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Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

2009 August 6
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by Julie Clawson

So a few weeks ago, John O’hara posted this prompt on his facebook status update – “Finish the sentence – Freedom is…” The answers given included everything from “…what christ paid for on the cross” to “…the ability to walk around your house butt-naked without repercussions.” I was feeling random, so I offered up the classic Janis Joplin lyric “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I’ve never really thought about it, but since posting that, I’ve had to consider how true that lyric often is.

The concept of freedom is of course an emotional issue in the U.S. We are fond of the phrase “freedom isn’t free” and are told to honor the soldiers in Iraq for “ensuring our freedom.” Neither of those phrases in the way they are typically used have anything to do with freedom and usually have more to do with justifying the restriction of freedoms. So needless to say, discussions regarding freedom these days are a bit skewed. In my understanding of the concept, freedom means being free from oppression. That oppression can of course take many forms – including control, enslavement, or even fear. The thing is, no one is ever truly free from all forms of oppression. There is always something controlling us – using fear to keep us where they want us to be. So in light of that, the only people who are truly free are those who just don’t care about what will happen to them if they resist the oppression. In short, the people who have true freedom are those with nothing left to lose.

A few different things have me thinking about this. First, as I’ve been rereading and rewatching Harry Potter, I am amazed yet again at Rowling’s nuanced presentation of evil and oppression. Evil insinuates itself in that world slowly. It starts with minor restrictions of freedom – a teacher punishing students for telling the truth or the government not letting the newspaper report the real news. Lies are spread, loyalties questioned, and little by little the freedoms disappear, until non-pureblood wizards are being round-up and others are going into hiding. Those who speak out against the oppression face dire consequences – like the kidnapping and torture of their children. In the end it is only Harry Potter, the orphan who has lost nearly everyone he loves, – who truly has nothing left to lose – who has the freedom to stand up to the oppression.

Then this past week I read of the start of trials of protesters in Iran. The New York Times reported, “The Iranian authorities opened an extraordinary mass trial against more than 100 opposition figures on Saturday, accusing them of conspiring with foreign powers to stage a revolution through terrorism, subversion, and a media campaign to discredit last month’s presidential election.” Those that raised their voices for freedom are now bearing the brunt of oppression. Similar thing with the journalists who are now (thankfully) free from their captivity in North Korea. While they were trying to bring truth to the world, they both had a lot to lose in the process. Hearing the story of Euna Lee’s 4 year old daughter who was told during her mother’s captivity that “mommy was at work” broke my heart. I don’t know if I could be willing to risk never seeing my children again in order to fight oppression.

I know that making sacrifices is a basic part of fighting for freedom. If no one was willing to take risks – sacrificing their families and even their own lives, then oppression would simply continue. But those sacrifices are chosen. People have to be willing to pay the price to seek freedom. When oppression can’t demand a price of us, it has no power over us. So either society grants us that freedom or we decide that we don’t care what others may do to us – but either way we are only free when we’ve got nothing left to lose.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. August 9, 2009

    There used to be a sign on the road that passed an air force base near our city: “Thundering jets — the sound of freedom”. And every time I passed it I wanted to puke, because those jets were there to ensure that we remained oppressed.

  2. nadav permalink
    August 13, 2009

    nice article/

  3. Dan Geer permalink
    December 10, 2009

    After a career of thinking about it, I conclude that the source of risk is dependency, including dependency on expectations, and that security is the state of no unmitigatable surprises. Your evocation of Janis Joplin speaks to this: with nothing left to lose there is no dependency and, thus, security via risk-less-ness. Salvation is both opposite and apposite: it is the mitigation for every possible contingency.

  4. Andrew Maggard permalink
    July 12, 2013

    “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose”, Let them take your guns and see how this resonates among the remaining slaves.

  5. Dave permalink
    January 10, 2014

    The thing that I see here in this article and its respondents which is so disturbingly similar to so many others in our present day is the tendency to look at or for the philosophical negative. If a person is, for some irrational excuse, anti-military, then any military presence equates to all that is ill in the world. This attitude seems to focus on 2 topics, military and religion. Both of these attitudes are shared with and between the utopian and the Marxist world view. In both there is universal “kindness” where a religion to anything but the state is unnecessary, and in their martial world domination a protective military is obsolete.
    In this article, this attitude is betrayed by the avoidance of the recognition of the difference between the definitions of freedom and liberty. Clawson writes, Neither of the phrases “ensuring our freedom” & “freedom isn’t free” have anything to do with freedom and usually have more to do with justifying the restriction of freedoms, which is a statement which demonstrates a fundamental lack of appreciation of freedom and liberty. How, Ms. Clawson, is the phrase “ensuring our freedom” justifying the restriction of our “freedoms”? Same question for “freedom isn’t free”? Also, that both quotes use the term and properly refer to freedom, yet have nothing to do with freedom on the one hand and justify the restrictions of freedoms on the other is contradictory. My point in asking these questions is to show the contradictions in her article and her confusion in writing, “justifying the restriction of freedoms” with, ” justifying the restriction of liberties”. I’m writing this in the way that I am to show that this is a big deal. When you start making these mistakes, you allow others to make the same mistakes. When that happens, they will confuse the two and use that as a tool to claim one and take the other.
    Freedom: The power or right to be as one wants.
    Liberty: the power of choice
    a: the right to act as one pleases
    b: protection from physical restraint
    c: protection from arbitrary or despotic control
    d: The right to worship
    e: The right of protection
    f: the right to speak
    g: the right to think as one wants without hindrance or restraint
    h: the positive enjoyment of various privileges without hindrance or restraint.
    Do you want to be whatever you want? That’s freedom.
    Do you want to make of that being whatever you choose, even if that “thing” does not yet exist? That’s Liberty.

  6. K Larry Richie permalink
    November 18, 2015

    …I am debt free…I have been debt free since spring of 2000…For me–being debt free allows me to enjoy…”Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”…I go where I want–when I want–stay as long as I want…The stay as long is not too long because I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren…I just have one child–a daughter/she is married with four children…

  7. K Larry Richie permalink
    November 18, 2015

    …I am debt free…I have been debt free since spring of 2000…For me–being debt free allows me to enjoy…”Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”…I go where I want–when I want–stay as long as I want…The stay as long is not too long because I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren…I just have one child–a daughter/she is married with four children…I retired and became single again December of 2003…

  8. K Larry Richie permalink
    November 18, 2015

    …I am debt free…I have been debt free since spring of 2000…For me–being debt free allows me to enjoy…”Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”…I go where I want–when I want–stay as long as I want…The stay as long is not too long because I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren…I just have one child–a daughter/she is married with four children…I became single again May of 2003 and am still singles–I retired December of 2003…..

  9. K Larry Richie permalink
    November 18, 2015

    …I am debt free…I have been debt free since spring of 2000…For me–being debt free allows me to enjoy…”Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”…I go where I want–when I want–stay as long as I want…The stay as long is not too long because I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren…I just have one child–a daughter/she is married with four children…I became single again May of 2003 and am still single–I retired December of 2003…..

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