Memo For File CXLIII
So yesterday I burned through half a tank of gas “scouting out” some new bike trials. It’s time-consuming, but relaxing in its own way and I’ve found it to be a smart thing to do. Google Maps doesn’t tell you where the hills are, you know, and it’s not too functional at warning you about the spots where there’s simply no place for a bicycle to go. Anyway, about four hours went into the ether for this excursion, and I did ’em all without the benefit of any audio distractions of any kind. The brain just starts to percolate. Not with entirely useful stuff, mind you. Just as a sampling, I had suddenly realized, in my four-wheeled air-conditioned chrysalis, that the “Dinner With the Bad Guy” scene in James Bond movies seems to consistently take place within the last thirty minutes of the film, whereas in all other action movies it seems to be required somewhere in the first half.
Wouldn’t mind at all getting together with you to knock back a couple cold ones, if you’re the type who’s sitting there right now saying “Duh, hey…now that I think on it, he’s right.” But I suspect most people will say, just dang, how do you get off on these tangents, Freeberg?
Another thing I thought about was power and freedom. I have long been convinced that our failure to find satisfaction in our system of elected representation, is due not entirely to our perpetual unpleasant discovery of the ramifications involved in allowing all others to have a voice. We are unhappy, primarily, because we don’t know the difference between power and freedom.
Upton Sinclair wrote, “The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC.” He was speaking of his experience running for Governor of California in 1934 under the platform “End Poverty In California” — in which he lost, but his point was that he netted many more votes in that campaign than he did previously, running as a socialist. Labels are important. They’re far more important to us than they would be, if we went running around being honest about our motives all the time. But we’re all sons and daughters of Adam, possessing such a formidable level of genius that we can deceive even ourselves. Yes, the calories in the donut count when nobody’s looking, and yes that politician is a rotten egg-sucking socialist. But he knows what Upton Sinclair figured out, so he doesn’t call himself one. Doesn’t mean he isn’t one.
Now freedom and power are interesting and illuminating tells against our psychology, because they aren’t even used as labels.
I think most people would be willing, even eager, to sign on to the statement “I’m going to vote today to preserve my freedom” whereas the same cannot be said of the statement “I’m going to vote today to acquire power.” Conversely, the “power” statement would probably, in many cases, be much more refreshingly honest. That’s what I think the problem is: People believe they are casting a vote for the sake of their own freedom, but their intent is really to deny someone with different interests of their freedom. The denial of freedom for this other guy, in turn, is their idea of “power” but even that is mostly an illusion. Someone somewhere (I’ve pretty much given up on my quest to try to find this again) made an excellent point that if there is any one facet to life in America in which local authority remains everlastingly sovereign, and respected across the board, it is the selection of stations on the stereo in our cars. His point was that because of this, we do not have alienating, heated arguments about radio stations. But as sure as the sun is going to rise tomorrow, if we were to eliminate all radio stations except for one, and coordinate the programming on that one station and vote on its contents — do I even need to finish that sentence. You know what would happen. We’re already living it day in and day out…with all other things that are centrally managed.
People want an end to the contention and they want to be unified. You do that by allowing people to choose what makes the most sense to them, and protecting them from the impact of what the next fellow chooses to do.
Do that, and everybody has real freedom. They have real power, too.
What we have been doing is exactly the opposite. We trundle off to the polling place before or after work on a Tuesday in November to protect our “freedoms” we think, but really to acquire “power” by making sure some other guy is defrocked of all this power. If we succeed at it, then the next election cycle or maybe the second one afterward, maybe the third, he’ll do it back to us again. Every now and then one of these back-and-forth rituals is finally settled forevermore, never to be raised as a question ever again. In that case, it has not escaped my notice that the final solution to the problem has something to do with less power and less freedom for everybody, save for whoever makes the rules, and nobody’s really sure who that guy is. But the end of the road is that we don’t get to pick the car radio station anymore. It’s one less choice for us, some rule to be followed…and I have the unsettling feeling that a majority of my countrymen find some comfort and satisfaction in this. Oh goody! A rule to follow. I can’t get in trouble.
The freedom thing I find more disturbing than the power thing. There would be an obvious stigma attached to a person who says “I’m going off to vote so I can get more POWER!” even if that is, in most cases, true. There would be no such stigma placed upon someone who says “I’m going off to vote so I can keep my FREEDOM!” That’s what we’re all supposed to be doing anyway…
So how come I don’t hear that many politicians, nowadays, making speeches about freedom? I hear “millionaires and billionaires” and “private jets” so many times, the cliché becomes a caricature of itself…and then I hear it a whole bunch more times. But the simple word “freedom”? It doesn’t seem to make the cut.
FDR used it; he built an entire speech around it. Having apparently learned the same lesson Upton Sinclair learned, he used his labels wisely and in such a deceptive and sneaky way as to deploy the “F-word” for the explicit purpose of advancing the “S-word,” socialism. Seven decades later, his legacy has been continued with such gusto that his heirs-apparent would sneer at his “Freedom of Speech” and “Freedom of Worship.” They work against both, zealously, pretty much constantly. They’re proud of it.