Is it liberty for safety, or safety for liberty?

Dr. John F. DuBose EdD

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Benjamin Franklin “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  

There is a quote by Benjamin Franklin “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  This quote has been playing around in my head quite a bit lately.  It is a poster I have in my classroom that I read to my students over and over again hoping that they will realize what this means to their generation. Then it hit me, this means nothing to them. They are kids. As far as they are concerned, they are safe. Their parents make sure to filter out as much of the ‘unsafe’ things in life that may come their way.  But there is one arena where their parents cannot protect their child’s safety anymore: The internet.

            In the digital age it seems everyone is taking liberties. Social media is rampant with individuals saying what they want, showing what they want, and doing what they want because of the liberties other individuals are letting loose on the internet. Nothing is really real anymore. That which we thought was real and honest is called fake and untrustworthy.  That which we would normally question, we take in our psyche and it becomes real.  I hear my students say on a daily basis, “I heard” or “I read somewhere”. To which I press them for the facts with “where did you ‘hear’ this” and “How reliable is the source. Show me”.  I feel we are in a mindless age where the internet, with the help of social media, has allowed two generations of human to not ask themselves what is true, or should I say, “What is truth, justice, and the American way”?  I have to remind my students every time we use the school’s laptops that, “Google is not your classroom”.

            What does this mean to me, “An internet search engine is not your classroom” to me this statement means that an internet search engine, like google is where you get all the answers to the wrong questions. We search for a word or a thought or an idea and the engine give us responses. These responses come in the form of advertisements and whichever site is paying the most to be at the top of the list based on the algorithm of our past tweets, Facebook post and likes as well as our searches and purchases. Because of the liberties we have taken on the internet we are no longer safe and secure.

            As we let our youth ride the liberty wave of internet and social media and claim they are learning, and indeed they are, they are also giving the companies that control these platforms all the information they will need to influence thought. I was on Amazon looking for a book to put on my summer reading list when at the bottom there was a list of ‘recommendation’ based on my past searches and purchases. The same thing happens on my twitter account. An ad will show up for an app and I think, “I just downloaded something like this on my app download” Hmm?? 

            It is time to rethink Franklin’s quote. The past two generations have essentially taken liberties on the internet and social media and never realized by doing so they were giving up their safety and security at the same time. After 9/11 most Americans were willing to give up some of their liberties while traveling to ensure our safety. After a terrorist was caught with a bomb in his shoes Americans were willing to walk barefoot through the airport. The thing is, the shoe searches were only supposed to last 6 months. When do we begin to feel safe? Will we as Americans ever again? Probably not. This is the new normal, so we are told. But does this new normal explain why two generations who have taken liberties on the internet and social media? They have grown up without certain liberties, so they have found or created other liberties to compensate? In the end we have all begun to lose, if we not already completely lost both are liberty and safety. We no longer feel secure in the world because of the “evil that men do”. So, humans have retreated to the internet for a sense of security.  And now we are discovery that the internet is not so safe and secure because of “the evil that men do.  So, have we traded our liberty for safety, or our safety for liberties. Or have we raised two generations since 9/11 who just don’t care anymore. I tell my students, “History is not about getting the right answer. History is about learning how to ask the right questions.  I fear we have raised two generations since 9/11(those who were children who now have children of their own) who are no longer asking the right questions because the internet and social media is proving them right by giving them all the right answers.

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