Sailing Adventures

Freedom, Independence, and Responsibility

Dateline: NYC, July 4, 2014
John Berryman, a poet, once said, "that it bothered him more than anything else that a man could live in this culture all his life without knowing whether he is a coward or not."

A large part of the American self image is that of freedom and independence. This is sad when we consider that Americans live in one of the most highly regulated societies in the world. Not only are there rules that govern almost all aspects of life, but Americans are so inured to being constrained by the rules that they go virtually unchallenged.

Thirty years ago it created major scandals when the government wire-tapped a few individuals. Today the NSA is wire-tapping virtually everyone's phone, email, and probably toilet usage. Did Americans rise up in revolt when they found that out? No, instead everyone bought a new iGadget and turned on the "Find my iGadget" feature to make it easier to track. Then they started identifying everyone they knew in Facebook photos so face recognition software could better figure out who was associating with whom.

I have been surprised since returning to the States at how many opportunities there are to be a snitch. "Text *123 to report drunk drivers." "Fireworks are illegal. Report your neighbors to the police." It is common to film every incident around you on your iPhone and sell it to the media. Or post the embarrassment on YouTube for all to see.

The United States is tied with Seychelles for the highest percentage of its population that is imprisoned, at 707 people per 100,000. Over two million Americans are imprisoned. So much for the Land of the Free.

Independence means the ability to live without being overly dependent upon others. Can you change a flat tire? Do you even know where the spare tire is or whether you have the tools needed to change it? Why should you? Just call AAA and they will take care of you.
Do you know where your power, water, food, or fuel comes from? If the power fails, do you have a flashlight handy? If you turn on the tap and no water appears, do you have enough water for drinking or flushing the toilet to carry you for a few days? Do you know where the nearest spring is where you could obtain water if needed? If the Teamsters go on strike and your local grocery store is poorly stocked, do you have enough groceries on hand to last for a month? Preparation is a big part of independence.
An independent person can fix something that breaks. The American manufacturing culture has created a world of things that can't be fixed. Gone are the days when there were screws in the bottom of a gadget so you could easily disassemble it to find a broken wire or spring. Steve Jobs led the way to gadgets that have no visual clues how to even change the battery. Our culture says that if it breaks, throw it away and buy a new one. This doesn't encourage an independent spirit.

To achieve freedom and independence, one must accept a high level of personal responsibility. Sea gypsies, for example, have great freedom to move about the water world, constrained more by seasons, weather, and tides than by regulations. Yet to do so, we must produce our own electricity and water. We must manage our own excrement. We must carry enough stores to go weeks or even months without seeing a supermarket. If anything breaks (and everything breaks eventually) we must be willing to figure it out, capable of doing something about it, and have adequate tools and spare parts to make the repairs. There is no AAA to call when you are out to sea.
It saddens me that our leaders have used the jingo-ism of Freedom and Independence as an excuse for constant foreign wars. Yet there has been no Responsibility to pay for these wars. No need to raise taxes to pay for the excessive spending - that would be unpopular! Just run them off-budget and add another trillion to the national debt.

Like Great Britain in the 1800's, we have wasted our nation's blood and treasure to little avail. The American Empire is bankrupt. If the U.S. made the necessary adjustments to achieve financial stability, like scaling back the size of our military to something like the rest of the world combined, if we ended the War on Drugs, if we closed the Department of Homeland Insecurity, it would set the economy into a tailspin that would take fifty years to recover from.

When you trade Freedom for Security, you get neither.