Thursday, July 17, 2008

A taste of freedom

I wanted to expand a little on what I wrote about in the last post. About talking to people from other countries when you get a chance. I've led an extremely lucky life and have traveled to 40 countries and lived in 9 of them. I've been out and about with people in Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. As well as living on the both the Mexican and Canadian border.

As a result I've been around people from many different kinds of backgrounds. And political environments. And political philosophies. I've seen rich people and poor people, and rabble rousers and activists and people who just want to be left alone. I've met people who fought for their country against aggressors and people who collaborated with the enemy.

One of the main things I remember from my time in the Baltics (not the Balkans) and other countries was how much people reveled in their freedom. How the idea of freedom and liberty was something to be cherished and thankful for every day. And how, we as Americans, take those same things for granted.

I'm not being rude or disrespectful about that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that we truly are free is a great thing, and we don't have to think about it on a daily basis. But we do take it for granted. We're so busy telling other people what to do and how to think that we've forgotten that most people don't have the same rights that we abuse. We take our freedom so much for granted that constantly enact laws to take freedom away from ourselves.

Anti-smoking bans, whether or not an establishment can sell alcohol based on its location (school, church, etc) and not on the willingness of people to buy it, and the dumbest one of all is "hate" crime. How do you legislate thought? Maybe George Orwell wasn’t so far off. We claim to be the freest country in the world, but do everything we can to deny ourselves the right to freedom of choice. It’s gotten crazy.

And while things like this are happening in Europe, it is a result of Germany and France trying to run the EU. The reason the eastern European countries have joined the EU are easy to understand. Freedom of movement, more money in hand, and protection from (oh yeah, here it comes) Big Brother.

I love the way writing can flow without even making an effort at it.

But anyhow, most of Eastern Europe wouldn't be in the EU if it wasn't for those reasons. Because it has become as politically correct and stupid as anything we do.

But I can tell you, in the east, they do cherish their freedom. Every day. Anyone over the age of 20 can remember the Soviet occupation and domination. Anyone over 30 can remember the secret police, and massed deportations, and denial of their cultural existence. People in those countries don't look strangers in the eye, and won't talk to people they don't know. Try getting directions somewhere. The reason being, if they were seen talking to a westerner, the secret police would show up at their door and question them about who the person was and why they were speaking to them. They’re not unfriendly. They’re just overly cautious.

The mother of the woman who worked with me was a telephone operator. They were required to listen into conversations and report suspicious ones. Or to record them. In 2004 (2004, not 1974) during the presidential elections in Russia, the government was calling the superintendents of apartment buildings and telling them which residents hadn't voted yet, and to go knock on their doors and tell them to do their duty. What do you think would happen in the states if something like that happened.

You should go meet some of this people and talk to them. About living in slums worse than anything you could see in American cities. About a family of 4 living in a 12' x 9' room, and sharing a bathroom and kitchen with 3 other families. About not having enough to eat. One girl told me how she came home one day and her pet rabbit had disappeared. Her mother told her it ran away. She didn't put it together for years that they had meat for the first time in a month that night. Yeah, it’s funny. But not to her.

Or they people who had families split in two when the Russians chased the Germans back to Berlin. Those caught on the Russian side stayed. Those on the German side made it to refugee camps and emigrated out. Couples split. Siblings split. Parents and child on different sides of the line. National monuments torn down. Children forced to learn the language of a conquering country.

It’s like having a beautiful wife. You don't spend every day thinking about how beautiful she is, you just know. So you don't tell her every day. Or somehow make her understand that you know it. It probably isn't a big deal, and she probably won't ever leave you because of it. But you have taken it for granted and don't realize how lucky you are to really have such a beautiful life. (hope that's not too sexist, Sarah)

Do you know that right now there are over 200 countries, territories, and trusts as recognized by the United Nations. Some of the truly free ones are the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom (see the common connection in speaking the English language - I refuse to push button # 1), western Europe, the Baltics, Slovenia, and other assorted places. If you count them up, it’s less than 50.

Less than 50 countries that are truly free and have civil liberty for its citizen. Even all of those countries practice some form of banning books, denying sex education to teenagers to prevent (OMG) teenage pregnancy, and other archaic laws (US - drive legally as young as 14 in some places, drink at 21 or Europe - drink at 16 and drive at 18). We are still the exception and not the rule.

You might agree with me. You might disagree with me. It doesn't matter. What does is that the people in those countries that have recently become free regard it every day as a gift from the heavens. They haven't become immune to the pleasures of it yet. They still celebrate it every day. We don't. We take it for granted.

And actually, I like that we can take our freedom for granted.

And I like that they still recognize it as a gift.

Maybe as they move closer to us, we can move closer to them. And meet somewhere in the middle.

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