I awoke this morning with Janice Joplin’s rendition of Me and Bobby McGee stuck in my head. I’m not sure why that song, exactly, was on my sleeping mind enough to last into my waking, but it may have something to do with my watching Braveheart last night for the millionth time. The contrast between Joplin soulfully cranking out that desolate line “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” and Mel Gibson’s William Wallace shouting a defiant “Freedom!” with his dying breath is so stark, so complete, that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head all morning.
There is something so impenetrably sad about thinking of freedom as “just another word for nothing left to lose.” It evokes such a hopelessness, such a lostness, that it’s almost overpowering. You had something (a house, maybe, as the lyrics suggest, a lover, a family, whatever), and then you lost it. That thing you had–that house, lover, family, whatever–tied you down and kept you tethered to the world, to society. It was the opposite of freedom. You can only be free when you have absolutely nothing, nothing to lose, nothing that matters to you. Freedom becomes a burden with roots firmly planted in isolation and loneliness, and because it comes at such a high price–you lose everything, after all–it’s unwanted. Freedom, when it’s just another word for nothing left to lose, means despair.
I cannot comprehend freedom in this way because it is so alien to me, so tragically wrong on so many levels. Freedom, to me, is much more that thing that William Wallace fought and died for: he died a free man, never the subject of a tyrannical English monarch. Freedom isn’t despair and hopelessness; it’s strength and hope. Freedom is the rich soil in which a people blossom. Being free doesn’t mean you have nothing left to lose; it means you have everything to fight for, to nurture, to cherish.
I think, though, that in many ways, the very idea of freedom is frightening to lefties. Not just to the hippies of the ’60s but also to today’s new batch of freedom-haters. The idea of being free and of the social and familial responsibility that comes with it is just too much for them; it’s so terrifying that they’d rather be beholden to a state that will take care of them from cradle to grave, that will tell them what to think, say, and do, and that will–they hope–ensure they never know the despair of having nothing left to lose. The Gimme! crowd needs the government to hand them their living, their food, their shelter, their education, their everything. They need it so much that they willingly trade their freedom for tyranny.
They equate freedom with loss, with loneliness, with despair, so they’re happy to trade it away. This faulty equation is also why they whine so often that conservatives are “selfish” and too “individualistic.” They are simply incapable of imagining–not in their wildest dreams–that freedom for us means selflessness and community. Oh, and not those fake “communities” they slap a label on and forget until it’s time to vote or time to stir up some social tension on demand. American freedom has always been the freak, but it’s also always been deeply rooted in family, faith, and community. Without those things, it wouldn’t work, it couldn’t work. And to their minds, they are simply saving America from a feeding frenzy in which everyone is out only for themselves, where freedom means get what you can, while you can, because, after all, you have nothing to lose.
Of course, freedom to us means something completely different than the sort of violent, free-for-all criminal state they envision. I think their misconception is rooted largely in leftists’ unparalleled ability to project their own thoughts, fears, plans, actions onto others. The left is essentially violent, they believe that laws should only be obeyed or applied as they see fit–ironically, enough, often as individuals, they are the ones who riot in the streets, break windows, poop on and turn over cop cars. Of course they assume that everyone would act like them given enough of that scary scary freedom.
They cannot comprehend a good people, a decent people who will do the right thing (at least more often than not), who can and have functioned perfectly lawfully to build their neighborhoods and communities, and who can and have done so without mountains of laws and regulations. Leftists’ profound fear of freedom is what motivates them to limit Second Amendment rights, to limit our free expression of religion, and to limit every modicum of freedom we still have. Freedom to have guns?! That can’t be! Freedom of (not from) religion?! The horror! That freedom can only mean those right wing nuts have nothing left to lose, after all, and they’ll go on some shooting spree or force the country into a Judeo-Christian theocracy. You know, or something.
If the state can supplant God and guns, get those bitter clingers to cling to something else (i.e. the state), then they believe they will have their utopia where that scary, desolate, horrific freedom is kept in check. This is why they are so confused when we don’t “vote for our best interests”–to them, everyone’s best interest is in ensuring that the state has total control over the people, that the state, like a comforting nanny, will keep the terrors of freedom under the bed and shine the dim bulb of tyranny into every corner to ensure that freedom isn’t spawning out of range of the omnipresent eye of the state.
Freedom for us means something much more profound. Freedom isn’t the despair of or after losing everything, it is the loss of freedom that causes despair. Freedom doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to lose, for without freedom, we have nothing.