Friday, September 01, 2006

Liberty & Security in the Post-9/11 World, Part II

Still Sleepless in Laguna


More hopelessly romantic meanderings from this social idealist, Bush, as a sequel to yesterday's discourse on "Freedom and Security." Today, for reasons unknown, they came in the form of one of my semi-metered rants… For want of a better idea, it's called

"Freedom"

I am interested to know your definition,
Bush, of that much-bandied word "freedom".
When I hear you loudly vaunt our American freedom
to countries you consider less advanced than ourselves
I find myself wondering what exactly you mean.

Because for you, Bush, it does seem that freedom--
the freedom you brag about, at least--
is an immutable concept, unquestionable,
self-evident in its meaning; whereas I, Bush,
find freedom as a concept filled with paradox,
ambiguity, difficulty; for me, freedom is elusive,
it shifts shape according to time and location;
and its meaning is oftentimes compromised
with uncomfortable, unintended ironies.

To what extent, I would want to consider,
am I truly free in this land of the free?

I am free to vote for whomsoever I please--
and this is a precious freedom, Bush, as I know;
but I find myself painfully questioning that freedom
when I consider what happened in Florida, 2000,
for example, when you were appointed President
by fiat of the Supreme Court of the United States,
and this despite tens of thousands of votes
that went indisputably discounted or miscounted;
or when I consider what happened in Ohio, 2004,
when good people with the freedom to vote
were effectively disenfranchised by faulty procedures
and by the intentionally anti-representative distribution
of electronic voting machines and polling places;
I find myself questioning that freedom
when good people with the freedom to vote
are denied that right by thinly disguised poll taxes
or punitive post-felony-conviction exclusions;
I am forced, painfully, to reevaluate that freedom
when I witness the dishonest, outright fraudulent
activities of politicians and their henchmen
in the crass battle for votes; when I consider
the politics of redistricting; when I count up
the dollars spent in the corporate interest
to purchase votes by misleading, untruthful
advertisements put out to hundreds of millions
of television viewers. And when I consider the power
of paid lobbyists to change and influence law,
I am forced to question the true value
of the freedom to vote for whomever I please.

I have the freedom to buy whatever I want,
the freedom to liberally consume--
so long as I have the money to afford it.
My freedom to consume extends to endless shelves
of choices between differently packaged
but otherwise identical products in the supermarket;
between endless racks of clothes in the department store,
so long as I have the money to afford them;
between endless rows of automobiles
and pick-up trucks and recreation vehicles
in the new and used car lots of America,
so long as I have the money to afford them.

I have the freedom to live where I choose
so long as I have the money to afford it.
I have the freedom to live in a mansion in Bel Air,
or a brownstone on the Upper East side of Manhattan
or a cottage at the beach or a cabin in the hills,
so long as I have the money to afford it.
Otherwise I have the freedom to live
in a tract home or a tenement apartment
or a cardboard refrigerator box under the freeway.

I have the freedom to make as much money
as I choose, so long as I do not break the law,
so long as I am able to find legitimate work
that pays a living wage. I have the absolute freedom
to make a hundred million dollars if I choose,
so long as I have the entrepreneurial skills
and the personal drive that I need to achieve it.
If I happen to be born in the projects
or the barrio, if I happen to be born
on the wrong side of the tracks, I do have the freedom
to pull myself up by the bootstraps--
so long as I have the educational opportunity,
so long as I have the social and parental support
to be able to do so.

I have the freedom to read what I want
and watch what I want, no matter
how violent, no matter how obscene, it is
at my disposal at the touch of a dial, at the click
of a mouse. On my cable television
I have hundreds of channels to choose from--
understanding, of course, how my freedom
may be subtly subverted as I do so,
may be subtly subverted by the marketing needs
of corporate sponsors in search of consumers.

I have the freedom to live as I choose
(but not, it would seem, to die as I choose).
I have the freedom to purchase protection
from illness and injury and premature death--
so long as I have the money to afford it.
I have the freedom to purchase protection
for my house, my belongings, my car, my pet--
so long as I have the money to do so.

I have the freedom to eat, drink, and be merry,
I have the freedom to indulge in my sexual fantasies,
to indulge all my appetites to my heart's content;
and the freedom to visit my shrink when I'm down--
so long as I have the money to afford it.

Ah, yes, Bush. Your freedom… the freedom
you choose to lecture the world about so liberally
(forgive my language, Bush!) so liberally…
the freedom, well, honestly, to eat cake
while much of the world starves. The freedom
to parade around town in our super-sized SUVs,
the freedom bitch about the high price of gas--
which others have been paying for decades…
the freedom to consume so much more than our share
of the limited resources of this shrinking Earth
in order to maintain our privileged life-style...
These are not pleasant thoughts, Bush,
but just sometimes we must think them…
to be honest, to maintain at least a shred
of integrity. Sometimes we must honestly think them.

And here's the truth, Bush; here's the bottom-line,
honest-to-God truth: the only freedom that counts
in the long run is the freedom within--the freedom
that comes from not-needing, not-wanting,
not-consuming… The freedom that comes
from acknowledging that everything, Bush,
everything I believe to be mine, everything I love,
everything I flatter myself to own can be gone
in a moment, can be gone in a nanosecond
at the whim of a force I do not understand,
at the whim of a force I do not control.

THAT's freedom. A freedom few of us mortals
will ever attain, a freedom experienced only
by the Ghandis amongst us, the Martin Luther
Kings. Meantime, let's settle for the freedom
we can get: it's time to stop the preaching
and start practicing; time to remember, Bush,
that the greatest gift we can offer to the world,
in all our wealth, all our goods, all our power,
is the scrupulous practice of those principles
of freedom we claim to embrace, the example
of liberty, equality, and justice for all.

4 comments:

PK said...

Our freedoms are tentative at best. I don't think we'll ever have them back Peter... Good post!

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Excellent. Couple of thoughts.

Is freedom; happiness? Is happiness internal or external? One saying that makes sense to me is, “Happiness in not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” (If the wants are endless what hope have you.) Sooo, is freedom the same as happiness???

If so, are Americans happier then other humans on Earth? Do we laugh or love more then other humans?

Can you be unhappy and free? Or happy and un-free? Are rural people freer then urban people?
(Did you know it is illegal to wash your car in your own driveway in Laguna Beach CA?)

Does a country with more laws and regulations have less freedom?

PeterAtLarge said...

Good questions, Gringo. And unanswerable ones. Cheers, PaL

Anonymous said...

I think Bush's freedom is much more simple, freedom to accumalate all the money in the world without regard to impact on others or responsibility to any greater good.
Accumalting wealth is all Bush's freedom is about.