A Million Different Things: Freedom, Choice and the Walls
Note: This is the 11th meditation from the middle section, Noon, from f my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World's Happiest Man. It's concerned with freedom and choice and those who try to smother them.
David Stone, Writer
When I was a teenager, Teddy Randazzo made a record I liked so much I squeezed the money out of my limited allowance to buy the 45. Randazzo made a career of writing hits for other artists, but this, as far as I know, was the only hit he had on his own.
Big Wide World, a ballad, contained the lyric, “Out of everyone in this whole wide world I fell in love with you....” While appreciating the dumb luck of discovering the perfect girl, Randazzo knew there were plenty more to pick from. Big Wide World was about abundance.
Choice demands freedom, and in their interdependency, freedom demands choice. If we relinquish some of either, we relinquish as much of the other. Both are bound up with power.
Take the choices we make about lovers. We can go back as far as our initial discovery of unique emotional attractions. I remember being six or seven and chasing a pretty, brown-haired girl named Terry around our rural school yard.
The game was some variation on Cowboys and Indians, and I was running after her along a gentle slope between the swings and ball field. A strong, rounded emotion surged in me, and I remember that autumn afternoon mainly because I was completely puzzled about it.
Few memories remain readily available from those early years, but my attraction for Terry is still vivid. It was my first memorable experience of emotional confusion or, better, incompletion.
Not long after, a buddy and I took turns kissing another girl, Linda, in the back of our school bus.
Next day, a teacher took us aside to awkwardly explain that kissing Linda was forbidden. Wrong or not, it was as exciting as all get out, and this was the first time I remember society stepping in to crush enthusiasm, no explanation necessary. What harm was there in practice kissing between seven year olds?
Linda was willing and remained my secret crush until a change of schools ended our daily contact. She never outgrew her girlish beauty, but we never got close again, even as adolescents. I’d moved on to choosing other girls, and she was probably busy fending off other boys like me.
The point of this vignette is that, even at an early age, emotion drives us to choices. Terry and Linda, in my memory, were the cutest girls in our school, and without knowing much about what I was supposed to do with them, I wanted to be engaged. Society wanted just as much to keep us separated.
Love at First Sight
39.5 in. x 27.25 in.
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There are times when the interests of the larger world can cause us to clamp down in a useful way. We don’t let children play with loaded guns and sharpened knives, and we don’t let them decide on which days they will attend school, sleep in or watch TV.
Adults make necessary choices, but when society steps in to interfere with the natural development of human relations, that’s disempowerment, the transferring of choice about what is good for an individual into a mass corralling of power for power’s sake.
The moral or religious basis for restricting relationships goes back to the earliest controls benefiting evolving leaders of the pack. We find evidence of it all through the Old Testament, for instance, and it seems likely that invoking the deity, especially the one that inspires fear, has long been a handy tool for tyrants and benevolent despots alike.
God was invoked to explain the heartless massacre of whole populations, every inhabitant, every woman and child, the lame, the sick and the aged. He ordered or commended it, and, lucky for them, He spoke exclusively to the rabbis. God was even credited with directing the execution of a man who violated a commandment by gathering wood to warm his family on a day of mandatory rest.
Claiming privileged access in eras of illiteracy and ignorance, any leader could recruit a deity to increase power. Threats of punishment up to and including the ultimate remain features of contemporary cultures.
As communities have evolved and, through education and experience, grown more secular, the effectiveness of religious control has diminished, but its long shadow remains. Rules about who we may safely associate with, even when subtle, are universally in place.
Restrictions on integration and lifestyle are taught early. No matter who or what the enforcer is, the rules themselves are there to disempower, often with no other reason than the pleasure and advantage of the already powerful.
Social ControlClass values infuse layers of culture and tell us what we supposed to want in life. In America, it’s very much a mercantile entanglement. Class is exposed by consumption.
As a class thing, we are instructed through commercials about what to obtain in establishing levels. Mothers pay extra for their daughter’s designer jeans, even when the quality of goods is the same, because that’s what her contemporaries wear.
This transfers decisions about human values to commercial interests profiting through mass marketing. When we make economic choices based on class identification, we aren’t thinking. We’re handing over something elemental within ourselves.
As a modern culture, we don’t give it enough thought to raise serious objections. A purchase affirms value. To soften resistance, we learn slogans, viral memes, about personal independence–which makes it ever more important to be conscious of what people do, not what they say.
Words really are cheap. They are sometimes salves for conflicted feelings. We’ve mastered a bountiful supply of quotes to explain whatever action we’ve taken or contemplated.
Love the Feeling of Freedom
11.8 in. x 15.74 in.
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Choice requires power, and after power has been surrendered, choices are made in other ways. Freedom was once taken from us violently by stronger or less restrained overlords. It’s now simply given up in exchange for merchandise.
Find A Million Different Things: Meditations of the World's Happiest Man and all my other books on my Amazon Author Page.
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