THE CURRENT DIVISION IN AMERICA: THE MEANING OF FREEDOM
The article which follows is offered as thoughts on a profoundly important and complex subject, one that is deeply troubling to many today.
When we read about political debate in this country or elsewhere, it is important to not only take in the content of what is being said, but also the energy with which it is being said and the effect of this energy on the consciousness we share. Energy and emotion play a significant role in the political landscape. Most respond intuitively to these things without articulating them in words. However, especially in this present conflict in which emotions are running high, these currents need to be more clearly stated. I have tried to do this in what follows.
It is incumbent upon us today, as we witness the increasingly virulent quarrels within America between the ‘right’ and the ‘left’, between conservatives and liberals, and between the proponents of the “second American Revolution” currently embodied within the Tea Party Movement and those baffled by or opposed to it – it is incumbent upon us to try to understand how and why this increasing tension has come about.
There are two principles at issue here, not so much divided along party lines as along the lines of innermost consciousness and of each being’s highest ideals.
The first involves the definition of freedom or liberty, including the conditions that support it and those things that are held to interfere with it.
The second involves the relationship between freedom and unity, namely, can I, or you, or anyone, truly be free if there are others within the collective body called America who are un-free? Within the context of this second issue lies the additional question: What is my relationship to others? If it were necessary that some sacrifice of wealth, property or comfort be made so that those others could also contain within themselves and their lives greater freedom, would I make it? These two issues inform the current conflict on the political scene and, within some, create the basis for the polarization between opposite points of view.
The present justification for the “second American Revolution” against increased government spending and control has been generated by perceived threat. This sense of threat has arisen out of conditions evolving within our country prior to the present administration. Yet, the response of the present administration to the economic crisis of our time that continues today is the immediate precipitant of the sense of threat. It is giving rise to defense and opposition within the body politic, broadly expressed within the increasingly popular Tea Party Movement. Specifically, with its increased government spending, enlargement of the national debt, bailout of large multinational companies, creation of the potential for increased taxes for future generations, and infiltration into formerly private areas of common life represented by recent proposals for healthcare reform – these policies and practices have tipped the balance between trust and fear, for many, in the direction of fear, and not only of fear but anger as well. From the vantage point of some, the enlargement of government functions, decisions, and regulatory authority was the best possible response to a critical situation and to a disaster that loomed ahead. For others, it has created a sense of endangerment and the need for defense, as if life, liberty, and the capacity to live freely were being challenged in the most basic way to an extent that had not taken place before.
The reactivity against government expansion or ‘big government’ has been with us throughout our history, forming a major perspective or position within the political landscape. Yet, prior to the last decade, it has been a point of view, held more prominently within one political party than the other, but held primarily as a perspective, a philosophical orientation. Because of this, it could be the subject of dialogue and debate since these dialogues were not filled with the sense of endangerment that is currently attaching itself to them. People with differing points of view could speak to each other. What, then, is the present reactivity about?
At its ideological root, the resistance represented by advocates of a “second American Revolution” is against coercive governmental authority and in support of individual freedom. The call to freedom and the sense of endangerment due to excessive government regulation and excessive government spending has become the rallying point for those presently opposing the current administration’s policies. Now, more than a political preference is being expressed. Rather, a fervor composed both of anger and fear has attached itself to the normal process of debate. Such emotions are causing those who hold this perspective to seek immediate solutions to the current problems of government through the removal from office of those who would continue with current policies. At the same time, it is creating a ‘we’ against ‘them’ mentality, and even further in some locales, the sense of ‘going to war’. This is not the normal political process of engagement that we are witnessing today. It is a variation that is extreme in its sense of endangerment and it is causing a fragmentation of political life and an inability to find a place of reconciliation. It is because the threat to individual freedom is perceived so strongly that this defensive and endangered response is finding fuel to create an equally strong counter-force.
Such a defense of personal freedom can find support not only in the Constitution of the United States but also in its charter, the Declaration of Independence, and in the views of the Founding Fathers who are often quoted by way of analogy in relation to the present outcry. Such analogy is made between the current protest against increased national debt, government spending, and efforts to regulate formerly privatized aspects of the economy, and the historical antecedents of excessive control within colonial history. In the latter case, excessive external authority imposed by King George III gave rise to the initial acts of the American Revolutionary War. Today, the feeling within some is equally that of coercion and the usurpation of authority. Indeed, it is as if a large mountain were falling down upon oneself, with many not noticing the impending disaster. Those who notice that the mountain is about to fall and crush those beneath it then feel compelled to cry out, for themselves, and also on behalf of future generations.
In contrast to this point of view, is that held by others who do not perceive a mountain to be falling, but rather the shaking of the ground beneath one's feet due to an impending earthquake that may have been narrowly averted. From this vantage point, measures needed to be taken to shore up structures that were about to collapse and to bring both people and structures to a place of safety. This shaking and rending of the earth we stand on is the metaphor for a different sense of endangerment, one in which measures needed to be taken to prevent individuals, groups, businesses, and the national economy from falling into the crevasses that the earthquake produced, and to prevent the earthquake from wreaking even greater damage.
The action needed in response to this impending disaster was, and is, according to such a perspective, repair. It is the creation of safety. It is action which also seeks to protect those who are most likely to fall into the gaps produced by the shaking earth, even though others may be standing on firmer ground. The foundational need to ensure that firm ground be available to all and that the earth’s crevasses have bridges built over them so people could move out of danger is the point of view held by those who seek to repair the damage done by an ‘earthquake.’ This is a different perspective then warning the collective body that a mountain is about to fall on them.
In order to deepen our understanding of the present conflict between these two perspectives and their relationship to the meaning of 'freedom,' we need to take these two metaphors to the next level.
To continue reading: The Current Division in America: Part III
You are invited to join us Friday, Feb. 19th, for the third "Holding the Light for Haiti" meditation. Go to www.responseoflight.com for information.