The Four Freedoms
Freedom is supposed to mean being at liberty, the opposite of confinement. It suggests a certain exemption from external control or interference. An absence of regulation. In some instances it has come to mean a certain immunity from constraint, and in its broadest sense can mean privilege.
Americans have long held four freedoms to be sacred to our lifestyle, and our self-definition as Americans. Above are four famous paintings by Norman Rockwell that beautifully illustrate those four freedoms: The Freedom of Worship, the Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.
But are we Americans really free?
Freedom of Worship:
This was one of the founding principles of this nation. We became a separate national entity almost entirely on the principle that all adults should be allowed to worship in their own way. In their own time, and in their own manner. Yet today, in the 21st Century that is certainly not the case.
If your religion dictates that you must face Mecca at a certain time every day and prostrate yourself, you are declared to be an enemy of the state and are persecuted. If your religious affiliation is not ultra-conservative Judeo-Christian with a strong emphasis on evangelical ministries you are disenfranchised from political aspirations and derided for whatever beliefs you do have. If you happen to believe that an alien overseer exploded an atomic bomb in a volcano to splinter trillions of alien souls which even today inhabit and inhibit the everyday lives of ordinary mortals, well, you can still be a Hollywood celebrity but you will be snickered at behind your back in intellectual company.
If you are Jewish you are practically required to support Israel in all its activities. If you are Catholic you are supposed to swallow without question the infallible nature of statements from Rome about not using condoms, even if you know the scientific principles behind the spread of the HIV virus. If you are Hindu you must be content to worship in the privacy of your own home, as there is no publicly sanctioned temple for your divinity commonly available.
At holiday time, which is really a celebration of rebirth and renewal carried over from man's primitive beginnings, you must either include both Menorah and manger, as well as the candles of Kwanzaa, else you will be allowed nothing at all. Even those events which have long since lost their religious affiliations, such as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, are regulated by the politically correct machinery of today's society until they are hardly worth the effort.
When was the last time you sat down and spoke with a Quaker? Ever wonder why that was?
Freedom of Speech:
This is a big one. This is the first thing that most Americans claim as an inalienable right, and one of the proudest talking points about being an American. Freedom of Speech, the freedom to publicly state that the leader of this nation is a bumbling stooge, manipulated by his handlers, guilty of war crimes surpassing infamous leaders of the past, and dismantler of the Constitution. I can say these things, and write them here, because I am an American, and we enjoy freedom of speech.
Or do we?
Why is the press no longer allowed unfettered access to presidential debates, instead segregated to 'Freedomzones' removed from proximity to candidates?
Why has the Orwellian-named Patriot Act given the government the right to wiretap telephone conversations without proper judicial oversight, listening in on anyone anywhere, at any time they wish, simply because they wish to do so?
Why are those who speak out about this nations criminal irresponsibility in our dealings with overseas nations deemed to be unpatriotic, and marginalized?
Why are news organizations - owned in large part by corporate masters who are themselves beholding to government interests – more focused on the drug induced antics of post adolescent celebutants and the gestational state of movie stars than it is on reporting the loss of American lives on foreign soil?
I wish I had the answers to these questions. If I did, I would share them with you in an instant, however, the likelihood of your ever seeing them would decrease exponentially.
Freedom from Fear:
You do not need me to tell you that Fear sells in this nation, and it has been used to package and market the most monstrous violation of human rights in our history. After the horrific events of September 11, 2001, America as a nation enjoyed the largest outpouring of goodwill and empathy in the history of the planet. And what have we done with that goodwill?
We have created a climate of fear and loathing that practically guarantees that those whom we claim to hate us and wish us harm will hate us and wish us harm. We have created the Super bowl of terrorism, an environment in which is is pathetically easy for an extremist to point to America and her actions and paint us as the demons they wish us to be and recruit young minds to their cause. Every single Middle Eastern youth who lives in crushing poverty and war-torn rubble will now gladly take up a suicide bomber's jacket and run into a crowded marketplace to rid the world of the political malignancy that America has become.
Here at home we look suspiciously on those who come from anywhere within ten thousand miles of the place we believe our enemies to come from. I say believe, because as we were misinformed from the outset as to the cause, motivation, and personnel involved in that attack on our soil, we do not rightly know whom to distrust, so we distrust them all. Anyone whose names sounds even vaguely Arabic is automatically suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell and plotting the downfall of our way of life.
It is a facet of human nature to hate those whom we have wronged, and to fear what we do not understand. It is our current piteous state that they are one and the same.
Freedom from Want:
The Land of Plenty. America was at one time the breadbasket of the world, growing more food than we could possibly consume, and sharing that bounty with those most in need. How times have changed.
Now our economy is knowledge based, and both manufacturing and provisions are outsourced to other countries, making corporate profits more important than sustainable ecologies or social realities. We complain incessantly about immigrants taking jobs from us, jobs that are economically unfeasible for us to do ourselves. We pay farmer's not to grow certain crops as surplus grains would destabilize the prices of other products. We allow corporate interests to control the food supply, ignoring the health risks inherent in that idea. We borrow from other nations to fight a war in order to garner a larger slice of a rapidly diminishing pie that we will use to fuel our way of life heedless of its finite nature. We suffer natural disasters and are incapable of succoring those displaced and devastated. We send what we can spare to starving children in Darfur, yet ignore the starving children in Appalachia, or the throwaway gutter tribes of children in every major city.
We live in a society in which it is more beneficial to stay on Welfare and squeeze out a couple more kids without a daddy than it is to get a job that pays minimum wage, since that would mean a decrease in income. A society in which our urban youth see drug dealing and gang banging as a fast way to big bucks instead of hard work, inventing the next big thing, or even a sport scholarship.
The four Freedoms that we as Americans pride ourselves on are wisps of smoke written on a windy day. If we squint our eyes tightly enough we can make them out, the ashen reflection of what they used to be. But we must be quick to do so, since they are rapidly eroding and will not return, unless we collectively do something.
As an American I rightly feel pride in some of the accomplishments my fellow Americans have made. The same sense of fraternity makes me ashamed at other acts we have perpetrated on the world.
As an American it is your right to enjoy the Four Freedoms. It is also your responsibility to ensure that they do not perish from this earth, that they are upheld, strengthened, and available for our children's children.
I have faith that you can do this, after all, you are Americans.
©2005 Christopher Reilley
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