Monday, December 17, 2018

Inborn Love of Freedom

In a conversation earlier today, a friend posited the idea that wanting freedom might be an inborn trait. His story was about the Reivers, a border people between Scotland and England, mainly from around the 1300s for several centuries, who were among his ancestors. These people didn’t like being beholden to distant monarchs—who often used them, one against the other, in border disputes. Instead, these people claimed the right to rule themselves.

The painting "Auld Wat of Harden" by Tom Scott
image from Wikipedia

And later, a number of their posterity—including my friend’s ancestors—came to America seeking freedom. As he tells it, about half the warriors in the Revolutionary War were of Scottish heritage, many from this border area of the Reivers. So they naturally understood and wanted freedom--and maybe those who came from them do too.

I hadn’t heard this little bit of history before, so I came home and looked them up on Wikipedia.  Sometimes referred to as Border Reivers, they were a somewhat unruly bunch. Some monarchs encouraged and supported them; others tightened rules on them.

Either way, the term reivers means raiders; they raided and stole cattle and other property wherever they felt entitled or thought they could get away with it. But there had to be some order, so they set up their own laws, called March law or Border law. These were tribal people, divided by family, or clan—the terms family and clan were used interchangeably until around the 19th Century when convention gave to term clan to Highlanders and family to Lowlanders. Every clan, or family, was represented by a chief, or warden. They felt family loyalty much more strongly than they felt loyalty to king or country.

19th-Century print of "Reivers at Gilnockie Tower"
image from Wikipedia

My friend had mentioned that many family names of our Revolutionary War fighters show up again and again, such as Armstrong—as in astronaut Neil Armstrong. So I looked up some of the names. Here’s a partial list.


I’ve known people by most of these surnames. My own heritage is well over 50% Scandinavian, but the next biggest portion is probably Scottish. I didn’t find my direct line there, however. Still, if I did, I’d feel like it partially explains the seemingly inborn drive for freedom I have.

Back in 2003, George W. Bush gave a speech about believing all people long to be free and rule themselves. And it rang true to me. Seeing circumstances play out, however, it looks as though many people in the world value other things—power, status, security, ethnic loyalty—more than they value freedom. I don’t know if it’s because they aren’t accustomed to it, or aware of what it feels like or how it must be tied to personal responsibility. How could a person prefer to have someone else rule them, to make decisions about their life, and how they’ll spend it—and how they’ll spend the fruits of their labors? Aren’t there “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?

I know far more about what I am good at, what I want to do with my life, and how I want to spend my money than anyone else—let alone a faraway bureaucrat who hasn’t even met me. That seems so self-evident to me that I’m puzzled when it isn’t obvious to others.

But maybe there are two types of people:

·         Those who want freedom to ________________.
·         Those who want freedom from ______________.
The first want freedom to do, to live, to spend, to decide. Those are the real freedom lovers. And maybe it is inborn; I’m exploring that as at least an influence. There may be some credence to it. Malcolm Gladwell has a chapter (chapter 6) in his book Outliers on people from honor societies—and how they behave even centuries after being taken out of that milieu. There’s good and bad about them. And J. D. Vance talks about the Scottish heritage people who settled in middle America, often in Rust Belt states, mentioning some of the same good and bad. But along with whatever else, there’s a stubborn independent streak. The Trump campaign understood and tapped into that worldview.

And then there are those who want “freedom” from want, from worry, from risk, from hunger, from need. And those are the ones who look to some ever-present nanny-type entity, such as a monarch, a dictator, an expert, to govern and decide in such a way that they don’t have to think about it or worry about how to solve their own problems.

This second type are the ones falling prey to the socialists—who are offering free stuff. Relief from worry about healthcare costs, or education costs, or getting a job, or consequences from bad choices.
Where do these people, of this non-freedom-loving type, come from? Is the lack of longing for freedom inborn in them? Or do they develop that out of fear and occasional failure? I don’t know. When they show up in Texas, we don’t look at their family name so much as where they came from—and we can probably see them coming from California, New York, Washington, DC, or some other enclave of socialistic tyranny.

My guess is that there is some nature and nurture involved in the love of freedom and independence. Even among those who have it, it can be lost—by losing hope, and giving in to fear, self-pity, and indulgence. But I also think it can be gained by people who experience the misery of being controlled and find that they do indeed “yearn to breathe free.”

I would rather we awaken people to their longing for freedom without all of us having to go through the deprivation of it that socialism makes inevitable to every people who give in to it.

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