Isn’t the Rio (Grand)e?

I have an issue with Democrats and their acceptance of the frame “border security”. Security implies and supports the conservative concept: “Americans good, Latinx bad”. Used as it is most often, security is a military term, as in: send troops there, establish and secure a perimeter. i.e. don’t let anyone in besides us and use force if necessary. Used as a social term security can mean someone who arbitrarily decides who can enter a nightclub or concert and who to remove from those venues, often by violence.

I prefer the term border protection. I hear it used as a descriptive or supportive phrase from all sides but only ancillary to the metaphor “Border Security”. As a primary metaphor “border protection” implies and supports the progressive idea that the border should be safe, protected from bad people who want to get in and hurt us but also safe for people whose home country was unsafe. Morally they deserve protection too.

It is known that advances in technology continue to make the border safer and the billions of dollars required for a wall is a waste of taxpayers money. That money can be better used for the numerous personnel needed to expeditiously process refugee claims and the modern technology used to interdict people and contraband coming in through our seaports and airports.

One might say that people aren’t consciously aware of any difference between those words but unconsciously they do and decisions about what words mean are made unconsciously, informed by experience and repetition. Just as in the difference between regulation and protection when used regarding government monitoring of business, protection is the word that speaks more to those without power while security and regulation are words about the use of power by those who have it. The difference is subtle but significant. How those words are defined by society can easily be influenced.

We have all heard that words have power. But what is it exactly that bestows them with this power? Words are like icons on a computer desktop. The icon contains no information of it’s own. It only points to and connects us to a file or folder in storage that contains the information the user associates with that icon. Words are icons that connect us to where the real information is stored in the brain.

Our brains have to process billions of bits of information daily. Because of this the brain needs to take shortcuts. One word can connect us to entire concepts. Consider the word baseball. Not only does it connect you to a small round object but to a stadium and bats and uniforms and umpires and balls and strikes and beer vendors etc.

But an icon will only connect us to one file or folder and a word will only connect us to one definition or one collection of related things. It cannot connect us to two unrelated files at the same time. When you hear the word baseball you will not see a hockey puck. When we want to use the information found on a particular file we recall the icon associated with the info, click it, and the information appears. No matter how many times you click the icon for rock and roll it will not take you to jazz.

Persuading folks that a word means something different than you think it means is as easy as getting your definition to the top of the Google search results. You repeat it over and over again. Eventually the Google brain decides that the other definition is correct and yours is wrong. Google doesn’t know right from wrong nor does it care. So the wrong answer easily becomes the answer you find when you ask..

This is why using words like security and regulation over and over again to describe refugees claiming asylum will connect people to using our power to keep everyone out with a wall and assault rifles instead of using our power to determine who can enter and who cannot. It won’t matter which idea is right. It only matters which one people say is right. In this scenario getting society to accept that our real job is to protect those involved will not be easy. It will be very difficult. Getting your information to the top of the Google search isn’t easy.

Words do have power and we must use that power to help all peoples, as our American moral values dictate.

Everybody gets their say and so do I.

Faced with what they perceived as the crisis of a failure to establish their ideology as dominant in American politics, the radical conservatives of the 1970’s took to a new strategy. Rather than appeal to the people directly, which wasn’t quite working, they chose to use their money to create a middle man who would influence the people in a more subtle, indirect way. They began to buy up media outlets and established think tanks that employed bright young minds with the sole task of creating strategies and policies, plus the language that would effectively promote their ideology through those same media outlets. A wise and effective plan.

Why do I bring this up at a time when there are plenty of things that are devastating our democracy to think about. It’s because there are so many things threatening to destroy our democracy we must do something about. We on the left need to do a similar thing as was done by the far right nearly 50 years ago. We need a new strategy. We need to create positions for bright young minds to concentrate solely on finding a synthesis of viable solutions to the myriad existential problems we face. We need to point ourselves to a better use of persuasive language. And we need to facilitate the infrastructure and resources needed to pull this off.

Now, unlike the conservatives of the Nixon era, we don’t have the financial resources to both do this and purchase those means of distributing our ideas to the public. Besides, the conservative owners of major media in America aren’t about to hand over their powerful tool of communication to any “Libtards”. So to establish a majority will of the nation to force government into embracing workable solutions we must find a more organic means of persuasion. This organism can only be formed by the people, who, as in many times past, will use their true, pure power to gently help enough people reconnect with the values that have AMAG (Always Made America Great).

The resources, both financial and human, have always been there. We just need to quit being whiny egoistic babies and agree that no one issue is greater than any other. We must accept that the many critical issues that face us, when looked at collectively as they must, can only be addressed by working on them synthetically, as parts of a whole, rather than analytically, as just parts.

I ask if the actual rather than imagined demise of life on the planet is worth, metaphorically, having 100 people speaking with one voice rather than 100 people speaking in a Babelesque hundred voices. Frankly, I have had it up to beyond here. As you know, I am not immune to this behavior. Far from it. I am one of it’s most virulent practioners. To succeed, what I need to do is sequester myself away with some coffee, Laphroaig, and pizza (and more Laphroaig) until I am able to take a course of action. (Action is a type of actually doing something instead of just talking about it for those of you unfamiliar with the concept).

If I can’t be the point of the spear, for which I have never been hard enough, I will enter the crucible of surrender to truth, and temper myself into a functioning part of the strong shaft.

I owe it to you all out of respect for the divine gift of conscious occupation of this, my form that I lease from the universe.

None of us can afford to break the terms of our lease on life.

The Border is no boundary

It is international law that compels the US to accept any and all persons claiming asylum and give them a fair hearing. It is US law that says asylum seekers must present themselves at an official port of entry. I agree that anyone breaking away from the group and crossing elsewhere can and should be treated as a lawbreaker and subject to our immigration laws, with the caveat that ICE not treat them like animals. But those presenting themselves legally to ask for asylum must be granted entry and be heard in a court of law to determine their status.

Rather than spending millions sending thousands of troops to the border who legally cannot engage with the asylum seekers anyway, we should spend the money sending more agents to process all the legitimate claims and find adequate housing and feed them. Our president says he will not “release” any of them, claiming they will not return for their hearings and disappear. That may be so for a few but it sounds like concentration camps to me. 

How we spend resources on this issue says a great deal about the morality of the current federal gov’t. Yes, of course there may be “mother rapers and father stabbers” hidden among these people. If so it should only take a basic investigation to reveal that fact in a hearing. We don’t just let people waltz into the country, even when they have legally asked for asylum. We vet them. But processing takes money and as I said, the gov’t is choosing to spend that money on mustering federal troops. Rather, they should be treating those seeking asylum in a respectful humanitarian way. They should be providing adequate human necessities and muster enough personnel to quickly and effectively process their claims.

The strategy the government is employing in this instance is called a strategic initiative. A strategic initiative is a single multipurpose action that meets several goals. This strategic initiative: 1. Created a crisis where there is none to arouse the base just before the midterm elections. 2. More of the aroused base would vote and increase the number of republican votes. 3. Continues to create an atmosphere of fear that seems real and threatening to American citizens, when their is none. 4. And most critical, this action was a test of just how many laws the gov’t can break and still have the public accept and normalize that behavior.

The 2018 midterm elections represented a pivotal and grave moment in our history. The leadup was tence and scary. Now, the results told us our democracy has not yet been intentionally dismantled and replaced by a tyrannical, authoritarian regime. But not by much. It proved what I have long realized; that there are a large number of Americans who have succumbed to being groomed into buying in to this nationalist, jingoist, isolationist universe of manufactured scarcity. They are out there, so angry, indignant and arrogant. We cannot be complacent and assume a House majority will fix everything. It won’t.

The oligarchy has directed this anger at the “other”. It is an anger funneled into a soothing blame, pointed at the scapegoat flavor of the day, the gays, the Muslims, the Mexicans, Al Qaeda, ISIS, East Africans, Feminists, Socialists, I could go on. It’s a distracting and deflecting blame of anyone who isn’t white, male (and their subservient wives), wealthy or connected, hetero, cisgender, believers in allegedly fair and balanced but actual ”fake news”, dominionist Christians, and conservative sycophants. Oh, and the throngs of American serfs who worship them for deigning to toss a few crumbs their way, along with the false promise of safety, sovereignty, good jobs, and “things”.

The last time we experienced such a profound internal existential crisis was one one and one half centuries ago. We were guided out of it by a willful and strong President. In this crisis we have a willful and weak President. The contrast is striking. That this internal threat mirrors a previous external existential threat is not unusual from a historical perspective. Despots often turn to ideas of dominance from past authoritarians, rarely having the insight to invent their own.

This president continues to conduct tests to see how far he can go, how much he can get away with in breaking both American and international law through executive fiat. He is testing the limits of his power to normalize evil through his extraordinary authority to defy the constitution and get the groomed public to accede to it. All this for rallying his base and making them feel good about themselves; to establish himself as a man of the people when he is merely a man for himself. He cares not for America. He only cares for his own power and glory.

The last time we experienced such a profound internal, existential crisis was one and one half centuries ago. We were guided out of it by a willful and strong President. In this crisis we have a willful and weak President. The contrast is striking. That this internal threat resembles a previous external existential threat is not unusual from a historical perspective. Despots often turn to ideas of dominance from past authoritarians, rarely having the insight to invent their own.

I often hear my liberal peers express a wild desire to invoke the 25th amendment, demanding the president be impeached for his obvious high crimes and misdemeanors. Although their is a solid legal basis for this I do not think it is necessarily a good idea. I would prefer to humiliate him through righteously repudiating everything he has done to harm our nation. I want to see his white nationalist, racist, neo-apartheid base shown the door, out of the halls of power, their imagined dominance destroyed, never to rise again.

We do not need to punish. Raw punishment is a kind of hate. I want to see America change and grow into a better society, a leader in becoming a better world and a people worthy of saving. I want to see the human race, we specks of dust in the vast universe, thrive by evolving and not euthanizing. I want us to always walk toward the light, as do we all, each of us slowly dying.. 

And in this dying, in this seeking of the light and conscious rejection of our dark selves, we who do not close but open our hearts will become more our true selves, living rich lives in accord with each other. It is the only path that assures coninued life on this planet.

I believe this light and this love will conquer.

A Case of Invisible Sexism

Recently an airline pilot was heroic in bringing in an airline’s broken plane that had struck one passenger with mortal injuries and threatened the entire crew and passengers with the same fate. This pilot’s ability to perform under extreme pressure, ultimately saving lives, was rightfully praised. Bravo to the ex-navy fighter pilot with “nerves of steel”.

Tammie Jo Schults was this cool, calm, collected pilot. I will admit media coverage wasn’t atrocious. Coverage of the near tragedy itself did not particularly single out Tammie’s gender. Journalists are making efforts to catch up with the curve

But when women do something outstanding there is still the strong urge to emphasize the fact. I am an aging middle-class white cisgender male. My limited understanding of the gender issues of today tells me that the eventual goal of those fighting for women’s equity, in all areas of society, is for coverage of events of this nature to be virtually the same. The only changes between the woman hero and the man in the article or broadcast would be the names.

It seems modern journalists can’t seem to avoid overcompensation. In the midst of good treatment of the fact that the protagonist of the story identifies as female, they are compelled to find something somewhere to go on and on about.

I have read numerous accounts of this striking news story and a large number of them went off on the fact that the modest pilot didn’t want her name out in public and they had to go to passengers and relatives to find out who she was.

They also made a big deal of how she was among the first female fighter pilots in the Navy and how she had tried to get into an Air Force program but was rejected because she was a woman. They went on and on. This portion of the articles was usually made the main focus and took up more column inches than the description of the incident itself.

I’m not saying that a male pilot’s background would not be appropriate for inclusion in this sort of article. Far from it. The back story is an important part of any human interest story.

I am simply contending that if this had been a male pilot the segment on his background would have been one or two paragraphs, a simple exposition of facts. It would not have been a major part of the article.

As we move into a new phase of understanding a more subtle and invisible sexism people will have to continue digging deeper inside themselves. Even women won’t escape the uncomfortable awareness of truths that are buried in the subconscious. We will all have to listen carefully to the women who have liberated these truths and dedicate themselves to educating an evolving world.

This is hard work. You meet a part of yourself you don’t want to know. And it’s not the only work you are called to do. We have to manage somehow to live together with many who think these efforts are a bunch of BS. We have to search inside and find our racism, our religious prejudices, our unique and shameful treatment of natives, our support of the inequities of economic hierarchies, our faith in a flawed original constitution. and more.

I am always careful to include disclaimers in my works. My posts are my observations and visions and are not intended to be a claim of authority. They are my relative truths and never designed to be the absolute truth.

I am certain I have a mountain of things to learn about this topic. Please get in touch with me if I have totally screwed up somewhere. My opinion is mine alone. But the truth that serves everyone must be shared.

Knowledge is power.

It’s Black Turkey Day!!!!!!

Jesus, it’s Thanksgiving! I should post something on Facebook about what I’m grateful for. Really I should. This is the extent of the original intent and essence of this dying holiday expressed by many people.

What happened? Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Even considering the fabricated nature and false origin story of the holiday the “author’s message” is a noble and visionary one. Although mythological, it’s message of American cooperation and diversity is to be admired. But that message has effectively disappeared from the celebratory landscape of this uniquely American philosophic contribution to the world politic.

A festive gathering of “others”, supping together in a testament to the unity of all peoples, a symbol of our embrace of diversity as strength and love as a primary character trait, has been reduced to gluttony and argument immediately followed by greed.

As Target is the geographically closest alleged discount store to me I use it as a thermometer to measure our nation’s commercial temperature. The retail monster that is Christmas continue’s to usurp more and more of the shopping year. It has devoured Thanksgiving and were it not for the occult appeal and “only this one day of the year” deference to childhood excess it would engulf Halloween as well. This year, Christmas tree lights, the first harbinger of the commercial onslaught, were out on the shelves BeFoRe Halloween. This phenomenon has been creeping toward this inevitability for years, a few more days every year.

Candy displays, which mark the official changeover of holiday, er merchandising, seasons now switch immediately from Halloween’s pumpkin-shaped Reese’s and black cats and witches hats on the packages to Christmas jingle bells, snowflakes and Santa-shaped chocolates of infinite variety. Not that Thanksgiving has a unique candy footprint. But come on man, can’t we have three weeks of normal colored M&Ms. Please.

If there is a token acknowledgment of Thanksgiving in modern American consciousness it is wrapped up in the form of the Turkey. Not the fierce and proud Wild Turkey (I’ll have a double) but the domesticated, cage-raised, breast augmented turkey. Each year the current President pardons this year’s Barabbas from certain slaughter, signaling the start of the barbaric genocide of this year’s “crop” of fattened calves, err birds, for the sacrificial pleasure of the unapologetic masses.

The Thanksgiving meal, once a legendary, semiotic standard of our generous and egalitarian natures has now become a no man’s land battleground for any and all partisan issues. Nothing is out of bounds; every nicety graciously observed the rest of the year flies out the window. The gloves come off. Every indignation, resentment and outright hateful feeling that blackens our hearts are bared right there amid the cranberry sauce and cornbread stuffing. With jabbing forks jabbing we challenge each other to prove our worldview is righteous and good and yours is perverse and damning.

Then the Tryptophan kicks in, we relax and acquiesce, all of us, to watching the NFL and discussing the family’s divorces, babies, and surgical procedures. The day’s battle settled, halftimes bring the patriarch’s mandated Thanksgiving speech followed by each singled out family member’s obligatory declaration of “what I’m thankful for”. This is where children learn that adherence to the respect of the origins of the Thanksgiving ideal lies only in this one obligatory sentence. Our elders reveal that a wide berth of veracity is allowed in this ritualistic reality of the modern Thanksgiving experience. As long as you are thankful for something, no matter how meaningless and insignificant, you have fulfilled your familial, and thus your nationalist duty.

Could it be that I am caustically cynical about how we as a society have desecrated this manufactured attempt by our ancestors to remind us of the nobility of our nation’s origins and respect for non-white peoples?  You’re damn right I am. Frankly, I’ve been pulling my punches. There were way more expletives in my first draft. Have we no shame? We can’t even honor a national holiday based on a falsehood.

And I haven’t even gotten to the whole unholy Black Friday thing. Just as the tree lights have crept onto shelves earlier and earlier so has the other gluttony of the day. We used to have a few hours respite, a chance to digest both the food and the sparring before we arose like vampires at midnight. Once upon a time the retailers actually waited until Friday. This year my Target credit card authorized me to get doorbuster prices on Wednesday. Emails from a week or more before the holiday teased me with “Black Friday prices”.  I’m pretty sure you were offered “Black Friday in July” pricing this summer. Dinners now start at halftime in order to get in line by 5 for the 6 PM Walmart opening. It’s let’s throw the dishes in the dishwasher and time’s a wastin’.

Armed with our family battle plan, forged out of intense research and study of the three-inch thick Thanksgiving Thursday newspaper, we attack the vast array of local big box stores in a multi-front, coordinated frenzy of credit card maxing out.

I’ll run interference while you grab the last deep discounted ultra high def flat screen smart TV at 70% off MSRP. This is why we watch football earlier in the day, to get some ideas for blocking schemes, to keep the other family’s linebackers away from our designated grabbers. It’s every gang for themselves, may the best shopper win.

Some folks skip the meal entirely and go directly to the self-propelled vacuum cleaner at pennies on the dollar. Why not? It’s damn hard to roast a turkey. And to avoid going 12 rounds every year with Uncle Harold over gay abortion is a great idea. In fact, why don’t we just do away with Thanksgiving altogether? I mean really, who is really thankful for anything these days, without reservations or exceptions or objections or consequences.

Am I still caustic, full of vitriol, toxic in my disdain? Of course, you betcha. I just can’t understand why we insist on allowing one of our most positive, meaningful traditions to deteriorate into disrepair, unredeemable and sadly, distinctly unamerican. Even if it wasn’t true it still represents something. What are we thinking?

So what am I thankful for, as an American on this day of flying cartoon characters and too dry turkey and football and deep discounts? To what do I owe gratitude on this disappearing tribute to an imagined America of tolerance and shared abundance?

I am thankful that I am still free to write these words and express my anger without fear.

I am thankful that America has always been great, if only for simple freedoms and always keeping a space available for love.

I am thankful that America has always been great for allowing dreams the opportunity to become reality.

I am thankful that America has always been great in its vision beyond the horizon, its foresight in the face of hindrance, hope in the face of despair, life in the face of violence.

Please don’t think I am chastizing everyone. Millions and millions of us know love of neighbor in their hearts and are thankful for their good fortune, health for them and their families, joy, and respect.

I’ll never give up on Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful I can.

Is Once Always?

If we use the Jimmy Carter definition of having lust in your heart as tantamount to adultery then 110% of men are disgusting pigs and not worthy to carry out the garbage or rake the leaves. Sexually we live in the dark ages. If the criteria for holding office were to never have made a sexist, disparaging remark to another man about a woman passing by not only would the halls of Congress be nearly empty but also all levels of government right down to the proverbial dog catcher. Perhaps all of us old white men should just resign en masse and hope to avoid the damage to everything that dragging us all through the mud would entail.

We can replace us all with young lesbian women of color. Or we could just let everything slide and maintain the status quo.

Of course to do either of those things would be absurd and all levels of bad. But I have heard both of those solutions expressed, although not always in so many words. In the face of lancing the boil of traditional toxic male dominant sexualist behavior, and as the flood waters continuously and rightfully rise up and engulf more public figures daily, we must make, as a society, some difficult and historic decisions about how to go about ending the cycle of male dominance and it’s favored child, sexual predation, that has plagued humanity since before we walked the earth with dinosaurs.

Addressing this festering issue in the world of politics and the American entertainment machine is a start but only represents the tip of the iceberg. There is no more pervasive and perverse commonly accepted American norm that I know of. And now that this ship of state has sailed there will soon be no ships of any kind anchored in any port, in any harbor, and rightfully so. The scourge of authority’s use of omnipresent sexual dominance is now coming under attack from many sides, with varying levels of disgust, anger, and determination but also with a previously diffuse display of the real power that has always been there.

So how would we deal with the massive power vacuum created at the top of the food chain? How would we deal with the temporary but vast and immediate collapse of society as it unfolds before us? The system has been meticulously set up to protect the good old boys. To destroy it out of hand would unlock a chaos and anarchy many would find frightening. Will we let accusations come out slowly and let each individual case fry in the flames of outrage? Do we just get it over with and rid ourselves of the lot of them all at once, comfortable in our knowledge that they are, all of them, guilty.?

Now, wait just a darn minute. Why am I saying the observer’s them? Them is me. I have been a full and willing participant in not imagined harassment throughout much of my life. And not in the distant past. Frankly, virtually no male of my generation (and others) hasn’t transgressed in some way.  Add to that a number of women as well. Do we have to throw out this old fart along with the ocean of bathwater needed for all the other deviants? There must be a more nuanced way of dealing with this. And as always, the devil is in the details.

There remain giant, wooly mammoth in the room, questions to be answered. Are there different levels of assault and harassment and can do we differentiate between the two to start with? How do we determine levels of intent or levels of contrition? What consequences equivocate with the crimes and are appropriate in their severity, a severity which is another metric we must measure? Who adjudicates right from wrong, a big deal from not a big deal. Can we adequately quantify psychic and emotional pain and do we want to? What are the long-term costs of spiritual despair? Is it impossible to make a plausible apology? We have so little accumulated “case law and precedent” to guide us. For centuries the issue never got to the yes this happened stage much less the #me too. Now we have to carry it to its end.

Frankly, anyone over the age of middle school, gender notwithstanding, is lost to any cure, if there is one. For them, there is only treatment for the symptoms. Because this problem will only be adequately addressed, this malignancy excised, by changing the way we raise our children. Not so much by teaching them different things or differently, but through changing the societal norms we unconsciously pass on to them. This will never be easy. America’s white, male, Western European, capitalist society makes many deeply flawed and even deeper subconscious assumptions about behavior, paramount among them that men have dominion over women and all other inferior peoples, and that violence is our preferred means of conflict resolution. Make no mistake; sexual abuse is more about power and violence and less about sex.

There is a moral hierarchy pyramid in America that places white men at the top in unchallenged dominance. At our evolutionary level, we have yet to unlearn millennia of fight or flight mechanisms married to the false morality of might makes right. Male sexual dominance was originally a basic biological imperative which guaranteed that our animal-like ancestors would reproduce. Violence was the means of enforcing that imperative. The superiority of male physical power served that violence. We have left that animal nature behind us in our imaginations only. In reality, the imperative will always be there and although we claim to be civilized and human we have not significantly changed our way of fulfilling it since the neanderthal.

Not all evolution happens slowly at the biological level. We evolve mentally and spiritually as well. And these less dense evolutions happen much much faster. If we allow our lizard brains to continue controlling our sexual natures this problem won’t be changed until perhaps star date 3257, if then. We must make a concerted and conscious effort to evolve, rapidly, our mental and spiritual understanding of the biological imperative we slave under. And do something about changing it.

This change will only happen when we, as Americans, live in accord of thought, word, and deed. We must dig deep into those ancient twitch areas of our brains and become mentally clear about our goals. We must express those goals and our intentions to achieve them unequivocally. We must then follow up with right action. We cannot leave any nook or cranny of our minds unexamined. We must set up and enforce public accountability. And we must vigorously self-regulate.

The consequences must be commensurate with the crime. Given the severity of the issue, those consequences must be meaningful, enforceable, but with some level of recompense. With the realities of society as they are this, unfortunately, must needs be a slow, arduous process and to be honest will require years of culling the herd of sexist, predatory dinosaurs such as myself. Few now alive will be able to change. Some will, but this will not get better without a substantial dying off and a significant level of pain, involving all parties. I hope against hope that I am wrong.

To not embark on a swift, agitating, and yes, a risky path would be a travesty in its own right. As we get closer to unearthing the real issues facing sentient beings on this our only planet the stakes get higher and the risks greater. Surgeries to remove lies are only beginnings. To not act now and decisively is not only unacceptable but untenable. We as a race cannot afford to leave any stone unturned in our pursuit of a better world and the evolved beings that must inhabit it.

I admit to not knowing where to the draw the lines to be crossed, place the tops to go over, establish the points of no return or determine what is beyond the pale. I feel naked and powerless without a concrete suggestion of how to act in this moment. There are so many variables, lines of demarcation and if/thens that my mind boggles. I feel inept writing down these words of judgment without having any small sort of answer for them. I can only say my piece and surrender to the will of the time, who is a young woman of color with gender options, and the allies that stand beside and behind her.

And it starts with raising our sons to the surety that they no longer stand in front and decide for her.

And in the Red Corner, Liberty​

It has come to my attention, evidently moving from one side of my brain to the other, that the words freedom and liberty, used both often and liberally, have many different perceived meanings; which are then debated, argued and fought over. To a more conservative minded person, freedom and liberty may have very different meanings than to a liberal minded person. Not to mention the fact that there is also significant disagreement inside both conservative and liberal circles over what these words mean. (I hate the term “not to mention” because invariably, directly after saying it one mentions what is allegedly not to be mentioned.)  Not to mention the fact that these terms are constantly used to describe and define essential elements of American democracy. Sad.

When people use these words, freedom and liberty, they assume they are universal concepts universally understood; they feel certain everybody knows what they mean. But in reality, it’s only what that particular person thinks they mean. It’s the “everybody knows” mistake. Everybody does not know. Not everybody sees liberty and freedom just like you do. It is contradictions like this that gets us into loads of trouble from a societal standpoint. Misinterpretations lead to misgivings.

When we talk about freedom or liberty, and we assume we are all talking about the same thing, we go a little crazy when the other guy says something that clearly shows we are not talking about the same thing. We either think they are stupid idiots or they are trying to subvert and undermine what we are saying. Neither of those things is likely to be true and neither do they lead to anything good.

It’s hella frustrating.

So, in discussions about freedom and liberty, I think it wise to start off by explaining our definition of terms. Rather than creating discord and argument on the backside, it’s a good idea to define terms on the front side, as in a formal debate. When you talk about freedom and liberty, tell people upfront what you mean by these words. For example, don’t say:

“I think people need to be free, but when xyz does abc they are preventing 123 from being 456 and that takes away their freedom”

What does being 456 have to do with freedom exactly? Depends on what you think freedom is.

instead, you could say:

“Freedom means 789 to me and when xyz does abc it stops 123 from having 789 and that takes away their freedom to be 456”

Then at least you know they think 789 has something to do with being 456 and to them that has something to do with freedom.

You may need to read that bit over again.

Anyway, starting a conversation about freedom or liberty with what you mean by freedom or liberty gives the other person a reference point to engage in a respectful, meaningful discussion, rather than reacting negatively to something they think they heard that they think they know which may or may not be true or at all relevant. Unfortunately, when definitions aren’t made clear, contested concepts like liberty and freedom can spark the kind of needless arguments that plague civil discourse and turn a legitimate debate into angry violence, emotional and/or physical.

The contested nature of many contested concepts is not always naturally occurring. Entities with agendas actively foment misunderstanding and will intentionally muddy the waters by promoting their opposing definitions of certain terms. If they feel the use of a certain word doesn’t serve their agenda they will work to subvert the meaning of that word by constantly repeating their alternate definition, constantly repeating it in as many ways as they can to as many people as possible. They will constantly repeat it over and over, by constantly repeating it, over and over. When constantly repeated, over and over, over time their definition will come to be accepted by enough people so that in a discussion there will be contention over the meaning of terms. A strong contention that can engender anger and fighting, spiritual, emotional, mental and often physical.

Therefore, it is crucial that we listen closely to how people use words and to hear their words contextually. We can then discover what they really mean when they use a word, especially when it means something different to us.

We need to listen for agendas. We can’t live in a bubble. If we accept and understand conflicting meanings and find where they originate, then knowing why people define their terms as they do we have a much better chance of reconciling our contentious, gridlocked issues.

Words and their meanings are so important.

I can’t emphasize that enough.

OK, I need to get back to freedom and liberty.

I believe in working with these words it can be valuable to recognize the subtle differences in their natures. I would say that a majority of people use them interchangeably. But freedom and liberty are not quite the same things. If you look closely at the concepts these words describe you will see that freedom is about what, and liberty is about who. Freedom is about being, and liberty is about doing. That is, what is being versus who is doing.

For example, looking at slavery in America, emancipation made slaves FREE to no longer BE slaves, but as things turned out they did not always have the LIBERTY to DO what they wanted. This was the essence of issues faced by freed slaves in the Jim Crow era. They were freed by law from being owned, but the dominant white power structure took away their liberty to do as they desired. Freedom gives us the opportunity to BE a banker if we so choose. But it is in the choice to DO so where the liberty lives. When people talk about freedom, look for WHAT they want to BE FREE from. And when they talk about liberty, look for WHO claims they have the LIBERTY to DO something.

We should remember that freedom is a more concrete word than liberty. Not having a freedom is a clearer concept than not having liberty. It could be why freedom normally trumps liberty in contested situations. And why there is nearly always indignation arising out of those victories.

Looking at it from the standpoint of rights, freedom relates more to a constitutional right and liberty to an inalienable right. Freedom is an earned right and liberty is a birthright. We have freedom from something but have the liberty to do something. Freedom is granted by government and liberty is granted by God. Frankly, although the words mean nearly the same exact thing, the difference is substantial enough that there will always be a battle between that which is given by Caesar and that which is given by God.

A good example of this esoteric struggle is the clash between Cliven Bundy and the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Essentially Bundy claimed that he had the God-given right, the liberty, to graze his cattle on federal land, simply because he could. And the BLM said no, that’s the government’s land and your cattle aren’t free to graze there.  The disagreement originated in a clash between claims of liberty and assignments of freedom. And in the end government and its bestowed freedom triumphed over Bundy and his claimed liberty. And much indignation arose out of the government’s victory.

As an aside, but relevant, I also see the irony inherent in this relationship of freedom juxtaposed with liberty as the basis for a meaningful contradiction of spirit. It is a contradiction displayed by people who want to supplant civil law with biblical laws, all the while fearing that sharia law will supplant civil law.

As we see, the differences between the concepts of freedom and liberty are subtle and do nothing to help us avoid contention. In this time, sadly, the words are used interchangeably but are understood to mean many and often vastly different things. Yet in a disagreement, yea an argument, understanding those differences just might give you the subtle edge that allows you to establish your definitions, create some movement of hearts, and perhaps change a mind or two. At the very least, understanding that freedom and liberty are contested concepts and the guy on the next barstool over might not hear them the same way you do gives us all a better understanding of how difficult it will be to bridge the gulf of partisanship we now so sadly live with.

Words make a difference.

A big difference.