Category Archives: Freedom

How I came to be a NAL (the L part)

I am part of a very, VERY small group, the New Age Libertarans. My husband jokes that I and my two sisters are the only members of this oxymoronic covey. I think that explaining how this came to be so is worth a post or two.

First came the political persuasion.

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When I teach high school Government & Economics, I start one lesson by writing the following on the board:

For most people, choosing a favorite sports team is more a matter of geography than a reasoned choice.

The students debate the merits of this statement. Sure, the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox have had a good run in the last decade, and sure, if you’re growing up during this time in Boston or environs, you will be likely to enculturate their colors, their logo, their fans’ fervor. But what if you are growing up in Montana? What if Lacrosse is what lights your town on fire? What if you just don’t catch the glow of the Patriots or the Sox? Does that mean you are wrong?

Students usually come to the conclusion the statement is is true. One team is not inherently better than another (unless we’re talking about the Broncos, of course).

I then erase the sports reference and replace with the word religion.

For most people, choosing a religion is more a matter of geography than a reasoned choice.

Again, students debate whether or not they believe the statement is true. If you grow up in a Lutheran family in Minnesota, you are predisposed to holding Christian views and lifestyles. If you are born into a Jewish family in Tel Aviv, you are likely to espouse Judaism by osmosis, if not by choice. If your family is of the Vaishya caste, living in in Calcutta, Hinduism is probably your default setting.

People rarely choose a religion because it its True; they choose it because it is There.

Usually the class that ends up agreeing that one tends to be born into a religion, either by family or by culture.

Finally, I replace religion with one’s political leanings.

For most people, choosing a political party is more a matter of geography than a reasoned choice.

And they inevitably decide that that statement is also true.

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Each democratic society chooses several principles to honor and construct laws around, but only one can be The Guiding Principle.

Justice is good. Freedom is good. Equality is good. Harmony is good. And there are others in the mix…but which is best?

I grew up with a father who thinks Freedom is the epitome of human values.

And freedom, he says, is really three words: Freedom With Responsibility.

Limited government is the best way to keep individual freedoms for people and have society reap the benefits of human achievement. This includes our freedom to wonder, to work, to own the fruits of one’s labor and one’s risk-taking and one’s calculated efforts. And with these freedoms goes the responsibility to behave honorably and respectfully toward others.

To drive home his points with his three daughters, he did his own oxymoronic thang. When I was in high school (and my sisters in junior high and elementary school), a documentary was produced based on economist Milton Friedman’s personal statement Free to Choose.

We were made to watch this PBS series for 10 weeks. (Ten weeks! To a teenager!) When we complained about the irony — that we had no choice in the matter — Dad replied, “Sure you do. You can watch it either on Friday night or on Saturday morning.”

(Haha, Dad. You probably think I forgot. Or that I’ve forgiven you.)

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I grew up and married a Democrat. Roger’s father, a good man like mine, holds justice as his Guiding Principle (although he, too values freedom just as my dad also values justice.)

So we all have our default settings regarding politics. Mine was Republican, which at one time meant to me (correctly or not) the party of freedom and personal responsibility.

But no longer. Increasingly, the Republican party devalues both personal and economic freedoms. GOP lawmakers tax and spend just like their Democratic counterparts, and in addition they want to meddle with our freedoms in our private lives by telling consenting adults what is and it not OK for them to do behind closed doors.

So I will eventually switch my party affiliation.

But “New Age Libertarian” doesn’t quite have the same ring.

See part 2 of this series, for how my spiritual beliefs emerged.

The Handmaid’s Tale Book Tour

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in the mid-1990s, the summer I met the man who would become my husband. Roger was getting ready to teach it to his high school students, but he never got the opportunity. The book was challenged by a parent, and though Roger won the case, the chance to teach it passed.

On first reading, I thought my life path would be: court, marry, procreate, live happily ever after. On second reading — more than a decade and a well-worn map-to-parenthood later — the book struck very different chords.

In the beginning of the book, the Aunts discuss two facets of freedom: “freedom from” and “freedom to”. While the old government’s laws provided both types of freedom, the new government limited women’s freedom to “freedom from”. Do you think that “freedom from” is truly a freedom, or is it just the government’s way of subtly taking away rights?

Definitely the latter. This sentiment is commonly credited to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” For more of my thoughts on the coming dystopia and the prescience of Margaret Atwood, see my post from a few days ago.

One thing that struck me was how easily the Gileadean government robbed women of their economic power and, ultimately, freedom. All it took was a few keystrokes and threats to employers to throw women back into chattel status. Where was the opposition? And what about the men? Even Offred’s partner was unbothered by what was happening. How might the citizens in Offred’s culture have fought against the Gileadians’ plans? Or was the takeover inevitable once it began?

When people value more the “freedom from” than the “freedom to,” taking away freedoms will be as easy as the proverbial taking candy from a baby (which, in reality, is a strange simile, if you’ve ever tried doing so).

Life carries risk. The more we want to shift our risk onto others, the more we are willing to let others control us. We trade freedom for security (or the illusion of security, since risk is still there in some form or another). We’re like that doomed frog that is put in a pot of cool water with the heat turned on: because change happens gradually, we don’t jump out of the pot or yell “stop!” Gradualism takes patience if you’re the perpetrator, and vigilance and courage if you’re the frog.

We in the US hail our Constitution as the protector and guarantor of our rights. But without our awareness and willingness to fight to protect our rights, the Constitution is just an old piece of paper.

The Declaration of Independence says, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government.”

Thomas Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress were so committed to self-governance that they even declared the right/duty to “throw off” a government that’s become despotic! What citizenry in human history has ever been given by its founders permission — even the imperative — to overthrow a wayward government? (And whether Eyes are reading or not, I must point out I am not suggesting the overthrow of anything.)

When was the last time you read the Constitution? Do you think your elected officials have? How can you (and they) safeguard your freedoms if you don’t know what they are?

**stepping down from soap box**

I
t was at one time hard for me to put myself in the Wife’s shoes, but having dealt with infertility on a more personal sense, I find that I can sympathize with her and her role in this society. If you had to be in this society, how could you cope with your role in it? Would you be a Wife or a Handmaid? Could you sympathize with your counterpart?

Absolutely. I sympathize with both. If I had my choice (which, of course, I wouldn’t in Gilead), I think I’d be a Wife (as the lessor of two horrors). But I would also sympathize with the Handmaids. Both groups were stripped of the power of self-determination.

I know logically that one needs only food, shelter, air and water for survival. But to live without freedom seems so pathetically bleak, for both Blue and Red.

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Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler (with author participation!)

Dystopia — coming soon to a country near you?

The Barren Bi+ches Book Brigade is gearing up to discuss Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale next week. But this post is only tangentially about the book and mostly about what may already be happening to unsuspecting US citizens.

Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of a new society created when religious zealots overtook Congress and the Presidency, and created new categories of citizens to put all people — especially women — in their place. Women were prohibited from having jobs and from acting independently from men. Fertility has been diminished by environmental devastation, and consequently the remaining fertile women (who wear red) are now considered “national treasures” and given as handmaids to Commanders (military aristocrats) and their wives (who wear blue) as they perform their duties as conceivers and incubators. Other people serve as Aunts and Guardians (enforcers of the new regime), Eyes (spies to stamp out dissension) and Angels (soldiers fighting the remnants of the old regime). Offred, possession of and named for her Commander, tells the story.

How could it have come to this? From Chapter 28 (published in 1985):

All those women having jobs: hard to imagine now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing. Now it’s like remembering the paper money, when they still had that…Pieces of paper, greasy to the touch, green-colored, with pictures on each side, some old man in a wig and on the other side a pyramid with an eye above it. It said In God We Trust

You had to take those pieces of paper with you when you went shopping though by the time I was nine or ten most people used plastic cards. Not for the groceries though, that came later. It seems so primitive, totemistic eve, like cowry shells, I must have used that kind of money myself, a little, before everything went on the Compubank.

I guess that’s how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand. If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.

Sounds far-fetched, no? The United States is too stable to allow this to happen. The citizens are anything but complacent about our freedoms. Right?

As I finished reading the book earlier this week, that passage struck me as eerily familiar. In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are especially oppressed; in reality we may be heading for oppression of all.

Have you heard about RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) chips? Wikipedia says “an RFID tag is an object that can be applied to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person for the purpose of identification.”

In other words, put an RFID chip in our currency, and you’ve lost all portability. The government will then have the ability to turn off your ability to purchase anonymously, indeed to purchase at all. Doing so is already in the works. Imagine going to the grocery store to buy food and medicine and being told that your credit is no good AND your cash is no good. You can be turned into a non-entity, just like Offred was at the time when she had her own name.

Aaron Russo, a filmmaker who succumbed to cancer just 4 months ago, produced movies such as The Rose, Trading Places and Wise Guys. His crowning achievement, however, was the documentary, From Freedom to Fascism, which he completed last year. Because his goal was to get his message out rather than to make a killing, the film is available free on Google (you can watch it here). The film explores the various ways that our freedoms are being taken away from us — right under our collective nose.

To see the clip that relates to this passage from The Handmaid’s Tale, take the timer to 1 hour, 18 minutes. According to the film, The Real ID Act is scheduled to become law in May of 2008.

Other alarming facts you’ll see if you take the time to watch in its entirety:

  • The 16th Amendment authorizing federal taxation has not yet been legally ratified, bringing into question the legitimacy of the IRS (timer at 1 minute, 55 seconds).
  • The Federal Reserve is actually a private corporation and not a government entity. We have given the authority to print money to (well-hidden) people not accountable to The People (timer at about 1hour).

Keep your eyes open for glimpses of Ron Paul. And remember to voice your opinion about RFID chips implanted in our currency — if you get the chance to.