Free From Fear

Stories abound about long-time prisoners who are finally set free and who then commit an illegal act in order to be arrested and sent back to jail. The freedom they have finally achieved scares them and they prefer the security of three meals a day, a place to sleep, and a routine they are familiar with. When the Wall fell separating East and West Berlin there were also reports of people from East Germany who went into a panic because they were suddenly free to make of their lives what they wished. Freedom can be a fearsome thing because it involves both risk and responsibilities and it requires courage and self-confidence to “go it alone.” Freedom varies inversely with fear: the exercise of that freedom demands that we conquer our fear.

We certainly enjoy a great many freedoms in this country. But there are so many people on all sides who are only too happy to tell us how to live — our parents, friends, society at large and, of course, those who would sell us the things we don’t need, including politicians! But in the midst of all these many factors operating on us we still pretty much can come and go as we wish; we can visit the grocery store and marvel at the bounty from which to choose the items we take home to eat — if we have the money with which to make our purchases. That is always the hooker, of course, and there is an increasing number of people in this country who do not have the money to buy what they need to eat and who have no place to live. But the majority of us live relatively comfortable lives, free to come and go as we like and make of our lives what we wish.

When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, however,  much of this changed. We suddenly felt vulnerable and fear began to enter the hearts of  those who really had no reason to be fearful. And there were those among us in positions of power who nurtured that sense of fear because they came quickly to realize that it was a way to get what they wanted. There followed the  monster known as “Homeland Security” that took away many of our civil liberties without our even knowing it. Our communications were open to prying eyes, guilt was presumed, and our right to privacy was rapidly becoming an empty phrase, dismissed in the name of greater national security. Security cameras started going up everywhere, especially in crowded cities, and access to public transportation is now carefully watched and monitored. Recently there has been serious talk about domestic drone flights in the name of surveillance in order to assure our government that another terrorist attack will not occur — even though the likelihood of anyone in this country being killed in such an attack is on a par with winning the lottery.

All indications are that the vast majority of American citizens are perfectly content to have it this way. We seem to be entering a phase in which we are willing to trade what freedoms we do have for greater security because of an exaggerated sense of fear of terrorists who may or may not ever attack us again. We begin to resemble the prisoner who seeks the safety and comfort of the jail cell rather than face the world on his own. We have crossed the threshold into an era in which we trade what is left of our freedom for the feeling of security — even though our safety is almost certainly not at risk. Fear trumps freedom.

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5 thoughts on “Free From Fear

  1. Walt Whitman’s advice remains one of the best ways to live, maybe even moreso in times like this: “Resist much. Obey little.”

    Part of the problem is that we voluntarily step into the system, at least on the communications end, making it easier to be monitored have data compiled about us: use of cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Amazon. Millions of us choose to use these things, even knowing that they are loaded with data tracking programs and devices (from GPS that can follow our movements to algorithms that can profile our shopping, reading, movie-watching habits). And from there, it seems like an easy step to not bat much of an eye over the Patriot Act, drones, security cameras on every street corner — like you said, Hugh, we’re trading freedom for a weird sort of security.

    It’s a long ways from another great early American’s words. Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death.” While most of us have the freedom from want (although too many live in poverty for a country with as much general wealth as we have), we play a dangerous game when we begin to yield intellectual, communication and even political freedoms.

  2. Hugh, some would say the terrorists won, as we gave up some freedom, for perceived safety. I use the word perceived, as you note above, are we really safer? All it takes is one person who is willing to sacrifice his or her life to kill others. It is very hard to stop someone who is willing to strap on a bomb or drive explosives into a crowd. The times where we have intervened it has been due to lack of competence, a sting operation, or someone who noticed something funny. Back to your initial comment, what immortal words did Kris Kristofferson write that Janis Joplin sang so well – “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Maybe we are never free unless we have nothing to lose. Good post, BTG

  3. The smaller enemy knows that he cannot win a confrontation with a larger, some say overwhelming enemy with a direct confrontation. But, the smart enemy knows that he can win defeat by instilling fear in his enemy.

    Bil Laden knew he couldn’t defeat the US directly, but he knew he could destroy the soul of this country by instilling such fears, that freedoms are taken away and destroyed. Are not the terrorists winning this war? Have we not been willing to freely sacrifice our freedoms in the name of security?

    I maintain that not one terrorist has been stopped by Homeland Security, and that we are still victims of the terrorists mentality, but as much if not more from our own government than any foreign threat.

    I agree with BTG. The terrorist have already won

    Good Post

  4. Wow, this is an amazing post, and you are so right, as are the ones above who commented. I wasn’t sure where you were going with this after the first few sentences, but —- You’ve made the comparison that I have never considered, and you are totally correct…

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