...Jesus therefore said to those Jews who had believed him, “If you remain in my word, then you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How do you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most certainly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is the bondservant of sin. A bondservant doesn’t live in the house forever. A son remains forever. If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
There is a myth widely taught in public schools today. (At least it was widely taught when I was a kid.) That myth goes something like this: The United States was founded by people who were pursuing liberty – especially freedom from governmental restrictions which violated their conscience, in order that each man might have full liberty to act in accordance with the dictates of his conscience and reason. Therefore the chief priority of free citizens of our glorious democracy must be to guard this liberty at all costs, and to prevent the encroachment of any governmental restrictions on this “liberty,” defined as I have defined it here.
But let write an equivalent definition of “liberty,” using simpler language. The United States has defined liberty as the freedom to do whatever you want. Plain and simple, isn't it?
Let me ask a question. If you live in a country where you can do whatever you want, are you actually free? Suppose you live in such a country, yet you are addicted to alcohol or heroin. Let's also say that you have ready access to however much alcohol or heroin you may desire. Are you still free? Are you free when you are so enslaved to your addiction that you can't do what you are supposed to do, and you can no longer avoid suffering the consequences of not doing what you are supposed to do and doing what you are not supposed to do?
I propose therefore a radically different definition of liberty: the freedom to do what you are supposed to do. Liberty is the freedom to obey moral “ought's.”
By that definition, America is not free. America is a nation of addicts run by addicts. The addicts who run the show are addicted to the continued accumulation of ever more unholy concentrations of wealth. And they continue to enrich themselves by pushing an addictive lifestyle onto the rest of us. The means used by these pushers include advertising, media capture, the promotion of dysfunctional trashy popular culture, and the dishonest manipulation of political discourse in this country. One particularly egregious example of that manipulation is the attempt to demonize any governmental restriction on potentially hurtful behaviors and policies of private citizens – especially when they are wealthy.
Thus we have incidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, for which British Petroleum still has not been brought to book. We have blatant lying and misrepresentation of facts by Fox News. We have fraud and misinformation practiced by the Wall Street Journal. We have banking and investment fraud practiced by outfits like Goldman Sachs and MF Global. And no one goes to jail.
But in this country, it's not just the extremely wealthy who can cause unspeakable harm to their fellow citizens. Ordinary people can get in on the act. We have seen two shooting sprees in the last seven days. The most recent shooting spree claimed 27 lives (20 children and seven adults), and happened within the last 24 hours. A few days ago, there was a shooting spree at the Clackamas Town Center (less than 10 miles from where I live); three people are dead. According to some reports I have read, there have been at least five random shooting sprees in the United States this year.
Predictably, the latest shooting spree has revived discussions regarding gun control. Predictably, the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association are gearing up to oppose any new restrictions on gun ownership, and to further weaken those restrictions that already exist. But it's funny how the number of shooting rampages in the United States has been increasing every year since 2007, when the Federal Government under President Bush allowed a number of gun ownership restrictions to lapse, and several state houses controlled by Republicans began to to allow just about anyone in those states to own and carry a gun. According to Mother Jones, there have been at least 62 firearm-involved mass murders in the United States since 1982, and 43 of the 62 mass murderers were white males. In the vast majority of cases, the weapons used were obtained legally. According to other studies, the United States is the most violent nation in the OECD, and the American South is the most violent region in the U.S.
It seems obvious that mainstream America is increasingly a nation of disconnected, antisocial individuals who are a menace to themselves and to each other. It also seems obvious that rectifying this situation will involve placing restrictions on people's access to technologies and devices that can be used to hurt a lot of people. Guns are at the top of the list of things that should have very restrictive access. But cars can easily qualify as well. Many people who buy large SUV's do so not because they need these vehicles, but because such vehicles serve as instruments of intimidation.
Finally, it seems obvious that unless this nation becomes truly free – free to do what we ought – many of us are likely to destroy each other in the pursuit of doing whatever we want. Trying to do whatever you crave doesn't work well in an age of economic contraction and energy descent.