The Myth of Freedom

Freedom cannot be given- it can only be taken away. At birth we have the freedom to do anything we please- not the tools perhaps, but the options. From that point forward, we gradually learn that what we are allowed to do and what we want to do are often at odds. The rest of our life is a continual struggle to reconcile the two. The more fortunate among us never worry about it- they do what they wish, and accept that temporary social or moral currents may find their actions out of favor. So be it. If they wish to communicate with others without being overheard, they go to a field, street corner… or a pgp secure mail drop. The notion that a government- any government, can tell you that privacy is allowed is a ridiculous notion. No one questions a person who puts curtains on the windows of their home- why would windows to our data be any different?

The fear, of course, is that the government, purely as a defensive measure, has to assume that all of it's populous is conspiring to defeat it. As with any belief system, it all rests on an act of faith. Our government only exists because WE THE PEOPLE believe it to. If enough of us stop harboring this notion, then it will , over time, fade away. If enough of us find that the notion of a democracy (or however you want to label our current system) doesn’t suit us , then we will, by action, develop an environment that fits our needs better. It might include the stockpiling of arms, or the use of a controlled substance, both of which may, or may not, be legal.

Take the use of arms in this country. From Charleton Heston to the corner bar loudmouth, the second amendment is brought up again and again as our right to carry guns. This piece of constitutional hyperbole was drafted in an era of "less is more" thinking on government, when the memories of a rule by monarchy was fresh. The concept of a "well armed militia" did most likely give Thomas Jefferson and others of his ilk a warm fuzzy feeling when they laid down at night, but since then the seed of this idea- basically, that the governed have the right to protect themselves from the government- has been lost (ask Randy Weaver or better yet, his wife…). In its place we are now suffering under a glut of easy death. It's a no-brainer that a nation armed to the hilt is far more dangerous than one that isn't. Compare the numbers of death by bullet in England vs. the U.S.A. You don't need to use a calculator to see that we are a bloodthirsty nation, with far too easy access to the means of slaughter. Yes, if the police went house to house, bar to bar with metal detectors and took back all the guns and melted them down, yes we would lose a basic tenet of the "rights" given to us by our founding fathers. However, it is evident that we have already lost a far more basic right- the right to live in peace, without fear. Any reasonable person fears random acts of violence- high school students, post office managers, anyone at all. Is the answer more guns? It's hard to believe anyone would say yes, but many do. If the limit of my fear at night was that someone would attempt a home invasion with a knife, then I'd rest a little easier. I imagine the Heston would as well.

Reams of paper have been spent trying to understand the tragedy in Colorado. To anyone who has lived in a poor section of a city, the reason why the slaughter occurred is simple to determine- these were people who had no sense of power in their lives. They are the rich(er) cousins of those people in my old neighborhood who walked in the middle of the street, when a perfectly good sidewalk awaited them a few feet away. The people in my area felt no control over the issues confronting their lives- they had no power. Raised in a multi-generation, female-run household, there was no one to look up to, no one to give a damn, or set limits. They rightly felt ignored. Walking down the middle of the street, or driving slowly by my house with their stereo blasting gutter filth was the only way they had to shout "HEY! Look at me! I exist!" Did the trenchcoat mafia feel the same?

Summing up, "freedom" is a myth. It relies too heavily on agreement among so many different groups of people, that is ceases to exist at all. Everyone has the freedom to do anything in the world they like- as long as that by doing it, they don't rule out my "right" to do the same. As the old saying goes, your right to swing your fist ends at my face.

©1999 James Mann

Originally appeared on

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