My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

The tenuous nature of freedom

Many of us are lucky to live in a country that allows us to claim "freedom"--freedom of expression, freedom from persecution, freedom to assemble, protest, etc. Sometimes we take that freedom for granted. Sometimes, we forget that most of the world doesn't share this precious resource--or if they do, it comes with strings attached.

I've been watching the situation in Tibet unfold over the past several days. And I can't help but think: that could be me. If my situation were just a little different, if I had been born elsewhere or if our government changed ... that could easily be me.

Could it? Am I talking crazy? Maybe, but then something like this happens and reminds me how fragile the Internet is. The Internet is the information age's symbol for freedom and democracy. It is the "great equalizer" that allows everyone to have his or her say. Sites like YouTube and Digg put the power in the hands of the users, letting them get their content out to the world. But as conceptually liberal as the Internet is, it is still at the mercy of corporations and governments who control the network infrastructure and software that keeps it going. You may think you're free, but you aren't.

So what if we weren't free? Would you, if you lived without freedom of speech--if you could be arrested for writing a blog entry that criticizes your government--rise up against the government? I'm not necessarily talking violence here. Even just passive resistance. Or would you just accept this new way of life and go on living? I don't know. I would very much like to say that I would fight against the oppression of free speech, but if that meant losing all the stuff that's normal to me, maybe even becoming a fugitive or being incarcerated for decades ... I can't say with certainty I'd do it. I'd like to think I would, but I don't know.

Don't take your freedoms for granted just because they're written down on an ageing piece of paper preserved in a museum. Don't get complacent. Freedom is precious. Live it.