Freedom vs. Order

NOTE: Today’s post references an event in Episode 15 of The Mandalorian. While there’s not really any significant spoilers other than a couple of character names, if you’re avoiding any information at all about the show, skip today’s post.

You see, boys, everybody thinks they want freedom, but what they really want is order. And when they realize that, they’re gonna welcome us back with open arms.

Imperial officer Valen Hess says this to The Mandalorian and Migs Mayfield as they have a tense standoff in the episode. I know the phrase has been used many times before in other contexts, but it struck home to me while watching the show a couple of nights ago.

Another way to put it is the old saying that Benito Mussolini, fascist leader of Italy from 1922 to 1943, did a lot of terrible things, but “at least he made the trains run on time.” The idea is that, while dictators may decimate individual civil rights (sometimes called “freedom”), the benefits of their centrally-controlled infrastructure improvements are worth the tradeoff. Unfortunately, according to Snopes.com, Mussolini didn’t actually make Italy’s trains run on time. His propaganda ministry told everyone that the trains now gloriously ran on time, and after enough repetition, people began to believe it – or at least feared what might happen if they suggested that their train was late.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about “freedom” during the Trump presidency. Freedom to own assault rifles; freedom to discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people; freedom not to wear a simple cloth mask to slow down the spread of a deadly virus. But that’s not freedom, that’s selfishness. It demands individual freedom to do whatever one chooses, regardless of the effects on others. We don’t have that kind of freedom in the United States, and we never have. We have laws that govern our interactions with each other. You can’t murder someone; you can’t drive 100 mph through a neighborhood (or on a freeway, for that matter); you can’t sell faulty merchandise, lie on your taxes, or discriminate against someone when you’re hiring.

Whether you get caught doing those things is immaterial. They’re still illegal, and even if some people get away with them sometimes, the laws prohibiting that type of anti-social behavior generally work pretty well in restraining our darker impulses.

As Valen Hess suggests, though, often we’re less interested in “freedom,” which admittedly is a broad and difficult to define concept, and more interested in “order,” which is easier to know when we see it. Order implies the existence of the rule of law, of course, but it can also be manipulated so that only certain groups of people are subject to its restrictions, while others – powerful due to money, social standing, or political connections – are “free” to behave however they wish.

The saddest part to me is watching millions of Americans who voted for and are willing to continue to debase themselves in support of a man who has never cared about them for a single second. The only freedom Donald Trump is interested in is his own. In a just world, the fraud and sedition he and his closest allies are promoting since the election would be subject to the rule of law. But I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.

Order is preferable to real freedom as long as I feel like the people I don’t like are worse off than I am.