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Discovering Freedom

We, who live and probably grew up in America, should already understand freedom well, but when I tried to describe it, I found that I was not sufficiently articulate in its defense. It is more complex that it appears on the surface. CivicWiki is an odyssey to understand freedom and apply its principles. We start from a premise that freedom is good. Nevertheless, today, even that must be defended. CW seeks to understand freedom thoroughly, what it is, what is good about it, why we should want it, why it is important; and to understand how much we can retain as individuals and how much must be given up to ensure social order. Understanding requires sorting through the concept of rights--what they are and what they aren't--where they start and stop. Developing this understanding is a philosophical and historical pursuit; so, part of CivicWiki is devoted to this pursuit. However, CW is intended to be philosophical and historical only to the point that we become smart enough to engage in the more important parts of our efforts.

More importantly, CW is an application of the principles of liberty to the question of how we want government to behave and how we must treat and trade with one another--what we must tolerate and, perhaps what cannot be tollerated. Perhaps, most importantly - at least for some of the CW audience - CW is an application of our understanding to debates about the issues that come up in today's economic, social, and political life. So we have to understand what we mean by freedom, its social evolution, and the form of government and its institutions that will ensure it.

To those for whom all this 'understanding' stuff is a bit dry and who want simply to get to the arguments, it is very easy to go straight to the issue debates. You'll find the link on the main page.

CivicWiki has started as the project of one person (encouraged and supported by a few others). (I hope that will change, and hope that CW attracts a few that that have taken the trouble to understand some of the pieces of freedom's puzzle and who can write and edit CW articles.) So, perhaps a personal statement is in order.

Growing up in the U.S., I considered myself free. And for the most part that was true, though that truth continually changes. I became interested in personal freedom in college, prodded by an intellectual friend who had been doing a lot of reading and wanted me to suffer along and discuss. This friend was a libertarian. Throughout this, the desirability of, and the meaning of freedom seemed sufficiently self-evident to me that I assumed that pretty much everyone else felt the same way. I truly did not perceive anti-freedom tendencies in others that I did not interpret as a total absence of self esteem or a desire for power to direct the actions of others. Who among us likes to be told what to do? I essentially became a libertarian and, perhaps consistent with youth, disdained others who were not of like mind. However, my friend presented me with an irritating thought which struck me as true. He asserted that, though we supported our beliefs with logic, it was our emotional make-up that was the basis of belief -- i.e., none of us are Dr. Spock.
Since then, I have done a lot more reading as well as living. While my fundamental beliefs have not changed, my understanding of them has broadened and deepened. Perhaps more importantly, a more conscious understanding of the implications of my friends assertion has softened my reaction to those who think differently. That I still believe as I did and that those beliefs appear to be at odds with about half of America (at least on the surface), and that the consequences of our differences seem to take on increasing importance, I became interested in better understanding the whole thing -- the philosophical and historical fundamentals, the beginnings and evolution of our government, my own beliefs, the beliefs of others, and how we can at least find enough common ground to communicate civilly and objectively. It is my objective that the CW audience be drawn into a Discovery of Freedom and that we can apply what we learn to debating the issues, so that we at least better understand and better trust each other's motives. If that sounds simple, it is not.

A few words about the tone of Civicwiki: we'll keep it civil and friendly - even when our differences are deep. CW will not engage in argument that simply pushes hot buttons. When politicians of any stripe engage in that, and it seems that is all many of them do, what I hear is that they think very little of my intelligence and maturity. One evening a decade or so ago in a small town near where I live, I attended a campaign rally for an aspiring congressman. He and a former Vice President showed up. They pretty much shouted an inflammatory speech about the evil that would befall us if we lost to the other side and then they left. I shrugged it off as politics and voted for the guy, but the rally was insulting and left a bad taste in my mouth. Most of politics has become insulting. CW will do its best to avoid doing that. When we describe a position or our differences, we will do our best to be objective, unemotional, and respectful, to rely on fact and reason, to understand and discuss. Respect for each other, even if we have to force ourselves at times, is a ground rule.