Skip to content

The Weekend Eudemon

Concentration Camp U.S.A.

We did a little pilsner philosophizing last night about Bishop Bruskewitz's mass excommunication nine years ago. After drinking about it, we've concluded that we were a little too flippant in our observation that Bruskewitz's actions didn't conflict with American freedom. We said that the dissident Catholics were free to choose between two inconsistent memberships. What could be more American than that?

Well, like we said, we were too flippant. A greater amount of freedom would exist if the dissidents had three choices: the Church, the dissident organization, or both. That would be the real American way, no? All freedom, all the time.

But can a person be a Mason and a Catholic at the same time? That, we understand, would be like belonging to the Methodist Church and the Baptist Church at the same time. It simply can't be done. There's a contradiction in the choice. A person can no more be a Methodist and a Baptist than he could be a virgin and tried or dead and alive.

Why isn't anyone complaining about this limit on our freedom? This is America. If people want to contradict themselves, they ought to be allowed to and the government should take steps to make sure they're allowed to.

It wouldn't be the first time that the government promoted a type of freedom that was previously considered un-promotable. Until LBJ and the Great Society, most Americans thought you couldn't be free to choose and be free from the consequences of those choices. But LBJ showed that the federal government could do it. Choose to get pregnant out of wedlock but don't want the poverty that comes with it? Okay, we'll free you from that consequence. We'll subsidize your bastard children. It was easy.

Restrictions Abound
When you think of it, there are all sorts of other freedoms that the United States isn't taking steps to promote.

What about the freedom to be Godzilla? Likewise, where is the freedom to play in the NBA? Lower the rim, expand the league, do what it takes to get everyone into the NBA who wants to be there.

The government also hasn't promoted the freedom to defecate in one's pants and be free from nasty looks. We haven't tried this (lately), but we know with a fair amount of certitude that the befouled individual would receive looks or gestures of disapproval.

Do we sound ridiculous? We're just getting started. The unprotected freedoms are legion: no freedom to fly by flapping our arms, to walk around naked, to copulate with farm animals, to take angel dust and jump off a skyscraper, to live in Donald Trump's house.

We claim to be the land of the free, but obstacles surround us. In fact, we have more restrictions than freedoms. We have the right of free speech, press, privacy, association, religion, property, and a few others.

But the restrictions?

Hoo boy. They're everywhere. There are the host of restrictions that emanate from respecting others' freedoms (theft and murder). There are restrictions from the principle of contradiction (even God isn't free to make a rock so big he can't lift it). There are restrictions emanating from decency (no urinating on a busy street), safety (speed limits), protecting one from oneself (suicide), limits on property (the government's right of eminent domain), and emergencies (natural disaster ordinances). There are restrictions due to suffering the consequences of one's choices, regardless of LBJ's efforts (you can't have a college diploma if you choose not to go to college–unless maybe you buy one from the Internet). There are millions of restrictions based on reality (the Godzilla example).

Burst Those Chains?
What is going on? Is this the land of freedom or not? Man is everywhere in chains!

And the government sits idly by, letting us wallow in our slavery. It's almost as if the government thinks its hands are tied in such matters. Almost as if we have conceded that confinement outweighs liberty.

Almost as if it's common sense.

Which it is.

Yet the rhetoric is always the other way around, making us think our freedoms should override confinement. And because the rhetoric is so persistent, it's persuasive when it shouldn't be.

When the folks in Nebraska could no longer belong to an anti-Catholic organization and the Catholic Church at the same time, their "plight" immediately gained a sympathetic media ear. To hell with contradiction, common sense, and reality. We're talking freedom.

You may think the examples of restrictions on freedom set forth above are ridiculous. They are, but barely more so than many claims for freedom we hear today.

We live in the land of the free, that's true. But the restrictions will always outweigh the freedoms. The sooner we realize that, the happier we'll be, and the less we'll whine, complain, agitate, and litigate.

The Punchy Journal

. . . Almost five years ago, a high school classmate set up a class website. Over a hundred people logged on to share memories, post news of their families, tell jokes, and stay in touch.

In theory.

In practice, within six weeks most of the people weren't logging on any more. As soon as the website caught on, fights broke out.

And not just fights. Vicious fights. People were saying stuff they'd never say in person or even over the telephone. No one could post anything without it being misinterpreted. People who meant absolutely no offense were construed as leveling insults. It was depressing and intense, a rotten combination that creates apathy quicker than any other emotional combo.

Now, that happened on a huge site, with over a hundred individuals of both sexes, with different political stances, and different socio-economic backgrounds. Maybe, I thought, it was inevitable that disagreements would break out.

But then I saw the same thing happen on a highly similar website, this one set aside just for men with similar political stances and similar socio-economic backgrounds. Fights started breaking out. The site didn't die, but I had to take a heavy hand and tell people that I (as the site administrator) would delete any posting I deemed remotely offensive.

For me, I've often gotten into fights with some of my best friends and people I admire in e-mail messages. I wrote things I'd never say verbally or–and this is the interesting part–in a paper letter. In turn, I received abuse that I have never received (at least not since my middle school years) in person, over the phone, or by paper letter.

Why would an electronic medium of print have this impact? I had used electronics all my life; I had used print all my life. But combined? It was a passion explosion, and, going in, I was totally oblivious to the potential effects, as was everyone else.

Technological idiots, McLuhan might say.

Studying McLuhan can help us understand these things, even though he wrote before the Internet, just as Plato can help us understand justice even though he wrote before the creation of the U.S. Supreme Court (I realize, of course, that the Supreme Court isn't just, but you get the idea). . .