Freedom

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fireworks_seen_from_the_back_of_the_queen_Mary.jpg

If you want to figure out what freedom means to you, take your favorite thing and then realize you wouldn’t be able to do that thing in Saudi Arabia because your Internet would be censored.

Every year on July 3rd, my Dad takes my family to the Boston July 4th rehearsal show (it’s the same show minus fireworks). Through a business connection, he gets us VIP passes that put us right up front and grants us access backstage. Using this pass, I’ve met Dr. Phil, the Rascal Flatts, Michael Chiklis, (almost) David Lee Roth and Aerosmith, Craig Ferguson at least four times, and Keith Lockhart many more. We’ve gone every year for almost a decade.

But this year is going to be different. With the bombings a couple months ago, it is likely to be a more somber, yet patriotic show.  My guess is that record numbers will be in attendance. Also on scene will be a ridiculous increase in security. No backpacks, coolers, or liquids. Oh great.

This got me thinking about how I would answer the age-old question, “What is freedom?” if I was asked today, right now, because I feel like writing down my answer to a college essay question all of a sudden.

It’s OK to be principled. Noble even. But you have to be a realist. If you refuse to wear a motorcycle helmet out of protest, because it’s just another example of the man telling you what to do, well then that’s your prerogative I guess, because no one is going to convince you otherwise, and please don’t hurt me. But when your head ends up through the windshield of a Prius, not a single person is going to say at your funeral, “Wow, Joe stood up for what he believed in so much that he was willing to die for it.” They’re gonna think, “Wow, Joe didn’t take two seconds to put on his helmet and now he’s dead. What a fucking moron.”

Everyone’s always so up in arms about security except when it works the way it’s supposed to. Let’s say Joe goes out for a Sunday ride and reluctantly puts on his helmet. Now let’s say he was getting really into the Skynyrd on his radio and didn’t see that tank coming around the corner (it’s a rough neighborhood). When he rams right into the hull forehead-first, the first thing he is going to do is thank the stars that he decided to give up his principles that day.

If they stopped medal-detecting people at an airport, and a guy easily snuck on with a metal bomb, the headlines would read “Entire City Full of Idiots: Deaths Were Easily Preventable But Everyone Decided To Be Fuckwads About It.”

Let me be clear about one thing: I hate the TSA’s and the NSA’s of the world. Mostly because their biggest programs are largely style over substance; they want you to think they have everything figured out. It’s all flash to make people feel safer and it’s all cash in the pockets of the people taking advantage of other people’s fears (so you can bring a flame-throwing chainsaw on board but not shampoo??). The scariest thing to come out of the NSA leak was not the fact that the government has been watching you. It was the realization that despite all that they were unable to stop the Boston bombers, even though the place was covered with cameras and cops, and their phone calls were probably being tapped. It’s scarier to think that no one was actually in control of the situation. Jesus, if we’re gonna have a police state at least make it worth our while.

An interesting thought experiment to try out: what if you knew for a fact that more police equals less crime? What if they invented some contraption that would end all crime for good, but it required you to pee in a cup and mail it to the President every Saturday? Ask yourself: where have you drawn the line in the sand?

I will never, ever go through one of those full body scanners at the airport, because they are unnecessary, and it crosses my line on principle. However, I will happily let someone wave a wand around my genitals or run under a detector, because it is pretty noninvasive and to me is akin to showing your ID to buy liquor. They are not saying you are a criminal, they are just checking as a precaution. This isn’t a border patrol agent randomly asking for papers here, this is you attempting to access a privilege. Are you really so narcissistic to think that the world has singled you out as a mastermind? Please shut up and take your seat in coach.

Benjamin Franklin once said “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” but I don’t fully agree with it. Every single time you go to the airport, you give up an essential liberty (search and seizure) for temporary safety (the duration of your flight). Does that really mean we don’t deserve either, because we’d like to believe that our own government knows what the fuck its doing? Freedom vs. safety is a zero-sum system. You can’t just have a purely free or purely secure society because it would be chaos. We, as a society, decide how much independence we are willing to trade for security, and vice versa. And since as of now everyone apparently agrees that a terrorist would never wait in a two-hour line at the airport, well there you go.

So, if you want to figure out what freedom means to you, take your favorite thing and then realize you wouldn’t be able to do that thing in Saudi Arabia because your Internet would be censored. It’s all relative, and we take a lot for granted. For example, I can write this:

Dick, Titties, Gobble Gobble, fuck the president.

and nothing will happen to me. I can write that in public, on my blog, in my own space and there are no legal consequences whatsoever. That’s the American Dream. That’s pure, uncut, ‘Murican freedom.

All I could think about before they caught the bombing guys was “What if they don’t get them? Would I be brave enough to attend the show this year in support of my city, knowing they are still out there? Would others?” Or what if they carried out their original plan and attacked the July 4th show, the day after I was there?

There is plenty to complain about in this country regarding the occasional overreach of governmental protection (The Patriot Act, over-incarceration, how much the Boston Police looked like a small army, etc.), but be reasonable. The real assholes are not the people imposing security, but the ones who make it necessary in the first place.

Have a safe 4th.

Oh, and you can take the fireworks from my cold, dead hands.

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