We live in a land with few limits. We are men and woman raised on the belief that the right to have all we want and say all we want is the fundamental right of America. Given this unbridled freedom, we have taken to smoking and spending and speaking our minds until the very things that we have been buying and breathing and saying - molecule by molecule and word by word – are slowly killing us.
Our government, seeing that we our spoiling ourselves in this overabundant sunlight of liberty, steps in to save us from our own killer instincts. It is noble. It is righteous. It is what civilized leaders do for the people they need to keep them in power. But time and again our leaders fail to save us. We wonder why, but the answer is simple. If you look closely, you’ll see that deep down the people who govern us don’t actually want to save us in the first place.
The FDA wrestles the tobacco companies to the ground, hog tying them into a law which mandates that images of dead smokers and cigarette addled men, women and children appear on the upper 30 percent of every pack we smoke. To enjoy our right to inhale these toxins we will soon have to get past the glossy sight of mothers breathing cigarette smoke into the faces of their babies; we’ll have to look at pictures of toe-tagged corpses peaking out of morgue sheets and tracheotomized men exhaling through the blow-holes in their throats. The government is proud of what it has done, studies say it just might work and our law-makers bloviate over their accomplishment. We all applaud and then we turn away, choosing to forget that the tobacco lobbies run Washington. We find it convenient to ignore the fact that the fetishized advertising and outlaw entertainment allowed by our creaking constitution is all but dragging our children into mini marts and 7-11s where they will likely ignore the images of death and beg shopkeepers to sell them this legal poison.
A young, gay man jumps off a bridge one bright autumn morning, and the ignorant prankish homophobes who outed him to the edge of that bridge by broadcasting his dorm room sex on the internet are charged with his death. The government has justice in the form of two quaking college students who may stand trial for murder. Meanwhile across our righteous valleys and uniformed urban landscapes organized religions and ultra-right wing politicians are guaranteed the right to rally their followers into deploring gay men and women as sexual deviants who must either be saved from themselves or eradicated from our closing ranks. State and Federal leaders pump money into programs that force grade-schoolers to sit through staged plays where actors teach tolerance but even as these leaders are patting themselves on the back with one hand they are shading their eyes with the other. Our politicians prefer not to notice the growing crowds of fear-riddled thugs they have let gather with placards and baseball bats in the public playgrounds outside the very schools where these passion plays are being performed.
In the caverns and corridors of finance, banks plot and plunder, pulling a nation to the brink of financial collapse. The simple, greedy men and woman of America, having poured their money into the black holes of high finance - using their over-mortgaged houses as ATMs - wake up one dark December morning to find a sheriff come to shoo them from their homes. Our republican and democratic leaders are shocked at what has happened to our people. There are children who are now homeless, grandparents no longer able to afford the medicines to keep them alive, fathers and mothers about to give up on living. Lead by the Pied-Piper of Wall Street, we have spent ourselves unchecked into a deep river of bankruptcy. Waking from his nap, Uncle Sam yawns and rolls up his sleeves. He beats the bullion out of the banks, invests in the investment houses and primes the pump of the prime rate all in order to pump money back into the pockets of his people. Our good, wise uncle knows better than us and what he knows is that he needs us to start spending again, re-mortgaging our houses and buying, buying, buying so that he can go back to sleep and let the banks run the county again. It’s only what our uncle has been telling us all along, freedom certainly isn’t free.
And on and on it goes . . . Prisons are built by state governments to protect us from criminals who otherwise might destroy the inner city with assault weapons that are all but handed to them by the federal government . . . Restaurants are forced by local laws to protect our health with bans on trans fats while food conglomerates are allowed to spend billions to influence farm state politicians and claim that pork is the other white meat . . . Soldiers seeking to ensure the American right to indulge are issued body armor and fortified Humvees out of the front door of the Pentagon even as deals are being made at the back door to sell armor piercing weapons to countries where those same soldiers will soon have to fight. If we’re looking for our government to save us from ourselves, we’ll be looking for a long, long time. If salvation is what we want and saving is what we need, there’s only one place we can look: inside ourselves.
Just because we can speak hate and take more than our share and smoke ourselves to death, doesn’t mean we should. Just because we have the right to indulge in just about every pleasure known to humankind, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Just because we believe that God has breathed liberty and the pursuit of happiness into each of us, doesn’t mean God wants us choking to death on our own freedom. My lord, if we haven’t realize by now that the greatest freedom we have is the freedom to stop ourselves from wanting more than is good for us, no government on earth will ever be able to save us from ourselves.