Sunday, January 23, 2005

Words Mean Things

I'm going to say a word, and you think to yourself about what this word conveys to you, what it means -- and just as importantly what it does not mean. Ready?

Our mystery word for the day is "freedom".

This is a word that, perhaps through heedless, thoughtless overuse by George W. Bush's feckless speechwriters and planners, has lost much of its power. It is a word that should have the power to inspire, but when it's used every thirty seconds or so, in the face of a lot of contradictory facts, its primary power becomes one of eye-rolling and involuntary grunting and sighing.

It becomes helpful at a certain point to lay out just what this word does and doesn't mean, and we are well beyond that point. We are at the point that every time Bush makes a speech, it sounds like he's trying to qualify for a class field trip to the Lincoln Memorial or something, a fistful of hoary cliches that miss only what King Crimson guitar genius Robert Fripp once termed "the resonance of rightness" -- which is to say, the entire point.

What freedom means is that a person is the master of his or her own destiny; he/she is beholden primarily to his/her own conscience and desire. It is in turn presumed by the powers that be that individuals, in the context of fulfilling their chosen course, can be generally trusted to do so in concert with the interests of society at large, that the interests of other individuals need not be subverted or sabotaged in order to exercise one's right to affirm their pursuit of happiness. At such a point, in a free society, the law would become involved, without regard as to how much you may or may not have "donated" toward encouraging a political party to see things your way.

Freedom is not young punks pulling an energy scam on the largest state of the republic with impunity, simply because they have contributed enough money to be involved in the decision-making process and get the right people to look the other way. Nor does freedom involve extraction industries being allowed to pollute at will, with the proviso that they voluntarily disclose how much mercury and arsenic they're pumping into your groundwater. Freedom means that you read enough Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair to realize that there are practical reasons why we stopped practicing laissez-faire economics and industry oversight long ago. Reasonable regulation is not communism, nor is it an abrogation of freedom; indeed, it is an affirmation of the idea that the poor and powerless ought also to be free of chemicals and toxins which will make their lives much more nasty, short, and brutish.

If your home and your village are cordoned off by razor wire and soldiers with machine guns, you are not free. If your house is busted into at 3AM without warning or warrant, and you are hooded, handcuffed, trussed up and bound off to prison without charge, to be beaten and terrorized, to be forced into naked pyramids and simulated blowjobs, to be hooted at by some cackling hillbilly, you are not free. You might be more free than when the old dictator could do those things, and worse, to you and your family, but that part of the food chain, the new boss may differ from the old boss primarily in methodology and degree of outright sadism. Either way, you have no legal recourse, because your ass belongs to someone else. Avoiding this situation is a fundamental requirement of being actually free.

Regardless, freedom does not brook with fineries or qualified distinctions. It draws its line quite plainly, and everyone must decide on which side of this line they will stand. It does not find legal fripperies with which to spirit unpersons away to the gulag for an indefinite period of time, nor does it find loopholes with which to cast its lot with thugs and torturers, merely by the asserted righteousness of its cause.

Freedom understands that the spirit of the law is what informs the letter of the law, and that without the former, the latter is merely window-dressing. It requires respect of these observations from all its friends and allies, doesn't excuse them for the sake of expediency, and implicitly understands that the ends do not justify means.

Freedom does not entail turning the world-class capital of your republic into an armed encampment, rooftop snipers carefully watching fools drunk with ill-gotten gain, reveling in their snakeskin shitkickers and anally-electrocuted-rat pelts at how free they are, how God Himself smiles beneficently from Heaven on down, protecting their man because he is so well-loved, he requires unprecedented levels of banana-republic-style protection of El Presidente for his divinely-willed re-investiture.

Freedom also understands the intrinsic value of dissent, not just in the taken-for-granted First Amendment sense, but also as a management tool. Because freedom assumes first that every person is innately qualified to run his/her own life, it follows that each person also has an opinion worth at least hearing and considering, even (sometimes especially) when the opinion is different. Freedom doesn't hide in a bubble with yes-men, and have its campaign crowds screened for mindless loyalty; it doesn't need to, or want to, for that matter. Freedom knows that real truth withstands reflection and scrutiny and honest debate; it's the scams that you must keep under wraps, and even then, only release under the most guarded and loaded marketing terms your propaganda machine can come up with. Freedom means having enough damned common sense to know that a good idea is self-evident -- it doesn't need to be lied about, or marketed, or have its message honed with focus groups and such. Freedom does not need to hide behind a chickenshit 527 with a bogus backstory, to get its message across.

Freedom has requirements and responsibilities of its adherents and practitioners. It requires its voters to stay informed, because information is vigilance, and only vigilance protects the republic from without and within. It requires its voters to take their responsibilities seriously and soberly, and to understand that poking their noses into their neighbors' sex lives pales beside such notions as national security and economic standing and resource management. Rank tribalism and sectarianism are the sworn enemies of individual freedom, and are in fact the roots of fascism, once laced with the appropriate religio-nationalist symbolism and rhetoric. To allow these things to be used to divide citizens against each other is anathema to freedom.

George W. Bush talks incessantly about freedom, but he clearly has no idea what it really means, and why this knowledge matters. It's up to us to get serious about what it means to us, and act upon it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You said "George W. Bush talks incessantly about freedom, but he clearly has no idea what it really means, and why this knowledge matters. It's up to us to get serious about what it means to us, and act upon it."
Terrible, Terrible, Terrible. It is precisely because he knows what FREEDOM means that you are able to blog about this. One day I hope you understand what FREEDOM means. Thank God for George W. Bush