Freedom’s just another word…

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. (“Me and Bobby McGee” – Kris Kristofferson).

That’s one of the first definitions of freedom I remember learning, a million years ago. Nothing left to lose is a state of freedom, a place of abandon and throwing caution to the wind. When there are things of value to lose, we are more cautious, more risk averse, more bound to the possibility of loss. When there’s nothing left, when everything has been lost or taken, we sigh and go for it. That’s the attraction of bucket lists, and last wish organizations. That’s the sentiment of “smoke ’em if you got ’em.”

Money, in particular, does not buy freedom for anyone. I have to remember that, since I tend to feel that my life would at least be easier if I had a great deal of money. People who have a lot of money, however, are always preoccupied with protecting it, preventing someone else from taking it. People without money are preoccupied with getting it, often by any means necessary. I wonder at the prospect of a utopian existence where there is no money, and quickly conclude that we’d find some other commodity with which to create a caste system to separate the haves from the have-nots. I am thinking the competition and one-upmanship is hard-wired in us now, and I don’t want to work that hard.

Having more assets than another person really only makes us a bit nuts. There was a story book my mother had in her library, while she was still teaching, that involved a futuristic society of humans doing an archaeological exploration of our times. The erstwhile investigators found things like rubber drain stoppers, the kind with little chains attached, and somehow thought they were ancient and precious jewelry. They began wearing these as fashion accessories. The book was supposed to be somewhat humorous, pointing out how even our future selves become distracted by the lure of something that singles us out as unique, something no one else has. We all want to be special in some way.

In our times, it seems that money or talent, which can be enmeshed in our capitalistic scheme, is frequently the source of uniqueness. In recovery, we are taught to disengage from the belief we are “terminally unique” and find ways to identify with other people who share similar tales of living with addiction. They may not resemble us, but there is more alike about us than what is different, and we can generally all relate to experiencing a “bottom”, when there was nothing else to lose. Coming into a program of recovery gives many people freedom because of exactly that – there is nothing more to lose.

Sometimes, I wonder if that’s ever absolutely true, that a point in life exists where there really is nothing further to lose. If I have lost all my money, I can still lose my life. If I have lost my life, I suppose I can still lose my soul. If I lose my soul, I’m not sure what happens then…perhaps I get thrown into a soul recycling bin and emerge reconstituted as another soul. Regardless, my point is there does not seem to be an absolute and final end to loss in our cognition. At least that’s my vision for the moment.

Freedom. Our country has quite a lot to say about freedom, and I am not sure any of us really know what it means. We frequently refer to freedom as a condition where we are not under the control of a governmental regime, or any person. The condition in which we can do whatever we want whenever we want and however we want. Well, kinda… we don’t enjoy seeing the inherent limitations in our rights, and we don’t much enjoy freedom that demands responsibility where our rights intersect with another’s rights. If I don’t want to wear a mask, the government cannot force me to do so, right? Weeeeel, I would contend that refusing to wear the mask is a decided action, just like wearing one. If your action to not wear the mask harms me by improving the chance of me contracting disease, then I say you are required to wear it.

These days, we are locked in mortal combat over whose science is correct, whether you absolutely positively know FOR SURE that your will not contract or spread disease while not wearing a mask. By the time we’re done arguing about all of that, we’ll both find ourselves quite dead from old age. Despite the gravity of these arguments, we sometimes more resemble 4-year olds tussling over toys on the playground than (hopefully) rational adults trying to live responsibly. I actually saw a news report earlier today where a physician testified before the Ohio State legislature that COVID vaccines had a metallic element that would make a metal object stick to a vaccinated person’s skin. Seriously.

Lately, I’ve not felt particularly free because there is so much weighing on me. That weight is, of course, not a physical weight but far more intangible. When I feel “bogged down”, it’s not that I am traveling in a bog and slowed by the weight of the briny water. Nonetheless, I feel heavy, I feel troubled, I feel overwhelmed by my feelings. Constitutional liberties have no bearing on emotional response, which may or not be short termed. I am dealing with quite an esoteric level of freedom.

Free your mind. That was a battle cry in the 70s, I believe. Free your mind and the rest will follow. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” (Bob Marley – “Redemption Songs”) Indeed, none but ourselves can free our minds…and some of us do not conceive of our minds as imprisoned. We rage against the machines of tyranny, mass media and consumerism and the sex industry, only to look to deities for solace. The deities, however, are in some cases are appropriated by those very machines.

I have to ask myself to look at the mental slavery that binds me. For me, right this moment, I am enslaved by my own expectations, my perfectionism, my utter and complete refusal to forgive myself. Over the years, I’ve softened my stance on looking at the mistakes of my past, but there’s still a piece of me that wonders how I could possibly have been that stupid. There’s an even bigger part of me that despises my cowardice and lack of integrity. I suppose part of the change over the past few years, however, is there’s a small voice inside that has begun to speak of grace. Not always amazing, but definitely ringing like a bell.

What can save a wretch like me? I would imagine my salvation would be concerned with abandoning past routines, past ways of being. I feel that I am not the same person I used to be, even though who I used to be often makes me cringe. I don’t do things I used to do, and if salvation is to continue shining its light of new life on me, then I have to maintain abstinence from the old ways. Frustratingly, some days I’m better at it than others, but my eye is still on the prize. My hope is that I won’t ever have to repeat that old behavior again, never have the weight of that negative energy to shackle me.

When I was not a nice person, it felt as though I was literally shackled to the ground. I could not make any progress, could not jump for joy, could not rise above gutter level with my thoughts or my deeds. That was definitely not freedom, and I felt bound to everything that was not in my best interest. Pain is inherent in the human condition, but I am not sure misery is a given. I was miserable, because I was in pain but allowed the pain to define me and transform me into something other than who I am. I kept saying that I had nothing else to lose, but in actuality I had a lot more that could have been lost and I knew it. I just didn’t know how to get out of the pain, so I was frozen in it, living the disappointments and disillusionments and failures every minute of the day.

These days, I’m in some pain, but I’ve broken through enough of that old monumental discomfort to understand that I am just a person in pain, like many others, rather than pain with a driver’s license and a debit card. Operating with pain that is bottled up and ready to explode at all times does not go well. A million years ago, it seems, it would feel so explosive that I was compelled to make sure my head was still attached to my body. There are some things a person can say or do in a rage, or a blinding emotional storm, that cannot be reversed, can’t be taken back. Some harm cannot be undone, and some who are harmed cannot be made whole. Best defense – no be there. (Thanks again, Mr. Miagi.)

Our scope of vision is truly short. Contemplating 50 years for a human can be an entire lifetime, and so we often fight tooth and nail to ensure our comfort for only the next 50 hours. Some of the people from our past fought to the death for racial segregation, and long were people who fought in Crusades to make Christianity the dominant religion world-wide. I have no doubt these people truly believed there was a tremendous sense of urgency to “save their world”, even if that meant its destruction. They could not see into the future to be assured that desegregation was not going to destroy the country, or that diverse religions would not destroy the world. They could not see how their resistance protracted the fight, elevated the losses, and caused other issues that we’re still trying to resolve. But, we are free to fight, we are free to destroy our world.

Short of perfecting time travel, I am not sure there’s any solution for that. I would like to believe that more visionary thinkers would be helpful, but you can’t exactly manufacture visionaries. It seems like the sense of urgency is culpable to a certain extent, so perhaps mindfulness would be of some value. Nah, too new agey. So…how in the world do we collectively refrain from imploding, from some kind of self-destruction that will deprive us all of the life we’re seeking? How do we rest, somewhat assured, that where we are is just fine?

I would imagine that animals of prey are constantly scanning their surroundings for more…prey. It seems that most of them are responding to hunger signals from their bodies, so when hungry, eat. Even my psycho dog will stop eating when she is full. Unless she is hungry there is no foraging in the apartment for things to consume. She will, however, eat things that spark her curiosity but make her quite ill. I’m told that domestic cats will also eat when they’re hungry. Neither they nor dogs will hoard food, saving it for later. Humans do that.

So the hoarding behavior seems to bring up the abundance vs. scarcity mindset. Operating from the scarcity mindset, we are forced to hoard power, resources, and access to resources. Of course we hoard this stuff, because we’re not sure there will be enough for us. The prospect of scarcity frightens us, and we succumb to our fears, believing our survival is threatened. We make a lot of allowances for that, believing certain actions should be excused when taken within a frame being afrid to lose your life. As we’ve seen, this is problematic.

As much as I hate to admit it, changing our world view is not going to be a simple thing. We seem to be a little confused about what constitutes our world view. On the one hand, we seem to believe that we are a truly great nation that is compassionate and comes to the aid of others when necessary. We have seen our nation as a benevolent world leader that interacts with other nations equitably and fairly. Within our country, we believe that we take care of our citizens, and have the best possible ways of adjudicating conflicts amongst us. Saying otherwise is often grounds for a physical altercation, particularly if alcoholo is involved.

What I see is that the world view of the average American depends on their individual experience. What each person sees a nd experiences frequently depends on socio-economic class – race, ethnicity, income, sexual orientation. Our social contracts are frequently abandoned when crime intersects with dominant culture on any of those parts of our society. Murder someone, and there are consequences codified in our legal infrastructure. Murder a police officer, and the stakes appear to be escalated. Murder a sympathetic victim, and the stakes are elevated. The suspect frequently deserves whatever physical consequence is spontaneously rendered at the scene, regardless of what the enforcement code says.

More to the point, lenience is granted the enforcement authority to unilaterally discern risk, and consequence. Since the enforcer’s life is frequently at risk, this seems reasonable, until we begin to see patterns of behavior and outcomes. That’s where we find ourselves with the crisis state of law enforcement and communities of color, particularly Black communities. There has to be a better way to explain the disproportionate pattern of unarmed Black men being killed at the hands of law enforcement officers than “they should have complied.” There can be no argument with documented cases that have been made public where the subject complied, and was shot and killed regardless. In some cases, even where the subject did not fully comply but was physically incapacitated by multiple officers, and still died after being shot.

The most notorious case of recent times, of course, is George Floyd in Minnestota. The police responded to a complaint that Floyd had attempted to pay for a store purchase with a counterfeit $20 bill. If true, that was an obvious violation of the law. The police saw fit to detain him, then arrest him. When they attempted to place him in the patrol car for transport to jail, he resisted, saying that he was claustrophobic and was freaking out over being closed up in the back seat of the vehicle. That was the nature of his resistance. He was unarmed; he struggled and attempted to pull away from the officers. For that, he merited all four officers sitting on him while he was face down and handcuffed on the street, and one of them chose to continue applying his knee to the side of Floyd’s neck in the interest of subduing him. Ultimately, the problem of George Floyd resisting arrest was moot, because he was dead. For a lot of us, it seemed that the penalty for a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis that day was death. Who gets to decide that? On that day, the responding officers decided.

Scarcity. Short sightedness. I’m a police officer, with a gun, in the company of seeral of my fellow officers, and the suspect I’m trying to arrest is not cooperating. He’s a big guy. I might not be able to restrain him effectively. He’s a big guy. I’d better recall what my training handbook said about things like this. Oh, I remember – the training guide said suspect goes face down, handcuffed behind the back, and if there’s still any resistance, kneel with a knee placed at the throat to cause trouble with their breathing. OK, so that’s what I did. Where’s the problem?

We clearly the problem in the case of George Floyd – the restraint went on far too long, and because the suspect was face and belly down, it deprived him of air way too long. If I’m the officer, and believe this is going to go on forever and that I might not be able to win the battle, I’m going to pull out all the stops on this effort to keep him in check. And I’m going to believe that my department is going to back me up. This guy is not going to get up. And he didn’t.

Initial pronouncements on the George Floyd case were prone to show sympathy to the officer eventually convicted for his murder. The officer was in fear for his life, and the suspect refused to comply. Ultimately, that argument bore no fruit, but it was available to offset other factors regarding the officer’s intent and even planning in this case. What I see, though, is not a sense of abundance from the officer, where he believes he has everything necessary to succeed, to maintain control of his wellbeing. He went into overdrive, literally overkill. He succeeded for that day, but ultimately, the outcome was anything but successful.

I don’t think America is a bad country. I love this country. I do feel, however, that at the grass roots we’ve forgotten the extreme abundance that our country offers. There is no reason for people to be hungry here, because there could be enough food supply for everyone. If the allocation scheme for food production, however, serves only the capitalistic objectives of corporate profit and favoritism, that skews the formula. The same is true for pharmaceuticals and health care. Because many of us believe there’s not enough for all, however, we’re plunged into this nearly feral worldview of scarcity, grabbing whatever we can get, and in many cases, by any means necessary, because it will be gone soon. We saw this with toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic – people were impulse buying huge quantities of the supply because they were panicking over the prospect of a year-long quarantine with no way to acquire more supplies.

If it had not been so sad, the toilet paper crisis would have been funny. But that panic is what happens to world leaders, police officers on the street, destitute people seeing no way out. They will fight to meet their own needs, with little thought to anyone else. Selfish? Yes, by definition, but I prefer to see it more as panic. Everybody doesn’t have half their life spent in therapy like I do. Maybe instead of AFDC and WIC, the government should issue subsidized psychotherapy visits. We have some issues.

Some days I am hard to find, but I’m in there.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

2 thoughts on “Freedom’s just another word…

  1. First, please excuse my reply being to only part of your post. I’m fighting a bad head and struggling to read some before I need to switch off the computer and rest but I wanted to reply with my first thoughts as I don’t want to lose track of them before I wake.

    So the first thing I think of when I read about freedom is the speech in the movie ‘The American President’ ( it’s a favorite of mine & shows what a president should be. Not to mention has a baddie type who reminds me instantly of a certain Mr Trump ) –
    America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.
    The first freedom has to be the freedom to be responsible for your actions. No matter what you do you are free to do it, it’s just that there is a cost to pay and a responsibility to bear for every action, good or bad ( or even the action of doing nothing ).

    I’m toying with a post right now and a lot on yours so far makes me think of it. It’s about the fact that we build our own solid ground – our permanent truth that we can hold onto no matter what happens – and make it so strong that we forget that the world can ( and constantly does ) change and that even in any one instant what we know may be true but what another knows may be equally true for them.
    We find ourselves grabbing something solid, be it toilet rolls, the way thing always have been, the police guide rule book, to make us feel that change wont touch us.
    It seems crazy and ( quite rightly ) scary but I think we’re coming to the point where we’ll have to acknowledge that the world isn’t solid except when we make it so. The same thing can be different to different people ( easiest to describe would be how something said one way can come across another to the person hearing it ) and everything’s always adapting.
    We need to have solidity to function as a society but we can’t ignore the constant change of the world or get so caught up in sameness that we forget to adapt also.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree – America isn’t easy, and not for the faint hearted. Democracy is a simple concept for complicated people, I suppose. ANd yeah – we’re looking for something to hold on to that’s feels solid, but if it feels solid that probably means it’s status quo and very, very hard to adapt to changing circumstances. As you point out, the adaptation is kind of what keeps it all fresh.

      Thanks for the comment, as always! Have a great week.


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