It isn’t surprising that so many of us see ourselves at war with the rest of the world. We have been cutting ourselves off from perceived opposition since long before there was such a dream as America. The dream of America has meant many things to many different people, and the first dreamers of freedom were not Americans. Those people dreamed of a future, free from oppression. They saw a faraway land where everything could begin anew; where people could make up their own rules and live the way they always wanted. America was meant to be the one place on earth where people could truly be free.
America is not the United States. America is a universal ideal that people have been fighting for since the stone ages. But the fact alone that this idea of universal freedom (a slow-crawling nightmare that has been bonded to slavery and genocide until this very day) has been given a nationalistic title at is the only thing we need to know about just how tenuous the concept of liberty has always been.
People take possession of freedom, both their own and the source of its greatness. This, in itself, is the first hypocrisy; it is the first sign that there never will be a free world.
I am in a fuming rage today, and I cannot get past it. Oh, this is not specifically to do with the theme of today’s essay, but it is where I shall focus the staunch discontent and percolating anger I have been feeling for years and for years and for years. I am a dedicated student of American history. Sometimes rather desperately I attempt to make connections with the past in hopes of discovering where we might be going in the future. The claim that ‘history repeats itself’ is accurate, but it’s not entirely true. The same mistakes are made, sure, but they are always over different things, all under the guise of what we believe to be freedom. But as the years go by and our beliefs and priorities change (at least nominally), our problems seem more urgent, generation after generation, and those things we obsess over consume every angle of debate. Every era is at war with the one that preceded it. This is how we get ‘revisionist history,’ which is an editorial view on the way things probably were, a debunking of heroism, from both left and right, that turns once admirable or loathsome figures into their equal and opposite extremes.
Today we live in an age of cynical judgment. Judgment has always been a part of our national character–and I do not mean to exclude international concerns! We must fully admit that these same problems are a worldwide phenomenon; I realize that every person struggles with a definition of right and wrong, of justice versus tyranny. But I can only speak from my small corner of America, which has been mythologized into something it is not, and never has been. America as a beacon of hope, or a corrupt monstrosity, consuming every part of the world; America the savior or grand oppressor; the thief, an inspiration. My America is all of these.
America isn’t even America, because that grand title is spread over two of our seven continents. We have just taken the name for ourselves–United States of America. Even our title sets us apart from the rest of the world, as though we were united against every other idea, and therefore either better or worse ideologically–a nation of warriors for an individual truth. And I make this distinction intentionally. If some people here believe we are better than the rest of the world, while others hatefully scour the news and glare out the window at all the hateful people, then were is the unity? We are not united. None of us have ever been united.
The world has turned into a large-scale and very serious board game, chess or Risk or maybe something no one plays anymore, like Stratego, where generals and pawns throw themselves into battle with everybody else, and hope to slaughter the king of the other side. Out current state of warfare–and I guess this has always been the case too–is about destabilizing the nation, setting it against each other. War is about rousing enough misery that the people start demanding change. I mean, look at the collapse of the Soviet Union. We painted it as an oppressed nation, and of course in many ways it certainly was. There was a wall blocking off the west, with guards on atop this hideous, man made mountain, covered with angry graffiti on both sides, and they were not afraid to shoot at people who tried to cross one way or the other. And the fact that people from both systems wanted to escape from the way of life forced upon them is what we need to recognize. The whole system was doomed from the start. Deep inside, no one really believes in equality.
Walls. Be try to build walls between each other, which not only keeps the rest of the world out, but our terror of change locks us in a cage of our own comfort. We will not step outside into the rest of the world. We close our minds. We seek comfort in fantasies of a history that never was. We tell fairy tales about made-up versions of real people and console ourselves with these stories, dreaming of a better day. Dreaming of America . . .
Our age is cynical, but the past looks mostly the same. Cynicism is the reaction of doubt. I have covered this same ground in a previous commentary, “The Sociology of Cynicism” from 10/26/2018, and will not expand (much) on those statements. But this is the horrible trend we experience all over the world as our expectations come to naught and our dreams refuse to ever come true. And it is not a dejected sulk we fall into, but the hypersensitivity of misdirected outrage, taking the easy way out and blaming the most obvious thing right in front of you. And even this is divided into sub-groups and sub-cultures and sub-genres of what is wrong with the world, another debate, another excuse, another violent, destabilizing war.
Fear and hopelessness are not so very different from one another. One is a reaction to uncertainty while the other is simply giving up on the future. On the notion of freedom. On the very idea that was once upon a time supposed to be America.
I get into debates–really arguments with people over the idea of freedom. The one thing still relevant is just how many different views people have of what this means to them. That is an example of freedom. ‘My God is better than your god.’ ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ ‘Here’s why . . .’
Some people like to say the absurd oxymoron that ‘freedom isn’t free.’ I understand what they intend this to mean, that every day we have to fight for our liberty and that there will always be people that will try to limit our freedom, or outright take it away from us. But this contradicts the very nature of freedom. Freedom is free, because it cannot be otherwise. The moment that groups of people start fighting over the very nature of freedom, it becomes about imposing one viewpoint over the other, where the triumphant side (before breaking up into their own warlike factions) tells the defeated what they are allowed to believe and what is now appropriate to worship. In this sense one might say that freedom is actually impossible, that living in a world with other people, and their opposing views is just another cage–a metaphoric wall–that will keep everyone from ever really being free.
I do not expect anyone to agree with me, and this is perhaps my point in the end. There will be some portions that sound right to you, while the rest is simply the blather of a disordered mind. Others may see that same disorder as the only valid point worth making. And this is freedom. This is the only definition of freedom. Because freedom is free. And that word–that idea–is the only thing we have to look forward to if we want to dream of a slightly better world.
©2018 Lance Polin