Friday, October 13, 2006

The Price of Freedom

The unexpected difficulties the Iraqis are experiencing in establishing a stable democracy in their country has led many to believe that American style freedom and democracy is not compatible with some other cultures. There certainly are differences between Americans and other cultures that will determine how freedom is expressed, but it is ridiculous to claim some cultures don’t want or deserve freedom.

There are two other desires in the hearts of humans that compete with the human hearts desire for freedom. One is the desire for safety and security. The other is the desire to control and restrict the freedom of others. This desire to control and restrict the freedom of others is quite normal, but it can be quite evil when it restricts the God-given freedom of others.

The desire to control others can be as simple and innocent as a Pastor using guilt to manipulate members of his Church, a husband using threats to manipulate his wife, a salesperson using deception to manipulate his prospect, or a child using a popular toy to gain and restrict friendships. It can also be as complex and calculating as a politician using tax and redistribution policy to gain power or a terrorist using bombs and beheadings to spread fear and submission.

Freedom is the desire of every human. However, the paradox of freedom is that it can only exist when those who want to be free also allow others to be free. For freedom to exist, humans need to battle their own controlling nature, battle the controlling nature of others, and sacrifice some of their desire for safety and security. Churches, marriages, business relationships, and friendships would all improve if people were more willing to let others live freely without manipulative tactics.

Iraq is not having problems because Iraqis don’t want freedom. Iraq is having problems because so many of the participants in Iraq, including the American military, want to restrict the freedom of the Iraqi people. This is not a problem that will ever be solved, but it is a problem that can be reduced if those in positions of leadership will relinquish some of their authority to control and manipulate others.


Anonymous said...

Hi David -- I loved your words about freedom in general. With regard to Iraq, an interesting observation in the book "Fiasco" is that Iraqis had been living under a highly socialistic welfare structure for 50 years and then suddenly the CPA tried to institute American-style capitalism overnight.

As the military leaders reportedly told the CPA, "More Maslow, less Friedman" (referring to Milton, not Thomas)

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

Thank you for the encouragement.

I understand the need for safety and security. In my own life, I have chosen to stay at a job I don’t love that provides stability for my family. In the Old Testament story about the Israelites fleeing Egypt, many of the Israelites complained to Moses about the path to freedom. Some even preferred the enslavement in Egypt to the freedom in the desert.

Iraqi’s will eventually have to choose how much freedom is appropriate for their country. If safety and security is their highest value, then freedom will be sacrificed, like freedom has been sacrificed in Europe and is being sacrificed in America.

I don’t know that any country has ever eased out of socialism and into capitalism. Most of the Soviet countries have been struggling for over 20 years and are still struggling today. Iraq has a long road ahead. I pray that the leaders in America will continue to support freedom in Iraq and not turn Iraq into a dependant of America or even worse, abandon Iraq and leave it to the terrorists.

Anonymous said...

Well, and in fact there's an interesting connection between Iraq and the Soviet countries that have had trouble transitioning to democracy/capitalism: oil. Some argue that it's almost imposible for a heavy oil exporter to be a democtratic-capitalist nation.

Basically, if a government has a choice between financially relying on an innovative, educated middle class or simply siezing the oil fields and cashing checks, it inevitabley chooses the latter.

To me, that's the best reason to get away from the importing of oil.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

Sweden is an exception, but “human rights” and “oil exporter”, don’t exactly go together, do they? Oil is such a cheep and plentiful global commodity that it is difficult to pressure any one country and it is not very efficient for the United States to produce all of its own oil and gas.

I remember when trade with China was being debated and many thought it would send the wrong message for the United States to trade with a country that had such horrible human rights abuses. I was on the side against China as a trading partner. I might have been wrong. China now seems to be moving in the right direction. While still far from ideal, trade seems to have increased the prosperity and freedom of many in China. With freedom, the Gospel message is being preached and accepted.

I agree we should develop alternative energy sources that make economic sense, but maybe we should also stick with Iraq as long as it takes to transform the Middle East into societies that value life and freedom, even if it takes decades. [I doubt Americans will be patient enough to wait decades, but I will still try to make the argument.]

Anonymous said...

Hi David --

Interestingly, Thomas Friedman has an interesting column today in which he says that the pace of freedom varies inversely with the price of oil. (

Even if we stayed in Iraq for decades and even if the U.S. military reconstituted itself for this sort of work (neither of which will happen), I highly doubt we would have anymore positive effect than the British did (probably less). "The Prince of Tides" really shows how different grass-roots Iraq is from anything that Americans understand.

(I wish Bush would read some of the books about Iraq rather than Camus, Shakespeare, and popular histories of the 19th and 20th Centuries)

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

I want a President who first understands history, then applies history appropriately. It is easy to find fault with President Bush. I’m sure there Americans who are more intelligent than he is. However, I am convinced he is about as good of a man and as good of a President as our system will or can produce.

I’m sure there are nuances to the Middle East in general and Iraq specifically that are hard for us to understand. [Sometimes I don’t even understand my neighbors across the street.] I read quite a bit about the Middle East and I am constantly dumbfounded by all of the conflicting opinions. Therefore, I have to rely more on my own common sense than the reporting of people with ulterior motives and biases.

I think Thomas Freidman is an honest man, but even he often contradicts himself. The profits from oil have corrupted many. However, it seems to me also that Putin was already corrupt even before the oil profits. The unwillingness of the United States to produce oil in Anwar and off of the California coast has indirectly supported corruption and restricted freedom.

Anonymous said...

Ooops. I meant "The Prince of the Marshes," not the Prince of Tides.

I agree 100% on ANWAR and California. In fact, it seems that the same people who oppose a very small environmental disturance of ANWAR are often the same people who are convinced of global warming. Since global warming would completely change (and probably is changing) ANWAR anyway, it seems as though the impact of drilling is completely meaningless.

I'd love to see a grand compromise that included drilling, higher fuel efficiency standards, and a large tax on imported oil and gas, except maybe from Canada and Mexico, provided Mexico stays democratic.