by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - June 19, 2006) The bloodiest word in any language: freedom. Have not all wars been fought for freedom from some oppressive or corrupt system? Has not each side declared they would be free of the other side's threat or evil, real or imagined? Insurgents and counter-insurgents would free themselves from the other.
The rhetoric of freedom begs the question, becomes a tautology with mystical power, a most paradoxical word. Occupation means liberty; regime change means fixed elections; the price of peace, never-ending war. "Freedom to" has been reserved for those in power and "freedom from" has become the fear-ridden mantra that never ends.
In the never-ending war between rival ideologies, freedom is a momentary transition from one form of slavery into another. Freed from one economic disaster, we labor to avoid the next. Freed from the conservative agenda, we labor under the liberal: the chains of the capitalist imperative bind us to this means. We deem ourselves free because we have choice, yet we give away this choice to leaders who, for good or ill, determine our destiny.
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness," claimed Marx. If his "materialist conception of history" is true, then freedom is an illusion. Wherever conscious beings congregate, consensus endures. Even those who reject society, who break societal laws, who deem themselves rebels conform to pre-determined behaviors or courses of action within the social construct. We may protest the never-ending war, but still support the system that wages that war.
In this dilemma to truly be free we must give up freedom. To win the war, our leaders say we must sacrifice our freedoms: freedom of privacy, freedom of choice, freedom to dissent, freedom to assemble. Yet to prevent the never-ending war, we must be willing to sacrifice our freedom of movement, even our pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.
"Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt" (Gandhi). What is a State that wages illegal, never-ending war, if it is not corrupt?
Even though belonging to any nation means to give up one's freedom (for no citizen is free to ignore the rules, laws, or needs of the nation), we need not give up our souls. To swear allegiance to any flag is not freedom, so do not swear. To support military intervention with tax dollars is not freedom, so do not pay. To tie yellow ribbons to trees is not freedom, so do not send your children to war.
We are tied to the historical consequences of our action or inaction. Direct or indirect support makes each citizen responsible for the atrocities of war. If freedom is to be rescued from this State of abuse, we must adhere to Gandhi's words: "the attainment of freedom, whether for a man, a nation or the world, must be in exact proportion to the attainment of non-violence by each."
If we must support any ideology, let it be an ideology that refuses to wage war. If we must support any ideology, let it be an ideology that pursues peace through diplomatic means, through the eradication of poverty, disease, and hunger. If we must support any ideology, let it be a humane, socialist ideology, not a mean-spirited, capitalistic one.
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