Live Free or Die
By Justin Case
The issue of freedom is in the news lately, in both Montana and Tibet. And while it has faded from the headlines due to a press black out, the people of Burma struggle against the oppressive junta that brutally rules that southeast Asian country. We also read that Raoul Castro recently granted the use of cell phones to the captive people of Cuba, where his now ailing brother Fidel installed informants on every block to ensure loyalty to the “people’s” revolution.
In the U.S., we apply a more highly refined calibration to our standards of freedom. We are offended at the idea of anything resembling a national identity card—Real ID, as it is called—especially if having one requires submitting a data base filled with informa-tion about Montanans to the federal government.
Suddenly, people who usually deplore the term are worried about states rights, as if the federal government had only recently begun to trample them. I’m not talking merely about unfunded mandates like No Child Left Behind, but the entire structure of Washington vis a vis the states that has eclipsed the constitutional limits the nation’s founders had in mind.
Yet the states, the people, have invited this consti-tutional perversion, owing to their willingness to be seduced by politicians promising (though never deliv-ering) everything from financial security in old age, to effective inner city schools, to Katrina relief. Meanwhile, you and I work several months a year to pay taxes, though few notice because they are accustomed to a system that steals directly from their paychecks. Many, as well, aren’t aware that their employers are forced to match their social security and Medicare confiscations. Add to that the hefty tribute required by the government endorsed racket called the insurance industry, and realize that freedom, measured in labor and dollars, ain’t what it used to be in America, and that that sad state of affairs is the result of so many, from soccer moms to socialists, whining for the government to take care of their needs when they should be taking care of themselves—or seeking help from their families, or rallying local communities and states to home grown self-determination instead of federal dependence and the massive debt that come with it.
People now whine about George Bush and the Patriot Act, but most came late to the party. They’re concerned (rightly) about the government accessing library records, and other “extra constitutional” powers embedded in the Act, but this has been going on for decades in far broader and more egregious ways than that which is authorized by the Patriot Act. What do they think the IRS is all about, the gestapo like agency (although now with a kinder, gentler jackboot) that can rifle through your world anytime it chooses, with courts of its own making and “laws” encoded in tomes so voluminous and arcane they are, in effect, arbitrary? (Ask Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, both of whom used that agency against their rivals.) This agency has no qualms about accessing databases containing your personal records from financial institutions or the Montana Department of Revenue.
This all pales, of course, in comparison to the cruelty and degradations suffered by Tibetan monks and others who dare to defy, even in small ways, the government in Beijing—and then there’s Havana, Rangoon, Teheran, Pyongyang, and others. Having to march to Washington’s tune is a far cry from being executed for displaying your native flag, which is the penalty the Chinese government imposes on Tibet. Less harsh penalties are imposed for demonstrating, or even Googling, but those are still severe and born of the contempt and arrogance that goes hand in hand with governments whose powers are forcibly maintained at the barrel of a gun or handed to them by sheepish people who ignorantly exchange liberty for promised security. In our case, instead of security, we inherit the 1,000 federal agencies that spring from that false promise and the requirement to fund them, which comes in the form of you working a sizable portion of the year for the bureaucracy while adhering to its whims. Let government maintain roads, bridges, parks, and a standing army—you do the rest.
None of this, though, ultimately, gets at the solution. Political freedom is indispensable to mankind’s evolution, but, obviously, merely having it handed to us does not move the ball forward (think Iraq). If internal freedom is not cultivated, freedom of the mind and heart, from that which limits understanding and personal empowerment, then the inheritance of political freedom is useless. Who was it who said that without personal virtue, civic virtue is impossible?
The test of a human being, ultimately, is to embody virtue regardless of circumstances, and regard-less of who wields power. Look at the monks in Tibet and Burma, those who pursue the ultimate freedom, or dissidents in Cuba, China and North Korea. You already enjoy every political freedom for which they endure torture and imprisonment, yet you clamor for the authorities, not to stop beating you with a pipe, but to fund a favorite social program at your neighbor’s expense, giving it the power to confiscate, to raid, even as it sets up laws and courts to enforce mandatory compliance through arbitrary laws.
Doing so, you buy into the phony social contract advanced by those running for office who take advan-tage of your ignorance—that somehow the powers that be are going to improve your life, if only you give them the power to do so. Giving in to that Faustian bargain, following in the footsteps of Esau, who sold his inher-itance for a mere morsel, you trade liberty for dependence, and you betray the principles and sacrifice upon which the country was founded. It’s a cheap and easy bargain with a terrible price, yet it has become the norm.
Put another way, you get the political leadership you deserve, the kind that reflects an abdication of internal virtue and self-reliance in favor of parental-like control. You let government place a V-chip on your existence, because you don’t have the faith in yourself and the good sense to stand free.
Once you get over kicking against the idea that you may be responsible for this circumstance, inclu-ding the current administration (even if you oppose it), think about the concept some more. If you are in a state of reaction to, for instance, George Bush and Dick Cheney, and look for a savior in Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton, what part do you play in this process. Do you not foster it?
Let that percolate and fester awhile in your mind, therapeutically, and then take it one step further. See if that which you react to most indignantly in George Bush is not the thing you yourself have called for, and then understand what binds you emotionally to the situation, repetitively, until you transcend it—as if you’re a teenager trying to leave the house, but dear old Dad is George W. Bush. You might admit, at least, that you sought to empower him (government), made that bargain with the devil, and then got what you wanted, albeit in a way that horrifies you.
Resolving one’s inner life, then, is essential to achieving real freedom, from self-ordained oppression. It’s the stone at the foundation of self and society. It’s the simplest, most consequential form of personal responsibility. Call it karma, playing the hand you’re dealt, or not whining for others to improve your lot. Realize you can’t easily change the world, but you can change yourself. Real freedom begins with freedom from self-delusion, from intellectual and emotional dishonesty, from trances adopted since childhood, from resentment, greed, and rash judgement, from the beam in the eye that obscures vision and the one in the heart that negates courage and faith. This is freedom no politician can bequeath or take away.
It begins within, within you. If you don’t quite buy that, listen to the political rants of those who wear their politics on their sleeves, who are so tweaked, whose knickers are so in a twist, that they can’t control themselves or their words and emotions when in a conversation about politics. Decide if you want such a personality, or the product of many such personalities, calling the shots in elected office. It’s the Taliban all over again. And the degree to which you subscribe to the rant is the degree to which you are responsible for the consequences.
A society is no better than its people. People have identity-related issues only they can resolve. Denying them, shuffling them off to political opportunists who take advantage of abdicated personal power, makes of you a slave to a force that feeds on your vitals while you sleep. Better to know yourself. Real ID indeed.
Live free or die.