As we head into the 4th of July weekend, it’s sometimes difficult to reflect on the larger question of liberties when most of us are really thinking about being away from the day to day grind of work. You know, that whole “working for the weekend” thing?
As I was coming into work, I heard on the radio that the Supreme Court has finally ruled on the Bush Administration’s detention of 450 individuals in GuantÃ¡namo, Cuba as part of our Hundred Years War on Terrorism. The ruling was on whether the Bushies can try individuals in military tribunals instead of following the Geneva Conventions.
In opening ‘graph of the NY Times report pretty much sums it up:
“WASHINGTON, June 29 â€” The Supreme Court on Thursday repudiated the Bush administration’s plan to put GuantÃ¡namo detainees on trial before military commissions, ruling broadly that the commissions were unauthorized by federal statute and violated international law.”
Okay, that’s good news for human rights and protection against abuses of power from the state, but I started to reflect on how our history has this odd duality when it comes to our love of liberty.
There was this great book I read in grad school called Albion’s Seed, and in it, the author ( David Hackett Fischer) talks about how our country has 4 views of freedom that expresses itself in certain regions of our country. Since the subtitle of the book is “Four British Folkways in America,” it only focuses on the migration of various groups from the Britian. Okay, putting aside the obvious flaw in looking at the ways in which other ethnic groups and their folkways had an effect in American culture, Fischer makes a point that reminds me of this whole mess with the individuals who are being held with being charged Cuba.
How? Well, it gets to the slippery definition of freedom.
The Virginians, according to Fischer, had a very elitist sense of freedom that was predicated the slavery of others. So, the wealthier you were (i.e., landed gentry), the more you had dominion over others — which included enslaving people. It was a very hierarchical view of freedom that had, at its base, many layers of “unfreedom” in society.
Then there were those British groups who settled in the so-called “backcountry” of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. These folks generally thought of freedom as a kind of rebellious, “natural” kind of liberty that was given voice by Patrick Henry (i.e., minimal government, light taxes, and the right to armed resistance to any authority that infringed upon one’s liberty). This kind of liberty did not like contrary opinions, dissent, or disagreement. If you deviated from accepted cultural norms, you could bet that your “deviation” would be suppressed with force. In short, anyone who opposes you (and the culture you come from) is an enemy and should be destroyed.
So, one view of freedom equates wealth with the freedom to rule over others. The other view of freedom is a kind of “don’t tell me what to do” attitude that will react in a forceful (if not violent) way if threatened.
We love our liberties, but going with the notion that “ideas have consequences,” there’s both our history of lynching and our government’s current obession with torturing people with brown bodies in the name of freedom and democracy (forget that these ideas can sometimes be in opposition to one another) that got me thinking about the kind of extremes people view freedom. It obvious there are people out there who want to do us harm, and it’s imcumbent on the government to provide us (its citizens) with protection. However, the kind of things our government does in the name of freedom, democracy, and security has reached levels of cruelty that would probably make a sadist cringe.
Since I’m not quite sure how to end this post, I’ll keep with the British theme by quoting a British band (XTC) whose music I dig. The following lyrics kind of sum up my views of freedom…
“This is your life and be what you want to be/This is your life and you try it all/This is your life and be what you want to be/Just don’t hurt nobody/’Less of course they ask you/In the garden of earthly delights.”
CD: Oranges and Lemons
Song: Garden of Earthly Delights