"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

America, Land Of The Free - Or Is It? A Doubtful Proposition At Best

Americans don’t question freedom any more than they question the sunrise; and yet, despite its ‘inalienability’, the concept has been distorted, manipulated, and used for purely political ends since the days of the Revolution.  In principle we are a nation of laws because, according to our social contract, the State as protector and guarantor of our rights must pass and enforce laws that discourage or prevent any violation of them. 

Yet the State has taken its charge far too seriously, and it is those very laws which now inhibit our freedom. Government has overreached, and freedom of choice – the fundamental principle behind all others, has become more and more limited. Every aspect of our lives is regulated. Economic and financial activity, education, transport, social community and preference, sexuality, and religion all come under State scrutiny and in the name of civil protection, more and more regulation is added to an already long list.

It is not a free country when your car, your house, your school, your church, and your work all fall under the authority of the State.  One may have the ‘freedom’ to choose among alternatives, but since they are all regulated and in one way or another determined by the State, the ‘freedom’ is fictive.

Laws to promote equality, while in principle important for assuring the extension of rights to all citizens, have also eroded personal freedoms. The legalization of gay marriage, favoring what many Christians consider a Biblical ‘abomination’, has infuriated many.  Instead of guaranteeing all legal rights through civil contract, the State has determined that only marriage will do.  

The protection of gay and women’s rights – important and required by law – has become an Anschluss in universities, offices, and public institutions. A culture of victimhood has replaced true respect.  The fight between individuals and their enterprises constrained by law and the demands of newly-empowered sub-groups have created an atmosphere of divisiveness and hostility. Affirmative action, now finally in its death throes stepped on the freedoms of some to supposedly promote the freedoms of others.

Since 9/11 the State has been increasingly invasive of individual privacy.  In addition to universal regulation, government now must widen the net even further.  While one in principle has freedom of speech, one wrong word on the Internet can lead to investigation, detention, and arrest.

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Electronic surveillance is everywhere.  Every move we make, every keystroke, every purchase, every opinion is tracked. We have done more than our share to collaborate in the progressive erosion of individual liberties. We love our cookies and cede intrusive surveillance to Amazon, Netflix, and the US Government.  We are happy that websites have become more personal and attentive.  Why spend the time going through endless film lists and bibliographies when Amazon’s intelligent programming and big data algorithms can simplify the task?

COVID has been a boon to big government.  It has arrogated unth9ught of authority to itself, shutting down America in pursuit of the vainest of all vanities - preventing the natural, inevitable, necessary ebb and flow of nature.  Despite mask mandates, social distancing, and the shutting down of schools and businesses, the virus is still with us, mutating, and pervasive. 

It always was a disease of the infirm - hospitalizations and deaths were relatively small to begin with, and nothing to compare with cancer or heart disease; and disproportionately affected those with underlying systemic disease.  The young and healthy and children were affected in only minor ways.  Risk aversion was the panicked meme, and government, knowing that this was a unique opportunity to extend its reach became Soviet in all but a politburo. 

The State cannot be entirely blamed for the erosion of freedom in the United States. Politicians are satisfied more with the semblance of freedom than the principle itself. In an election season patriotism based on The Land of the Free is invoked on ever stump and town meeting.  Politicians know that most Americans will look no further than the Flag and the words of the Bill of Rights for confirmation of their freedom; and will vote for more and more restrictive legislation every chance they get.

Corporate interests cannot be exonerated either.  There is no doubt that money rules in capitalist America – always has and always will – and corporate power determines marketplace choice and legislative action.  The two-year electoral cycle of members of Congress all but assures appealing to corporate interests and repaying financial favors.

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 We may be shareholders in corporate America and may vote for our representatives in Washington, but our individual choices have been compromised by a corporate-political system which militates against individual rights and true freedom.  The country has simply outgrown the core democratic principles of the New England town meeting where both individual interests and community welfare were debated and decided upon openly. “Live Free or Die”, the longstanding motto of New Hampshire has become no more than a meaningless slogan.

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Capitalism itself has been one of the greatest inhibitors of freedom in the United States. People may in principle be free to follow their economic self-interest and move up the socio-economic scale, but every Walmart checker or waitress knows the system is stacked against her.

Americans never thought that they would live in an America which increasingly resembles a Soviet gulag.  Never did they think they would have to worry about whether an innocent online search would alert the FBI; or whether an ethnic zinger – the stock in trade of the Borscht Belt in the 50s - would bring the long arm of the law, get them fired, or exiled from their professional community.

We show our identity papers before any transaction – travelling, booking, purchasing, or borrowing. We must swear to moral probity and impeccably clean personal record before even taking university classes.  It amounts to the most aggressive, pervasive, and intrusive personal frisking ever.

China has long said that political and civil freedoms mean little until the majority of the population is freed from hunger and want. A one-party state is necessary to assure the regularity, predictability, and authority the country needs to rapidly modernize.  The model, despite the China-bashing carping from American politicians, has worked. China’s economic miracle is a remarkable success story.

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Radical Islamists loudly proclaim that the State has no authority, and all deference must be paid to God.  A Muslim Caliphate ruled by religious leaders faithful first and foremost to the Koran is the ideal social organization.  Even moderate Muslims in Europe deny the authority of the State and demand sharia law.  Most Africans are ruled by despotic Dictators for Life and live in a country with no rights whatsoever.

The point is that there are no such things as ‘inalienable rights’, for even in the supposedly freest country in the world – the United States – freedom is little more than a vain promise.  Every citizen’s ‘freedom’ is limited by the State and by powerful commercial-political alliances.  Capitalism which does indeed allow people to go from rags to riches, also assures the almost permanent immobility of large proportions of the population.

Thomas Jefferson’s aspirational quote is well-known:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

What Jefferson did not known – and could not have known – was that ‘the law’ would be transformed from a narrow institution of government into a universal legal-corporate-economic-social hydra. 

Christ in the Gospels echoes a similar sentiment.  Mosaic Law was not wrong, he said; but it has been twisted and replaced by meaningless sacrifice and ritual. He, like Jefferson, would be sorely disappointed at the almost total ignorance of the essence and meaning of law and justice.


American exceptionalism has been based on this fictive notion of freedom, and we have gone to war to promote it.  Politicians and the rest of us fail to look inward before we look outward; are condemned to repeat our mistakes because of our idealism and our ignorance.

Voting is a chimera.  While voters are free to express their opinions at the polls, elected officials quickly are subsumed within the partisan claques in Congress. Divisive, hyper-political hysteria rules Washington, and the will of the people is ultimately and surely corrupted by the legislative process. 

Apparently, however, we are happy believing that we live in the best, the greatest, the most important, and freest nation in the world.  So be it.

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