How Important Is Freedom?

Superman Man of SteelBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Man of Steel is supposed to be a story about the origin of Superman. It’s really a story about the importance of freedom.

On Krypton, Superman’s home planet, everyone is created for a specific purpose. They have no choice about the path their life will take. Superman’s parents dream of a free Krypton, so they conceive and give birth to him naturally. In doing so, they give him back the freedom of choice for what kind of man he wants to be.

And growing up as Clark Kent on Earth, Superman struggles with this. His earthly father encourages him to hide who he is at all costs, but Superman chooses to help others even if it puts him in danger of exposing who he is.

When General Zod of Krypton appears, Superman realizes why his birth parents made the choices they did. He chooses again to allow Krypton to go extinct rather than allowing Zod to commit genocide on the human race.

“I exist only to protect Krypton,” Zod says. “That is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people. And now, I have no people. My soul—that is what you have taken from me!”

When he lost his freedom to choose to be something different, Zod lost other qualities as well, like compassion, hope, and morals. With Krypton and its people gone for good, Zod has no reason to live.

Few of us who live in free countries would argue that freedom isn’t important.

Its innate value is why many science fiction and fantasy books and movies explore it—and what could happen if it was taken away.

Battlestar Galactica took a look at freedom from the opposite side as Man of Steel. The Twelve Colonies were free. They had a president and elected representatives. People chose their careers and could change their lot in life through hard work. Then the cylons attacked, wiping out all but around 50,000 humans.

Running for their lives and looking for a new home, the remaining humans were forced to live on a small fleet of ships. This meant that people were pressed into jobs based on the needs of the fleet, such as working the fuel processing ship. They couldn’t change their job, and worse, their children were being trained up in the same job without any chance to be anything else.

But what other choice did they have? If the fleet had any hope of survival, they needed fuel processing, and waste processing, and all the other jobs done. They suspended freedom. They felt it was for the greater good.

In the episode “Dirty Hands,” after a labor strike that almost devolves into mutiny, the government of the fleet decides freedom is important enough that they have to protect it along with their survival. They institute training programs and a work rotation.  

But it raised an interesting question, one our own society is facing today, about whether there’s ever a time when certain freedoms should be suspended. Or is freedom of such a high value that it shouldn’t be violated in any circumstance, no matter the cost?

What do you think? Is there ever a time when freedom should be sacrificed for the greater good, or is freedom something that should never be violated?

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