Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Live Free or Die

Written by johnleemk on 6:42:09 pm Sep 21, 2007.
Categories: ,

In a matter of days, I will be matriculating as a student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Of all the states in the United States, New Hampshire is probably one of the more interesting.

Most, if not all, American states decorate their automobile licence plates in a different manner, reflecting the state's identity. The District of Columbia's plates carry an interesting slogan — no taxation without representation — protesting its lack of representation in the American legislature because it is not a fully qualified state.

New Hampshire's plates carry this statement: "Live free or die." It's a remarkable one because it lacks any equivocation, any qualification — you either live free, or you die.

This has of course been fodder for jokes before. The Onion, a satirical online magazine, once carried a story about how New Hampshire's residents simultaneously dropped dead after the Bush administration's persistent infringement of civil liberties.

But constantly seeing this slogan on the streets of my university town has got me thinking. Well, that and Bruce Willis.

A few months ago, the fourth installment in the Die Hard movie series was released. Where I live, and in most of the world in fact, the movie was simply titled Die Hard 4. But in North America, it was referred to as Live Free or Die Hard.

The obvious question is, why should there be any difference? And the obvious answer is, because it seems that only in certain countries is it acceptable for this dichotomy exist — to live free or die. In certain societies, including my own, it is considered somehow wrong to insist that we must be free or die; in the US, Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death!" continues to inspire the American people.

It is very tempting to give up liberty for life — self-proclaimed pragmatists insist that a tradeoff has to be made.

I am a pragmatist too; I completely agree with the utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham, who pointed out that to be had, liberty must be restricted. I cannot exercise my right to watch television if you exercise the "right" to steal my television.

But at the same time, liberty is what separates life and death. A life without liberty is a life not worth living. When you are dead, you can do nothing. When you are alive, you can do everything. The more you cannot do, the closer you are to a corpse.

There are good reasons to restrict liberty; sometimes liberty must be restrained to be had. But we should always err on the side of more liberty and not less; err on the side of life, and not death. We should live free, or die.

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