mainly thoughts about freedom

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After a couple more days of chaos and business, I have time again to sit and think. Hurray!

I think back to Sunday, and taking my children to church. I remember how my most high strung child ended up sitting between a woman he barely knows and me, and how it wasn’t until I moved to give him more space that he calmed down a bit and stopped misbehaving (as much). I think of after the seat-rearrangement my three year old reaching out to stroke her older brother’s shoulder and tell him it would be okay. There is a part at the service where the children go to the front of the church and the minister speaks directly to them and this time the minister doing the service told them about her experience on a pilgrimage and had the children take a “prayer rock” and walk around with it before placing it somewhere on the alter. I remember my son’s smile at me as he placed his in what he thought was the best most interesting hiding spot. It was a mischievous proud smile and though he had spent the previous fifteen minutes fidgeting, making faces and noises too loud for a child his age, I had this sense from his smile that he wanted me to share his joy in his little accomplishment. It was his invitation to me to rejoice with him and he followed it up with a few minutes of leaning his head on my shoulder before going downstairs to the Sunday school class. So the kids, and seeing things from their perspective, is one of the things I’ve been thinking about. Then there’s other things too.

There is a dust storm brewing up inside my mind, waiting to be given a chance to be smoothed out in the written word. I’ve had a couple of other moments recently where I could see other people’s points of view for a moment. There was a blog post I had commented on disagreeing with the author, and when the author responded back (insultingly) I realized that the difference in disagreement goes much deeper than I thought. Though the real topic of the post was about qualifications for a people speaking on a subject, the side topic was related to safety of unlicensed midwives in the United States and whether attempts to regulate midwives shuts down “women’s freedom to make their own choices.” What blew my mind was realizing the author didn’t just want home births to be legal but to have unlicensed midwives funded by insurance companies, affordable and accessible and anything less would be cutting into women’s freedom.

The same idea about freedom comes up with regards to abortion. Is it enough to have abortion legal? Most would recognize that there’s an economic component and that a person lacks the freedom of abortion if it is not affordable and accessible for that matter. But what about people standing outside a hospital protesting? Does that infringe on a person’s freedom to have an abortion? What about for other people to write blog posts about how they believe abortion kills a child? Does that infringe on someone else’s freedom? What if those blog posts and protesting could lead to abortion being made illegal? Then it would infringe. So to some people the protest itself is a threat to their freedom because if effective it would shut down their freedom. And yet, people have the freedom to protest, right? Or to write about their thoughts? Or… not? Is something hate speech if it encourages legislation that would infringe upon someone’s freedom?

What does freedom mean to you? Do you need other people to approve of your decision, perhaps to support it financially, for you to be free to do something? Are we free to do things that are difficult?

I do believe that poverty restrains a person’s freedom. A poor person does not have as many choices as a person with abundant wealth. I don’t believe we should police how those on social assistance spend their money, so why should I believe that insurance companies should restrict paying for untrained midwives, if that’s what the client wants? Except at the same time paying would give the midwives credibility which they don’t deserve and possibly lead people to think that they are safer than they are. Maybe the insurance companies should help oversee that patients get informed consent?

By untrained midwives I’m meaning the barely trained Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) who go ahead and refuse to risk anyone out of a homebirth, calling even breach homebirths after caesareans a “variation of the normal”. Unable to recognize that certain things are warning signs they too often encourage their clients to go without proper medical intervention, insisting that childbirth is inherently safe if you trust it enough. The internet is filled with countless stories praising them for allowing women to feel empowered during their births but also with a growing number of stories of families who paid the incredible price of a dead baby for believing the midwives assurances. The topic brings up all sorts of questions of what it means to have informed consent. Can a midwife who denies the existence of danger really give informed consent for anything? But if “informed consent” means being fed a standard party line (developed presumably by doctors), does that mean enforcing thought control? Can a person who doubts the current research give informed consent? Or perhaps they have access to an alternative understanding of the world (a natural or holistic approach?), and their view should be given equal balance?

The question of the validity of different viewpoints comes up in so many different ways. Trinity Western University is a fundamentalist Christian university in British Columbia that claims its being discriminated against by two law societies that refuse to welcome their graduates. One of the main issues the law societies object to is the code of conduct that students have to sign basically banning same sex relationships (and possibly premarital sex). A challenge to B.C. law society accepting them is being posed by pointing out that doing so means that of the collected total of university law student positions, a portion of them (those at TWU) are reserved for non-homosexual people, and this is discrimination. Imagine saying, its okay for school X to not accept black people because hey, there are other schools they can go to? Yet Trinity Western University wants to make itself look like the victims, with a webpage that compares refusing to accept their students into law society as equivalent to banning black people. They want to claim Christianity is being discriminated against, because its now being allowed to discriminate…. to hold discrimination against same sex relationships as a valid alternative viewpoint. I like McLean’s article about how people wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting a law school acting upon its religious beliefs by requiring that “women sign a covenant promising to obey their husbands, or stay silent in church.” Religious freedom only goes so far. But who should draw that line?

I keep thinking of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped because other people want to control how they live their lives. I think also about the book “I am Malala” about Malala Yousafzar and its description of how a radio show helped spread the religious/political beliefs in her valley, until they were living under such control and she was eventually shot for defying the control. Thoughts matter. Ideas matter. Some ideas are incredibly, incredibly dangerous.

Yet I’m not against religion. I think any mind-set, any encompassing set of beliefs, can be dangerous, whether religious or secular. The political beliefs of those defending midwives without education are damaging. The beliefs of those who would vote to cut social assistance and implement workfare policies are damaging. I’m not hung up on whether a bad set of beliefs includes a deity or not, old scriptures or modern webpages.

What does freedom mean?

Some people talk about acting more free, not living in step with cultural expectations. Yet the counter argument to that is that if everyone behaved completely unrestrained by norms we would have unending culture shock, be unable to predict or interpret behaviors. Civility. Civilization. Cultural norms allow us to function. But what then about those who cannot follow cultural norms?

What does freedom mean for a man I know who rejects social norms on the basis of his brain injury? He maintains that he can do anything he wants, he doesn’t have to try to fit in because he can’t and lives this out in little day to day things: like going to a snack table at an event and clearing out all the grapes and strawberries from the fruit tray into a bag to take home before other people had a chance to dish their plates? I know he suffers brain damage. Does he owe it to society to try to fit in at least a little or do we owe it to him as a disabled man to accept that he can’t control himself? Is it being an unaccepting able-ist society to society perpetuating the oppression of the mentally unwell to call him out on his behavior and try to hold him to certain standards (or to refuse him access to things where he is disruptive)?

Freedom. What does freedom mean to people brought up within one set of views? What about purity balls, the bizarre ritual by which 12 year olds pledge to their fathers to stay virgins till married, and their fathers pledge to protect the child’s virginity? Can a child growing up in that context have freedom to make their own choices later? Can a child growing up in a culture that promotes early sexual experimentation really have freedom to choose otherwise either? If certain beliefs are the water in the fishbowl, what separates the beliefs and do we have the freedom to cross out of them? To start believing something different? What does freedom mean to a child living in Bountiful, B.C., in a religious community dominated by patriarchy and polygamy?

Freedom. I’m not entirely sure what it is and the fact I don’t is probably a sign of my privilege. I’m not oppressed. I’m free. And yet freedom isn’t consequence free, and it doesn’t mean everything has to come easy either.

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