Monday, July 5, 2010


(The start of an essay that must await conclusion another day...)

We Americans—yes, I am one, though not by birth: I made that choice in 1972, when such matters were more easily undertaken and concluded than they are today—we Americans celebrated our Independence yesterday with a good deal of food and booze and fireworks. We continue, to this day, to send men and women off to sacrifice their lives for the freedom that we boast, and which we preach so fervently to the rest of the world. We believe devoutly, and with considerable justice, that our freedoms are greater than those permitted by other countries, other cultures.

In what do those freedoms consist? We are free to pursue what we call the “American Dream”—well, most of us, anyway. If we care to look the truth squarely in the face, we will surely see that there are still a very large number in our midst for whom that freedom is more theory than practicable reality. We are free to vote for whom we choose, though we too readily and too frequently sacrifice that freedom to false rhetoric or to the power of television advertising bought and paid for by those who do not have our best interests—let alone our freedom—at heart. They are eager to control us. We are free, within the restrictions of those laws we have agreed on, to behave in any way we choose—though there are those among us, many, really, who do not enjoy the privileges we purport to make available to all: in most states, for example, we forbid gay men and women to marry. And we are free, for the most part, to follow the dictates of our conscience and the beliefs of any religious persuasion.

The fact that the truth of each of these propositions is contestable, however, seems to indicate that we are not agree on the meaning of what we believe to be our birthright. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are by no means terms whose meaning is self-evident. My own thoughts on the meaning of freedom include the basic understanding that this is something I cannot inherit as a human birthright, and something that no man and no system of laws can give me. It’s something I need to work for and earn every day of my life.

If the opposite of freedom is slavery, I can assert that am no man’s slave except my own. But I have learned to recognize certain inner bonds that keep me enslaved more rigorously than any imposed on me from without. These are the ones I choose to hide, repress, or deny, because it is often more comfortable for me to keep them hidden from myself than to bring them out into the light, where I can see them. They create the reactive patterns whereby I simply pursue my life in ignorance, content to allow them to set the paths I follow. I am not free, for example, if I am enslaved to alcohol, or to tobacco. Such addictions enslave me as surely as those literal shackles on wrists and ankles--the literal slavery that those who signed our famous Declaration chose to... well, hide, repress, and deny.

(These thoughts are intended as a preamble to a further exploration of a personal definition of freedom and the means by which to work for and, sometimes, to achieve it. Forgive today's incompletion!)


mandt said...

Americans will never be free again, until Thomas Paine reigns over the fascist likes of Beck, Plain, and Limbaugh. We are all in for dark days.

Richard Bruland said...

I always think of Bob Dylan's song 'Ballad in Plain D' that includes this great observation:

"My friends from the prison, they ask unto me
How good, how good does it feel to be free
And I answer them most mysteriously
Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?"