Do you know what I crave more than anything else in the world? Here in America, where it’s supposed to be abundant to everyone? Something that people have fought and died for over the centuries, in wars and riots and rebellion from oppression? What drove our ancestors long ago to escape their world and travel thousands of miles to colonize a new one?
I long for the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, without the constant, overbearing fear of retribution from the always-watching, ever-present Authority. I am surrounded by enforcers with a zero-tolerance policy against violating any one of a myriad of rules, regulations and laws, so that my only solace, my only chance at averting their constant, piercing gaze is to not attract attention, to stay under their radar. And their radar is everywhere.
Here at home, I’m not free. I have to obey the city ordinances, most of which I don’t know and a few of which I’m sure I’m breaking. I once thought that my back yard was private, but that was before my neighbor turned me into the city for having too much trash “in view”, that is, if you peek over the 6-foot fence. I love to build things; I have a concrete storm shelter, but getting a permit to build one outside was a nightmare, so I hid it in the garage, next to my (probably illegal) home office. I live in fear that one day someone from the government will come in and fine me or jail me for all of the code violations, lack of permits, and I’m not even mentioning all of the overbearing rules from the community association.
Out on the road is where I used to feel the most freedom. When I got my license to drive, and I could go anywhere, I felt alive; I felt free. Not any more. There are speed limits, school zones, red-light cameras and a cop on every corner, watching for someone with a broken taillight or expired registration. I have a 300 horsepower Chevy Camaro, but I have to drive like a grandmother to avoid being noticed. I don’t feel free. I feel trapped. I’m NEVER ALONE. Even out on the road, miles from home and work, at any moment, my cell phone could ring and my wife, my boss, my parents, a co-worker, anyone can intrude in my happy little world. I feel like a dog on a leash.
The police think they have absolute authority over citizens. I remember as a teenager I used to walk around at night. I felt some of the burden of life lifted during the darkness, when there was no school, my parents were asleep, and I had no obligations. I could walk around with a friend all night, but almost every night, we were stopped and interrogated by police. A couple of long-haired hippies up to no good, no doubt. I got searched for drugs, accused of stealing, or breaking in to a shop. I once stepped out of a convenience store to a parking lot full of cop cars because I matched the description of someone who robbed a store down the road. And I don’t dare try to resist; they have the power, and I am at their mercy. Freedom is not mine until they decide to let me have it, or IF they do.
I used to feel a little bit of freedom at work. That was when computer-aided-drafting was new, computerized controls were new, and programs I wrote were used, appreciated and applauded. Not any more. A few years ago, they decided that everyone had the same needs: Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook, and about 1.5 GB of storage. They ordered me to stop updating my custom database program, start using standardized software. I once spoke up about something that I noticed needing to be fixed, and the project engineer did it, but said I had come up with this on my own “initiative”, which had become a bad word. Then came the whole safety program. They wanted everyone to be safe, so they came up with more rules, only if you break one of these rules, you are escorted off the property, never to return. Zero tolerance. No circumstantial or extenuating circumstances. One mistake and you’re fired. No more career. Gone.
Even in my own family I have no freedom. My father has intense OCD; nobody’s happy if he’s not happy. We all do whatever Grampa wants, because otherwise he freaks out, pouts, makes everyone around him miserable. And I realized something: I’m not free around my wife, either. I love her to death, but thinking over the past several weekends, the only time I did anything, worked on any project, is when she was napping. Otherwise, I feel to guilty. The only hobby I feel like I can pursue without the guilt of ignoring her is to cook. If I’m not grilling or smoking some fabulous side of beef, I’m on the couch, on the porch, or on the bed, doing basically nothing, until my wife tells me to. It’s pitiful, but true.
When I was a teenager, beset by an overwhelming set of parental expectations, pressured by ambitious teachers in advanced classes, and stifled by emotionless rules that were blindly applied to me and every one of my fellow 2,000 students, I finally gave up trying to be good and turned to drugs. It was wonderful. I didn’t like pot that much, it made me feel too disconnected, and at that point I hadn’t gotten into anything else, except for speed. Methamphetamine pills. They were awesome. I could take them, nobody would know, but I was breaking the law, I was being a rebel, I was free. I realized a great truth back then: freedom is a state of mind. If I can’t be free in the outside world, I will be free on the inside.
I have a video game that I play. You start out in the wasteland. It’s total freedom. You can drive anywhere and shoot guns and rockets with no fear of arrest or prosecution. Then you go to Wellspring. The first thing the mayor says is you have to ditch your Ark suit and get a garage to park your buggy. “We’re civilized here. We have rules.” Then later you get to Subwaytown. That’s even more rigid. You have to do whatever the town’s boss says. “Nobody does anything without his OK.” That’s just such bullshit and it’s just like real life. The more people, the more civilized, the more rules, and the less freedom you have, until you end up like me, a slave, a subject of the state, with the NSA watching everything I do, cameras recording me everytime I step outside, cops everywhere, just waiting to arrest me for breaking some code or ordinance or rule or law that I didn’t even know existed.
I wish I could live in the wasteland. Sure, bandits try to kill me and mutants are always crawling out of the sewers, but I could drive my buggy at top speed, jump off a sand dune, crash into a rock, fire explosives at anything that moves, and be respected and admired for it. But if it’s not going to happen, if I’m not going to be able to relax and stop worrying that my pitiful little suburban life is one mistake, one lawsuit or accident away from complete destruction, if I can’t do what I want, then I’ll turn to something else to make me feel good, to relax and empower me, to take this putrid reality away and replace it with inner peace.
True freedom may only come in death; until then, give me liberty, or give me meth.