Remember Freedom fries?

A brief refresher. France opposed invading Iraq back in ’03, and went so far as to threaten to veto any United Nations resolution endorsing an invasion. We, on the other hand, were cheerleaders for a war.  Of course France had a point. No Weapons of Mass Destruction were found, but for some members of Congress, France’s lack of solidarity was too much. The French were traitorous. In response to their dastardly defiance, two Republican Congressmen saw to it that the House cafeterias changed their menus. And so it came to pass: French fries were now Freedom fries in the Halls of Congress.*

Granted, supporters of the name should have given it more thought. After all, who knows where such things could lead? Perhaps to “Chinese food” becoming “Freedom food” one day.

But I’m not here to talk about cuisine and freedom, a rather dubious and rarefied topic. I am here to talk about how a grand word like freedom became debased, deformed, and demoted. It’s now an appendage, a weird commodity that doesn’t itself sell for a price, but is used to sell other commodities, whether they are fries, cars, pillows, footwear, checking, internet services, or politicians. Stick the word freedom near your product or service, and voila, you’ve got a winner. Try to define freedom, well, that’s another story. (Exactly what does freedom mean in Freedom fries? I mean, besides, don’t dare disagree with us or we will fail you on our Freedom test.)

The last couple of years have been especially good for Freedom, a hot commodity on a serious roll. If Freedom were a company on the stock exchange, it would have given bitcoin a run for its money. For example, Biden could have made a killing in his “Summer of Freedom” before the stock crashed on Delta’s shores.

However, we have mostly seen Freedom used as a counterpoint to measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid.  Rules that required people to wear masks or change their typical routines were stamped as tyranny by Republican freedom fighters. Live free or wear a mask. The mindless simplicity of this position is best equated with toddlers who repetitively say, No!  This isn’t freedom. It’s impulsivity rewarded with a tag it doesn’t deserve.

I’ve spent over forty years teaching philosophy, and I can tell you that there is no simple definition of a term as rich as freedom. It deserves better than the 280 characters that Twitter allows.

Fear not. I’m not going to try to define it here. I’ve tried too many times in too many places to explain why simplistic definitions of freedom can’t cut it for a functioning society. But hell, you know what, I’m tired of fighting the tide. I am going to go with it. Forget what I’ve said. I don’t really care if the word has any meaning. All I care about is selling what I think is right. It’s America. I think using masks is the right thing to do in a pandemic, therefore I am going to try to sell it by introducing Freedom Masks.

  • They keep you free of Covid, short or long-term, providing hours of freedom at no additional cost.
  • They keep you free from hospitalization.
  • They keep you free from spreading the disease.
  • They keep you free from death. (Yes, “free from death” may sound a bit strange at first, yet, not really stranger than other uses.)

If the government tries to undermine or dismiss the Freedom Mask, I’m going get into a gigantic red rig, ride into Washington, or wherever, honk my horn, keep people awake, block traffic, and scare citizens. Screw them. Freedom is my co-pilot.

And here is the punch line: If our government had actually thought to call them Freedom Masks, hired a first-rate advertising firm to sell them, told every government expert on TV to refer to masks as Freedom Masks, while making them readily available at no cost, there would have been less Covid in America.

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* See the Wikipedia article on “Freedom fries” for more information. Many Americans thought the idea silly. Yet, in 2005, after support for the war had begun to erode, 33% of Americans thought the idea patriotic, not silly. The other 66% thought it silly. (Does that 33% figure sound familiar?)

Photo, Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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Title change, February 11, 2022, from “Freedom Masks! (or freedom is just another word),” to present title.

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