Freedoms and Liberty

Let’s have a chat about freedom and liberty. Are they the same thing? No, they aren’t.
A freedom is a right that everybody has, something that everybody wants. For example, we all want to be able to speak our minds, and in America we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights freedom of speech. We can say what we want, free from persecution, unless our speech directly and imminently threatens someone, like in the common example of shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Liberty, on the other hand, is a right everyone has, only it’s about what an individual wants. Each of us has their own wants and desires. For example, I might want to rob your house but you probably don’t want your house to be robbed. Liberty creates conflicts of desire.
Where freedoms and liberty come from and what we can legally do about them is somewhat counterintuitive.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that we all have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights are considered to be given, by God, at birth, to everyone. Most people take this to mean that these are rights that can never be taken away, which is true. These rights cannot be legally taken away. But, because they cannot be taken away they must be regulated by law. This is because one person’s liberty may conflict with another person’s liberty. It is one reason that we have laws. Disputes about people’s liberty happen all the time and limits to our behavior are established by law. The rights to life and the pursuit of happiness also lead to conflicts between citizens, and also must be limited by laws.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are not inalienable. They are granted, by government, in their governing documents, through laws, or by the courts. For example, the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution, after the fact, because people realized there were freedoms all Americans should have that, unlike liberty, were not God-given and had to be granted by government.
Freedoms cannot be limited except by strict judicial examination and interpretation of the Constitution or through other governmental means. Our constitutional rights and freedoms have limitations that are written into the constitution, or are limited by law, or through judicial rule. And, because they are granted by government and not given by God, they can be taken away by government. Granted, it is difficult to take away a constitutional freedom. It can only be done by amending the constitution or by the edict of a dictator. But it can be done.
The constitution has been amended only 27 times with the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, having been ratified in 1791. That there have only been 17 amendments since then shows how hard it is to amend the constitution. The United States has never had a dictator, elected or otherwise. Our rights have yet to be taken away by force.
The ninth amendment in the Bill of Rights states that there are other rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Those rights are determined through legislation and ultimately by the courts. Because of their non-constitutional status, these rights can be much easier to take away.
A common misconception about both freedoms and liberty is that they confer upon the individual carte blanche to do anything they want and be protected by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is not true. Both our freedoms and our liberty can, have, and will be limited and regulated by law and through the courts. It is often overlooked that along with each right we have a corresponding responsibility. It is an important part of being a citizen that we not only know our rights but also our responsibilities. All too often I hear angry citizens complaining that their rights are being trampled on without understanding that limitations on those rights are in force. They had not considered, consciously or otherwise, that they had responsibilities associated with those rights.
This is a significant issue in today’s America. There are individuals and organizations that present very serious threats to the survival of our democracy, based on false and/or skewed interpretations of our founding documents. Many Americans misinterpret the intentions of our founding fathers, through ignorance, by succumbing to propaganda, or on purpose. There is an assumption that they have rights that cannot be limited by anyone, especially government. The threats these forces present to the nation, to our unique philosophy of governance, both from outside and inside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are tangible and powerful. We are right to fear them. We are also right to believe in our power as citizens.
Some tell us that the power and strength of the American way of life lie in our capitalist, free-market economy, which has accumulated the vast wealth required to bend the world’s nations to our will. This is not true. America’s strength resides in her people, now and always. Perhaps our most important right, the right to vote, is still ours. We can use it to guide the path of American life, economically, socially, politically, and with equity of race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, etc. To do so we must be mindful of our differences and develop the skills of listening and humility. We must remember that our freedoms, which include the right to vote, can be taken away, if not through the vote, through the whim of a tyrant.
We can no longer take it for granted in America that we are free from evil in our government, that we are still protected by the checks and balances built into our constitution. We are no longer safe from military action against our citizens or false imprisonment or any of the other horrors of totalitarian rule. Think long and hard before you assume that those who promise prosperity and glory are saviors. Make certain they are not leading us off the cliff and into the abyss of total subservience. This audit of America takes time and active discernment. We have need to start right now. It is by no means easy. It takes eyes and ears and tongues, hearts and souls, and brains. We will not survive if we remain frogs in the slowly heating pot. I can see the steam rising. I don’t pray often, but I pray we can save our democracy.
We have precious little time.

Contradictions. Or Contradictions.

There are a limited number of basic and meaningful things that happen in a human being’s life. There is nothing in this world that we can name that is infinite. Excepting perhaps infinity. The only thing that makes life limitless is the fact that it is limited. A relationship can be concurrently both absolute and relative. Herein we will be discussing contradictions, seeming and otherwise, and what they mean to us.

As we mature we find that life is not so complicated as we may imagine it. We are all prone to experience any or all of existence’s aspects, regardless of our particular viewpoint or place in life. These experiences can be felt as individually unique and separate from other people’s perceptions and consciousness. Or they can be known to be individualized, but related, experiences of those finite and essential human flavors. These states of being have infinite permutations. Our first contradiction.

Although not so complicated, life is never totally clear, cut, and dried. In the words of Winston Churchill, people’s and nation’s intentions are often “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Life is full of these irreconcilable contradictions. What may be assumed to be an individual experience can subconsciously be informed by a group narrative and what may be thought of as mutual can in reality be simply an imagined commonality. Both of those points of view originate in obvious flaws, of thought, perceived reality, or ignorance. They can also come from the skewed views of normal unique to one’s family of origin.

A primary subconscious influence that distorts our perceived reality is the concept of privilege. Privilege is nearly always invisible to its owner. Its contradictory nature stems from the fact that it is a reality that distorts their perception of reality. The distortion, oblivious to the owner, all too often leads to the oppression of the unprivileged by the unaware, privileged soul.

People feel their privilege is normal because its subconscious nature is hidden. Its stark dividing of people from what should be shared humanity creates chasms unseen by the oppressor but painfully obvious to the oppressed. Sadly, there is nothing one can do to escape their privilege. And there are numerous kinds of privilege one carries, white, male, cisgender, and others, too many to name here.

Privilege is defined by what we are and not who we are. One cannot talk away or take away what someone is. But through love and education the privileged person can change who they are. There are many different types of ‘who’ that we can be, from artist to attorney, from republican to recluse, from self-conscious to self-aware. And there are many ‘whats’ as well, from British to blind to black to a baby. Anyone can be a ‘who’. An artist or CEO or homeowner can be black, Catholic, rich, poor, Danish. But only a white person can be white. That is a ‘what’. In essence ‘what’ is exclusive, and ‘who’ is inclusive.

Now, one might object, saying that an artist is a ‘what’, and thus exclusive. The taste test here is if others can profess to be artists. If there is the opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘who’. If there is no opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘what’. Only people with blue eyes can have blue eyes. It is an exclusive club. Regardless of who we are or profess to be the only ‘what’ that we all share is being human. Our only universally shared privilege is human privilege. We would do well to understand that human privilege does not guarantee that we will remain at the top of the food chain forever. We are not the end-all and be-all of existence.

As humans we all share many qualities. All humans are born with umbilical cords. Now that I think of it, all humans were born. All humans want to love and be loved. All humans want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. We all think and make decisions and worry and laugh. There are so many things we have in common. They are so basic as to be taken for granted and not considered as things that bind us together, small creatures on a small planet in a small galaxy in a vast multiverse. To awaken to these facts and embrace them is a step in the direction of successful human interaction.

Our differences color our world and allow for the precious contradiction of life itself. Christians tell us all humans are in the body of Christ, many into one. Hindus say that God multiplies himself infinitely, and every individual human is a part of God. We recognize the various colors on a TV screen as being different. But if the screen is entirely red we do not see any differences even though there are thousands of individual pixels. It’s easy to see differences and often difficult to see similarities. One thing for certain, when we are being born we are all the same and as we die we are all the same. What makes us think we are completely separate creatures while we are in between the two? We are all the same yet all different. A most sublime divine paradox. It is this contradiction that is the engine of a life that can contain both mystery and misery, both freedom and boredom. 

Life is not static. It moves. For life to move there must be different places. For there to be different places there must be different spaces and for each individual to exist they must occupy their own particular space. Two of us cannot occupy one physical space at once but any of us can occupy the same mental or spiritual space at any given time. Different and the same. How we can be one and many at the same time is a powerful contradiction, a mystical puzzle we can never solve. It is this paradox of time/space that we strive to answer all our lives, whether we know it or not. 

We all seek out differences to legitimize our own individuality but we also know in our deepest hearts that the things in life that truly matter are the things we all share, like family, and, hunger, and desire. I love being just like you. And I love being just me. Remember, there is a balance to life. If you won’t recognize me, I don’t have to recognize you. If you don’t respect me I won’t have to respect you. I grow weary of spending so much energy disliking people. I already love everybody, but if we are to like each other we must work together. We must love each other.

Love is the Alpha and Omega. If we can recognize and respect the love in each other it will go a long way toward making it acceptable to not like each other. And when it is acceptable to not like each other, because of the presence of divine contradiction, it is much easier to actually discover we do like each other. Regardless of what and who you are, when you occupy space in this world you create the boundaries for a place I can occupy. But it is all one space. And it is ours to enjoy.  

For this I am grateful.

On Each Side of the Equal Sign

It is important to consider the idea of equality as a contested concept with different meanings to different people. It’s just as important to learn the difference between equity and equality.

 Equality does not mean the same thing to different people. I have found that this discrepancy can lead to conflict and confusion when discussing the rights, responsibilities, social standing, opportunities, abilities, etc. of various peoples, both individuals, and certain demographics.

For example, to some, equality means everybody starts at the same starting line and uses their knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, etc. to move ahead in a ‘race’ toward ‘success’. This view of equality is somewhat myopic in that it does not consider the fact that race, religion, sexual orientation, and supremacies based on numerous types of privilege do not, in practice, allow for everyone to start at the same starting line. This effectively negates the idea that everyone has an equal chance to ‘win’ the race.

One might attempt to justify that particular definition by referencing the Declaration of Independence quote “all men are created equal”. However the Constitution made it clear that, in the words of George Orwell, “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. According to our governing document blacks were only considered to be 3/5ths of a person and women were not allowed to vote or own property. Thus the reality of equality is and has always been dependent on evolution.

A different definition of equality allows for the fact that people have differing abilities, backgrounds, educations, etc. and it is reasonable to expect ‘the rat race’ does not lead to the same outcomes for everyone. This definition sees equality as equal opportunity, not with all other things being equal but with equity of opportunity based on accounting for the presence of societal roadblocks, many of which originate in privilege and supremacy. This gives us a hint at why equity is not the same as equality. But I digress.

This definition takes into consideration that while we are all equal in the sense that we are all born with umbilical cords we are not all born into situations that give us an equal chance to thrive. Poverty, racism, sexism, and other isms prevent many people from beginning at that hypothetical equal starting line. This definition sees us trying to balance these inequities (another hint) by making an effort to compensate for negative societal realities.

Both of these disparate definitions are based on a degree of wishful thinking. Certainly, when people start a discussion with different definitions of the same concept the situation is ripe for misunderstanding and argument. So when someone challenges your understanding of a concept, be it equality or freedom or security or any other, take a moment to listen to the other person’s arguments and see if you can determine if the disconnect originates in a contested concept with opposing definitions of terms. In formal debate, agreement on fundamental definitions of terms is very important. In informal debate perhaps even more so.

This brings us to the difference between equality and equity and the misunderstandings that can arise from it. These words are different in meaning, as much as some of us like to use them to mean the same thing. Words have power. Concepts that are in reality contested but assumed to have only one definition turn that power into power failure. Those false assumptions lead us into deep and murky waters in which agreement can easily drown. 

Simply put equality is about state of being and equity is about fairness. For example, equality is that the 100-yard dash is the same distance for anyone. Equity is the fact that there is a Paralympics that gives elite athletes with disabilities a fair chance to compete. Equality in golf is everyone teeing off from the same marker. Equity in golf is your handicap.

So when someone speaks about equity and someone else answers with a statement about equality they immediately are talking about two different things. The conversation then begins to deteriorate and an argument ensues where a discussion should live. These misunderstandings, based in language and syntax as they are, point to an almost desperate need for the pursuit of understanding among peoples, as a starting point toward good relationships, political or otherwise.

Understanding doesn’t require much more than calm patience, humble listening, and self-respect. That may be hard work but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Oh, and one more thing, Privilege is about what you are and not who you are. Therefore you can’t talk away or take away one’s privilege but through understanding you can change who the privileged person is. That’s a conversation for another time.

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.

Now you don’t. Now you see it.

We always knew it was a good album. We had worked hard, rehearsing and playing a few gigs at popular venues. We had a small but loyal following. It was unfortunate, but as many artists, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not so much a place to live, we all loved it here. But the wrong place and time to ply our trade. We were a power pop group complete with almost Brill Building like songs, three-part harmonies, a clean, 80’s white boy look and no niche in the area scene.

Our city was in the national spotlight. There was a funk and beyond superstar here and several loud sloppy nationally influential pre-grunge rock bands with great songwriters and au courant images. Pretty much all the local groups affected one of these styles or the other. That was allegedly what the big left coast labels were looking for, the next this or that, and several coattail groups did see the national stage.

We didn’t begrudge these guys their success. (Back then performing musicians were over 95% male.) Lots of them were our friends and it was great to see acts from our flyover hometown getting some props. Sure we wanted to be successful. We weren’t so driven as needing to play arenas to consider ourselves successful. But it would have been nice to tour and play mid-sized venues and have a few people know the words.

We recorded what we knew to be a really good album of its genre. And we got some airplay here and there. Nothing went viral. (They didn’t use that word back then.) The album was released on vinyl, barely ahead of the CD revolution. Folks everywhere were putting their turntables in mothballs, captivated by the convenience of the smaller software and quantum leap in dBs of signal to noise ratio. Not that many people even knew what a dB was, but the change was noticeable. Vinyl quickly fell out of favor.

We had some face cards stacked against us. But I for one was proud to have three songs, of my composition, recorded and released on a real, albeit smallish record label. It had been a goal of mine for many years and it was satisfying to have accomplished it. I wasn’t too concerned about it making a big splash. Our style of music was not only a little out of phase with our local scene. It was considered mostly the turf of British groups and few American bands sounded like that. I didn’t expect much.

Now, as usual, my lengthy explanation of things has left me hopelessly far away from what I really want to say. And it will undoubtedly take even longer to get there. One is supposed to reveal their main topic in the first paragraph, often repeating it as many as several times in different ways. Gotta grab those readers by the ____.

But….

To make a short story long the owner of our ancient but nascent record label, thinking of new and unique ways to make a little money off his catalog, began shopping the label’s music to brokers, who placed music in films and television shows.

After a time several of the songs were given slots in shows. Our band had a song placed in an episode of a middling, streaming service series. No big deal but we all thought it was pretty cool and the songwriter splashed down some of his royalty money on wings and beer for the band. We hadn’t all been in the same place for a while. A good time was had by all.

Time marched on and the fun was pretty much forgotten when I got an email from the label owner stating that we had a song placed in a series called Stranger Things. I nearly fell out of my chair. Although no one else involved knew anything about the Netflix production, I, as a sci-fi fan, was very aware, I knew that it was one of the most anticipated series releases of the fall and had a huge, fanatical following.

I told the rest of the guys, who seemed to be underwhelmed but intrigued. I am subject to hyperbole and everyone knows it. I wasn’t swift to tell the world, although I knew this was very cool. These things can be, as Mike, the songwriter said, the equivalent of an audio walk-on.  I knew about this, having once spent 8 hours on a movie set in full costume and make-up only to be onscreen for 5 seconds with several hundred other aspiring actors. I didn’t expect much.

Yes, I was excited. No, I wasn’t looking for anything substantial. I’m Bi-Polar and as such need to stay away from manic highs. I tried to keep an even keel. Eventually, as the release of the second season grew nearer and promotion ramped up I decided I had to tell people. I was proud of my past work, and it seemed kind of miraculous that this was happening. I posted on social media and got quite a response. My daughter lost it and told everyone she knew. It was fulfilling to hear her say she was proud of me.

Lest my friends and family, and even a few people I didn’t know, would be disappointed I made certain that people knew our song might only be on for a few seconds. But Stranger Things has a reputation for featuring a who’s who of 80s music and there are nearly as many aficionados of the series music as there are of the series itself. I hadn’t really considered that fact, all the while expecting a very short appearance on the show.

Of course, I was right about the song. It was onscreen for less than ten seconds, in the background under dialogue. I apologized to my posse. (It isn’t really a posse, more of a curious few.) I received some encouragement. “It was still pretty cool” etc.. I felt kind of foolish at building up folk’s expectations. But the horse was out of the barn and obviously, I couldn’t change things.

Well, I hadn’t considered the music mania. More than a few websites published all the music from every episode, regardless of how long it was onscreen. There were links to all of the songs and often blurbs about the performers. We were always called an obscure unknown band. I didn’t mind. One blurb I particularly liked was from a British magazine which said we hadn’t bothered to visit the UK charts. But the song itself got a lot of praise. I was amazed. I mean come on, we were on a Spotify playlist with Motley Crüe, Duran Duran, and Ted Nugent.

Counting various streaming services, Youtube channels and a cool public access video shot in 1986 we’ve had over 125,000 streams and counting. We were featured on local network news, the largest local newspaper, and the top local alt radio station. We are featured on more than a few private Youtube playlists. We have been added to regular rotation on both internet and broadcast rock radio stations, some with international audiences of over a million listeners.

Are you kidding me? It’s kind of surreal. Really though, it doesn’t make me feel all that special. I mean everyone has something they do very very well. Would that they were widely recognized for it. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. But it brings me to the thing that I have been reminded of by this whole crazy experience, the thing I hope to leave you with if you have read this far.

All art is a real expression of someone’s soul. And all art is beautiful, even art most people consider ugly. There is always someone somewhere who appreciates it.  There is also very beautiful art and exceptionally beautiful art. Some of this art is recognized as exceptional in its time. Some is not seen as remarkable until after its time. And some is never recognized as great.

Yet, art is created beautiful and remains beautiful. It retains its beauty regardless of any other factor. And for the creator of the art, it is enough to know their art is beautiful, even if appears not to be.

Perhaps they depend on their art to make a living and can be disappointed it isn’t selling well enough to support themselves. They can become despondent that their art is not appreciated. They can abandon their art for whatever reason.

But I am certain that on their deathbed, should they be cogent, they look back lovingly on their creative process, their joy in giving something unique to the world. Something that is beautiful in their eyes and in their soul. Something that will always be beautiful.

It is their legacy and they are proud of pouring their being into it.

It is enough.

And we must remember.

It is something that is always available, to be revered.