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Liberty and the State: Striking a Balance Between Freedom and Security

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Consider going to Las Vegas and venturing over to the Black Jack table. The dealer gives out a ten and a king. You have 20 points and are one away from receiving 21. Will you take the chance and risk your deck to get an ace, or will you stand your ground and keep your set as it is?

Most would be content with a 20 and choose to hold their total to protect themselves from the potential of busting. They are free to try for a 21 but recognize that the probability of receiving an ace is minimal. Even though people like to act freely, every action results in a consequence, and as most people stand, they are not willing to suffer the consequences that their freedom brings. By taking a chance, there is a possibility of downfall, in which there is a zero percent chance of winning.

This calculus is also examined through dystopian themes in American entertainment. Protagonists often struggle to strike a balance between freedom and safety. They are forced to compromise for survival. In the television series The Society, the youths of small-town West Ham experience an unexpected turn of events after returning home from a field trip to discover that everyone and everything beyond their town borders has disappeared. Attempting to determine what happened to the rest of humanity, the survivors are forced to live independently, creating new leadership roles and regulations to move forward and survive in their newfound reality. As an immediate response to this shift in livelihood, with the absence of government and parental supervision, everyone takes advantage of their liberty and loot stores. They fight one another for resources, and chaos erupts due to their town’s freedom.

After a few weeks of living in pure madness, people begin to recognize that they would run out of necessary resources for survival that could not be restored. They begin to shift their routine from before they self-sabotaged themselves: they ration food, live in community homes together, and construct a work schedule to preserve light, energy, and food to better their chances of surviving through the next few months. While the people had access to complete liberty in this society, everyone united and agreed to sacrifice portions of their freedoms. They believed that order and rules were necessary for a system to function and operate sufficiently, revealing that as a whole, they prioritized their safety and ability to stay alive over their freedom. 

The average person desires liberty until some opposing factor jeopardizes their safety. They are devoted and loyal to people and a community, whether it is a partner or a family. They live to help influence and better contribute to the lives of others. While the average person does not have plenty of money to spend on luxuries, they are obligated to sustain a job and follow the rules by the state to support themselves and pursue a living, which demands limits on their liberty. While most people desire complete freedom in principle, people often sacrifice it to maintain their social, political, and economic stability and not fall into poverty. This reveals that while many yearn for liberty, the average human prioritizes security, whether they recognize it or not. 

Without safety, most people cannot live comfortably as they may feel threatened or fear the possible consequences of society’s unlimited freedom. Violence would result from the elimination of laws or restrictions. As individuals would constantly live with fear and lack of protection from forces like the government, they could not possibly live a completely free life due to their subconscious worries. For instance, American citizens are granted opportunities to pursue their own goals and success. Many people have traveled to the US to achieve the idealistic “American Dream” where success is theoretically accessible by everyone.

Essentially, without financial stability, the “American Dream” would not be as possible as it is today. Individuals would not be able to innovate. Therefore, with the absence of safety within society, the common person would not be able to access or utilize authentic liberty, which cannot exist without the attendance of security. 

Many people prioritize safety over liberty, which was reflected throughout the past few years during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the vaccine is not required for every person in the United States, many people choose to get vaccinated. At least 50% or more people are fully vaccinated in every state, with 72.2% in California. As some people choose not to get vaccinated, they prioritize their rights and freedom of choice, choosing liberty over their safety. By choosing liberty, they are putting their lives and health at more significant risk than others who chose to get vaccinated. Based on a timeline of deaths caused by COVID-19, the mortality rates within the U.S. started to drop significantly in January 2021, shortly after the first round of COVID-19 vaccines became accessible to people over 16 in December 2020. As statistics showed the accuracy and sufficiency of the vaccines, more and more people chose vaccination, hoping to decrease their deadly risk of the virus.

While the common person prioritizes safety, they are heavily attracted to having complete liberty and control over their own lives with no external intervention, as it allows them to live their lives unfiltered and based on their inner instincts. Liberty allows an individual to fully assess oneself based upon what they initially intend to do, in which they can evaluate themselves and create an identity far from society’s influences and expectations.

As freedom can benefit an individual by allowing them to develop an identity, the power of absolute liberty could potentially result in harm and destruction. People would do whatever they please without consideration of consequences. But even when granted complete freedom, does everyone choose to abuse it?

Not everyone, but a portion of the population did, as demonstrated in the attack on the US capital on January 6, 2021. After the 2020 presidential election, devastated by the outcome, around 2,500 Trump supporters stormed the capitol, bringing weapons like guns and bats into the building, violently protesting their beliefs. Ryan Lucas of NPR News revealed that  “the majority of the rioters were not members of far-right groups but “normal” Trump supporters — part of his political base. Among them were doctors, lawyers, architects and business owners.” These rioters were financially stable and would generally not be as significantly vulnerable to consequences as those of the working classes who live paycheck to paycheck. Clouded by their ideologies, they abused their rights of speech and action, which caused great tragedy and catastrophe to our country.  Because the majority of these attackers maintained high status, wealth, and opportunity, we may assume that they were ignorant of consequences, believing that they could potentially be bailed out of jail or repealed of their punishment with their money, etc., as they abused their liberties and chose to publically fight for what they believed in.

Safety protects people from outside forces that threaten their existing economic, political, social conditions. Security is continuity. Once safety is removed, change is guaranteed. Whether the change is bad or good, it shifts the person from comfort and forces them to make shifts in their routine, which some may not be willing or prepared to do.

While people desire freedom, freedom cannot be utilized to its full extent unless one is secure and can develop peace of mind. We generally prioritize safety because it is necessary to build a foundation in our life and strive towards prosperity.

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