can celebrate Thanksgiving any damn way you want to” implies that someone else can’t. Who? Forgetting for the moment the fact that most nations don’t have national days of “thanks” (predicated on myths, I should add: were the native Americans especially thankful the Pilgrims showed up?), let’s just look north (or from where I’m sitting, west) to see how empty this sentiment is, if it is not an expression of AmEx. AFAIK, the Canadian gvt. doesn’t prevent Canadians from celebrating thanksgiving any way they want to, either.
        I like what Brad wrote above. The defining feature of “American Liberty” is not, in fact, “very individualized personal freedom,” but rather, the tensions between promoting the general welfare and maximising individual freedom.

      • Brian Castner at 7:18 pm #

        Well, I use the words “offensive, destructive, and bad for the common good” to describe Amercian personal liberty – those are hardly words one chooses for a paean. Just because you felt bad about being American on Thanksgiving, don’t project it on what I wrote. I wasn’t having a secret argument with you about whether liberty is American or not, or exceptional or not. I was just simply describing it.

        And my description is this: I reject as unreal the elegant tension of Brad, balancing the general welfare and personal liberty. For good or for bad, that is not how we work. We choose personal liberty over the general welfare just about every time. Destroying the environment and not providing healthcare to all are only the examples I chose to prove it. You can certainly think of others. I describe America not as I want it to be, or wish it was, but how I see it (for this post, at least).

  11. Mike In WNY at 12:09 pm #

    The culture wars are dog-n-pony show issues designed to make it appear that there is a difference between the two major parties. It allows the government to steal our “real” liberties while distracting the average person with emotional issues. Occasionally the electorate is placated with a “win” from their favorite “side”, all while the assault on true freedom continues.

  12. Gabe at 12:20 pm #

    Good point, Ethan. American Exceptionalism is a complete load of bullshit. Take away all the rah-rah jingoism and there’s really not much behind the velvety curtain any more. Outside a small handful of robust urban areas, this country doesn’t do much more than waste and consume far much more than it produces.

    Also, as Brian vaguely points out, “Liberty” is kind of overrated. It’s childish to think a society should be built around everyone being entitled to get what they want regardless of its effects on other people.

    • Mike In WNY at 5:58 pm #

      The affect on other people would be highly beneficial because all associations would be voluntary. That is completely different from “getting what you want”, property rights would have to be protected.

    • Ethan at 1:58 pm #

      Cue that idiot who replied before I did. I’m of the opinion that Libertarianism makes total sense: from the persepctive of an id-driven 3-year old.

  13. Pete at BuffaloStuff at 1:45 pm #

    @mrebmann – I might regret this but…..

    It allows the government to steal our “real” liberties ”

    Which “real” liberties are we talking about? Just the freedom to count every penny we make without the government filching any of it or are we talking about other real liberties too?

  14. Mike In WNY at 7:10 pm #

    Freedom to:
    Choose health insurance based on my needs and wants

    Decide which cultural institutions, non-profits and charities merit my support

    Go to a bar or restaurant that allows smoking, if the owner desires

    Ride a motorcycle without a helmet

    Enter into any mutually agreeable contractual transaction

    Travel within my own country without privacy invasive scrutiny

    Purchase sudaphed without showing a drivers license and signing for it

    Freedom to use my money for my benefit, not to bailout people who got into debt through their own actions

    Freedom to work for someone, or to employ someone, at any mutually agreeable wage

    Freedom to decide when it is, or isn’t, safe to use a cell phone

    In short, if one does not have dominion over one’s property, that person is enjoying freedom.

  15. Brad at 1:18 am #

    When contemplating the nature of American liberty, I think it is essential to consider the preamble to the US Constitution:

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    So, that’s why we have Constitutional rights in the first place. Let’s not forget that “We the People” created this document to both secure individual liberty and “promote the general Welfare,” inter alia. So, there has always been a very complex and dynamic relationship between the individual and the collective in this country.

    The idea that “nobody can tell me what to do” is narcissism, not patriotism. I actually think the biggest threat to our liberty is the notion that “nobody can speak for me.” Republican government does not work when people believe they are individually so important that they must have their own say beyond their own vote – that “This government doesn’t represent ME!” Actually it does. When you disagree, you are free to dissent. But the rising notion that a government that enacts policies with which any given person disagrees is “not my government/not my president/not my country” is disturbing. When you disagree, you are free to dissent. That is why we rejected monarchy. I think that is the essence of American liberty (and I do specify – American – liberty, since there are other conceptions of liberty in the world).


  1. Obama’s Realpolitik | WNYmedia.net -

    […] couple weeks ago I wrote a Thanksgiving post noting our liberty. I received some unexpected comments, asking what was so special about American […]

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