Tag Archives: liberty

What Does Your Generosity Cost?


Perhaps you’ve heard of the friend who loves to cook, so he invites people to his apartment or they invite him to their house and he prepares a loving, wonderful meal they couldn’t buy anywhere in town. Often his friends bring the steak or salmon, but they can’t do all of the shopping for him because he knows exactly what he wants and orders some of the spices in bulk. His chief ingredient is himself.

Perhaps you live in a community of volunteers, a place where people help each other regularly. They’re led by a few who seem to have a gift of seeing needs and knowing how to respond. They’re always painting, carrying, cleaning, assisting, or delivering something with others and probably chewing on someone’s ear at the same time. These people generously give their time and spirit.

What does the generosity of these friends cost them? Some of this work can be quantified in dollars, but at least half of it cannot. It’s skill, love, kindness, and optimism. It doesn’t break down easily, if at all, into dollars, but it does cost something. It isn’t free.

If you were one of these people, cooking a meal or helping a neighbor, what would you say your generosity cost? Why do you do it? Why do others do it? What would your life look like if no one ever gave anything like this to you?

These may not be easy questions, because we tend to think kindness doesn’t cost us anything. Skill may be the work of a lifetime, but what does it really cost on a particular project? When we aren’t paying for it, we may not see it.

But nothing is free. Everything costs something to someone.

I’m sure many people do believe some things are actually free, because they refuse to think beyond themselves. But I think many more people understand that things do cost something to someone, and they don’t care what it costs so long as whoever-it-is continues to pay for them.

Would They Defend Salman Rushdie’s ‘Verses’ today?

If Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses were first released today (assuming even that is possible), would the literary world defend Rushdie as they did in 1989? He doesn’t think they would.

“Instead of realizing that we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we thought that we need to placate them with compromise and renunciation,” he said.

When the PEN American Center moved to honor Charlie Hebdo with a freedom of expression award, over 200 writers signed a letter of protest. Rushdie reached out to one of them, who replied to say he would defend Satanic Verses and that Hebdo was a different situation. They were accused of racism, but Rushdie was accused of blasphemy.

“It’s exactly the same thing,” Rushdie said. “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”

In a 1991 talk, Rushdie said, “Throughout the Muslim world today, progressive ideas are in retreat. Actually Existing Islam reigns supreme, and just as the recently destroyed Actually Existing Socialism of the Soviet terror-state was horrifically unlike the utopia of peace and equality of which democratic socialists have dreamed, so also is Actually Existing Islam a force to which I have never given in, to which I cannot submit. There is a point beyond which conciliation looks like capitulation. I do not believe I passed that point, but others have thought otherwise.”

Making Yourself a Soft Target

Charles Murray received the third Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society last April. His book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission is came out in May. When accepting the award, he told this story:

My wife knows a man in a town near us that I will call Bob. Bob operates one of the many kinds of businesses that use Latino workers. What makes Bob different from almost every other such employer in his line of work is that all of his workers are documented. He spends about $20,000 to $30,000 a year for the excruciatingly complicated visa process. He pays good wages, pays for his workers’ airfares, and is in other ways a model employer and member of his community.

My wife started to tell me stories about how Bob has come under relentless harassment by the government. Why pick on him, when his part of the country is full of employers who have 100 percent undocumented Latino workers? Because, by doing the right thing and documenting his workers, he opened himself up to easy inspection by government enforcers of regulations. He made himself a soft target.

The story that tipped me over the edge involved a stupid regulation that Bob could not comply with. He didn’t have enough American-born employees—and there’s no way he could get Americans to work for him. Bob became so frustrated that he told the bureaucrat that he would fight it in court—at which point the bureaucrat said to him, “You do that, and we’ll put you out of business.” And Bob knew that is exactly what would happen.

Leawood Boy Allowed to Keep Free Library in His Yard

Last month, I linked to a story on a 9-year-old boy who had his “little free library” taken down by his city government. Yesterday he appealed to the Leawood, Kansas, city council and won a temporary moratorium on these structures. The council will take up a permanent resolution this fall.

But all was not good in the hood, according to The Daily Signal. “Why do we pay taxes for libraries and have those boxes on the street?” asked one attendee. Another member claimed the little libraries were eyesores and argued, “You will destroy Leawood if you destroy our codes and bylaws.”

One must ask how many towns across America will be destroyed before the freedom to read will be abolished. One can only hope that citizen will vandalize the boy’s little library in the name of John Adams, George Washington, and all of our great forefathers who looked upon their children with books in hand and said, “Not today, son. That’s not what this country is about.”

Little Free Library Shut Down by Kansas Officials

The city of Leawood, Kansas, shut down a nine-year-old boy’s free book exchange or “Little Free Library” after blood tied to a grisly murder was found on several pages of the books inside.

Ok. The blood part is an irresponsible lie, but the city did shut down the kid’s library this month because it violated an ordinance against detached structures. The news reports tie the decision to a complaint, leading me to wonder if the covered bookshelf would have been left alone had no one complained. The boy is wondering whether tying his library to his house with a rope would make it an attached structure and circumvent the code. He is also studying the law with plans to speak to the city counsel in the near future.

Reading Literature for Life and Freedom

[Originally posted May 24, 2003] The Atlantic has published a great interview this month (available by subscription) called, “The Fiction of Life: Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, on the dangers of using religion as an ideology, and the freedoms that literature can bring.” It’s about how the Western Canon of literature educated and provided emotional release for many Islamic women in Tehran. I was drawn to it by part of the subtitle, “the dangers of using religion as an ideology.” As I understand the words of that phrase, I could reword it like this, the dangers of using a system of beliefs about God as a system of beliefs about life. Shouldn’t our religion form the basis of our ideology, if they aren’t the same thing? Conversely, if our beliefs about God have nothing to do with our beliefs about life, then as St. James said, how can we prove that we really hold those beliefs about God?

But that’s not how the article uses “ideology.” It means the Iranian government’s way of shunning opposing ideas and demanding outward conformity. What Author Nafisi describes as ideology is a set of Islamistic political rules which aren’t open for debate, rules which are based in Islam or worded in religious language, but are not the natural outworking of the faith. It’s tyranny wrapped in the Islamic language. As such, her comments on freedom and the life-giving qualities of fiction apply to any tyrannical society, those cloaked in religious language and those opposed to it. (But then, even secular tyrannies define themselves in religious terms. God is not non-existent; the state has just taken his place.) Nafisi praises the freedom of ideas, saying that Western literature, such as Austen and Nabokov, exposes readers under oppression to inconceivable stories of freedom and hope.