Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Irony of Celebrating a Nostalgic Past

The fourth of July is seen as this great holiday. Well, by some people. Some people use it to remind people of the "Good Old Days", those halcyon times when everybody was happy and lived in blissful peace and nobody ever hurt anybody ever, or took away another's free agency, and everybody could buy guns whenever they wanted to.

Other people (*coughtumblrcough*) ironically celebrate the idea of the fourth, using it as an excuse to post sarcastic pictures of bald eagles and American flags, with the all-caps protestations that we are, in fact, free dammit.

I am not guilty of this honestly sorRY CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SOUND OF MY FREEDOM
But by celebrating this sometime-in-the-past state of freedom, as enshrined in the comic above, which I've seen in a few places today, I think we're forgetting something very important.

Freedom hasn't ever really, truly existed in America. Yeah, predominantly white, rich landowners rose up against an unjust tax over 200 years ago and threw off the shackles of one government that was, I will grant you, incredibly repressive in a few very important areas. Taxation without representation, tea in the harbor, blah blah blah, all that jazz. Poor and rich rose up together and fought a war, even though in the Continental Army was vastly over bloated with officers, mostly because rich people were the ones who wanted to fight, and the poorer side of the population (while enlisting in larger numbers initially), had to leave because--surprise, surprise--they couldn't support themselves when the government wouldn't pay them for the time they were spending.

Meanwhile, the Virginians we all know and love (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, yadi yad), while outwardly professing some kind of adherence to liberty and fraternity and equality, yay, were all slave holders. That means that they kept people in bondage against their wills, without ever returning anything but food and shelter. Technically, according to some viewpoints, probably okay--after all, why do you need anything but food and shelter in order to survive and, at least in part, live happily? That doesn't change the fact that the free agency of these individuals was being infringed upon. Strike one against the beautiful, utopian vision of ~freedom presented by nostalgic right-wingers.

Okay, so slavery sucked and it wasn't really our best moment. I think we can all agree on that. But let's fast forward. Surely after the Civil War there was ~freedom! Well sure, if you ignore the Jim Crow laws (both in the south and the north), and the crippling economic and political sanctions placed upon the south in the wake of that conflict. Not to mention the restriction of the vote from blacks, and the continuing fight for suffrage for women.

This fight for equal rights for all sorts of people still isn't over, meaning we still don't have true freedom. Blacks are still discriminated against, especially in the south. The poor are kept poor under an enormous pyramid of governmental power, through taxes and health insurance requirements and child support laws and a bevy of other idiocies. Ordinary people are being spied upon and--if things get too out of hand for the government's taste--they can even be assassinated by drone strikes. In order to take advantage of mass transportation within one's own country, one must submit to molestation. A woman in a hijab can't even walk outside her front door without being subjected to racist comments and the small-minded idiocy of her fellow Americans. Homosexuals can't get married. Doctors can't help their patients make the best choices for themselves.

We're not ~free. We've never been ~free. Oh sure, there's been a modicum of 'freedom' that's been offered to the American populace--so long as that populace has been white, male, and owned property. So yes, by all means, celebrate the fact that at least once upon a time, America had representation that actually meant something. Celebrate the fact that there is at least something left of the framework that could have gotten rid of these injustices centuries ago if rich, white men hadn't gotten in the way. But let's not look back at some idealized past that, in the end, didn't exist and yearn for a return to it.

I have no desire to lose my right to vote, thank you very much.