Earning My Way to Freedom

Over the course of the past few weeks we have been discussing the idea of citizenship.  More particularly we have been discussing how Shklar believes that earning is one of the most important aspects of citizenship.  While reading Douglass we encountered the idea that earning is key to freedom.  When Douglass was able to finally earn some money of his own he got his first glimpse of freedom and what he should feel like.  While this little feeling was important he wasn’t truly free until he was still a slave and was not supporting himself with his earnings.  It wasn’t until he could go out and earn a full wage on his own accord that his freedom was achieved.  I do not want to compare my situation at all however I do feel similarly about earning and freedom/citizenship.  In this blog post I will take you through my journey towards Shklar and Douglass’ elusive idea of citizenship with respect to earning.

When I was young my father allowed me to work at his restaurant doing basic tasks.  I would file papers and carry boxes on the weekends and summers and he would pay me a nominal fee for my duties.  This was my first taste of the freedoms that come with earning.  It was a very minor amount however I now began to understand the importance of earning.  I was able to afford a few things on my own without having to ask my parents for some cash.  I would proudly pull out my billabong wallet and present the guy at the movie theater with my ten-dollar bill I had earned on my own.  I also began putting small amounts of money into a bank account to save up for my car.  It was this feeling of independence that I believe on a much greater scale Douglass felt when his master allowed him to keep some of his profits at the beginning.

The next step in my progression was when I got my first real job when I was 16.  I now was earning a real wage and could afford a lot more things on my own.  I was saving a lot more money now.  That feeling of spending my own money gave me a brief “victory” of being free from my parents. Yet this was not true freedom. I was not truly a citizen because at the end of the day I needed to retreat to my parents house where I was once again reliant on them for all of my essentials.  Finally being able to purchase a car was another huge step but it still did not represent complete freedom.

  Now in my current situation, a senior in college with a steady job, most would probably define me as having freedom and being a citizen.  I however do not see it that way.  I see the pile of student loans I have accrued and the fact that I am not yet truly supporting myself and realize that this is not true freedom.  I still feel a bit of inadequacy when I go out to eat or for drinks with my older brothers or older friends and when the bill comes they have to pay for me.  Not until I am out in the world earning my own salary and paying my own way through will I feel true freedom.  With law school looming at the end of this year it does not look like I will have the citizenship and freedom that Douglass and Shklar value so much for another three years.  As Douglass probably would have felt as well I believe that the wait will make the day that I achieve this illusive freedom taste that much more sweet.

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7 Responses to Earning My Way to Freedom

  1. hengk says:

    That’s a good (and sad) point! It’s interesting to think about how the concept of freedom has changed, and can be so different depending on context. Douglass would of course call you free, don’t you think? But I think he would still agree that you have a psuedo-slavemaster in the sense of that bank that is adding up interest for your student loans. Additionally, as students in college we are still (arguably) academically inferior to our professors, or at least relinquish control to them. Your post made me think about the freedom that Douglass cherished, and our different sense of freedom in America today. Isn’t it funny that we may not feel free, even though we go to an amazing college and drive our own cars? I think of the other people living in America who may not feel free, like illegal immigrants or the homeless. What will ever make us free, then, if we don’t feel it now?

  2. lauramc93 says:

    I don’t know if I necessarily agree that earning is the way to freedom. I think that earning is rather a way to independence. I think the reason Shklar pinpoints earning as a key component of citizenship is because it allows independence, not because it guarantees freedom. To me, and this is my personal definition, and entirely subjective, freedom is the ability to do what ever you want without fear of repercussions, whereas independence is self-contained, free from influence of others. Earning your own money and paying for your own things is a measure of independence, as you are no longer dependent on the generosity of others. I think standing is the true measure of freedom, while earning is the measure of independence, the two integral components of citizenship.

  3. tremble53 says:

    I think you are right to make the distinction between freedom and independence but I think the line is very blurred. Obviously the freedom I am talking about is very different then the freedom in Douglass’ writings. Yet I do personally believe that earning has a large effect on your freedom as well as your independence. For obvious reasons we can see the independence thing. However knowing that you have financial obligations to other people at all times can impede your feelings of true freedom. I am unable to do certain things because of that fact. I am not saying that I am not free currently, but I am not fully free. That is an important distinction to make. Once you are able to earn for yourself and support your own personal lifestyle on your own is the day I think we truly earn complete freedom.

  4. Andrew Mack says:

    I think that you made an interesting connection between Douglass, Shklar, and your own experiences. I really like how you mapped out the progression of your quest towards Shklar’s interpretation of citizenship. I also share the belief with the above comment that earning is more of a way to independence than it is to freedom, but the difference between freedom and independence is very debatable. I would argue that independence is the first step towards freedom. What do you guys think?

  5. Courtney M says:

    This is a neat perspective on earning, independence, and freedom, and I can see myself in a situation similar to yours. As a senior in college, I am wholly dependent on my parents. I haven’t held a job in college, so every penny I spend comes from my parents’ earnings. This dependence on them certainly limits my freedom to do what I please, because it’s not like they have a never-ending flow of money being deposited into my bank account. So I would first say that earning is definitely a path to independence, and as Andrew said, it is a step towards freedom as well because I hope that one day I have a job that supports me and my family, and I will have the freedom to spend my money as I wish. But I think undocumented immigrants show us today that earning does not guarantee freedom, so the connection between earning, independence, and freedom is very situational.

  6. bradenburgess says:

    This is a great post because it deals with issues to which we can all relate. I really understand how you feel a lack of true freedom. Shklar talked a lot about citizenship as standing. What she did not fully address though, in my opinion, is how material wealth plays into that equation. To me, wealth, not earning, seems to be among the most important issue related to standing. A person who votes and earns is certainly a citizen. But what about a citizen who is heavily indebted to another entity? It is important to consider an issue such as this, especially today, with the dramatic increase in student loans. Debt, specifically student loans in this case, does seem to have a negative impact on standing and therefore on citizenship.

  7. kbreit4 says:

    I really like this post because I also feel the same way and live in a current situation. Though earning is not the only means of being a citizen it is very important and not being able to earn and take care of yourself fully is a large burden. Living under tight financial means, effects standing which fits Shklar’s framework for citizenship. Luckily in America as long as you can pay for transportation to get to the polls, earning doesn’t effect the right to vote.
    But whether people are dependent on loans or their parents, until they are earning and taking care of themselves fully they are not a full citizen.

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