Nautilus

How Freedom Divides

As a biologist who studies animal behavior, particularly the long-term stability of the societies of different species, our own included, I’ve traveled through diverse cultures around the world. The word I hear everywhere I go, a badge of honor to all people, is freedom. Americans have made pride in freedom a national pastime since winning their independence. But at the time of the Revolutionary War, the British thought of themselves as free compared to repressive European countries of the day. What is this warm glow that arises within us from feeling free?

On one of my expeditions to New Guinea, an elderly man boasted that his tribe did as they wished. Invited to join a picnic in Iran, I listened to a family joyfully tell me about the liberties their nation provided, not realizing how Americans might see their lives differently. The fact is, “freedom” and “free” are among the most common words in all national anthems. Even Afghanistan, which strikes the west as be free, and  be so delusional?

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