It sounds in a way like a question with an obvious answer to most people: "Sure, I do." But as Sabina and I keep finding out over and over, the obvious is by no means universally so for all people. When we see more and more instances of our government losing track of what many might see as a trivial and basic matter, perhaps its time to talk about how some very basic notions of freedom and liberty in this country are gradually being eroded away, and how that's happening in a way that's not at all clearly visible to most people.
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a place that, up until recently, hasn't been easily mistaken for a totalitarian state. It's because of this freedom that America hasn't been a stagnant place. One reason that's so is that people are free to screw up. There isn't a state bureaucracy watching over each of us to review our personal decisions.
For example, as an entrepreneur I was free to throw my day job overboard and start a company with a very few other people. I did that twice. The first time was a complete and total disaster, in a rather conventional line of business. The second time, the outcome was very different; because we live in a country where people can use their imaginations, come up with a product or service that many would have insisted couldn't possibly be sold, and can throw their nine-to-five lives overboard and go pursue that, we succeeded in growing a company to great success. I didn't have to explain the concept to someone else and get permission to quit my job and start a business; other than the usual formalities of starting any business, the only people who had to be sold on the service were our customers.
Again, I sometimes feel like I'm talking about the obvious. But it's not. In a different place where independent thinking and innovation aren't considered quite as valuable, and tradition rules, starting a business like that is much more difficult if not impossible -to some degree because of the burden of having to explain oneself to others and to authorities - which of course is one of the reasons why so many people emigrate from so much of the rest of the world to America. To such a great degree one can do one's own thing here.
Or, at least, that is the kind of freedom that we've enjoyed here for a long time. I say that because it looks to me sometimes that this country - at least some of its subcultures, and its government - are trending away from innovation and toward a stifling conformity. This trend tends to show up in ways that seem far removed from commerce, from things like my example. But these other ways are very much connected, because, for individual people, these are matters involving personal decisions; I call it intimate decision making. Whether I'm talking about what you want to do with the rest of your life - or what you're going to eat and wear today - or who you're going to bed with tonight, these are all products of our most intimate decision making. Some are obvious to others, and some are more private; they are all intimate decisions.
These intimate decisions extend to our physical bodies. In our free society, it is alleged, we have a great degree of control over what can be done to us physically. Medicine has, for the most part, adopted and universalized the practice of informed consent. And of course slavery is not tolerated.
Our biological and reproductive capacity are ours. We don't live under the threat that, because someone else might need a kidney and our body chemistry matches theirs, that we'd be kidnapped, strapped down and have a kidney yanked out of us to keep someone else alive - after all, we've all got two and we can each spare one to keep another alive, right? No, it doesn't work that way - or, at least, it doesn't work that way if I'm talking about kidneys.
And at the moment we aren't under any formal government mandate to have children. We can each be childfree, or have a dozen or more if we feel like it.
The kinds of things that raise an alarm in my mind come from many different places, but they all clearly stem from the kind of evangelical Christianity that has become dominant in this country in recent decades. Those of you who came through the barf.org website probably already noticed, that I call this subculture a "Biblical America," because that's what they want: all personal and social interaction to be governed by their particular interpretation of the Bible.
What isn't all that clear, I think, is what that actually means when it comes to intimate decision making and the idea of bodily ownership, across the board. This is a subculture that has people in it - from its leaders all the way down to street preachers - who, while allegedly taking the entire contents of the Bible literally, concentrate over and over on a few select passages. One of the verses we hear over and over is from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, as in this example, which provides considerable context, from the head of Operation Rescue at a news conference. I've highlighted his quote of the verse:
We're dealing with two worldviews, a culture of death versus a culture of life. And the homosexual worldview is exactly the same as the worldview of abortion. You know what it is? It's my rights my body my choice my thing you don't tell me what to do I'll do what I want whenever I want to and the one commandment I have is thou shalt not get in my face and don't you dare judge me. On the other side of that is the worldview that brings life which says, you are not your own, you were bought with a price therefore glorify God with your body, that it's not my body I don't belong to me anymore...
You see it's not a battle about abortion or homosexuality, it's a battle about whose laws reign or who is Lord. And we're saying that Jesus is Lord and Mickey is not.
The remarkable thing is that people like the above-quoted Flip Benham have this habit, often while negating the idea of bodily ownership in a literal sense, of talking about the "laws" of secular government, that he seeks to overthrow, as if those laws appear out of thin air somehow, by the edict of someone or other. Even more horrifying is to watch a "liberal," gay law professor from a major university, called on to "debate" the subject, who can't come up with a reasoned, even understandable, response to the insistence of evangelicals that those "laws" must come from some absolute standard whether we're willing to agree with their Biblical-supremacistic assertion or not.
The fact of the matter is that our laws are the product of a centuries-long process, a long history of trial and error to find out what works, a system that, through the legal traditions predating our country, our godless Constitution and its amendments, and over two centuries of legal precedent, we have a legal system under which our rights and freedoms have come to be understood and protected.
Evangelicals who mouth off like this both suggest that we're all owned by God and that God makes the laws; while some of a more "liberal" religious persuasion might view these things to be true in some broad metaphorical sense, in this context these are people who are taking these things very literally. In practice, all this rhetoric does is to give those who're in the business of promoting their own notions of what "God" is, and interpreting the Bible, enormous power. They discard history, only to dispense factoids that, they claim, "prove" that the Founding Fathers were the same kind of zealous religious supremacists that they are today. They deliberately ignore over two centuries of American jurisprudence to insist, to varying degrees, that only the laws in the Bible - or their contemporary interpretation of them - should be reflected in civil law, no more and no less.
But perhaps you're shaking your head, insisting that this sort of thing is dismissible, that this so-called religious "fundamentalism" is only believed by people living in poverty in trailer parks in the deep South, or something. In fact, today's Bible Belt is the outer suburban ring around major cities all over the country, populated by the bored middle-class suburbanite with time on their hands to worry about all kinds of stuff about which they don't often have a great deal of understanding, and as a result they trust those nearby that they see as valid authority figures - the leaders of their churches. For them, the source of "laws" is just something too important to be left to an arcane process that they don't care to learn about or understand from sources they don't trust as much as their churches, so they easily accept an absolutist explanation that comes from and ultimately benefits churches, promoted by opportunists who've actually managed to get into the system, like (hopefully former) Alabama chief justice Roy Moore. It's a simple answer to a complicated process, but that complicated process has done a lot better job of keeping civil society prosperous and healthy compared to what might be expected from a totalitarian state that would result from such an arbitrary absolutism.
I can hear you still shaking your head out there, insisting that Roy Moore is just an example of that Southern trailer-park trash getting into power, or something. Well, let's take a look at George W. Bush, and what he said during his recent press conference:
I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.
What you have here is the redefinition of freedom, directly from the chief executive of the United States himself: the denial of the work of perhaps millions of people over time in creating the body of law under which we live, disregarded and replaced with some simplistic suggestion that only his "God" can grant freedom. Worse, that this country is obligated to play missionary to the planet, spreading this "God"-based redefinition of freedom to other countries, whether they care for it or not (my guess being that few will care for it.)
Again, this whole rhetorical construction, that's now coming out of the White House along with many others in state and federal government, only serves to grant enormous power to those who claim to have "God" on their side, and that's a very particular form of "God" too. You can throw anything that doesn't look like militant supremacist Christian evangelical belief out the window, along with basic things like religious pluralism, which in their mind is easily redefined to encompass primarily variations among Christian denominations and streams of thought and custom.
Given all this, what does the future hold for preserving a secular government at state and federal levels here in the United States? The immediate future doesn't look all that good. This week, we have both the Virginia House and Senate passing an unbelievably stupid and unconstitutional bill banning "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships" by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. (See text of the bill.) Getting back to those intimate decisions - it seeks to eliminate any state protection for whatever arrangements two unrelated people of any sexual orientation might seek to make, and have recognized by the state, in many areas of life including healthcare directives and property ownership, that might be interpreted as an attempt to extend the protections and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. It will only provide more fodder for those who insist that the justice system is populated by "liberal," "activist" judges when, one hopes, it's eventually found unconstitutional. It's another example of how "Biblical Americans," firmly in control of a legislature, implement their comic-book imagining of what other's lives look like. They have little appreciation for the infinite breadth and depth of human experience; they have only one rigid conception of what a gay relationship looks like, much like they have only one concept of what an abortion looks like in the real world. Both of these concepts are reinforced through mountains of propaganda, that reflect one simplistic, flat, rigid (and ignorant) view of what the lives of others must be like. Such legislation is the result of the eager acceptance of that propaganda.
What the future holds, I think, is an even more explicit attack on the notion of bodily ownership and individual autonomy over time. It comes from the simultaneous rise of "Biblical America," neo-conservatism and hyper-corporatism - the negation of the individual in relationship to corporations, both secular and religious. In the religious context, these corporations are churches and the whole institutional structure of evangelical Christianity; institutions that are aware that the notion that people are free to act independently of them, and can get along just fine in open violation of church teaching, spells their eventual end. They work against this concept of freedom by acting to assert their self-image of supremacy in all areas of life. Further, by eroding the idea of bodily ownership, they are able to harness human fertility for their own purposes. They have set up an enormous infrastructure of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" to harness the reproductive capacity of other women, to grow their own families, and thus their congregations, through adoption. By working to eliminate the means by which people may control their own fertility - by working to outlaw or restrict abortion, and defunding public health providers such as Planned Parenthood - they attempt to fill their demand for adoptable newborns by direct means using their so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" while implementing direct means through legislation and governmental action.
So. Do YOU own your own body? You certainly won't if Biblical America, along with the neoconservatives, have their way with you.
From: email@example.com (Mike Doughney) Newsgroups: alt.meditation.transcendental Subject: Re: OT: Why Americans allow Bush to "pass the buck" Date: 17 Apr 2004 09:55:09 GMT Organization: MTD Media LLC Lines: 154 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> References: <email@example.com> NNTP-Posting-Host: p-621.newsdawg.com X-Newsreader: trn 4.0-test76 (Apr 2, 2001) Originator: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mike Doughney) In article <email@example.com>, Uncle Tantra <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: <editing, to what is perhaps the core of the argument:> >They're not going to force Bush to take any personal responsibility for >his actions. When all of this blows up, and they're faced with the stag- >gering vastness of his misdeeds and illegal acts and war crimes, they're >going to let him skate. They're going to give him a "Get out of jail free" >card and elect someone new and try to put the whole nasty business >behind them and forget that it ever happened. > >And why? > >Because the American public doesn't want to take any responsibility for >*its* actions. ... >The truth is that *they* -- the American people -- are essentially the >ones responsible for the war crimes done in their name. In a democracy >the "buck" stops with the people. And they don't want to be reminded >of that. They'll let Bush get away with everything for a very good reason. >*They* want to get away with condoning it. While everything you say might someday come to pass, everything you describe exists in and is made possible by the more general context of life in America for many decades if not more than a century. And in that context are two central myths: the myth of American supremacy, and the myth of American democracy. That myth of American supremacy exists in two forms: secular and religious. We live in a culture saturated with Christian (so-called) "fundamentalism," relative to most of the rest of the Western world, because that kind of Christianity is in turn a reflection of the same kind of supremacist myth; it layers on top of, and takes some of its claimed legitimacy from, the more general, secular supremacist myth. Such a secular myth has long been with us, but the current, dominant political form of it has risen out of the drumbeat of an atheistic at its core, neocon propaganda that proclaims that America will lead the planet in a "new American Century" once all those lily-livered, light-in-the-loafers, pinko queer liberals who think too much are discredited and removed from positions in which they are just in the way. Both forms are manifestations of the same thing, one side of true believers, the other, the exploiters of the religious who truly believe in only the arbitrary exercise of raw power over others, and sometimes it's impossible to tell the two apart, when they can often be seen standing side-by-side. Likewise, the American supremacist myth has a domestic and an international component. Domestically, taken to the extreme end towards which we may be heading, it leads to a one-party system; domestically, in the religious context, it works to discredit even the suggestion that any expression or interpersonal relationship can be allowed to exist that runs contrary to the dominant evangelical interpretation of Biblical laws. Coupled with this is an attack on religious pluralism, in which those practicing faiths other than Christianity, or who are atheists, are faced with second-class citizenship, despite the obvious centrality of religious freedom in American history and culture. Internationally, this supremacist myth results in the go-it-alone, the rest of the world can kindly fuck itself, kind of debacle that is shaping up in the Middle East and eventually elsewhere, which also seems to assume that America is a land of (or unopposed acquirer of) infinite resources of every kind which can be used to bend the rest of the planet to its unique assumptions about social architecture. Missionaries (with or without aid work), and short-term missionary tourism, have a role in the religious aspect of the international expression of this supremacist myth, along with everything involving Israel as an expression of the fulfillment of Christian prophecy. The myth of American democracy sets up a number of problems that have played out in the run-up to this action in Iraq. The myth of democracy, as you have laid out in your post, suggests that everyone is responsible for the state of and the actions of the nation. The flip side of this is that, when those in charge go and do something abominable and unthinkable, that action can't be seen for what it is, because in a democracy, it would have to be taken as an affront to the intent, and self-image, of every American. This myth makes an accurate assessment of these kinds of actions of our government impossible by most people, because the dissonance between the self-image of a good and just American people and the true actions of the U.S. government must be reconciled somehow. That dissonance might be reconciled by the kind of outcome that you've laid out in the first paragraph of yours I quoted above - as you say, figuring out how to forget the whole episode and letting Bush and company get away with it. While some might hold up Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon, and Ford's subsequent loss of the next election, as some kind of example of America's intolerance of this kind of behavior, I would say that that episode is an example of the contrary. Nixon got away with it, and thus there is no warning, no downside, no cautionary historical example of what might happen to a clearly criminal President. We are not a nation that has a long history of bloody coup attempts that might bring home the potential lethality of poor-to-criminal governance. In fact, after the Clinton administration, we have the association of "impeachment" with the conflation of serious criminal abuses with the triviality of the aftermath of a White House blowjob, making the very idea of "impeachment" of a President something of a joke in all possible directions. >Karma, that elegant piece of operating system software that runs the >universe, isn't fooled for a moment by the Nuremberg Defense. It >knows *exactly* where the buck stops. And it knows how to collect >on debts owed, and with interest. I don't believe in karma, other than how it might be an expression of long-term social or institutional memory. What I do see happening is the continuation of events much as they are until, or unless, there are serious consequences for the U.S. of some kind. One of three things may happen, or a combination of these things. One is economic collapse, brought about by overextension, natural catastrophe, or any number of possible causes that aren't presently obvious. Issues of energy and water supply figure in here too. Another is domestic social unrest, leading to vigilante action and low-intensity conflict, stemming from the domestic aspect of the supremacist myth. The third is the obvious - that the international aspect of the American supremacist myth, and the military campaigns that are the inevitable result of that, come up against the simple fact that the rest of the planet is occupied by nations, corporations and webs of influence that won't stand for it over the long term. Which brings me full circle back to the myth of American democracy. The simple fact is that there is very little that we as individuals in this country can do about the present situation, despite the assumption that we as a people should or must be doing something about it. I've referred to the present day as the "post-protest era" because the effectiveness of protest against the government seems much less effective and results in a greater cost to the individual, as a loss of personal freedom or privacy, than in times past. What I'm keeping an eye on right now is the development of what might be called Christian neo-vigilante groups at the local level; these may become the ultimate expression of the supremacist myth in everyday American life through the enforcement, through intimidation and perhaps eventually other more direct means (since the means are always described in an open-ended fashion), of the currently fashionable set of evangelical wet dreams regarding the imposition of their version of Biblical law. There may be opportunities to address these developments and thus more generally address the problem of these supremacist myths at both levels. Another development is the fact that more and more people are discussing emigrating from the U.S. to other places more openly, with varying degrees of seriousness. The mere broaching of this subject in a place where such a thing rarely happens, particularly when it's accompanied by an admission that life really might be better somewhere else, is one of those simple things that might serve to erode the supremacy myth over time.