The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. ~Louis D. Brandeis
There was a sad little piece in the paper today that was clearly intended to be anything but sad. As a matter of fact, it had the uplifting title (in the print edition), “A Gift of Freedom“.
But the story, to me, is both sad, and a parable of our time. It concerns a small Tampa neighborhood where a resident decided his pet rabbit should “belong to the world.” So he named his bunny Freedom and let it loose. Being an evidently opportunistic and good natured creature, it amiably made the best of the situation, learning to make the rounds of friendly neighbors who each had different names for the rabbit, and provided multiple courses for its daily dining pleasure. When some folks assumed the rabbit was lost and tried to find its owner, the owner made a collar for the rabbit that read “Outside Bunny,” as if this conferred upon the rabbit some sort of blessing, and upon the owner, some sort of validation for the choice he made for the rabbit.
A neighbor reported that the rabbit’s owner “had this thing about letting her live, really live. It’s natural. It’s normal. So he didn’t keep her caged up.”
The story struck a chord with me, especially after reviewing my daughter’s new book, Spirit of the Fox, which provides a thought provoking look at animal rights. She’s noted before that those who seem the most compelled to “free” animals, often really know very little about them, as many deeply opposed to hunting have rarely spent time in or know the ways of the deep woods.
Ultimately, and not particularly surprisingly, the rabbit, who grew to over 25 lbs, was hit by a car, apparently having neither the agility nor the skill or knowledge, to avoid a fatal traffic encounter. The neighbors were understandably devastated by the loss of the neighborhood pet and came together for an impromptu funeral, burying the dead bunny in a yard with the sign: “In Memory of Freedom the Bunny, Killed by a Speeding Car.”
The article went on to say, “The people of W. Lambright have spent a week trying to cope, comforting each other, wrestling with the dichotomy of freedom, the joy and pain of sending something we love out into a mean world.” The general consensus seemed to be that the rabbit somehow brought them all together and made their lives and their neighborhood a little bit better.
In point of fact, though, while the bunny’s life may have been ended by the car, I think the car was merely the execution of the sentence laid on the bunny, however unintentionally, by well-meaning people mistaking abandonment for freedom. There was no more reason to send a rabbit not endowed by nature the ability to handle ” a mean world” out into it,than there is to set an unprepared child “free” in the world.
I think the neighborhood could have come together without sacrificing the rabbit to some misguided notion of freedom. Because the fact is, choosing not to care for a domestic animal by “setting it free” in the “wilds where it belongs” is a deeply misguided notion. Domestic rabbits are just that – “domestic” and not savvy to the ways of the rural or urban wilderness, unlike their truly wild counterparts, the marsh rabbits and Eastern cottontails, who know how to forage and how to hide and avoid large predators like cars (for the most part).
A 25 lb Giant Lop is simply not “natural” in almost any environment. A wild rabbit’s lifespan is about 2 years – the Giant Lop didn’t make it that long. A domestic rabbit, on the other hand, can enjoy a long life. Our own Bill Bunny was a
well-loved member of our family who lived to be nearly 12 years old! And for those who want to share the love, it’s simply a matter of employing a friendly bunny as a therapy pet, or providing a large backyard habitat and welcoming others (like lonely neighbors) to come visit for cook outs.
Interestingly, a similar thing happened in our neighborhood about a year ago. A neighbor invested a significant amount of time and money building a large backyard chicken coop and rabbit hutches and then stocked them with a half dozen hens and three or four white rabbits. He professed great love over his animals. Then the rabbits dug out of the hutch and the chickens followed, and the neighbor decided the animals should be “free” also. All the chickens have disappeared and the last big white bunny hasn’t been seen in a while. Hard to know exactly what happened to them, but suffice it to say we have a lot of hawks and owls in the neighborhood and big snowy white rabbits are probably fairly easy pickin’s.
We bandy the word “freedom” about quite a bit. Politically, and socially, it’s a hot button item. Who doesn’t want to be known for supporting freedom? We want the freedom to say what we want, believe we want, do what we want, go where we want, live like we want, although we may not always be so “free” with others’ desires for the same things. Sometimes with good reason – what if what someone believes is that it’s okay to hurt me to get what he or she wants? Sometimes with not so good reasons – as with issues about reproductive rights, defining marriage, and racial, cultural and religious intolerance.
Certainly we all know plenty of stories of people misusing their freedom, and doing downright stupid stuff – consider the Darwin Awards. For the most part, though, we’re willing to accept the ridiculous and sometimes dangerous lot that accompanies the more sublime rewards of liberty – the freedom to speak out without censure, to choose our destinies.
But as yelling fire in a crowded theater (where there isn’t a fire) is the oft cited limitation to freedom of speech, the fact is that for a free society to create the most good for the most people, we have a responsibility to use our freedom intelligently and wisely. That means being fully responsible for the things in our care – from our children to our pets; and using our resources wisely – from our environment to our finances. And that means being informed and knowledgeable about how we act and why we act.
Clearly, everyone loved Freedom, and no one wanted her to die. But Freedom wasn’t cared for properly. No one really took responsibility for Freedom, or understood how to really provide for her safety and well being, which, as a domestic creature, she deserved.
The popular flag waving phrase is “Freedom isn’t free.” I’ll venture instead that Freedom without Knowledge – isn’t.