Thoughts on Freedom

If freedom requires kneeling on the necks of others, we aren’t free.

I wrote this post prior to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. When that happened, I contemplated scrapping this post and starting from scratch. But even in the midst of this hell in which we now find ourselves, the things in this post need to be said, too. So, for my full rant on Roe v. Wade, check out my post entitled, “Ladies, Welcome to Involuntary Servitude.

The 4th of July always has me musing about freedom and independence. Naturally, we all value these things. Independence implies that one is not being subjected to outside control, and freedom is the ability to do as one pleases. We all deserve to have both, but when you are living in a civilized society and you blend those two concepts together, you have to add in a third one in order for society to function properly. That third concept is civic responsibility. Without that third ingredient, the recipe becomes a toxic stew, because not everyone is willing to play nice. If you only have freedom and independence, what you get are people doing as they please without any basic outside control, and, unfortunately, that often boils down to chaos and an attitude of “to hell with everyone else.”

As responsible human beings, we must make sure that the things we want to do are not causing others to feel controlled. In other words, my freedom and independence should not roll right over your freedom and independence. It’s okay to be selfish if what you’re doing only impacts yourself. But for the big picture things, we must be more generous.

I never thought that the golden rule thing would be a difficult balancing act for most people. Surely I am not the only person in the world who was taught about civic responsibility. When did we become so selfish that we’re willing to do whatever we want, regardless of how much it hurts others? Have we always been this way? Maybe I just wasn’t allowing myself to see this truth prior to 2016.

It’s all about weighing the pros and cons of every scenario and choosing the less destructive path. For example, you might want free and easy access to semi-automatic weapons, but if that means that innocent children are forced to do active shooter drills and are possibly going to die themselves or witness the death of their schoolmates, is that freedom of yours actually worth it? Statistics bear this out: countries with more gun restrictions have fewer mass shootings. It’s that simple.

Recently I went to see the comedian Hannah Gadsby. The show started extremely late, because the metal detectors that we all had to pass through had caused such a bottleneck that people were still finding their seats a full hour after showtime. Ms. Gadsby was kind enough to come out on stage and keep us entertained with some ad-lib during that time, which was extremely generous of her. But one of the things she pointed out was that she never has this problem when she tours in Australia. Congratulations, America. This is the society we’ve created for ourselves through our egocentricity. But enough about gun control. Let’s move on.

Another controversial topic: Women’s Rights. You might want the freedom to impose your religious beliefs on everyone around you, whether they agree with you or not, but is that freedom worth the deaths of women who are having such a complicated pregnancy that the birth of the child will kill them? Is that freedom worth reducing human beings into unwilling incubators for rapists? How can you feel free while plunging women and children into poverty, violence and dysfunction, only so everyone will march in lockstep with your beliefs?

You might want independence from big government, but is that independence worth it if it means that huge sections of the population won’t have access to healthcare, and the most poverty-stricken people among us will have a life expectancy that is 14 years lower than it is for the rest of us? Do you have the right to steal 14 years of life from a full grown adult who has parents, children, and siblings who will be impacted as well? And if America is so great, why do we have a lower life expectancy than 39 other countries? That’s pathetic. But as per usual, I digress.

You might want the freedom to bust unions, but is that freedom worth it when the average worker in a “Right to Work” state makes 6,109 dollars less a year than a worker in a free bargaining state? Do you care that “Right to Work” states have a 15 percent higher poverty rate, and a 49 percent higher chance of dying on the job?

You might disapprove of all things LGBTQ, and wish to stigmatize these fellow citizens, and block them at every turn from pursuing the very happiness that you hold so dear, but is that cruel desire worth it if it means that LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers?

You may not like the way an election turned out, but does that give you the right to attempt an overthrow of our very democracy? When did that become okay in your mind? Is it because we never call white men terrorists, so they can do anything that their hearts desire, including wanton destruction and threats of murder, and that’s okay? Where is the freedom in that, and for whom? This is not freedom, and it definitely isn’t patriotism. Being a fully functioning adult means you don’t get to throw a violent tantrum when you don’t get your way.

On this of all days, please make an effort to read the famous, albeit densely packed, speech by Frederick Douglass entitled “What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July?

That speech is the most damning oration against slavery that you will ever hear. And slavery, of course, is the complete deprivation of freedom. The fact that this country condoned slavery for centuries is unconscionable. But read this speech, too, with an eye toward the present erosion of our rights and freedoms. It’s chilling how much of what he says applies to today. For example:

“YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

Well said, Mr. Douglass. Well said. How pathetic that we still have to beg for the same type of compassion that we lacked even then. Have we not matured at all as a nation?

At what point did we decide that a complete lack of civic responsibility and a breathtaking wont of consideration for our fellow man was the best path to take to secure our freedom? How can we, as individuals, feel free while kneeling on the necks of others? When did bold faced lies become the most common currency that we use to get what we want? When did we start admitting out loud the belief that as long as we have what we want, everyone else can go straight to hell?

Think about that while enjoying your fireworks (which, by the way, are traumatizing our veterans and our dogs, but at least you’re enjoying yourself, so happy freakin’ 4th.) Think about that while many of us wonder if this country even deserves a party this year, or if we can really be considered citizens when our bodies are no longer our own.

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Morality Doesn’t Come from Religion

The golden rule, though not always followed, is universal.

I get so frustrated when people imply that those without a religion-centered life are therefore devoid of a moral compass. Stuff and nonsense. I’m not a Christian, and my upbringing wasn’t particularly religious. Yet I believe in the golden rule. I think it’s wrong to kill and steal and lie and behave violently. I’m a law-abiding person, and do my best to do no harm.

Studies have shown (and this article in Scientific American describes) that even babies have compassion, empathy, and the beginnings of a sense of what’s fair. These things are within them long before any religious instruction is instilled. There’s even evidence that empathy has a genetic component.

Another article, in Psychology Today, posits the theory that we have a rigid moral code because that signals to the world that we are trustworthy. Trustworthiness, in kind, gets others to cooperate with us. Cooperation is how we’re able to survive. So those with a moral code are more likely to survive and pass on their genes than those who do not. That makes perfect sense to me.

What does not make sense to me is the belief that if I don’t hold your exact spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof for that matter), there’s something wrong or evil about me. The sense of right and wrong is a universal trait. And yes, there are people out there who are horrible and selfish and commit atrocities. It’s been my experience that some of these claim to be religious and others do not.

Horrible things have happened in the name of religion. Horrible things have also happened simply because that person was fundamentally a douchebag. It is what it is.

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Self-Decency

If the golden rule is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” then the platinum rule ought to be, “Be kind to yourself.” Because let’s face it: there’s no guarantee that anyone else is going to play by the golden rule. The only real power you have is within you. Why do we seem to ration out that power as if we were in the midst of some sort of happiness famine? It makes no sense.

But who am I to talk? I tend to treat others much better than I do myself. When I splurge (using money I earned myself, it should be noted) I’m hard-pressed not to feel guilty about it. “You shouldn’t be spending your money and/or time and/or energy in this way,” I’ll say to myself.

This year, I intend to make more of an effort to say, “Shaddup, self! I deserve this!”

I deserve naps. I deserve nice meals. I deserve to relax. I deserve to explore the world. I deserve to read good books while cuddling with my good dog. I deserve adventures. I deserve new experiences. I deserve to spend time with people I enjoy. I deserve time to myself. I deserve celebrations, and don’t need to come up with excuses for them. I deserve long hot baths.

Self-decency doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune. But it does take effort. This will probably never come naturally to me. That’s a shame. But I genuinely believe I’ll be presenting a better me to the world if I take the time to appreciate myself.

Be kind to yourself, dear reader. You deserve it, too.

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The Dark Shadow Cast by the Golden Rule

Most societies seem to have some version of the Golden Rule. That only makes sense. It would be hard to live amongst one’s fellow humans without one. I really do try to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I can’t imagine functioning any other way.

The thing I struggle with is my huge disappointment/bitterness/frustration when others do not do likewise. “Oy! I’m playin’ by the rules here! Why aren’t you?”

Just the other day I got royally screwed over by 5 people. Without going into detail, we’ve all had long conversations and they agreed with my interpretation of events. But when this brought on an investigation, rather than tell the truth and have my back, these people chose to pull their pinheads into their tiny, soft, little shells and leave me out there all alone to be crushed by the bus.  I feel so betrayed. I could never do that to someone. Not in a million years.

Be that as it may, the situation isn’t going to right itself, so now the only thing I can do is cope with my feelings of disappointment/bitterness/frustration. On close examination, I realize that I wouldn’t even have those feelings if I didn’t think that these people were not holding themselves to a standard that I swear by.

So maybe I should blame the Golden Rule for all of this. Maybe I should stop expecting others to follow it. Heck, maybe I should stop following it myself, since it does not seem to have done me any favors.

But the day I can’t even count on my own integrity is the day I give up entirely.

crushed turtle

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Actually, No.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I was raised to be a good girl. My default position is to respect authority. Be cooperative. Don’t make waves. Accommodate others. And above all, always, always be polite.

Well, you know what? Fuck that. All those values are great if everyone is playing by the golden rule. But it’s been my experience that most people do not. As a result, I’ve been bullied and taken advantage of my entire life.

I’ve had it up to here. (No, not there. Much higher than that. Here.)

I’m over it. I’m done. I will not be pushed around anymore. Not by strangers, not by loved ones, and definitely not by politicians. I am establishing the sharp boundaries that I’ve always allowed to remain fuzzy at best. This far, and no further.

I’m not planning to become a bully. I’m not going to be gratuitously rude or selfish. But I won’t be passively stepped on. I am learning to stick up for myself. I’m learning that I have a right to say no. It’s frustrating that it’s taken me so long to figure this stuff out.

We need to teach our children to be respectful, yes, but also not to take any crap. Because as the world becomes more crowded, there will be plenty of crap to go around. And then some.

It is possible to be kind and strong at the same time. It’s okay, and very necessary, to stand in your power. It may take practice to reach that acceptable balance. But it can be done.

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Don’t Write People Off

I know a woman who stops speaking to people entirely after one disagreement. It must be awfully stressful to keep track of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. I wonder if she keeps a sad little list or something. That, and she seems to think that a lack of interaction with her is some form of punishment. I suspect many people find it to be a relief, because it is nearly impossible to meet her high standards. Who needs it?

And then there’s the friend of mine, in his 50’s, who is still bitter and obsessed with the poor treatment he received from his classmates in high school. Rest assured, none of those people are spending time thinking about him. And are any of us the people we were in high school? (God, I hope not. I was shy, lonely, and chronically depressed.)

I’d like to think some of those bullies matured and became decent human beings. Or, yeah, it’s equally possible that they are still asshats. Who knows? But that’s no reason to waste your emotional head space keeping them locked in your acidity. It only hurts you.

And then there are those people who seem to have difficulty distinguishing opinions from personal attacks. For example, I don’t like cranberries. You love cranberries. My dislike of cranberries doesn’t mean I’m passing judgment on you, even if you are a cranberry grower. It just means I don’t like cranberries. I feel sorry for people who can’t make that distinction. They spend an awful lot of time feeling rage and missing out on friendships. This is a waste of their valuable time, and an impediment to their happiness.

I find black and white thinking to be rather troublesome because human beings, in general, are rather complex.  For example, I can be cranky and opinionated and forgetful and (brace yourself) unrepentantly liberal and inherently flawed, but I also financially support the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the DAPL Water Protectors, Storycorps, the International Red Cross, the Humane Society, Goodwill, and my local blood bank. I try to be a good friend. I work hard. I love my dog. So am I irredeemable? No. And neither are you.

The people I respect the most in this world are the ones who can say, “I may not agree with you all the time, but I don’t mean you any harm.” First, do no harm. The golden rule is also an excellent philosophy.

Kindness, not confrontation. Calm, not chaos. Good will, not hostility. If you give yourself a chance and get to know people, odds are good that they’ll delight you. But you only get that gift if you don’t write them off based on brief experience.

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Good God, He’s at it Again.

Just when you think that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty can’t wander any further out on the lunatic fringe, he does just that. This time he ranted not about homosexuals or AIDS or hippies (Are there enough hippies left to rant about? Apparently so.) but what he appears to consider the most evil creatures of all: atheists.

It seems that this silly, ignorant old man equates atheism with a lack of morality. As far as I can tell, his message boiled down to this: without a belief in a judging, Christian god, you cannot be afraid of consequences, and therefore can run wild and give in to your baser instincts.

But here’s what really gave me the willies about his speech: he showed the world exactly what his instincts would be, and even for someone as desensitized as little ol’ me, who is a true crime documentary addict, his scenario was chilling. I won’t go into detail about it. You can read it here if you’re so inclined. But suffice it to say that his violent, sadistic story would make the most diehard serial killer gasp. It takes a special kind of twisted imagination to come up with a plot like that. I wouldn’t want to run into this guy in a dark alley, just in case his god was off duty that day.

I’m not an atheist, but neither am I a Christian. I have never equated my moral compass with my spirituality. In fact, this recent study shows, and history bears it out, that religion doesn’t make people more moral.

I always strive to do the right thing, not because I fear going to hell, but because, well, it’s the right thing to do. I don’t behave decently out of fear. I behave decently because I’d like to think that others will do the same. Otherwise we could not have a functioning society. You can believe in the golden rule without believing that the bible is the voice of god.

If anything, I think that the more you are taught to question, the less dogmatic you are, the more moral you will be. If from birth you are force fed the concept that there is only one right way, and all other ways are wrong, it would be so much easier to stray from a path that you consider to be righteous, and once you’ve done that, once you decide that you’re a bad person, all bets are off. On the other hand, if you are taught to think for yourself, to consider your options, and to realize how your actions will impact those around you, you will be much more apt to care about the consequences of your behavior.

Yes, there is evil in this world. It spans across all religions and every philosophy. Some people are just sick, and I think Phil Robertson’s latest speech demonstrates that he’s one of those people. That’s all there is to it.

Phil Robertson