A Capital Idea Part 94: The Freedom Scam
Here is another post about "freedom" as presented in the United States. I have written around the edges of this topic previsouly, but hearing or seeing so many Americans give obligatory "thanks" to our military for the second time in two weeks, made me realize that this is a scam perpetrated by the military-industrial-religious-political complex in the United States, and thus needs to be framed that way. Also, this time, I did some research comparing the "freedom" of the United States to that of other nations.
First of all, here is the scam. We are brainwashed into believing -- those among us who are susceptible to the message -- that it is American military might that made us "free" and keeps us "free." Our military "must be strong" and "must respond to challenges around the world" in order to "maintain our freedom" and "extend freedoms to other nations." Does this sound familiar? It should. This is the language of empire, and empires are destined to collapse to the right, under their own weight. How does this scam relate to the economy and capital ideas? The answer to that question does not require much of a stretch. We know that several trillions of our national debt -- probably most of the national debt which is such a hot topic in politics these days -- is due to military spending. This is a horridly misplaced priority, this military spending, however one conceives the motives to be. I would say that it is mainly in order to build and maintain an international military-industrial complex for the 1%ers, but if the motives are more noble, it is a horribly ineffective, even counterproductive, strategy. It only works as a strategy in order to enrich people who are part of the military business, to keep distant flocks of sheeple who work for tiny wages, under control, and to placate the enormous egos of American politicans.
In order to maintain the current military order, our government needs a certain level of cooperation from the public. It needs military personnel who are willing to carry out orders with unquestioning patriotism, for one thing. It also needs to justify in the minds of the public, the military budget and various military actions and bases around the world, for another. The lie which we are constantly subjected to, that we owe a debt of gratitude to the military for giving and maintaining our "freedoms," is the primary means by which public consent to these horrid policies is attained, as well as acting as an effective military recruiting tool. We are especially subjected to this enormous untruth during holidays, which tend to have conveniently militaristic (Veterans Day and Memorial Day) or nationalistic themes (Fourth of July and President's Day), or offer thanks to people such as military personnel (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Thus, the United States' military can go on spending profligately, military contractors can continue living in their mansions, and military equipment used to kill people, including Americans, around the world can continue to be perhaps the United States' biggest export. Meanwhile, international businesses feel that their overseas investments are protected, and American politicians can proudly point to the "accomplishments" of the military that they run, even while American troops are accidentally killing Pakistani soldiers as happened yesterday, or killing innocents by remote control drone attacks, and excusing their actions with an "Oops, mistakes happen!"!
If military spending "makes us free," then the United States should be the most "free" nation in the world by far, so is it? The answer is most definitely "no." There are a large number of nations which are just as "free" as the United States, if not freer, including military-less Costa Rica according to Freedomhouse.org, which has been measuring freedom in the nations of the world since 1972 (http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=351&ana_page=379&year=2011). To be exact, there are 87 nations out of 194 nations for which their was data, which ranked as free in both civil and political rights in both 2010 and 2011 according to their surveys, one of which was the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World). This represents 45% of the nations in the survey. Each nation can get a score from 1 to 7 on civil rights and on political rights, with lower scores indicating more freedom. According to the survey, the majority of the nations (48 of them) described as "free" in terms of both civil and political rights had scores of 1 on both measures, including the United States, the best scores that they could have had. Moreover, the percentage of nations considered to be "free" in terms of both civil and political rights has trended upward over the years since this measure began, beginning with only 27% of the nations enjoying such "freedom" in 1975. Thus, the rest of the world is "catching up to" the U.S. in terms of freedom, and most of these nations who are doing the catching up, appear to be ones that spend relatively small proportions of their national treasure on their militaries, at least, relatively little compared to the U.S., and also, they in no way owe their freedom to U.S. military "protection," based on my admittedly subjective perusal of the data.
On the topic of "freedom" in the United States, anybody who thinks that people in the United States are as "free" as people could be are living in dreamland. The following critique of freedom in the United States, for example, as well as the definitions of freedom used by Freedom House was presented in Wikipedia. "The definition of Freedom in Gastil (1982) and Freedom House (1990) emphasized liberties rather than the exercise of freedom, according to Adam Przeworski, who gave the following example: In the United States, citizens are free to form political parties and to vote, yet even in presidential elections only half of U.S. 'citizens' vote; in the U.S., 'the same two parties speak in a commercially sponsored unison,' wrote Przeworski" in 2003.
Apparently, and surely to be expected, "Freedom House" is basically a right-wing organization, so when I use its own statistics against it, that is damning evidence indeed. The quote continues as follows:
"More recent charges of ideological bias prompted Freedom House to issue this 2010 statement:
Freedom House does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom. The methodology of the survey is grounded in basic standards of political rights and civil liberties, derived in large measure from relevant portions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These standards apply to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development."
Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear to me, that virtually nothing would prevent the United States from obtaining the highest possible scores in "Freedom House's" survey. There is a clear cultural and nationalistic bias there. The way that these ratings are obtained, is not by surveying residents of each nation, but rather, by having a panel of "experts" rate each nation on 10 political rights questions, and 15 civil rights questions, then obtaining average scores for each nation. Although the questions themselves seem good ones as far as I can tell, the reliance upon "analysts" and "academic advisors" (probably mostly or all U.S. citizens) for ratings seems very suspect in terms of subjective bias potential. Even with such bias, however, it seems very clear that spending our resources (i.e. human, natural resource and financial capital) at such an enormous rate as the United States does, on military endeavors, is not making us any freer. In fact, quite the opposite is most likely true. That is, it is impinging on both our civil and political rights, as well as our economic freedoms.
The fact that "freedom" itself is a bizarrely abstract concept, makes it easier to use as a tool to manipulate public opinion. I will end here with some of my personal perspective on the concept of "freedom" which helps to explain my constant use of quotes around the word, as well as helping to frame the topic.
First, the word "freedom" implies a lack of limits or restaint, as in being totally free to do whatever one wants to do. Of course, this is nonsense. Although using the word "freedom" tends to invoke the notion of unlimited choice, in reality, only an omnipotent being would have total freedom. Freedom is relative, and actually denotes being granted the right (or left) to make certain choices for oneself.
Second, the concept of freedom is biased toward an individualistic world view, which itself, is biased toward conservative ideology. We are taught to think of freedom as applying basically to the individual. There is such a thing as collective choice, or collective freedom, if you will, which operates at the societal level, and which outweighs individual freedom in many regards. Elections, if done fairly, are a good example of collective choice. However, the concept of freedom is seldom thought of as collective in an individualistic culture such as this, at least. Perhaps it is in more collectivistic cultures, which helps account for differing perceptions on topics such as civil and political rights. If members of the OWS movement began referring to themselves as fighting for the collective freedom of the 99%ers to direct their own governance such as by having truly fair elections, and truly representative democracy, it would help focus the movement. That is happening to an extent, which is a good thing, but due to our cognitive training it is difficult for Americans to stop thinking in terms of their own personal freedoms, and their own economic plights.
Third, the freedom that matters most is mental, not behavioral. Freedom (the right to make choices) can be thought of as having emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. However, the act of choosing, is essentially a cognitive process, aided by emotional processes. A person can have considerable freedom to behave as he or she chooses, yet still be mentally trapped into a certain way of thinking. On the other hand, a person who lacks much behavioral choice, may mentally be free to think and feel quite freely. (Think Stephen Hawking, for example.) We probably all have had experiences, in which we found ourselves trapped in a certain modality of thought which limited our ability to choose, or on the other hand, have found our choices taken away by others, but we essentially remained as free as before because our mental alacrity to think and feel as we pleased, remained unaffected. However, the discussion of "freedom" focuses obsessively on the idea of behavioral freedom.
Fourth, here is something which I have heard from several people to whom I am very close: Freedom is overrated. This is not to say that freedom is unimportant, but rather, that it does not always lead to the desired outcomes, as I understand it and agree with. The phrase, "Be careful what you wish for" comes to mind. Perhaps we would find ourselves happier and better off, if rather than obsessing over personal decisions and what is "right for me," we deferred somewhat to those with more experience and especially, to the greater, collective good. The concept of freedom that we have here in the United States, at least, and probably around much of the world, is akin to being a teenager who is given several credit cards, and told to go shopping, buy whatever you want, and money is no object. Now, that's freedom! It is for awhile, anyway. And people in such situations tend to be inordinately happy, until the bill eventually comes due, when they suddenly become alarmed and stressed. That is exactly what has happened with the huge scam that U.S. politicians and the military-industrial complex has perpetrated upon the people of the United States, and predictably, they don't want to pay; they want us to pay the bill and go through severe austerity in order to do so. Freedom in the hands of a fool, is a dangerous thing; it must be used wisely if we are to enjoy our freedoms.