Did you notice how individual freedom is not the overarching story of human history? Usually, “The Many” have bent their necks to the yoke of “The Few”. Often, they have accepted that as the order of things.
Cultures throughout history have either tolerated or endorsed slavery of one sort or another. Some did through conquest, and direct ownership of servants — others through coercion and exploitation. Freedom is by no means humanity’s default position.
Even where traditional slavery is outlawed, social position will determine differences in someone’s personal worth, and even moral / legal accountability. The Caste System, and Feudalism are obvious examples, although others (like our own Celebrity Class) exist as well.
Living under our Western understanding of freedom, we might predict enslaved people would jump at their earliest opportunity to attain it, as with the Underground Railway, or Cuban refugees today. But in both ancient times and modern, these seem the exceptions that prove the rule.
Remember the Jewish Exodus from scripture?
Moses showed up, promising freedom from their slavery to Pharaoh, with mixed results. The first setback (bricks without straw) made them grumble — not against Pharaoh, but against Moses! Skip ahead to when Israel was wandering the desert, with former captors safely on the other side of a body of water. They grumbled some more.
And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.
They had escaped the reach of their captors, but in their hearts, and in the way they viewed themselves, they remained slaves.
They even misread their own circumstances. Had they truly eaten for free back in Egypt? Feeling the bite of the lash across their backs, toiling in the hot sun. Was it for free that they got their food? Hardly. But those few creature comforts — the ones that made slavery seem tolerable — were gone. To get them back, some were willing to return to those shackles. (Think: The Matrix and the “Blue Pill”.) They were tragically setting their own purchase price at the paltry sum of a few fish, and a couple of vegetables. Little did they know what awaited their people beyond the Jordan.
Karl Marx once claimed that Religion was the opiate of the masses, something to keep paupers docile. Not so in Israel’s case. For Israel, the opiate was onions, fish and leeks. “Religion” (or more properly, God) was both the initiator and instrument of their freedom.
Back then, enslaved Israel — like battered wives today — was held in check by both a carrot and a stick. Fear of the lash on one hand, and the lure of things they thought they could not do without on the other, paralyzed them. What they needed was a rescuer; an intervention.
Tragically, that ancient generation had been so accustomed to their chains and the pressures of fear and need, they had been just as “domesticated” as a lion in a zoo.
Does this happen here today? Of course! We may not have sugar plantation owners today, but we have a different kind of slave, doing a different job. And people don’t mind because it seems like easy work, with a good payoff.
It’s simple: show up one Tuesday in November every fourth year, and write an “x” in the the correct box, and you have served your “massah” well.
The hoi polloi gets promised some variation of “hope” and “change”; (which apparently means food stamps and — retroactive — birth control) while the people offering the carrots get a backstage pass to the seemingly limitless personal power, influence, and wealth that life in the Beltway can offer.
Public service? National Interest? That’s cute. Now stand aside, plebe, there’s money to be made!
Moses first tasted freedom for himself. He had lived apart from the illusion of safety that chains represented. But it took time for Israel to embrace their freedom, to savour it, and own it for themselves. In their case, the older generation never quite came around. It had to come from their kids.
There is a sense in which Conservatives are more individualist than their counterparts, and disinclined to activism. In some ways, that’s even understandable.
But remember, Freedom is not the dominant theme of human history. It is vulnerable to entropy. When taken for granted, it becomes eroded, and eventually lost. To preserve it, we must hate, and oppose all forms of slavery, however mild or extreme their outworkings may be.
To defend another person’s freedom is to preserve your own. That idea was at the heart of the American foundations, and is near to the heart of the Christian faith that shaped it.
Freedom, in the Christian meaning, is corrosive to the chains of tyranny. It maintains that, regardless of sex, race, social standing, or any other factor, all people have equal worth and dignity. If we are all equal, it follows that nobody is elite. Leaders are not lords.
If you enjoy and appreciate your freedoms (plural) — make use of them! And then, encourage and assist others to lay hold of theirs, both at home and abroad. I for one, found this TED Talk on the topic inspiring. Maybe you will too.
Image: Courtesy of: http://thefunstons.com/?p=1772