Freedom behind the fences

A rose bush, a fragile sort of thing, thrives with a little pruning, a little protecting from aphids, a little nurturing. And so it is with freedom.

As I am thinking of freedom, I am wondering, is it a right? Is it a privilege? And I come to believe it is both and more. It is a condition. It is a promise. It is a thing demanding nurturing and protecting in order to thrive. It is not a carte blanche expression of will. Because one’s idea of freedom may differ from another’s, it must be a median, an agreed upon aggregate, a reflection of the commons. We don’t condone the will of the few who may wish to murder and steal. We regulate such expressions of will in order to preserve the freedom of those, the many, the most, who will to live and to possess.

I, like most, have within me a deep-seeded revulsion of government intrusion into my life. I once lived in a state where a high school junior was required by law to have a contractor’s license to mow neighborhood lawns in order to save for his first car or college. A contractor’s license in that state required classes on contract law, liability insurance and a performance bond. There was no investigation as to whether or not he knew how to operate a lawn mower. In this state, one needed a contractor’s license to clean homes or build homes. One didn’t need to prove one knew anything about building a home … just have taken classes on contract law, be insured and bonded.

Now, having your kitchen remodeled by someone bonded and insured is a good thing. But for someone to clean your kitchen counter tops? Someone having a home built doesn’t need government regulations to force the use of bonded and insured contractors…prudence already does this. So who benefits from such regulation of my freedom to hire the kid down the street to rake my leaves? Those selling bonds and insurance policies?

Having this deep-seeded revulsion of government intervention into my freedoms does not prevent me from recognizing that there are government regulations that indeed protect, preserve and nurture my freedoms. Ideologies that blindly stand against all government regulation are ill-considered and often smoke and mirrors.

De-regulations in the name of the freedom to generate profit, that allow coal companies to pour toxic waste into streams, considers only the owners of coal companies freedoms while impinging upon everyone else’s more basic freedoms to drink clean water and have vibrant, living waterways.

There are long term, far reaching ramifications to both regulation and de-regulation. The consequences of each should be carefully measured rather than taking a bumper sticker position on either.

We live in a day when accurate, unbiased information is more and more difficult to come by. Our present environment of ‘fake news’ and propaganda is an unintended creature of de-regulation … making us less informed … less free.

Back in 1941, we had the Mayflower Act. It was a regulation forbidding the editorializing of information coming over the radio airwaves … news was required by law … to be fact. An informed citizenry was considered to be prerequisite to vigorous democracy … to freedom. In 1949, this law, at the urging of a few station owners, was repealed.

Under the pressure of public opinion and pragmatic conscious, the Mayflower Act was replaced by the FCC regulation of the Fairness Doctrine. This regulation facilitated freedom by ensuring coverage of issues with representative opposing views. For the next decades, the Fairness Doctrine was the subject of many Appeals Court and Supreme Court battles. In 1987, during the Reagan administration, the Fairness Doctrine was done away with. This gave birth to talk radio … which gave birth to the popularity of biased television ‘news’ both on the left and the right…which gave birth to our national polarization … which diminishes our freedoms by skewing our common perspectives of what freedom is.

I am in no way arguing for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. My love of freedom prevents me from doing so. I cling with the strength of three and a half million hearts to the freedom to speak my mind. And I cling with strength of my own heart to the freedom of three and a half million hearts to speak their own. Such freedom is an enumerated freedom, codified, written into law. But I just as voraciously cling to the unwritten freedoms such as the freedom to know the truth that exist outside of opinion or ideology.

Today, the Fairness Doctrine would be an almost impossible thing to implement. It was based on the idea that the airwaves belong to the commons and therefore broadcasters have an obligation to the commons. This idea is weakened when fiber optic lines are privately owned.

So how do we nurture the rose of freedom? The answer is more regulations.

It’s not necessarily a pernicious thing that there are television stations like FOX and its counterpart MSNBC; each having a singular and opposing voice. Our freedoms are not endangered by the opposing views of Charlie Sykes and Cenk Uygur. What imperils our freedoms is when the voices become limited, unified and homogenized. Maintaining government regulations that prevent broadcast media from monopolizing markets and ideas and creating more regulations that encourage debate by keeping voices diversified … this is the way to regulate the preservation of our freedoms. This is all I have learned today.


James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at