Customized Freedoms

Just back from a big trip to other countries. It was strange to watch world and US events from there on CNN and BBC. Distance can provide, well, distance.

The worst part of traveling is the sense of powerlessness – especially when submitting to foreign customs and immigration officers. I don’t travel with drugs or smuggle diamonds, but I can’t help getting flashes of ‘Midnight Express’ whenever I’m at the mercy of these men in uniforms I don’t recognize. I realize they have complete authority over me; they could do whatever they want to me, for pretty much however long they want.

And I try to content myself with the thought that I live in a country where that doesn’t, where that can’t happen.

Yet of course it can. It is happening here, right now. I don’t know what the two, here in the US, currently held without charges or access to lawyers may have done or been hoping to do. And I don’t know what evil may be averted by giving Bush the power to arrest any American without pressing charges or providing the prisoner any access to legal counsel or ability to communicate with family. But I do know what such policies undermine: the fundamental reason for having a United States, at all.

What’s happening in America, right now, is sad on a number of levels. Quite simply put, an oil industry advocate is sacrificing the environment, the economy, the longterm integrity of the free market, international relationships, countless lives and – ultimately – the Enlightenment’s emphasis on human rights to the short-term interests of a very few wealthy people with the ownership of chemical and other natural resources.

So, as many have told us, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. And, unless Americans’ ability to deconstruct the messages coming to them through their media takes a great and sudden leap, they are about to present their President with a free ticket to do whatever he likes, in the form of a Republican-dominated Senate and House. Completely lacking any sense of fair play (the underlying sustenance for any political system) they will repress agendas alternative to the President’s.

I will not go so far as to compare Bush’s regime with the oppressive, slave-owning monarchs and dictators of both our allies and enemies in the Middle East. That is pointless hyperbole. Bush is probably a nice guy, and genuinely believes he is protecting America’s interests – not just his own or his cronies. Really, he probably is a pleasant golfing partner, and does not take delight (as does Saddam and his sons) at torturing people.

But as leader of the ‘free world,’ he is obligated to prove through his actions and policies that freedom does win out over repression. This has been proved countless times, as networks of liberty-enhanced peoples have overcome the monolithic dictatorships of tyrants.

By leaning towards the tyrannical, itself, America does not strengthen its hand against fascists, fundamentalists, or terrorists. No, America gets weaker, more suspicious, isolated, poor, and limited in its range of responses.

And we all lose that, oh, so precious knowledge that we live in a free country.