Monday, June 7, 2010

The American Version of Freedom

It's a peculiarity of American politicos that the use the f-word (no, not that one!) attaches to just about every venue in which they appear, and to every issue. But how real is American freedom? More to the point, how does it compare with the freedom that other nations cherish, nations such as Norway, Barbados or Germany? Answering these questions can shed no small amount of light on the freedom we believe we have.

According to David M. Potter, in Freedom and its Limitations in American Life, (Stanford University Press, 1976), people of most other nations understand freedom to be wide ranging and to include freedom to express opinions contrary to the majority, or the societal "norms" and even engage in active dissent. Also, freedom to live as one chooses, e.g. in Barbados 'squatting' is quite legal, so long as it's not near water reservoirs, wells.

To the typical American (p. 7) "freedom" is not so inclusive or expansive but is limited to two concepts: "free and independent" and "free and equal". The first implies "freedom to avoid dependence" , e.g on any higher authority, thereby to attain true independence.This "freedom" is what the Tea Party Brigade incessantly invokes in its rallies to pursue the ultimate goal of "every man for himself" and no "nanny state".

As Potter notes, the other concept, "Free and equal" implies the essence of freedom is:

"Not being different from other people, but rather on a par with other people; not the right to choose between various modes of life, but the right to enjoy a mode as good as anyone else's "

In effect, the first ensures the typical American will pursue no true freedom of thought, but rather freedom from all collective responsibility or accountability to a defined commonweal. ) This "freedom to avoid dependence" - which is to say, be "free" of the "Nanny state" has its limits. As FDR himself once pointed out: "Necessitious men cannot be free men.", so this is hardly a freedom worth pursuing if it means you're only "free" to eat dead rats in a dumpster - since the society provides no safety nets.

Tea Party types might regard the average Norwegian as a "statist slave" - but at least that Norwegan is a citizen in his or her own right, not merely a sheep or consumer - and has benefits and personal latitudes we lack, such as: 6 months paid leave for pregnancies, up to one year for home care of infants, 6 weeks or more paid leave for vacation, and up to one month (30 days) as paid sick leave days. The typical American, meanwhile, is damned lucky to get two paid weeks vacation a year, and most don't get that. As for sick days, sick leave in the typical company - that benefit went out about the same time the 401k arrived, and defined benefits pensions ceased.

As for pregnant women, they can avail themselves of The Family and Medical Leave Act - which provides up to 12 weeks of NON-paid leave, but nothing more.

Comparing the two conditions, in the two nations, it is really difficult to see or perceive how the "lucky" American is more free than his Norwegian counterpart. Yet, this is the bill of PR goods we've been sold, and asked to digest: "Be ncessitious and deprived of essential benefits other nations take for granted....oh and remember, you're free!

The second concept ensures the American will cultivate a huge measure of conformity and blandness in his culture and society, eschewing any divergences from what are perceived as national norms. Thus, if one exercises some essential freedom or unrecognized latitude of behavior in the middle of 'Rubeville' - in which it is perceived you have become a "king" unto yourself, watch out! You will likely have your windows shot out one night. The hoi polloi don't want you flaunting what they can't conceive themselves with their limited pea brains- or for which they lack the cojones to exercise in the first place.

As Potter notes, that is the extent of our much extolled American freedom.

Since, 9/11 it has been pared back even more, thanks to the Patriot Act. Recall in the hysteria of the moment this was passed by nearly all of congress with no more than a baker's dozen actually sitting down and reading what was in it. Those that did (like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold) didn't like what they saw and expressed their rightful reservations.

Now in the years since 2002 we've seen why, with things like "black bag searches" allowed without search warrant. (This could have been allowed to expire in February this year, but congress punted.) That is, Federal agents can enter a domecile when no one's there, search the papers, effect and computer and not leave so much as a fingerprint for a calling card, far less a note. The odd thing is most of the Tea Party crowd were mostly okay with this dramatic expansion of government power, even as they've currently dissed health care reform. It appears odd that such "citizens" can approve a form of government expansion that inveighs against citizen rights, but be perfectly fine with a form that would confer more general benefits - even if only about half what the Norwegians have.

But when more than 70% of Americans can no longer name 6 of the Bill of Rights, what do you expect? Maybe this is also why most Tea Partyers are blase about the rise of corporate power and domination. By allowing money to pollute the civic well (exponentially enhanced via the recent Supreme Court 'Citizens United' ruling), so that corporate lobbyists can write the laws instead of the legislators, we enter the realm of the corporatocracy. By allowing such buy offs of the latter, then corporate hegemony rules and defeats all the votes cast in elections.

Even small nations like Barbados have the innate political sense to outlaw private contributions beyond a fixed and limited threshold, and aren't so stupid as to confuse money with speech.

Recall Thomas Jefferson's own words:

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of the country."

If the Founders were alive and here today - in other words- they'd recoil in stark horror at the mess they'd see and how far their best aspirations had fallen to the power of money. Money as "free speech"? Indeed! Jefferson would've vomited non-stop at any such perfidious suggestion.

Jefferson wrote in his 'Notes on Virginia', that to the extent the people's minds are improved they will hold check on the worst excesses of government. (Which, he added, will always tend toward tyranny otherwise). If the people's minds are degraded (as they are by market values and egotistical satiation of personal desires in consumption) they will become mere pawns or tools for a despotic government to wield any way it wants. By "despotic" I mean here a government like the Bush-Cheney abomination which approved widespread torture violating International laws, as well as violating the (1978) FISA law (which eliminated the 4th amendment of the Bill of Rights) and set up the repeal of habeas corpus via the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Thanks to the Bushistas, the country- since 9/11- has been converted into a literal mass of automatons, ready to disregard the reality of their own eyes to accept whatever they're told. In the end, democracy demands conscious and fully aware CITIZENS, prepared to confront the truth however unpalatable or horrific it may be. There's no place for 'denial' in the genuine citizen's repertoire.

This is what is needed, not sheeple consumers who think en masse and lack any critical thought capacity or minds of their own. And have to be tricked by advertising and marketing to cast the "right" vote. Or whose voting extends no further than participation in a personality contest, or 'who has the best sound bite'.

In a truly rational society - such 'zombies' would never be permitted near a ballot box. The fact they're in the US of A, and have made a shambles of their franschise, opens the door to Ur-Fascism in its most virulent form.

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