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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Ellen Goodman on enemies, agreement, ...and freedom

A few weeks ago, Ellen Goodman wrote a column entitled “Freedom, but in full.” The newspaper I saw titled it, "Agreeing with the enemy." Reading that, I thought, hmm, this could be interesting.

Goodman didn’t let me down. ;-)

She opens,

This is for everyone who has ever heard a rival doing their act. It’s for everyone who has heard an opponent saying exactly what they think.

But why have we taken sides? Why must we have rivals and opponents? Is life a competition? Does someone have to win, and someone else lose? What does the winner get – glory? Life everlasting?

The odd, and oddly infuriating, experience of agreeing with an enemy is often followed by an impulse to disagree, an urge to poke holes in the argument, or to dismiss the honesty of the arguer. Anything not to not in approval.

Yes, this is human nature (fallen). But what causes these feelings? And why would someone who supposedly believes in tolerance still want to find a way to disagree? Wouldn’t you think they'd be happy to discover common ground with the “other side”?

Bush’s inaugural address is what sparked Goodman’s comments. She quotes the part she found herself agreeing with:

America’s influence is considerable and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.

America will not not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains or that women welcome humiliation and servitude or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

When you stand for your liberty we will stand with you.

So what’s the problem? Goodman mentions those on the left who “have declared themselves either skeptical or cynical,” questioning “the reality behind the rhetoric, the devil in the details, or the devil in the deliverer.” Well, of course – this is human nature, again. But she asks a very good question: “Do they actually disagree with the ‘ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world?’ Or do they just mind that the president took the words out of their mouths? Again.”

She elaborates by mentioning the March For Life and the fact that “‘Life’ now means fetal life; life begins with conception and ends with birth.” Cute, but of course no one's changed the definition of "life." (I tried once to research, online, evidence of pregnancy causing maternal death, other than death in childbirth...I couldn’t even find anything at the Planned Parenthood website! Apparently that’s a hypothetical perpetuated by abortion supporters. The threats to maternal health and life that can occur during or with pregnancy evidently threaten the unborn baby as well as the mother.)

Claims Goodman, not only has the term “life” been “hijacked and locked in the right-wing dictionary,” so has “God.” “To be considered 'godly', now you have to worry about the sexuality of Sponge Bob Square Pants [no, that’s not the issue...] and oppose teaching evolution in schools.”

Please, Ms. Goodman, get your facts straight, and put your nose straight. It’s about opposition to the teaching of evolution exclusively, without teaching the truth about reality, i.e., that there are very few pat answers but lots of evidence and opinions on many different aspects of the topic.

Life, God, and now Freedom. If the right wing ever gets a lock on Love, it’s a grand slam.

I gotta hand it to her; Goodman’s a clever writer. But you’d think she’d realize that freedom has the same dictionary definition for her as it does for everyone else. “Liberty is not the Bush Ideal, it’s the American ideal.” Well of course. Why does she think Bush is talking about it? She goes on to grouse about freedom being an excuse for militarism, and how there is “little freedom in the chaos of war,” but I wonder how she thinks America got the freedom it enjoys now.

She does acknowledge, “when any president offers America as the international standard-bearer of freedom, it’s time to say amen.”

Yet adds, “And more. The president has given us a standard.” (He has? Is it something new?) “Why oppose it when we can judge him by it?” OK, here we go... “When Saudi men vote and Saudi women do not, is that freedom?”

Any step in the right direction must not be good enough.

She mentions a “gag rule” on international family planning groups and questions whether that’s freedom of speech. We can’t stipulate how the money we give them is used?

She asks, “Can liberty co-exist with torture?” (What is she talking about??)

Then Goodman gets to domestic affairs: “liberty also means civil liberties. Freedom includes the freedom to marry whomever you choose and to make decisions about reproduction.” Hmm, what about freedom to beat up your kids, or steal your neighbor’s TV? And which decisions about reproduction is she referring to? The ones that can be made before natural bodily processes cause reproduction?

It sounds like Goodman doesn’t like living in a democracy much. I’m sure she’s aware that she’s free to move to another country, though. She’s also free to accept the way things are, while working politely to influence a shift in majority opinion.

But what it sounds like Goodman really and truly wants is freedom from limits. And “freedom from want.” Hmmm, that sounds like the liberal desire to bring about utopia here on earth. While maintaining an adversarial stance toward those they disagree with, of course...

The four freedoms were once the property of liberals. [they were? I thought they were for all Americans...for all world citizens] The current crop of conservatives has taken the words out of FDR’s mouth too. [why must she insist on keeping sides?] They are rewinding the tape of history in the guise of moving forward on such fundamentals as Social Security. [There’s that liberal myth of “progressiveness” = salvation]

But freedom is not just...a tax cut.
I guess it’s not freedom to be free to spend one’s money as one wishes.

When the free market collides with freedom from want [utopia], a battle for semantics becomes a battle for survival. [How bad does Goodman have it? Does she use her own resources to help out those who are barely surviving? How many are there in America, this most wealthy of countries, who are truly battling for survival? Certainly not so many that modest generosity on the part of those Americans capable of it couldn’t remedy, nor responsibility on the part of the needy.] When freedom means unraveling the social safety net, who has the moral high ground? [Who are the ones unraveling the social safety net, truly? It’s the ones who aren’t looking after their neighbors.]

Goodman concludes:
The president said the question for history will be: “Did our generation advance the cause of freedom?” Freedom is a word to applaud, to define [that’s for darn sure] – and to claim.

Claim? That’s really what Goodman’s piece is all about – claiming rights, claiming freedom, claiming this, claiming that. There is an assumption of claim in the statement about freedom from want: an assumption that we all have rights to peace, comfort, provision, etc., in a materialistic sense. It’s about more than semantics or freedom, though; it is about values, and, ultimately, belief systems. The freedom Goodman want to claim is freedom by the world’s standards, not spiritual freedom.

People claim it to their peril, and to the harm of the very ones they say they wish to help.


  • Obviously I can't speak for Ms Goodman, but what bothered me about Bush's claim that we will stand by the oppressed is that he didn't seem to mean it. How can I say that? Well, on a practical level he had people out the next day saying that he didn't really mean it, which is why we're not going to take action in the woman-hating states of the middle east.

    On a more personal level, though, he didn't mean it because it isn't measurable. Standing with somebody can mean anything you want it to. taking action to bring democracy to a country can mean anything - that's why we invaded Iraq but left North Korea alone, even though the Koreans oppress and kill more of their citizens than Hussein ever did. Until he demonstrates that he really does mean it, by doing something that's actually hard (like cutting ties with Saudi Arabia, for example), then I can only assume it was just a nod to America's self-image as the leader of the free world.

    By Blogger Paul, at 1:03 PM  

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