Freedom – options = Tyranny

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Michael McGinty teaches critical thinking for us and decision making is his passion. Please read what Michael has to say about Tyranny and Decision Making. Warning!!! Libertarian rant ahead.

How is Freedom lost? How do we lose our liberty? How do people descend into oppression? How does tyranny happen? Do dictators suddenly just jump out from behind a rock and go “ha ha ha ha!!! Now I’ve got you!!!!”

As most of you know, I’m a libertarian and so I think about questions such as this quite a bit. I listen to talk radio and the other day I was listening to Michael Medved and he was challenging one of his callers to stop talking in the abstract. He was accusing his caller of speaking in the hypothetical, the conceptual. He was accusing this caller of projecting his fear about some possible future tyranny and instead, put him on the spot. He challenged him to name the specific tyranny that was being visited upon him personally, right now, in present time. His assertion seemed to be that very few, if any, singular individuals have lost any actual, specific freedoms.

My question is, how else is a freedom lost? A freedom is not lost only in some theoretical or philosophical sense. Freedoms are lost in an actual way when a person, a single individual, tries to take action but is faced with limited choices, because that’s all freedom really is: choices. Opportunities. Alternatives. Options.

And when those options are slowly taken away, they become invisible to us. Sometimes to the point that we forget that they ever existed.

Let me give you an example, a day in the life of an average American. We’ll call him Lysander Spooner. He gets up in the morning, eats breakfast with his wife and kids, takes a shower, goes to work, comes home, watches a bit of TV, and goes to bed. In your eyes, there’s no problem; his freedom hasn’t been threatened, impinged, or lost in any way. But a closer look will show you many places where his freedom was lost.

The breakfast cereal he enjoys is made with high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar because the government subsidizes corn and imposes high import tariffs on imported sugar – so cereal companies no longer offer him a choice because it’s not cost effective. He bought the milk from Vons. He couldn’t buy it from his local dairy farmer because that guy was thrown in jail for not pastuerizing his milk. Lysander then kisses his kids goodbye and sends them off to private school. He feels good about his decision to send them to private school vs. public school, but what did he forget? He forgot his zip-code limited him to just 2 schools competing for his business instead of 10, and that neither of those 2 are very spectacular. But he forgot about that a long time ago, if he ever knew it at all. Forgetting this also allows him to forget that he’s actually paying for both schools – even though his kids can only go to one. And to forget that he’s been paying for that school since he got his first job at 15. Oh, and that he’ll still be paying for that school until he retires at 65. Oh, and that the money he paid into Social Security for 50 years will be long gone by then…. But, I digress, Lysander, back to your life…

He goes to take his 20-minute shower. It used to take 10 minutes but his government-mandated low-phosphate shampoo takes longer to rinse out of his hair, especially now that he’s using a government-mandated, low-flow, water-saving shower head. He also had to flush the toilet twice, which is now, of course, standard practice every morning.

When Lysander gets dressed, his cotton shirt costs twice as much because, once again, cotton subsidies and high import tariffs have prevented cotton farmers from Afghanistan from selling him an equally fabulous shirt at half the cost and have instead encouraged Afghan farmer to export him other products and services that are much more profitable, such as heroin and terrorism.

None-the-less, Lysander dresses, goes out to the garage and gets in his car. But the moment he does so, he loses his 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, which he “voluntarily” waived by signing for his driver’s license because he agreed if a police officer even suspects him of being under the influence he is legally obligated to perform roadside-circus tricks and/or relinquish his precious bodily fluids to the authorities, lest he face heinous punishments even without being found guilty of an actual crime. That’s OK, Lysander tells himself, I’m not drunk. He puts his car in gear, backs into the street, and is immediately in violation of eight sections of the State penal code for a variety of random infractions like tinted windows, low tire tread, and a Student of the Month bumper sticker that’s obstructing a portion of his rear window.

Because the United States Department of Transportation has deliberately set all speed limits at 10 – 15 mph slower than the average speed of traffic, he speeds all the way to work. He’s got an unpaid parking ticket in his glovebox which the Supreme Court recently ruled (5 – 4) is grounds for imprisonment and a cavity search. Lysander flicks on his satellite radio. He used to listen to Howard Stern but now he can’t because the Federal Communications Commission chased Howard Stern out of New York, then out of the United States, and eventually, out of Earth’s orbit. He wonders, for a moment, where they think their jurisdiction actually ends. The radio plays “Dirty Work” by the Rolling Stones. They beep out the word “ass.”

When he arrives at his office complex, he passes ten double-wide handicapped spaces right in front of his building and parks 300 yards away because city planners concerned with the obesity epidemic want him to walk that far. As he walks into his office, he is greeted with the energy-efficient flourescent lightbulbs that illuminate everything in “bright-blue-migrane” because the soft-white incandescent light bulb is now illegal.

And on and on it goes…all day long. I could tell you this story in a million different ways. Because that’s how it happens. In a million different ways, in a million different directions, the path which our good friend Lysander seems to be choosing of his own volition, is in fact, one that has been pre-determined for him. It’s an artifice. A ploy. A bold new promise of false hope. We are facing an ever-diminishing horizon of actual choices, and an ever-expanding vista of illusion. the illusion of choice. Our bold, new promise, is in reality, the promise of a false hope.

Tyranny doesn’t always come down and strike an individual like a bolt of lightning. It doesn’t always leave massive wreckage, scars, and piles of corpses. We’ve all watched the History Channel. We’ve all seen the black and white films. We all know how it ends. But what I want to know is; are we paying enough attention to how it starts? Because it starts out small, at the periphery, gradually hemming us in at every turn. Like a giant picture-window being painted black, starting with the edges and moving closer and closer to the center. The person trying to see through the window is looking through an ever-shrinking window of opportunity. The free man, the man who was born truly free – and by that I mean each and every one of us – we once stood before a wide-open vista of infinite possibilities. But every so subtly, one brush-stroke at a time, we slowly lose more and more of our freedom. Some of them we miss. We bite our tongue and bear the injustice. But the worst part is, most of them we don’t even notice. Most of them, we forget. The choices we once faced became the opportunities we can no longer have. And it’s easier to forget than to remember.

But I remember what freedom tastes like. And I miss it.

Do you?

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About RIck

Rick Wells is VP of Research and Development for Business Processes Inc. His job is developing better ways to analyze high impact issues and tame complexity. He has a B.S. in Engineering Physics, and M. Educational Psychology. He is ABD (all but dissertation) from University of Michigan. He grew up in Toledo, Ohio. He lives in San Diego. He is married with 4 step kids who he loves as his own. He is grandpa to 6.

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