“So tell me exactly what freedom means, if I’m not free to be as twisted as I wanna be.”
“Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
~ The Golden Rule
“An’ yee harm none do what yee will.”
~ The Wiccan Rede
My friend Dictionary says that freedom is defined thus;
n. The condition of being free of restraints.
n. Liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression.
n. Political independence.
I started this conversation because here in the USA, today is the 4th of July, which we are traditionally taught is a celebration of freedom, and I figured I’d ask Dictionary what – assuming we take the notion at face value – we are actually celebrating in this day of freedom.
What would a celebration of freedom look like? The condition of being free of restraints, liberty from slavery, detention, or oppression, political independence… do we contemporary citizens of ‘the first world’ know what that would look like even in theory?
How many of you had a twinge of unease at the notion of a day where everyone was free from detention? Who endured whispers from the back of their minds asking “how will we be safe if we cannot arrest the criminals?” My pal Mr. House coined a term for some of what is going on here in his article, Land Of The Busybullies, but he has covered that ground so well I plan to tackle another aspect of what may be transpiring here.
We are, as a culture, afraid. Within the USA it is highly unfashionable to admit that directly but the trends in culture and government are unmistakable. Since the deaths surrounding the destruction of the twin towers this nation has been living in a state of growing agitation and fear. Hallmarks of this are discernible in many areas. The rhetoric of media outlets, politicians, and security professionals. The policies of mass surveillance and aggressive policing of the citizenry. Even instances of programs aimed at a municipal level such as the Orwellian designated DHS initiative “If you see something, say something” which exhorts individuals to, among other things, watch the members and locations of their community for suspicious activity and report it.
Leaving aside the critiques I’ve developed personally – through exposure to physical and digital security protocols – regarding how effective these behaviors are, it is still readily apparent that living in a pervasive state of fear and constant observation isn’t one which fosters being free of restraints, oppression, or political constraints. Rather this pervasive fear sustains and supports a cultural first strike doctrine in which taking punitive action to the detriment of another individual is justifiable based on what the “could have done” or “might have done” rather than on anything that they have actually done. Suspicion has replaced ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as the baseline within much of policy and social consciousness to the point where I have literally heard, horrifyingly even sometimes from law enforcement officials, statements of “I’m sure s/he did something, even if it wasn’t this, so we better get him/her on this regardless.”
In my article Trust I touch on how toxic presumption of hostility can be to the possibility of building healthy new relationships, and in Hope? I expand on that to illustrate how sometimes a lack of trust can feed desperation or apathy. These points apply within cultural trends as well, and as cultural moments such as the witch trials of Salem highlight cultures driven by distrust and fear will find monsters to punish for the threats they pose even when there are no actual monsters present.
Most folks are capable of a sober level of analysis and reflection that can be quite insightful when applied in a sober dispassionate fashion. When action becomes reaction however, when objectivity becomes agitation, or worse desperation, in the face of emotional responses like fear and distrust the human species is far susceptible to dehumanizing it’s brothers and sisters as superficial variances in appearance, birthplace, or personal life, become lauded self justifications for hostile, invasive, sometimes even lethal actions.
The true tragedy is that while at a personal level you may kill a relationship through fear and distrust, when it is propagated at a social level the risk is that rather than destroy a personal connection you destroy a person.
In his first inaugural address Franklin D. Roosevelt is famously quoted as stating “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Our present day context differs from that of FDR is various details but his words remain acutely pertinent to our present day condition. We need to declare ourselves independent once more, not specifically from a given nation or even political party, but rather from a trend of subservience to suspicion and fear.
I do not advocate a blind feverish idealism here. I do not presume everyone means well, or that even among all those who mean well every action will be helpful and healthy. But we do not need to – if I may paraphrase Mr. Franklin – sacrifice our liberty in an attempt to find an increased sensation of security.
Translated into a tangible context what this means is we are presented with a surprisingly simple, if perhaps daunting, choice. Build our lives, security, and happiness on ourselves rather than on the removal of perceived threats from others. You don’t have to trust the guy down the block, or the couple up the street, or that unusually dressed woman from the apartment near by. You may miss out on the chance to learn new things or gain new friends if you don’t, but you don’t even have to talk to these people. However if you desire freedom and safety your best path is in supporting and living the new cultural trend toward non-interventionism. Your home and life, your freedom, will be more secure and thriving while your energies – and the energy of those you encounter on a daily basis – are focused on building the life you are living rather than attempting to destroy that sense of fear which can creep into any heart. Suspicion, distrust, dread, they grow like cancer feeding off their host with no regard for long term survival. Don’t let fear smother your quality of life or anyone else’s, don’t be a busybully, this 4th of July declare your personal independence from terror, after all you deserve a higher quality of life than you will find by chasing boogie-men. We all do.
Happy Independence Day, may we all see many returns of the same.
Author: Justin Nafziger Hello everyone. I’m much better at self-analysis than self description; besides, you’ll get an idea about my views in reading what I post. I’ve grown up traveling and in all the time I’ve spent seeing new places, people and things I’ve come to one clear conclusion; real meaningful moments and interactions don’t have to be permanent to be valuable, but they do have to be honest or they’ll be leached of meaning. Oh and that ethics (aka integrity in action) is a very personal proposition and cannot be successfully codified or dogmatized.
“There are as many truths as there are drops of water in the ocean and grains of sand on the beach.”
Reality is collaborative, truth is personal.