We often remind ourselves, and each other, that to repeatedly do the same thing and expect a different outcome is the definition of insanity.
Consider this corollary: To stop doing the things that have created the outcomes we value, and expect the same results, is no less insane. And in many cases, dangerously so.
In a postmodern world where everyone is entitled to their own truth — as opposed to the perceived limitations of a single researched truth — we run a risk, in the name of freedom, of minimizing or ignoring the foundational values and behaviors that built our communities, institutions and nation.
If we are to embrace a new definition of freedom as freedom from principles, expectations and restrictions of any kind, we are indeed talking about a variation on a theme described by author George Weigel in his new book, “The Irony of Modern Catholic History,” as “an anorexic notion of freedom as willfulness.”
Just a few examples will illustrate that point.
If we disregard as unfair the principles of free enterprise and instead adopt the notion of social equality — regardless of the standard at which equality is realized — then we exchange the inequality of outcomes possible under a free market for a sameness of outcomes achieved through redistribution. That is socialism, and it has never worked.
As important, we must remember that we cannot cease to live by the principles of free markets and expect the sustained social benefits and dignity that accompany work, personal initiative and innovation. Nor can we expect the extended benefits of philanthropy and the entrepreneurial vision that has driven the global decline of poverty.
If we cease valuing the traditional family unit, even as society seeks to expand and modify its definition, we cannot expect the same economic stability, upward mobility, health benefits and social outcomes that come from intact, functional families.
We cannot accept a new definition of religious freedom as freedom from religion. Doing so ignores all the good that results from the cohesion fostered within religious communities, churches, faith-based educational institutions and charitable efforts. And perhaps above all, we cannot ignore the biblical underpinnings of our constitutional concept of freedom, including our first civil right — wherein we believe we are of divine origin and accountable to our God and to one another. It is within religious doctrine we learn that, according to Weigel, “there is more to freedom than the mantra of choice, just as there is more to a human person than a cluster of desires.”
Long before Voltaire, Rousseau and Locke presented new worldviews, existing principles such as freedom to worship; the worth of the individual soul; God-given inalienable rights; and redemption, were religious principles.
Quoting Weigel again: “Religious conviction (has) been reduced to a lifestyle choice of no public consequence. Thinking about thinking has replaced thinking about truth.”
Which underlines a final thought on what we choose to do, or stop doing.
Our nation is built on ideas. The successful debate and refinement of ideas requires trust on both sides. Trust is both fragile and necessary in a free society.
Trust in leaders, and in each other, is one of the great facilitators of innovation within society and government. If we surrender the idea that differing opinions and ideas are worthy of debate in the metaphorical marketplace of ideas, then we forfeit exploration of the kind of ideas and outcomes that built this nation and inspired the framing of the Constitution.
Just as we should choose to stop doing things that create bad outcomes, we should commit to continue to do things that have created good outcomes. It is more apparent with laws of physics and science, but it should be amply apparent now as society and freedom atrophy.
Ronald Reagan warned that freedom is never more than a generation from extinction. His warning is more easily comprehended when we examine the lost behaviors of respecting institutions, teaching and studying history, treasuring religious freedom, prioritizing the family and valuing honest communication.
When we choose to replace trust with contempt, we may naively expect continued good outcomes. But in reality, we are choosing to alter critical relationships within families, communities and government: the very institutions upon which our freedoms were established and are conditioned.
The “definition of insanity” concept is often attributed to Einstein. In fact, he did not author the quote. But out of respect for the longstanding assumption, let’s end with something Einstein did say: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” There is a call for balance in this statement. Yes, we need to make room for science and religion, along with the social corollaries like enlightened thought and the wisdom of the ages, and honesty about our past and respect for the vision and sacrifice of our founders. To do otherwise would be ... insane.
Rick B. Larsen is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.