You are on page 1of 3

To listen to an audio of this article and find other articles by this author, visit


The Death of Freedom Will Be

Written on August 25, 2007

In our ardent quest to be a nation that supports both freedom and protection, issues over the shifting
balance between civil liberties and government powers have continually been making media headlines.
One story that could play a key role in swaying that balance is the controversy surrounding the National
Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program and the involvement of private telecommunications
companies in that program. But knowing the specific facts of the story itself will not be as important as
understanding the psychological factors influencing how we handle the case and what it says about hu-
man nature and the cause for civil, political, and economic freedom.

One of the biggest obstacles to freedom is dependency. When we depend on a structure for a vital part
of our livelihood, we fear the loss of that structure because it might leave us in a place of uncertainty, or
even chaos. As a result, we tend to refrain from holding these structures accountable for their abuses
against our freedom because doing so could mean losing the stability they bring. We see this very clearly
with grown-up children who continue to depend on their parents and, in doing so, are often willing to
accept their parents’ controlling, invasive, or restrictive ways.

But where does this cycle end? Does it even need to end? Should we simply trust those who provide the
everyday services we depend on regardless of the loss of freedom we might endure? Is there a better
balance between the trust of dependability and the justice of accountability than what we have today?
In the volatile years ahead, our social landscape is certain to change drastically, and it will necessitate
that we discover better answers to these questions. The process has already begun.

In the case of the NSA’s wiretapping, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, recently con-
firmed that private companies did indeed aid the program and then went on to dissuade lawsuits
against these companies, asserting that such lawsuits would then force them to file bankruptcy. He is
correct in acknowledging that we depend on these companies and could not afford them to go down
because of the harm it could do to our communication network. But how then do we hold corporations
accountable for their actions? This question drives right to the heart of the dangers of our philosophy
regarding corporations. What key current paradigms does this issue call into question?

In our current legal framework, corporations are treated as humans and are granted rights that provide
them with certain protections, or freedoms, from government intervention. But you cannot throw a
corporation in prison for breaking the law because the corporation isn’t really a human. It is simply a
structure, or system, that enables humans to more efficiently and effectively carry out their creative en-
deavors. To call a corporation a human would be equivalent to calling a computer a human and giving it
rights. The only difference is that a single computer doesn’t typically have enough importance in the
everyday functioning of our society to warrant the protection needed to continue its operations. But
certain corporations do, and it is this level of dependency that causes us to feel that we need to protect
their well-being – sometimes regardless of what it means for our individual freedoms.

Yet a major problem exists in the fact that corporations, because they are not human, don’t have human
morality. They do not question their actions because they don’t have the ability to think and reflect. The
humans who work within these corporations do that for them. Now, instead of throwing a corporation
in prison, we could fine them. But if we fine them too much, we could seriously hamper services central
to our livelihood. If we fine them too little, the penalty might not exceed the gain they get from breaking
the law, and so they will continue to see profit in illegal endeavors (based on the legally defined purpose
of a corporation it is an entity that must first and foremost strive for profit). Ultimately, what change will
it really effect to penalize corporations that are without the qualities of human morality and reflection
and so will not learn from its mistakes and alter its behaviors?

What then can we do to make sure that we secure our freedoms from abuses? Who then should be held
accountable for actions against our freedoms? Well, if morality is in the human domain, and not in the
corporate domain, then the humans who partake in illegal actions, regardless of whether it is through a
corporation, must be held accountable. So, while McConnell is correct that fining these corporations
could potentially do harm to an essential social system (i.e. telecommunications), it doesn’t mean there
aren’t actions we can take, and the most effective actions will be the ones that treat the problem at its
source rather than enacting Band-aid solutions that condone the very problem and thus enable it to ex-

First, we must work to resolve the issue of dependency and its abuses. Here, fining these corporations
could actually be beneficial– not in a direct attempt to alter their behavior but rather to fund projects
that help citizens shed their unhealthy dependency. For instance, the monies could go toward public
works projects in order to lay down whatever structures might be necessary for free – or at least less
expensive – communication services. Technologies already exist (and are being implemented in other
parts of the world) that could definitely lead us in this direction. And it would also send a message that,
while corporations, like computers, can be a powerful means toward important social ends, they are not
ends in themselves and their freedoms must be balanced by responsibility.

Second, individuals who made the decisions to aid in illegal government acts must be brought to justice.
Currently, being part of a corporation gives individuals certain protections. But where these protections
allow them to avoid moral accountability, we must change our old ways of displacing responsibility and
show corporate leaders that they will be held up to law just as much as any other citizen, regardless of
the importance of their position. We must have the courage to demand that decision-making powers in
corporations are not only earned by the technology you can create and the profit you can make but also
by the ethical standards you hold yourself to.

Ultimately, the courage to enforce such standards must come from three places: the legislative branch,
the judicial branch, and the people. Laws are created to effect social justice. We would not need laws if
we didn’t live in communities. But the world is naturally interdependent, and so laws are necessary to
abide by. In my book, Thriving at the Brink of Disaster, I explain that policies of justice must be based on
both individual and collective rights, and our government is in charge of making sure that those rights
are upheld. Congress must fulfill its role in representing the people by enacting laws that hold individu-
als working within corporations and governments accountable for decisions and actions that unnecessa-
rily infringe on the general population’s rights. We also need a judicial system that will enforce these
laws with vigor. And we need the people to stand for their rights.

Every major revolution of the world was in the name of greater individual freedom from the imposition
of a larger authority. Every major revolution of the world came from a brave decision to reclaim, or to
claim for the first time, the power of individual choice to create a new world instead of giving into the
dependencies that had been built from the past. We will face these same decisions, and we can follow
them through to the end by using the current system to change the system, or we can wait for the erup-
tion that takes place when you hold back the innate human desire for freedom. In that case, the death
of freedom will be a provocation for the cause of freedom.

To learn more about the path to greater freedom,

you can purchase Thriving at the Brink of Disaster at:

To begin applying the ideas in this article to your own life, answer the questions below:

- In what ways are you dependent on other people or on the government?

- Do you let your dependencies infringe upon your freedom? Do they prevent you from seeking what
you truly desire to do with your life?

- Do you let others abuse your dependence on them by allowing them to sway you against what you de-
sire or against what you believe is “right?”

- How can you rise above the expectations and coercions that come from those you depend on?

- What can you do to create a greater sense of independence? What insecurities are preventing you
from doing so? What can you do to overcome these insecurities?

- What new choices do you need to make in order to depend more on people who won’t use your de-
pendence to influence your direction and principles in life?

- What would do with more freedom in your life? What would you learn? What would you create? How
would you contribute?