In case you haven’t noticed, America is absolutely crazy about freedom.
Well, not necessarily ‘freedom’, per se, but Freedom™ — as brought to you by the United States of America. You know, stars, stripes, and unalienable rights. The freedoms of speech, press, petition, assembly, and religion. The freedom to purchase guns and the free market system. Fat-free, meat-free, free of blemishes and human deficiency (à la Hollywood); discrimination-free, segregation-free, free to think what you want, do what you want, and achieve what you want regardless of sex, race, religion, or disability.
(Well, more or less.)
Regardless, America is crazy about Freedom™. It’s the national brand we think everyone should have, whether they like it or not. Need some liberty and justice for all? Just leave it to America: Team World Defense Force Extraordinaire! Bringing Freedom™ to Planet Earth Since 1776. (#FoundingFathersFTW!!!) We’ve certainly made our name over the years as being a half-bright, hot-tempered, self-effacing, optimistic, opinionated, world-hungry teenager of a country, legally emancipated but still rebellious as hell and whiny about silly things. Our normative ‘should’ is a strong one, and we like to think that everyone can get along.
(Well, more or less.)
But my aim is not to ream America for being what it is. Freedom™ is a fascinating (and often humorous) American brand that has as many drawbacks as benefits, but one of its less glamorous principles actually turns out to be one its most crucial ones.
That is, the freedom to be stupid.
Aha, yes, because Americans are known for not being the sharpest bulbs in the box – but seriously, the right to be stupid – or to think and voice things that nobody else agrees with – is maybe one of the greatest things about Freedom™. Sure, the side effect may be a lot of myopic soapboxing, but, as US Secretary of State John Kerry puts it, in the wake of stupidity follows tolerance. And tolerance is what the world needs a lot of right now. In today’s global environment, discovering freedom will mean learning to tolerate and adapt to more information quicker than ever before, and chances are much of it will be stupid. We’ll continue to experience our fellow humans proudly expressing their own shortsightedness, bigotry, and just plain wrongness, but this is all okay. Expression is what connects us with others and forces us to reconsider our own beliefs, stupid or not. And besides, we’re all stupid at some point or another; humans aren’t exactly poster children of perfect intelligence.
So when we equate stupid to intolerable, we don’t do ourselves any favors. That’s when we start to suppress and silence, and what could have been dynamic, messy progress becomes stagnant. We start to fear others, resent judgment, and before we know it we’re lashing out with war instead of hashing out our differences with words. And if anything is beyond stupid, it’s hurting each other over our differences.
So when you hear something stupid today (as, chances are, you will), think of Freedom™. Maybe giggle a little as you consider all the silly things to be found out there in the world – all the idiosyncrasies and idiocies that make humans the endearing and frustrating creatures that we are. As an American, I feel obligated to insist that we can build a better, shinier future that’s full of freedom, and not just the peculiar, airbrushed American brand. It’s no secret that America has a long way to go before she starts practising what she preaches, and that stupidity too often feels like nothing but a waste of time, but I’m certain that it can actually be the first, beautiful step on the road to progress and mutual understanding.
(Well. More or less.)