Panel debates human freedom

Greg Roman

Ethics professor Mark Doorley presented a faculty panel discussion on The Cultural Limits of Human Freedom, part of the 2001-2002 Lecture Series on Freedom and Its Limits, on Tuesday. Professors Thomas Smith of the political science department, Paul Wright and Eugene McCarraher of the core humanities department and Susan Mackey-Kallis of the communications department participated in the discussion. The presentation was held in the Connelly Center Cinema.

McCarraher spoke first, discussing the two stages in the evolution of freedom in America. The first phase involved the rise and fall of proprietary ownership freedom. In the early years of the country, property right laws protected an individual’s possessions, but religious fears of guilt often curbed feelings of greed, which kept stealing at a minimum.

This stage of proprietary ownership freedom, however, became almost obsolete after the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution promoted competition, as well as consumer ownership freedom. In the years following the Industrial Revolution, the average American could purchase more goods at lower costs, but he or she could no longer produce all the materials needed for survival. McCarraher related that situation to life today, stating, “Lack of control of the workplace is really losing freedom.”

Mackey-Kallis spoke next, beginning her speech saying, “Freedom is highly overrated.” She addressed her concern that advertising makes products appear magical and also stated that an average American views 3,600 commercial images per day. She believes that the glut of consumerism in modern society infringes on human freedom because it depletes natural resources.

During Wright’s portion of the discussion, he stated that freedom is very much like a narrative fiction, with the fiction coming from the people. “Telling freedom is a form of making it,” Wright said. He also said that freedom presumes autonomy and that the homogenization of ideals is the greatest threat to freedom. Smith, the final speaker, evaluated freedom and culture as a product of civilization. He said that the beginnings of civilization could be found during the Enlightenment period. “Freedom is always available, but you need to face what it means to be free,” Smith said. He also warned that freedom must sometimes be fought for and individuals must think independently to be free.

In his or her own way, each speaker addressed modern society’s obsession with consumerism. “Consumerism is about distraction,” McCarraher said. Furthermore, the panel criticized advertising for displaying attitudes of shallowness. Panelists also commented upon the trend of non-judgmental thinking in American, as consumerism thrives when its source is not questioned.