Freedom is a much misunderstood concept. To be truly free is to be exempt from self-imposed oppression because of something someone else is doing that is merely symbolic of something that matters.
If any individual or group is going to burn a book, or a flag, or build a structure on their own property that reminds you of something you would rather not think about, the problem does not exist in the desecration or the construction of these items.
The problem, plain and simple, is in your own head. As I explain in detail in Existential Aspirations, in a chapter titled “Flag Burning and Apple Pie,” to suffer oppression because of someone’s symbolic actions is to give that person or group power over you that they would not have if you did not give it to them freely of your own will.
With so many problems in the world and so much emotional angst over the economy, it is beneath the dignity of a free people to get beside ourselves with worry over sophomoric expressions. But not for the turmoil over the proposed mosque in New York, the Florida Quran-burning threat likely would not have occurred. Before we can show the world’s extremists what it really means to be free, we have to act free. We have to prove ourselves to be beyond school-yard taunting, even if we have to resort to chanting the nursery rhyme about sticks and stones.
Imagine what it would be like if the vast majority of people took complete responsibility for the neurons scrambling about in their own heads. There would be little opportunity for talk-radio hosts to make a living playing on the fears of the general public. People around the world would marvel that Americans really are a free people, and extremists would be left to simmer in their own angst.
Charles D. Hayes
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