Letting Freedom Ring, And Ring, And Ring
by Paul Dean
May 20, 2003
There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I valued and respected informed discourse, scholarship, logic, and well constructed arguments which, I believed, necessarily had the characteristic of being internally consistent. But, to quote from a famous Talking Heads song from 1979, ‘Life During Wartime,’ “I aint got time for that now.”
As a young Bob Dylan said, the times they are a changing, although they are admittedly changing in a direction that may be contrary to the one he envisioned in the early 1960s. The mode of the present is slash and burn, shoot from the hip, smash and grab. My primary concern now is to pursue whatever is practical and effective. And since American society models its behavior and ideals after its most successful citizens, from the top down, and since we artists like to stay in tune with the Zeitgeist, I’d be a damn fool to try and wrestle with archaic analytical or academic processes. Footnotes are out, and government officials who wish to remain anonymous, are in. Who wants to squander precious time in an attempt to be accurate, when accuracy is so passé, so 20th century, so acutely irrelevant?
In my former incarnation, I valued intellect as an important commodity. But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now. There was a time when all I needed was love, and love was all I needed. But now I need so much more. I need a multimillion dollar salary, and stock options. Lets just cut out all the flowery talk and pansy bullshit. I need an Empire. I need to dominate.
Survival is dependant on flexibility, on ones ability to adapt to changing conditions. And as many exceptionally flexible politicians, journalists, artists and intellectuals have demonstrated recently, qualities such as morals and a conscience are, in our present society, just dead weight, nothing more than an insupportable liability.
Culture, history, art, music, trust, cooperation, dignity: of what practical value are any of these? Just grab yourself some oil wells, loot a few pension funds, dump some overvalued stock before it hits the crapper, and you will be in touch with the simpler things, the things that really count. So what if a few thousand innocent civilians are killed, or some old museums get smashed in the process? Stuff happens. Sure, some “Old European” surrender monkeys, or some ungrateful Canadians might think you are a boorish moron. Maybe a few billion people will eventually grow to hate you, and want to see you dead, but in any case that number cannot possibly exceed seven billion, and of those, perhaps only a few tens of millions, given the potential for political destabilization inherent in modern life, could even conceivably get their hands on nuclear weapons.
In any case, it is of no practical value to point out that the Commander in Chief was a military deserter during the Vietnam War. Likewise, it is of no practical value to point out that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, unless you consider the two trailers, the ones that anonymous government officials have claimed provide evidence of the existence of such weapons as being the missing weapons. Who really knows?
As a child, I had a book called ‘Hurricanes and Twisters.’ It contained a photograph of a piece of straw that had been driven through the trunk of a tree by a tornado. I know it is a stretch to suggest that those Iraqi trailers might pose the same level of threat as did that piece of straw. But the point is, if delivered to a target at an extreme velocity, who knows what kind of damage a couple of trailers could do? We could sit around and wait for the discovery of a sophisticated high velocity trailer delivery system, before we concede that Iraq really did possess weapons of mass destruction. But what would be the point? The President has already announced that such weapons will be found, and whether they take the form of a trailer or a fully armed nuclear missile wired up in its silo I fail to see the distinction.
In fact, the whole point is that distinction itself, in these times, is often counterproductive. Bush says you are either with us or against us. Therefore, that choice is the only distinction that any individual needs to make. Assuming you are a good American (which can only mean you are with us), trying to make any further distinctions might inadvertently result in a reversal of your category status. That is certainly not a good thing and definitely not worth the trouble. How many of us want to be banned from airline travel, harassed at airports, fired from our jobs, or held without charges or access to counsel? You might even be labeled a traitor on probush.com, along with rabid anarchist killers like Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, and the Dixie Chicks.
And speaking of the Dixie Chicks, if you are against us your latest chart busting smash hits might be removed from play-lists on Clear Channel radio stations. The Dixie Chicks, already well known for the radical political content of their music, had to be dealt with for being disrespectful to our leader. In an earlier era, we might have been forgiven for allowing justice to be imposed on those impudent tarts by standing back and allowing the free market to work its magic. It could have been assumed that good American consumers would have punished them by rejecting their industrial music product and the merchandise associated with it.
But things have changed in America. This is partly due to the fact that FCC restrictions on corporate consolidation of the media have been gutted, enabling a company like Clear Channel to own more than twelve hundred radio stations across the country. And someday soon, a company like Clear Channel might well own all the radio stations. The FCC, under the chairmanship of Republican Michael Powell, son of Colin, is preparing to change the rules again, to allow further media consolidation. Some cynics have suggested that punishing the Dixie Chicks by refusing to play their music because of one statement made at a concert in England is wrong. Retaliation, they say, for expressing views at odds with the ideological stance of the owners of Clear Channel would be more appropriate in a socialist or communist state than it is in a free market capitalist one. But as I said, these people are cynics. Anyone who goes against the Flag, America, our President, God, or Decency, is bad.
The prevailing logic is that we as a society cannot allow anyone to say or to do bad things, and that if they do we must subject them to intimidation and potential economic ruin. This means that we assume that logic and reason are not powerful enough forces to insure the continued existence and integrity of our society and its institutions. This is true despite the fact that we also assume that our institutions embody a logic that is inherently superior to all others. Thus, if we do not aggressively defend our society by punishing anyone who might dare to criticize any aspect of it, others will feel free to say bad things. Without some form of coercion and intimidation to aid in the process, no one will be able to discern bad and inherently illogical arguments from good and righteous ones. From there, the amount of bad in the world could grow exponentially.
Despite the obligation we have to defend our society from evildoers, some anti- American alarmists characterize this defense of America as an assault on free speech. But free speech in America is not in any danger whatsoever. It is as healthy and vital as ever. In a certain sense, we actually have some new freedoms to add to the long list of freedoms we are guaranteed as Americans. Giant media corporations, using their monopolistic control of the airwaves, are now free to retaliate against anyone who exercises their freedom of speech in a way that disagrees with government or corporate policies, which are functionally identical. Corporations are also free to hold pro war political rallies, control and shape the news to suit their interests, and slander or ignore political candidates that they do not support.
And the people still have all the same freedoms they have grown to know and love. They are free to hold massive anti- war demonstrations. They are free to express overwhelming opposition to turning public airwaves over to monopolistic corporate players who would freely use their enormous power to suppress dissent. The people are free to express outrage at the exclusion of progressive voices by all major media outlets. And since our Founding Fathers, in the Declaration of Independence, specifically described all legitimate governments as “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and since they further stated that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,” we know for certain the people of this nation are free to compel our government to respond to our needs, and to serve our interests.
Of course, the government has more freedom than ever as well. They are free to subvert the judiciary so that it will serve their narrow ideological and political interests. They are free to imprison anyone without providing any other justification simply by branding them terrorists. They are free to start wars anywhere, against anyone, and at any time, without congressional approval or a declaration of war, even when doing so violates international law and all accepted standards of international relations. They are free to do much more than this, but you get the point. As long as no one compels them to pick up the phone and be responsive to the people they pretend to represent, our government is free to Let Freedom Ring, and ring, and ring, and ring.