Freedom. Today, on July the fourth, america is saturated with that word. It'll be tossed around in a boastful manner while denigrating the likes of Saddam and Osama and Al-Queda and the Iraqi's. They'll be talk about how we have our freedom thanks to the military; you've seen the bumper stickers: "If you love your freedom thank a Vet". And the day will be topped off with a grandiose display of fireworks designated to represent our freedom.
I've not participated in July 4th activities for several years. I loathe the days that lead up to it and those that follow, with the continual noise of firecrackers interrupting my thoughts and my sleep. I wonder how the Chinese feel about our celebration of freedom while they are imprisoned in a sweatshop churning out these obnoxious polluting noisemakers for the occasion.
I've been wondering a lot about freedom the past few days, pondering what freedom really is. I think that the western concept of freedom is quite different than the eastern one. In america freedom is closely related to materialism. Money can buy things that we want. If we cannot have them we feel a sense of deprivation. It is amazing how much we associate material objects with our identity; like, 'we are what we have'.
When Janis Joplin sang "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose" in "Me and Bobby McGee" I think that she may have been talking about surrender; of letting go of everything that does not matter, that has no worth beyond the material realm. And this I think is closer to the eastern concept of freedom.
Imagine, as John Lennon suggests, no possessions. If we have no-thing to tempt or trap us there will be no reason to take from others. There will be no reason to wage war to steal the resources of other countries.
It's not easy to let go of possessions, likely because we have attached a memory or an emotion to them. And then they hold power over us so we must work hard to hold onto them. Our lust for things is quite a dangerous addiction. As is the case with most addictions, it generally hurts not only us but also those around us.
Somebody has to produce all of the stuff that we feel we cannot live without. And with our attachment to money we want to buy the stuff as cheaply as possible. This generally means buying items that were produced in third world countries by underpaid and overworked laborers.
Our ideas and belief systems fall into this material realm as well. We can gauge how attached we are by witnessing the way that we defend them, especially when doing so in an arrogant or self-righteous manner. It is important to know oneself, to move towards self-realization, to discover our own truths. But how are we to know the truths of another? How can we, often when not even knowing what it is that we need, know what is best for someone else? Attachment can have far reaching effects.
There are universal truths that we all understand but they often get tangled up in political battle and then lose their veracity. Like killing, or rather not killing, an obvious universal truth. But then you throw the perceived threat of terrorism in the mix, along with fear and loathing, and suddenly killing becomes justifiable in the minds of some.
There is no freedom in killing others while we dance in the streets unified in patriotic terrorism. One of the most absurd things that we were told (ad nauseam) after 9.11 was that "they hate our freedom". I think that the closer translation to that statement is that they hate the way that we abuse freedom, the way that we kill others for our "freedom".
This passage from the Tao Te Ching expresses my sentiments re freedom, desire and peace simply and eloquently:
The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.
If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.
When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
May all being be at peace.