The result of which is that Americans increasingly occupy two realities, one based on the conviction that facts matter, the other on the notion that facts are only what you need them to be in a given moment. That ought to give all of us pause because it leads somewhere we should not want to go. When two realities divide one people, the outcome seems obvious.
They cannot remain one people. ~ Leonard Pitts, Jr. “On Facts, Lies and Sarah Palin“
One Day, Two Distinctly Different Definitions of Freedom
Today, as one nation, Americans celebrate independence. A day which historically marks the date that our ancestors broke from the tyranny of burdensome laws and theft of their livelihoods that made them slaves to a King’s desires.
When darkness falls, when the national anthem plays over exploding fireworks, there will be misty eyes, at least for me, and a renewed sense of devotion to the cause of freedom.
Somewhere nearby, a fellow American, a community member, a neighbor, will have the same reaction.
The shared reality in that moment though, is as fleeting as the flickering trails of light emanating from the bursting explosives. Because our realities couldn’t be more different.
In his reality, 1776 marked a dark period that has only gotten darker over the last 200 years. It is a reality full of resentment and bitterness that the world is at its core, unfair. This vision of America is one of unfulfilled demands and ill-gotten gains, where the majority of Americans are haters because they believe in the truths of the Declaration of Independence and the protections of our Constitution.
In this reality, those who fight for less regulation, less taxation and smaller government are the enemies. This reality tends to view foreigners, especially those in oppressive regimes, with less hostility than his American neighbors wanting to be left alone to do their own thing.
In this other reality, his reality, true freedom is not having to make an effort to become anything. It’s being something already, without even having to try, because the state has declared equality of outcomes, not opportunity, to be the law of the land.
Some time ago he willingly locked the handcuffs on his own wrists and handed his government jailor the key, but he doesn’t see it that way. He sees freedom as the opportunity to not have to worry, to let the state do the worrying. He sees freedom as not having to make the effort because the state will make the effort for him.
The more regulations, the higher the taxes, the less choice he has in life, well that suits him just fine, because he has the assurance that nobody will beat him to the finish line. Everyone shall hit the mark together, at the same time, it is mandated — the heavy burden of government on our backs beating all of us down, but at least we share the same fate.
Rugged individualism? Antithetical to freedom, in his reality:
But the increasing ability to self-sort — to create communities both geographic and virtual that effectively wall us off from Americans whose lot and values we don’t really share — wreaks fresh havoc on the ability to get along with the next guy.
“As Americans have moved over the past three decades, they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs, and in the end, politics,” Bill Bishop writes in “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.”
Americans cluster in communities among people with similar ways of life and beliefs because they have the freedom of choice. It isn’t just Americans who behave that way. For centuries upon centuries.
In fact, it’s the big sorting that holds us together, when you think about it. Isn’t that what created the United States of America, after all?
We seek out people whom we like to be around, whom we want to emulate. Who share our religions, our work ethic. It’s not tribalism that is the root of what’s wrong — it’s tribes forcefully inflicting their view on others.
On the other hand, in my reality, freedom is freedom to be, to work as hard as I want or as little, and the freedom to reap the rewards of that effort. In my reality, freedom is being able to choose where I live, among people I want to be around. In my reality, freedom is not having to fear a government monitoring my every move, especially in my own backyard, when I haven’t given it any reason to do so. Freedom is not paying for wars that have no clear purpose; freedom is not being told what I must or can’t eat, especially when I produce it for my own use. Freedom is not being forced to pay for a product I don’t want.
My reality inflicts no damage to his reality. And that is the difference between the two realities.
In order for him to experience his reality of what constitutes freedom, he must turn his view into laws that force me to become an unwilling participant in his. His view necessarily turns into pages upon pages of laws, burdensome taxes and regulations that I must follow. In essence, his reality, his definition of Freedom is that which we broke from in 1776.
In his reality, he is the King. And I am his subject.
In my reality, we’re still, for now at least, a free people. For as long as his reality doesn’t oppress the freedom, true freedom, in mine.