Upon reading the recent letter (Courier-Herald, Nov. 4) critiquing Rich Elfers’ column on freedom and chaos, I felt as if I had followed Alice down Lewis Carroll’s wondrous rabbit hole. Those familiar with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland may remember her conversation with Humpty Dumpty during which he proceeded to instruct her in his version of semantics:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more than less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Fortunately, unlike Alice, we have handy access to dictionaries to serve as arbiters of meaning. After searching through, by actual count, 21 dictionaries, both physical and electronic, I discovered a general consensus on the meaning of the concept “freedom.” In varying forms, all of these sources generally agree that the contextually apropos definition of freedom as used by Mr Elfers is: the absence of coercion or constraint in choice or action; or, the power to act, speak or think as one wants without restraints. Based on his own words, it is obvious the letter writer does not approve of actions without constraint by laws or rules, which would certainly quality as chaos.
After a diligent search, I was able to run down the definition the letter writer referenced, only to find that it is not the definition of freedom, which he claimed; it is, in fact, the definition of virtue. I will readily agree that freedom is a virtue but the two words are entirely unrelated to each other in meaning except by, perhaps, Humpty Dumpty.
The letter, in truth, makes exactly the same point (“enforce the laws that protect citizens from aberrant behavior”) while attacking him for it. Chaos is exactly what occurs when there is no order. Chaos is another way of describing unconstrained “aberrant behavior,” which the writer obviously abhors.
It appears that the letter writer is “straining at a gnat” in his criticism of the column in order to denigrate what he considers a “liberal” and “arrogant” columnist. To criticize Elfers for attacking “virtue” while mis-defining it as “freedom” is, to coin a term, Humpty Dumptyish.