It's hard to dispassionately and philosophically discuss liberty with a straight face these days without becoming a journalist and describing the many ways in which our liberties have deteriorated in our declining society. I'll try, but I don't know how long I'll last or the point of lasting, anyway. Am I to write something for a "spiritual" column that practically serves as distracting entertainment while our liberties are being suffocated? I could stop now and advise you to go to buzzflash.com to read the news; but whether you stick around or not, one thing to say about liberty is that the quickest and most pain-free way to lose it is by failing to keep abreast of current events, failing to know history, and failing to engage is a continuous social dialogue that raises self-challenging questions.
The perspective I commonly give to principles like liberty, and everything else, in my writings is the ontological one. That perspective is certainly important, as it provides a foundation for how to think about things, how to define things, and how things stand in relation to what is real. But it is half the battle. The other half is embodying that perspective in ways like the ones listed above -- ways that are real, i.e. spiritual, duties.
Spirituality used to be ontology (philosophy of reality) thousands of years ago, but those days are long gone. Now spirituality is mostly entertainment, self-deception, and self-mystification, which is to say a dedication to unrealities. Of course, no one really wants to believe that, but it wouldn't be self-deception if they did.
The evidence of that self-deception is in a million places. One notable place that is pertinent to the subject of liberty is in the absurd notion that spiritual people don't get involved in politics. You'd think Gandhi's and King's life would have silenced that moronic attitude once and for all, but hey, we're talking about self-deception after all. How people can talk about "spiritual liberation" from one side of their mouths while simultaneously eschewing any discussion of social liberties, influenced as they are by political eventualities, would be beyond me had I not studied the histories of organized religions.
So while the fiddle of spirituality plays to our ears' amusement, our liberties, and other real things that give real quality to our lives, are in peril. We can talk about spirituality all we want, but where the work day and year becomes longer, the rich get relatively fewer yet exponentially richer, thralldom to banks just to live somewhere becomes the norm, and we have less and less to show for our labor, our spiritual talk is what Bernard Shaw called the "treacle" of hollow promises and pipe dreams repeated ad nauseam to ourselves that keeps us content as we live out our slavery (as in the opposite of spiritual and every other kind of liberation) to, ultimately, our own cowardice, apathy, and downright narrow unspiritual character.
If you haven't noticed, I've become fed up with the industry of spirituality. I wrote the title God Without Religion, but it's no sense anymore to discuss "true" spirituality, as opposed to all organized religions necessarily contrary to truth as institutions of centralized power, when the organized entertainment of spirituality is no less potent than that of centralized religion. Bernard Shaw was speaking of organized religion in the treacle reference above, but any reading of his ingenious work shows profound application to modern spirituality and its increasing potential to not liberate us, but quite the opposite: enslave us to a nemesis that is merely one step subtler than the dread of organized religion. Instead of believing in and identifying with religious inanities, the spiritual are now at liberty to believe in and identify with an inane self.
So much for my dispassionate discussion of liberty for as long as I could stomach it! I haven't even started, except in the word "self," which is where liberty begins and often sadly ends.
The ontological theory I expose in my work is the theory of self, which is the ultra-ancient proto-theory that spawned everything from Buddhism to Vedanta to Yoga. It has something to say about everything because it addresses ultimate reality.
As for liberty, it says it is a simple idea made complex when attempted in a multi-faceted and multi-tiered social system. To the individual who appreciates the larger idea of self, one's liberty is inevitably dependent upon the liberty of others, thus coming with its own degree of self-restraint and social responsibility. From this larger perspective, the restraint is in keeping with the intuitive sense of right and justice, reason, and moderation anyway, and hence does not feel like restraint. That is, the larger self knows that it is the very narrow self that is being restrained. The large-minded libertarian renounces excess licenses, which are often perceived as innate liberties to the narrow self, in order to both live in liberty and safeguard the liberties of others.
Liberty is equivalent to a spiritual responsibility to both oneself and others. It means to be a slave to nothing and obedient to the laws of nature as expressed in the social order a people have themselves established. It is obviously freedom of speech and press, but it is also freedom to doubt, question, and deny every authority. It is the freedom to err in thought but the responsibility to seek truth without any sense of one's own small comforts and ease of belief or habit. It is the responsibility to cast off any misplaced sense of obedience to a government when it exceeds its limits of power, cultivates ambitions that threaten liberty, and forfeits public trust.
Liberty is actually a lot like spirituality in that both easily devolve from seeking them to seeking power. Spirituality is practically defined, among other ways, as power over one's self, or power over the narrow self acquired through knowledge of the larger self, i.e. self-knowledge. Liberty requires power over the licenses of the narrow self as well.
Liberty, liberality, and liberation are not merely cognate, but reminds us that liberty in society is the embodiment of genuine spirituality: the rejection of ignorant authority, diligent self-reflection, the identity with future generations and the culmination of past ones, values rightly placed, and the temporal fulfillment of the highest means and ends of life made manifest.
In short, liberty in society is the embodiment of the expansive sense of self -- a self that identifies with everyone - and the narrow self of those who lack that broader identification will ever seek to curb liberty.
Of course, that's genuine liberty. If everybody got that, centralized governments would become obsolete. But I'm writing all of this in a time when we are killing hundreds of thousands of people in another part of the world in the name of liberating them and spreading liberty. Someone (in our centralized government) has a lot of nerve.
The cause of liberty has been a motive for good, but it has also been a pretext for crime. Not unlike religious authorities who kill in the name of God, political authorities will claim to curtail liberties in the name of liberty. We all know this, as we have now all lived through it first hand.
As to be expected, religious authorities have similarly battled social liberty every step of the way, whether in denying it to Blacks, scientists, free thinkers, and even those who would make use of the printing press. Superstition, mindlessness, desire for power and conquest, and the inclination to live off the sweat of others have historically been the greatest enemies of liberty.
But not to be outdone, our society has created new avenues for these nemeses of liberty with the gradual decline of centralized religious power.
Once upon a time, the greatest foe of liberty was arguably theology since the Church was against freedom of the press, freedom of thought, and freedom to seek truth and doubt. But excess liberty or licentiousness; the tyranny of the oligarchy; hero worship; the laziness that takes liberty for granted; the delusions which spur the people to willingly let go of liberty though past generations died to afford them it; and bribing the people with treasures (read: treacle) that might distract the defense of liberty by surfeiting them with too much comfort and materialism are great foes of liberty as well.
Perhaps the love of power over others is the root enemy of liberty, but that is another way of stating the simple aphorism of the ancient ascetics: the narrow self is the source of bondage.
Another enemy of liberty includes the baseless glorification or forgetfulness of the past, including past conventions and even past liberties. Our great grandchildren may fight for liberties we do not even know we lack, and a generation of a century ago might have lost a liberty we are now only beginning to recall. It is no wonder Machiavelli pointed out that even when liberties are meagerly dished out, children would grow oblivious of their want of liberty so long as their want is equivalent to the want of their parents. Inasmuch as authority edits history, any hint of great liberties will be forgotten.
Is it any surprise, then, that our textbooks have long since edited Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Herbert Spencer? Is it any further surprise that current swaths of the public are of the disposition to purposefully and willfully remain ignorant of the state of affairs, and go even a step farther by filling their heads with outright disinformation?
Obviously, liberty is a powerful force. It is the freedom of action and the opportunity of choices. Hence, liberty requires eternal vigilance against forces greater than the individual who would strip away liberty. Otherwise, we will be exclusively free to enrich and empower others, and never free to empower ourselves.
Meaning the greatest liberty is ultimately in thought, but liberty of thought is perhaps the easiest to curb. One might think that it is easier to curb action than thought, as if we can restrain someone's body but never their mind, but in fact thought is far more easily contained once education is sufficiently crippled. If we can restrain the body, then we can restrain the time the body has to pick up a book, think about its contents, and ask challenging questions. Where education is near useless, liberty is unlawfully overtaken as the people, in ignorance, willingly hand over their liberty thinking that they will be benefited. It is not unlike taking candy from a baby, the difference being that the baby cries.
Of course, little do the power hungry know that they strip their own liberties when they strip them from others, even if those others are on the other side of the world in Iraq. Therefore, it is not enough to protect one's own liberties. The lover of liberty must suspect anyone who attempts to usurp the liberties of anyone. Liberty as an idea must be repeatedly renewed generation after generation.
Now perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall my generation appropriating or renewing their liberties. I suppose I missed the appropriation of liberty executed by the generation after me too. And from my reading of the beatniks and hippies, their attempt at appropriation failed miserably.
But I do clearly remember Ronald Reagan waving Orwell's 1984, in 1984, and proclaiming proudly that Orwell was wrong. Ibsen wrote, "The man who stands still in the midst of the struggle [for liberty] and says, 'I have it,' merely shows by so doing that he has just lost it. Now this contentedness in the possession of dead liberty is characteristic of the so-called State..." Of course, we are talking about a leader whose defense of an international crime was "I don't remember," and a populace that thought he was a nice enough guy to let him get away with it. Us discussing liberty, thirty years later and during Bush II years, almost feels like talking about a bottle of soda pop when it cost five cents.
We can test this. How many Americans know the names Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling, and Tim Griffin? In my household, it's my job to keep abreast of events that influence the world while my wife cares full time for the infant and toddler. I then update her after they fall asleep. We don't ever watch TV, whose primary use in the hands of centralized corporations is to normalize thought and conduct, instead relying upon online news outlets for our information. The whole world pretty much knows enough to put most of this globally liberty-hating administration behind bars. But here we ask, Griffin who?
The yearning for liberty, when it is intuitively understood as a quality of the larger self, is a spiritual one -- proof positive that American's are collectively far less spiritual (I'll give them religious) than they claim to be.
Am I wrong? Let's see what happens next week, now that Congress has handed our criminal president another 95 billion dollars for this genocide we like to call Iraq's liberation. Will we do anything drastic enough to make a difference? Will we finally find out who the hell Tim Griffin is?
I predict next week will be the same as this week, because people don't actually become spiritual, as in move their behinds in positive action and sit their behinds perfectly still in intuitive sense-introversion, unless and until they are convinced their lives depend on it. Up until now, we collectively have been all too willing to believe that what we are doing in Iraq, to name one of many crimes perpetrated in this country and around the world though our own actions and lack of them, is not a matter of our lives or our deaths. Maybe it's a matter of someone's taxes, a few generations from now, but that's it. If it were really a matter of life or death to us (and it is, as long as we define ourselves broadly enough), the war would have ended years ago. With all the cheating in the world, Bush would not have been reelected. Where have we been?
Since liberty has ever been praised as a function of knowledge, power seeking must be a function of ignorance and poor education. Hence, literally spilling the blood of tyrants (ignoramuses) to feed the liberty tree is widely prescribed. Only, the power hungry are not as dumb as we think. When patriotism becomes jingoistic, tyrants are pre-packaged, and the very ruling minority seeking more power is in the position to define liberty for others, it is less likely that even a drop of a tyrant's spilled blood will reach the liberty tree. And our media is careful not to make any martyrs anymore.
Francis Leiber wrote that one of the psychological processes whereby liberty is lost is in "passing unwise laws against a magnified and irritating evil -- laws which afterwards serve to oppress all...by poverty and by worthless use of wealth, by sensuality and that indifference which always follows in its train." Though this was written in 1859, it could have been written today to accurately describe the events following 9/11, including the passing of the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq.
But perhaps the most common excuse that those in positions of authority make for curtailing liberty is that the improper use of liberty may be used as a weapon against liberty. Obviously, this argument is no more than an argument against liberty itself, and in fact is self-actualizing in that it itself represents the exercise of a liberty to threaten liberty. Another argument used by tyrants is that freedom must be earned and that if a people are not capable of hosting the natural liberties of a human being, then freedom must be limited. While being a potent excuse for oppression, the obvious question it raises is how does a slave society ever become knowledgeable enough to earn liberty?
It used to be that the ballot was the way. But even if voting is made 100% fair, which is not something a lover of liberty should indolently assume will take place, votes are still cast by people. And if people are poorly educated, their votes will reflect an ignorance that is the antithesis of liberty. They will vote against their liberty and call themselves patriots for doing so.
This must concern anyone interested in spirituality, whose very basis is in free thought, the right to investigate all fields of knowledge, and the freedom to be afforded the tools for a progressive inquiry.
We can be sure that those who care not for the liberties of others necessarily care as little for their own liberty. To renounce that liberty is a crime against humanity and to squander it means to no longer be fully human, but millions don't care since narrowness at the top in our idols has long since bred narrowness at the bottom.
But I'm not writing to jingoistic fanatics. So I say that to do so willingly or idly sit by and watch it happen in the name of a pseudo-spirituality that professes an otherworldly non-intervention is hypocrisy and self-delusion at its best. It is precisely what the blind leaders of deceptive organized religions will have their flocks do. Religious leaders routinely glorify lost liberty, but I can hear spiritual teachers saying similar things ("seek happiness inside," "it's all the play of creation," "don't dirty yourself with politics,") at precisely the wrong time and in the wrong context.
Let the dangerous and delusional distance between spirituality and politics end now.
F.D.R., in one of his fireside chats, said, "I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few." But here we are, back to that regimentation, assuming we ever left it.
That regimentation is possible to miss only if there is willful ignorance, but so many of our liberties have long since evaporated in a lifestyle that camouflages our chains. People interested in spirituality pride themselves on an awareness of the subtle. That's good, because the strongest shackles in a society are the ones that are invisible.
These are times that need genuinely spiritual people willing to serve the cause of liberty. Numerous social causes that are often little more than grassroots movements with admirable aims crave our participation. The Internet, when all is said and done, may save America's republic because it is a media and education tool that so far does not cater to the excessively wealthy. As long as the Internet remains open, we all have a chance of finding out who Tim Griffin is, and just in time. Let's put down the Bhagavadgita for a bit and find out.
[Note: this article was written over one month ago, so if you still have not heard of Tim Griffin, find out why not.]