A colleague remarked to me recently that liberty is a rather esoteric idea; something that doesn’t really impact us on a daily basis. While my initial reaction was rather nonchalant, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a disturbing thought that is, and how critically important it should be to all of us to realize the utter falsehood of the statement.
Liberty is only an esoteric, non-constant thought to those who have become so used to freedom that they no longer recognize the possibility of living their life under tyranny. The arguments against such a frightening mindset are innumerable, but let me enumerate just two reminders of lives, of worlds, where liberty and freedom were missing.
The people of the now defunct Soviet Union and all the Soviet bloc nations of that era leap first to mind. I’m pretty sure that those hundreds of millions didn’t think freedom and liberty were esoteric. The farmers who lost their farms, the ethnic minorities who were murdered in Stalin’s purges and the sovereign nations – Poland, Bulgaria, Romania to name only a few – knew damned well what they were missing because they had known freedom, and had it wrenched from their grasp at the points of Soviet guns.
Slaves held in bondage during the dismal era of slavery in the United States may have – in some cases – not truly known what they were missing, because they’d never experienced liberty. Nonetheless, almost surely they yearned to be free, for the human soul does eternally seek to be free of oppression so that every man or woman can be his or her own master.
Yet to us, as Americans who have been born and raised as free people, in a nation that proclaims its love of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – what is freedom?
Need we lose that freedom before we realize how dear it is? How each of us benefits from our cherished liberty day in, day out? I hope not, I think not – but still, let us pause for a moment to reach out and remember some of the ways that freedom touches us in our own personal lives, day-by-day, moment upon moment.
The Internet – Find what you want, when you want, anytime, 24/7. News from hundreds of sources, not just the major corporate or government run networks. Read blogs, chat with people worldwide. Awesome!
Email – Reach out to friends, business associates, people you’ve read about, heard about, admire, dislike, whatever. Communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere. Fantastic!
Smartphones – Text, email, send messages, take pictures and videos, tweet, send pictures and video, post on Facebook, connect on LinkedIn. Amazing!
Amazon & the whole online shopping world – Books, games, clothing, smartphones, laptops, tablets, appliances, kitchen things, bathroom stuff, bedroom items, music, jewelry – Incredible!
These fantastic technical innovations , my friends, are just a few, a very few, manifestations of our freedom, of personal liberty in America. Can anyone doubt that these technological advances have changed our lives, magnificently expanding our abilities to express ourselves, enjoy ourselves, and pursue our own chosen paths to happiness? Taken together, they give each of us more personal freedom than any people at any time in the history of humanity.
But, sometimes, that Internet thing; it can be…well…kind of dangerous, right? Might be some worrisome ideas circulating there. Maybe the government should exercise a little control – just a little bit! – over what we can find, what we see or say on the internet. Get rid of the pornography, shut down the irresponsible websites, control what goes on, out there on that scary internet. After all – someone has to be watching over us; it’s for our protection.
And…that email thing. Who knows what some people might be saying in their emails? That can be sort of dangerous, too, can’t it? Probably wouldn’t hurt to have someone keep an eye on the emails; well, not all of them, just…maybe a few hundred thousand of them, perhaps a few million. Hey, I know! We could let the National Security Agency handle that. They’re safe, trustworthy; an agency of the government, right? Nothing to worry about. Kind of like having a nice, caring Big Brother, don’t you think?
Speaking of Big Brother, how about drones and cameras on street corners, concepts which were science fiction not too long ago? According to Rep. Peter King of New York, speaking soon after the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, “we need more cameras”, and with the latest drones up in the sky we can watch people everywhere. And they’ll never even know. That will keep us safe.
Another thing that might be a problem; those smartphones are darn near everywhere these days. Can’t tell who people are calling, might be someone anywhere in the world, maybe a terrorist. Don’t know what they’re saying, either. Hmm. As long as we have the NSA watching emails, might as well have them monitor smartphones too, right?
Come to think of it, all those darn books on Amazon. Some of those might be…well…a little unnerving. Hard to believe, but it’s possible that one or two – or maybe even a few more – of those books might say things that aren’t true about some folks in the government. Those would be lies! Even worse, they might suggest that people should speak out against the government. That would be…horrible! Someone needs to keep an eye on those too, shouldn’t they, those pernicious books?
Does all that sound ridiculous? Seriously?
Monitoring the Internet has been proposed in the U.S. Congress, and come very close to passing.
The NSA reading emails and getting cell phone records? As we’ve all read lately, they’ve “been there; done that.” Do you really believe they won’t do it again?
Cameras on the street corners. Drone surveillance. Those are real life events in America today. “Not very often” they say. “Only limited usage” they say. Sure.
Censorship of books? Not yet, at least in the U.S. But the way things are going, is it too far away? If you can’t wear a mask and make fun of the President without someone calling for a federal investigation, what happens if you write a book that makes fun of the President? What’s the difference between a book and a mask?
Read your copy of the U.S. Constitution. All of the above are banned in the Bill of Rights:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press
There’s an old proverb which I expect most of you have heard: “Once the camel gets his nose under the flap of the tent, there’s no way to keep the rest of him from following it.”
We all need to join hands and collectively push the damn camel backwards until he gets his intrusive nose out of our Liberty!
One can only imagine that Thomas Jefferson, a vehement champion of individual rights, would be dismayed and sadly disappointed to see these invasions of freedom in America today.