What we need to be free

If we focus on ensuring and investing in everyone's freedom, we might find real freedom the cure to our futurelessnesss.

I have spent a lot of time over the last few years thinking about freedom and the direction of humanity. At the beginning of last year's pandemic lock down, I brought some of those thoughts into the light in the context of the Democratic primary that had just finished and the recovery that would inevitably come and that we are now in the midst of: How We Choose to Recover Will Set the Tone for the Next Century

This July Fourth, I find myself out in the world in new ways but wrestling with the same questions about what it means to be free in modern America. Despite living in a democratic republic, we are constantly confronted by various forms of subtle and not-so-subtle tyranny. And we suffer these tyrannies in deeply unequal ways —and some much more than others.

Michael Sandel wraps all of these together under the idea of the Tyranny of Merit — the chance for a particular kind of social and economic achievement that we have substituted for meaning in modern society. But like Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, we often see freedom cast in the negative, in what we need freedom from. I want to talk about what ensures freedom.

[Those of you who have talked with me about this idea of A Generative America will recognize some of this thinking. It is time to start bringing it out into the world, to offer a new path that begins with a better recovery.]

Freedom is the key to creativity, to imagination, to living lives of our own direction and calling. And freedom requires a level of confidence and safety about both our present and our future that allow us a longer horizon and the ability to plan, to envision, and to play with the possibility of a world different than our own. It requires a belief, faith in a future where we thrive. Reimagining our relationships to resources especially food and reexamining our definitions of meaning and progress is our path to that confidence and safety. The necessary connection between security, certainty, and freedom is not new, merely lost.

Our public systems have freed private markets that were not designed to elevate everyone and are increasingly monopolistic engines of inequality (not security or freedom) rather than freeing the people. Without real freedom, planning becomes a futile exercise in reinforcing our lack of agency and makes the ambition of long-term ideas and engaging with long-term challenges like our relationship to the earth impossible. We must redeem ourselves with a new narrative that bridges our current efficiency-centric, economic-value based view of growth at all costs, that substitutes technological progress for human progress with real freedom, a renewed commitment to being part of the community of life rather than its enemy, and a true sense of meaning greater than our capacity to generate wealth.

Our story, the one that will carry us into the 22nd century, is one of both possibility and redemption. A story where our base social contract ensures that all talent rises no matter where it comes from, that all possibility is realized, and that when we fall, that redemption is always one of those possibilities. Where our country invests in all of us. Where our policies and systems are generative. Where we all belong to and believe in our collective striving rather than a zero-sum death match of self-centeredness. We must reclaim our commitment to real progress and not an industrial lie that defines our progress in purely technological or economic terms. We are community beings. We are at our best when we are committed to each other's possibilities. We revel in the success of our families. The more of our neighbors we see as family, the more people for whom we can hold that same level of commitment, the stronger our communities will become. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. We can transform our petty, anxious view of the future into a thriving excitement at what is possible, a future unleashed by generative competition and the boundless, joyous ambition of creative, free minds. And in that transformation, we are free to answer for ourselves what our lives mean and how we choose to give them meaning, and together build a society where our economy is harnessed to drive human progress rather than our current systems that harness humanity to drive economic growth.

I invite you to use this day to imagine how your life might be different if our society and systems were designed to ensure and invest in your (and everyone's) freedom.

Much more to come.