The Statue of Responsibility
"With great power comes great responsibility." Voltaire, Winston Churchill, Spiderman's Uncle Ben and many others.
Freedom and liberty are great concepts, but few of us truly understand what they mean. The term "liberty" is abused by politicians and pundits to excuse some of the most reprehensible behavior there is. The only people who can truly claim 100% liberty to do whatever they please are living alone in the wilderness, and even they are reined in by the constraints of nature. For the rest of us, our liberty ends when it harms those around us. You don't fart in a crowded elevator, you don't yell "fire" in a movie theater, and you don't get to behave like a three-year-old once you reach the age of four.
The great writer Victor Frankl, writing in his masterpiece, Man's Search for Meaning, said this:
"Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast."
Were Frankl still alive today, he would be shocked at the stupidity that still masquerades as people expressing their freedoms and liberties. In the face of global pandemic and a communicable disease, millions have ignored pleas of public health officials in the name of freedom to live they way they want to- avoiding scientifically proven precautions. A Libertarian ethos has permeated the US economy, giving everybody the freedom to starve in poverty, while Ayn Rand acolytes bemoan the lower classes that are weighing down on their freedom to keep all of their money. And the challenge of the 21st century, climate change, has run into a brick wall of denialism and pleas to let us all keep our fossil-fuel dependent lifestyles untouched.
As Frankl wrote, Freedom by itself is meaningless. It's like the boys in Pinocchio's Pleasure Island running around mindlessly eating and gambling as if there were never any consequences. But there are always consequences, even if we can't see them. That's what Frankl meant by Freedom being only half of the truth. To truly work for humanity, it must be coupled with responsibility. Your freedom to behave any way you want is fine, as long as you take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. If you harm others while expressing your freedoms, you have a duty to rectify the situation.
The Statue of Responsiblity is a real thing, already designed and planned for the West Coast. The planners are collecting funds now to try to erect this 300 foot statue, possibly headed for the San Diego area. They have a website- Statueofresponsibility.com, and have signed up a long list of supporters such as Jack Canfield, Ryan Holiday, Oprah Winfrey,and Barack Obama. Its idea originated with Victor Frankl, and the statue's sculptor and backers all are using Frankl's words as their inspiration. And if anybody can appreciate the values of freedom and responsibility, a survivor of Auschwitz death camps has a unique perspective.
The Statue of Liberty is a wonderful monument to freedom from oppression, which has been humanity's constant curse for centuries. It was inspired by Frenchmen after the US finally defeated slavery in 1865, and the move away from slavery liberated not only the slaves but the slaveholders as well. It has been seen as a beacon of hope and freedom ever since its construction in 1875. But it was never meant to be a symbol of entitlement and doing whatever you want. Freedom always comes with strings attached.
If you've ever given up your freedom to enter into marriage, you know the tradeoffs. In exchange for giving up some of your freedoms voluntarily, you get the riches of family life and all the responsibilities that come with it. The same can be said of opening up a business- you can't operate your business without taking into account its impact on your employees, the environment, and the community that supports you. There are tradeoffs everywhere, and that is as it should be.
So with the Second Amendment freedom to bear lethal weapons comes the sober responsibility of locking up those weapons and keeping them from unintended uses. With the freedom to assemble in large groups comes the responsibility of making sure that if you could be carrying a deadly contagious disease- to protect yourself and those you contact. And with the freedom to say and believe whatever you want comes with it the responsibility to know that words have impact and power and that with the internet they can multiply exponentially. Believe what you want, but be vigilant against spreading rumors and baseless conspiracy theories, which can tear entire societies apart.
I recently saw another Spiderman movie, (No Way Home), and the statement at the top of this essay came back at a powerful moment. We all have great power these days (more than we realize)- with our money, votes, words, and deeds. This power can change lives for the better or for the worse. We have an obligation to use it wisely and responsibly, just as Spiderman does.