Friday, March 6, 2015

None of us are free?

Here is a belief you might want to hold.
None of us are free, none of us are free
None of us are free, one of us are chained
None of us are free - Solomon Burke
I used to. It's a noble enough idea and the song it comes from is a soul-stirring experience. As a simple factual matter, however, it's nonsense. I could be kidnapped and kept in chains in a basement or cave somewhere for the rest of my life without affecting your freedom in the least. The reverse is also the case; you could be kidnapped and kept in chains for the rest of your life without affecting my freedom.

Much as I appreciate every reader to come here, I still feel my freedom more intensely than I feel yours. I hope that you'd defend mine and you hope that I would defend yours. It makes sense to fight for your own freedom. It makes sense to fight for someone else's freedom because that is the right thing to do. 

What do we make, however, of the argument that I make myself more free by fighting for the freedom of a particular group?

Suppose, hypothetically speaking, a whole bunch of white people got really excited about reggae artists from Jamaica, not just because they liked the music, but because they felt that the struggle for freedom they saw in these artists somehow felt like their own. I'm just making all this up, but suppose these reggae artists had all embraced a cult that connected a messianic figure based on Christianity and dope-smoking. And suppose that the white North American fans liked smoking dope and they could cross their own desire to be able to smoke dope legally with these reggae artists and their struggles.

I know, low comedy that couldn't really happen. But it did. 

The music was pretty good and it just kept coming. Until it didn't. Like all popular cultural phenomena of the modern era, it ran out of gas after a while. But the phenomenon was about more than that. White people dug Cliff and Marley and Tosh and Bunny and Toots and many many others because doing so made them feel like they were part of a more elemental struggle for capital-F freedom. Plus they wanted to smoke dope.

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