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The Right to be Wrong: Our Greatest Freedom


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

When the Congress of the United States added the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights, they enshrined a principle core to the values of this country: The government would not infringe on people's freedom to think. This principle ultimately turned the United States from a small collection of troublesome colonies into the greatest superpower the world has ever seen. Freedom of thought will continue to be critical to ensuring that we as a people remain resilient and thrive through whatever future we may face.


What is freedom, and why is it so important for resilience? Let's start with a simple definition of freedom: Freedom is the ability to do something the authorities would prefer you not do. True freedom goes beyond just being able to do as you please. Only when you can act on your own conscience in opposition to how others would wish for you to act can you be truly free. Congress did not ratify the First Amendment to protect the "acceptable" religions, but those which nearly everyone would be opposed to. Likewise, you do not need freedom of speech or of the press to say how wonderful you think the government is. Instead, you need it to say things the government finds offensive. The same applies to the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. If you are only free to hold whatever view they allow, then you are not free at all.


The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that we lost our First Amendment rights long ago, we just didn't know it yet. When politicians decided that they could prohibit the free exercise of religion or to peaceably assemble simply by issuing executive orders, it became clear that we didn't actually have those rights in the first place. That is not to say that the threat from COVID-19 is not real, or that politicians did not act with genuinely good intentions when they stripped us of our freedoms. The point is simply that if the government only grants us freedoms when they find them acceptable, then we aren't really free.


What does freedom have to do with resilience? Well, everything.


A cursory look at history shows us that it has been unkind to freedom of thought. Over the ages, people were burned, banished, beheaded, and excommunicated simply for daring to believe something that was "wrong". Defying the authorities in matters of politics, religion, or economics brought on cruel and often creatively heinous punishment. People have slaughtered others within their same religion for disagreements that those outside the religion would consider insignificant. Authorities do not tolerate dissent or alternate views. As a result, humans progress remained in dark ages for the bulk of human history.


Perhaps the most important discovery in human history was of our own ignorance. When people realized that their tribal elders and their ancient scrolls did not hold all knowledge, and that lands and people existed beyond what their maps showed, they finally opened themselves up to learn. The scientific revolution began when people realized there was so much they did not know, and that so much of what they knew was wrong. This discovery led to a tidal wave of advancement leading to the industrial revolution, a sudden increase in prosperity, and individual freedom not previously seen in recorded history. The scientific revolution questioned previously held dogmas and "thoughts that ought not be thought". By each individual living according to their own conscience, new ideas thrived. Many of the new ideas disappeared as soon as they arrived, but others took root, and dislodged the previously entrenched beliefs.


This was the context that led the Founding Fathers to declare that "...[A]ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." The government's role is to protect people's rights, and if it fails at its duty, people should replace the government.


In today's context, the government should protect the liberty of all individuals; especially if those individuals hold views that run counter to the majority. We must cherish and protect people's ability to think for themselves, even if their beliefs are wrong or even abhorrent to us. The free market of ideas will test all of these beliefs, and the weak ideas will fall away. However, if the authorities deem some views to be unacceptable, and restrict people's ability to share their beliefs or to act for their own safety and happiness, we risk returning to the dark ages of stagnation. Beware of authorities who restrict "Fake News", or who strip people of their right to decide what is best for themselves. Beware of authorities who can abolish constitutional rights "for the common good".


To remain a resilient society, we need entrepreneurs who think impossible things. We need independent thinkers who fight domination from oppressive authorities. We need people who dare to be wrong. Only then can we be free.

© 2020 by I Resile

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