Monday, October 02, 2006

Freedom isn't free...dum

To listen to the average American, one would believe that we invented freedom.

That before 1776, every citizen of every country was kept in a cage and flogged, and then the United States came about and suddenly the very idea of freedom was introduced to the world. And the thought, the notion of freedom was so powerful, it traversed oceans on beams of light emanating from the gilded American specter, it destroyed dictatorships and democracy flourished the world over.

It’s just considered common knowledge amongst Americans that we are, simply put, the freest nation in the world. That all nations look to us as the ultimate example of a free society and the potential that freedom holds for everybody.

It pervades the national dialogue. Freedom. Politicians use it like saying the word increases their penis size. Ask anyone who supports the Iraq war why we’re there, without hesitation, they’ll say “Freedom.” Our soldiers fight and give their lives to protect our freedom. We name our military campaigns with it - Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, etc. When the French refused to goose-step across the Middle East with us, we started calling french fries - what else? Freedom Fries. We use it in catchphrases - “Freedom isn’t free!” “Freedom is on the march!” “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free!” To us, the United States is synonymous with freedom. When the terrorists attacked us, the reason given was that “they hate our freedoms!” and that “they’re jealous of our freedoms!” And when we rebuild what those terrorists tore down, what’s it going to be called? The Freedom Tower.

As much as we use this word, identify with this word, propagandize with this word, celebrate this word, excuse our actions with this word, and kill people around the world in defense of this word, it seems that we should have a very clear knowledge of exactly what this word means.

Do we?

What is freedom?

A dictionary is no help. There’s a whole list of usages of the word, from “exemption from external control, interference, or regulation” to “a particular immunity or privilege enjoyed, as by a government or corporation: freedom to levy taxes.” (Anybody else slightly bothered by the idea of a corporation levying taxes?)

So, the word means everything from your right to not be f*cked with by the government to the government’s right to f*ck with you.

With a definition that confusing, no wonder the terrorists hate it so much.

Of course, freedom is an idea. A powerful idea, that means different things to different people. If you ask me, freedom simply means the ability to live how you want, to love who you want, to say what you want, and to pursue happiness and success doing what you want.

And there’s a lot of places around the world where any number of things in the list above could land you in jail. Think about the oppressive regimes around the world, what comes to mind? China? Iran? Saudi Arabia? North Korea? Russia, even? How would you rate which are the most repressive countries? What’s a good indicator? A country who locks up the most people would probably be the most repressive, wouldn’t it? Places where a woman can be locked up for driving or even showing her legs. Where people can be imprisoned for disagreeing with the government, or for eating the wrong foods, they would surely have the highest prison rates, and so that’s got to be an indicator of how repressive they are.

So, what are the most repressive countries in the world? There are some surprises.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies in King’s College, London, the top 5 most repressive countries in the world are:

5) Cuba. With 487 out of 100,000 citizens imprisoned.

4) Turkmenistan. With 489 out of 100,000.*

3) Palau. With 523 out of 100,000.

2) A tie between Russia, Bermuda, and Belarus. All with 532 out of 100,000.

And the most repressive country, by far, with 714 per 100,000 people imprisoned is....


The United States.

That’s right, folks. We imprison more people per capita - by FAR - than any other country in the world. I’m not saying than any other WESTERN country or any other INDUSTRIALIZED country, no. Any. Country. Period.

We got ‘em beat.

France? 91/100k Germany? 96/100k Turkey? 95/100k Denmark? 70/100k Italy? 96/100k Japan? 58/100k China? 118/100k Saudi Arabia? 110/100k Ecuador? 100/100k Nigeria? 31/100k


The way I see it, only two things can be gleaned from this: either Americans have a much higher number of criminals and scumbags than the rest of the world (which I for one don’t believe) or our criminal justice system is an unholy mess. I’ve already chimed in on that one.

Some people might say that ours is so high because we have such a great law enforcement and judicial system that gets all the scumbags off the street, making freedom more possible for the rest of us. Again, that seems to me to imply that humanity has a very high number of scumbags. Others might say that it highlights our economic divide in America.

For sure, there are a lot of reasons, too many to list here. But when you combine this data with the fact that we unilaterally invade other countries around the world with impunity, that we take people from those countries and imprison them in secret prisons all around the world, that we just passed a measure giving our President the right to allow these people to be tortured, and that our government has for the last several years instituted a wiretapping program that spies on its own citizens, that a church that preached a sermon that didn’t support the President’s party got audited by the IRS for political campaigning when HUNDREDS of churches that supported the President were left alone, well... We just aren’t that f*cking free, are we?

And when we say we’re spreading “our kind of freedom” around the world, to the majority of people outside the U.S., that means everything that was in the previous paragraph. They have the benefit of an outside view, and they see all this about us that we ourselves are so blind to.

I mean, admit it, if you heard that an Egyptian presidential election was won by a guy who lost the popular vote, but got through on a technicality when a recount was stopped in a territory that was under the control of that man’s brother, you’d say, “Some people just aren’t ready for democracy and freedom.”


Freedom is not our sovereign commodity. We aren’t the most free nation in the world, in fact we’re really not that good at it. And we have no place going around telling other countries how to do it. These are some facts that we as Americans really need to come to terms with.

* Number 4 on the King’s College list was actually the U.S. Virgin Islands, but I decided I was picking on the U.S. enough in one post and left it out.


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