George Bush made lots out of the F-word during his recent inauguration, and many of us are wondering at present if he's a genuine sociopath or just a simpleton fanatic who's swallowed too much of his own (and his
He likes the word a lot. He's doled out some medals in its name to three men who've done more damage to Iraq than Saddam himself, and he's even named is Iraqi invasion after this F-word. His inauguration speech was his coming out event, his self-indulgence in a fantasy he's been entertaining ever since he strapped on his first six-shooter. But we need to be careful when listening to our president, I think, because it is easy to let the words, even the big ones hard for him to pronounce, fly past us with little examination.
The fact is, the concept of freedom rarely receives the adequate scrutiny it deserves in order that we all might get a better picture of what our leaders are talking about, and hence what they are trying, from the decks of a gun ship, to export. Taking abstract concepts like love and hate, freedom and terror for granted is dangerous, but in order to live comfortably, in order not to be terrorized by confusion, quite often we skip over loaded words as if we understand exactly what someone means.
Now that he's made it a central tenet of his next four years, let's examine Bush's idea of freedom. For starters, he's fond of reminding us that his brand of freedom is a gift from the "Almighty". But if I do not believe in a higher power, what am I to make of this freedom? If my almighty is different from his, how can I share in that gift? What if I worship stones and trees or Kali, the Hindu mother goddess who destroys ignorance? Is Allah different from Bush's almighty? My Taoist has suggested that her freedom is antithetical to Bush's. Moreover, how is this "gift" of freedom bestowed upon Mr. Bush? Is this some kind of freedom that involves wandering his ranch and cutting wood? Is it a freedom to golf or fish when he gets the bug? Is it in his mind? In his daily activities? In his desire to bomb or not? Where is the almighty in that?
Secondly, Mr. Bush's brand of freedom is "economic" freedom, as in free market capitalism. In short, it is a freedom of choice: Coke or Pepsi, Mercedes Benz or Cadillac, ranch or rambler, McDonald's or Burger King, Bush or Kerry-as long as you have enough money. And the more you have,
the freer you become. Apparently, Mr. Bush's almighty invented the
invisible hand. His deity blesses Halliburton. And he must have consulted with God before unloading stocks or bilking Texans for baseball money.
However, free market capitalism by its very designs is tyrannical and oppressive, often violently so, especially if your parents are poor or gone, or your skills and talents are such that it is difficult to get beyond the rudiments of a cash register or a conveyor belt, or you're just plain unlucky, or you're like many Americans who do not earn, by virtue of the system, over ten dollars an hour and who cannot afford health care or a college education. This free market system Mr. Bush marries to his maker oppresses most those who toil and spin, and rather than lift up and liberate, alienates and exploits if it means free profiteering at the expense of those who have no power, no money and no assets.
The most important idea behind Bush's brand of freedom is how it is "advanced". Usually through the barrel of a gun, in the fighting, even though the act itself is a form of slavery. This advancement through violence and terror has been around for a long
time: we've left its brand on native populations, African Americans, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the peoples of Central America, women, minorities, and the working poor. Now that brand is burning into the Iraqi population so fiercely as to leave most Americans doomed beyond despair and many Iraqis dead or traumatized. Witness the carnage of Falluja alone, a place we decimated while Mr. Bush claimed that "freedom was on the march".
That you need to oppose someone or something, an oppressive father or an entire country, the gang of Bush or a terrorist group, to be free, undermines the ideal. What if, for your entire life, you had to fight against an enemy--yourself, nature, your family, your society, the world--before you could win your freedom? Would it all have been in vain? Would freedom become the next enemy? Mix aggression with the other two notions of freedom (money and God) and you see how corrupted Mr. Bush's brand of freedom is. Operation Iraqi Freedom itself becomes a mind-numbing paradox, an ambiguity at best and a morass of subjective implications at worst.
No wonder many soldiers living this paradox are having a tough time.
And here's what they're really fighting and dying for: so people who already have a lot of money can make more of it and then they'll have more choices: Cancun or Acapulco, Johns Hopkins or Mayo, Harvard or Yale.
A better form of freedom does not have to do with choice but with
power: A freedom in the form of self-determination for all, not just for those who can afford it. This kind of freedom involves having control over work, control over health care, control over education and control over how we live in our environment-instead of a freedom of the rich to enslave the rest of us.
Steven Backus lives and writes in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.