10 reasons to celebrate freedom

Digging into the archives again; I first posted this Dec. 15, 20217, five years ago today … stay tuned for a postscript.

A long time ago in a land of hope and plenty, a perfect union was formed. But after a few years people got together to try again, declaring the new arrangement was “a more perfect union.”

Even at that, they perceived something was missing from their founding document. They made 10 additions.

On Dec. 15 each year, we celebrate Bill of Rights Day in honor of the added words that enhanced the founding document and cemented the ideals of this more perfect union.

1. We have the freedom to tap into the Power of the universe as we see fit, to speak and publish our views, to gather together in peace, and even to petition the government to right a perceived wrong, all without fear that some agent of the government will interfere with these freedoms.

2. We have the freedom to defend our lives and property against aggression and to be prepared for such defense.

3. We have the freedom to decide who can live in our homes.

4. We have assurance that government agents have to have a good reason before they search or seize us or our property.

5. We have the freedom to decline an invitation to confess our sins, even when we didn’t actually do it. The government has to spell out what we’re accused of doing, it can’t put us on trial for the same alleged offense more than once; and if it wants to use our property for some “public purpose,” it has to pay us a fair price for it first.

6. If we’re accused of a crime, we have a right to have the matter resolved as quickly as possible, to know exactly what it is we’re supposed to have done, to have a jury of local people decide the facts, to face the person(s) who says we did it, to be able to bring witnesses who say we didn’t, and to have a lawyer help us defend ourselves.

7. We have the right to have a jury decide private disagreements, too.

8. The government isn’t allowed to set bail or fines that are way too high, and if we’re found guilty the punishment can’t be cruel or unusual.

9. We have many other freedoms and rights, and just because they’re not covered in the first eight points doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

10. On the other hand, if the founding document doesn’t specifically say the federal government has the power to do something, then it doesn’t – those powers belong to the state governments – or to us.

Of course, these are ideals. Every day brings new evidence that we do not live in a utopia where these principles are honored. But at least the vision was declared – set in stone, even – so that we may compare the vision against the reality and resolve to improve the reality.

That’s what we celebrate on Bill of Rights Day. Be happy; be free.

P.S. Back here in 2022, I always feel obligated to emphasize that these are described as “constitutional rights” but they were not created by the Constitution. Rather, these are more of the “certain, unalienable rights” that were mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights doubles down on the assertion that governments are founded to protect (“secure”) these rights, not restrict them.

Chew on that thought the next time your “elected representative” suggests creating another link for the chains.

Still not quite a novelist

The 12 print-on-demand books of which I currently claim authorship include only two novels, The Imaginary Bomb and The Imaginary Revolution. Friday, Dec. 15, Bill of Rights Day 2022, will be the 10th anniversary of the latter’s publication.

The Imaginary Revolution (Here’s the ebook)(Here’s the paperback) is told in the first person by Raymond Douglas Kaliber, who shares his memoir of the events that led to the establishment of the Commonwealth of Sirius IV based on the concept of anarkhia, that is to say, a society without a formal government. I have started more than a half-dozen novels, and The Imaginary Revolution is distinctive among them mainly because I finished it.

I like L. Neil Smith’s comment that he wishes they had called it the Bill of Limitations, rather than the Bill of Rights, because the latter implies that the document defines or grants certain rights when, in fact, it places limits on government’s ability to abridge rights that already existed long before. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights did not create the right to free speech, or bear arms, or trial by jury, or peaceful assembly — they declare that those rights may not be restricted by authoritarian busybodies posing as friends of the greater good.

One of my favorite chapters in The Imaginary Revolution, if I may, is Chapter 58, which I quote here in its entirety:

With the toppling of the reigning council, the question — seemingly inevitably — became: What sort of government shall we have now?

I hoped my grin did not seem too mischievous as I answered the question with my own question:

“Why do we need a government at all?”

A decade later, as I watch authoritarian governments — from the other side of the globe to down the highway from here — press harder and harder on people’s throats, I really must say, I still think that’s a good question.

Happy anniversary, Mr. Kaliber.

The things they will search for again

© Spelagranda | Dreamstime.com

I felt dry as a brown pile of fallen leaves, unable to muster an image or a passage of serviceable words for my humble service for the day, so I do what I sometimes do to lubricate my imagination: I pulled a book of Bradbury short stories off the shelf.

The Machineries of Joy, first published by Simon & Shuster in February 1964. Mine is a New Bantam edition, second printing, from February 1983, purchased new for $2.75 sometime shortly afterward.

I read “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” because I opened the book to that page first. Ray Bradbury, like me, was baffled by the concept of war, and this story of a chance meeting between drummer boy and general the night before the grisly battle drips with melancholy. “You’re the heart of the army,” the general tells the boy.

I needed more than one dose, and second to last in the table of contents was “To the Chicago Abyss,” which I’m sure I read before but forgot. Ironic, that, because it’s a story about remembering.

In a post-apocalyptic city, an 80-year-old man is beaten, then sought by police, then protected by Samaritan strangers, because he dares to remember and remind people of the simple pleasures of better times, like the aroma of a freshly opened can of coffee. He hopes to inspire people, discouraged by their totalitarian overlords: “For the things, silly or not, that people remember are the things they will search for again.”

Sometimes I remember the soothing balm of a Bradbury story, and I search for one again. Thank God there are hundreds of them.

For me it is a Bradbury tale. Others seek out a Beatles song or an Eliot poem or an old-time movie about a ghost in a wishing well. We need these reminders that there is beauty to be found and good that comes from human hearts.

The man in the story dug even deeper, to remind people of fresh coffee and candy bars (“Milky Ways — swallow a universe of stars, comets, meteors”). Remember good things inspires us to seek out good things while they are still there to be had and preserved and cherished.

Meet the new boss

© Anyaberkut | Dreamstime.com

Moms through the ages have advised their kids, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, just don’t say anything. I think of those moms lately when the political ads come on. And here we are, Election Day, and I can’t think of anything nice to say.

I should stop there, shouldn’t I?

My political evolution has had four steps so far, four “a-ha” moments.

The first was in the fall of 1978, when Lee Sherman Dreyfus was running for governor of Wisconsin. I was there, a young reporter, when he said something along the lines of, “Government has three duties: Defend our shores, deliver the mail, and stay the hell out of our lives.”

The second was in January 1981, when newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The third was in the fall of 1992, when I had a chance to interview Andre Marrou, the Libertarian candidate for president, and he told me both political parties want to be our parents: Republicans want to be the daddy, and Democrats want to be the mommy. 

And the fourth was in the summer of 2008, when I was writing about another election with an impossible choice between two men who wanted to run my life, and an epiphany stopped me in mid-thought. That was when I wrote: “Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me.”

I included that essay, “An election party where nobody came,” in my book this summer, Echoes of Freedom Past, in which I wrote about reclaiming and restoring freedom in a time when no one in government seriously wants us to be free. In that moment I realized that freedom is an internal thing, not something imposed from the outside.

It’s a liberating thought, quite literally. It’s why the results of today’s election may trouble me but will not send me soaring into extreme joy or sinking into extreme despair. That’s the theme of the second book I released this year, the one where I point out that, if you hang onto the realization that freedom means you are the boss of you, it’s going to be all right.

The Anarchist

She follows me around the house, sleeps at my feet, and drapes her front legs over my back when she wants to play. If I get up and walk from one room to another, I may find someone walking so close behind me that her nose bumps the back of my leg.

Half the time when I let her out to do her doggie business and close the door behind her, she turns and waits for me to reopen the door and come with her, as if I’m supposed to stand guard.

But we can’t let her out of the house without a leash dragging behind her so that we can catch her when it’s time to come in. When we say, “Come, Summer, come in the house now,” she suddenly acts as if she’s deaf.

I have never known a dog who so adamantly refuses to learn the command “Come.” Even when I have the leash in my hand, she resists coming into the house. If she starts sniffing something foul on the ground and I say, “No, leave it,” she will pretend to obey and go sniff elsewhere, but eventually she’ll circle back to the original foul thing, or else she’ll ignore me altogether.

Summer is not a stupid dog; she just has no respect for authority. She is happy to be by my side, but she’s not going to obey arbitrary orders like “It’s time to come into the house.” Her movements have to be on her own terms. No one else is going to be her boss. It’s her life and she will live it as she pleases.

The word anarchist, of course, has its roots in the Greek word anarkhia, meaning “without a ruler,” and the word fits this beast. She is unruled and unruly. If someone tries telling her to do something, if she wants to do it she will, and if she doesn’t she will not. She is the sole boss of her. Anarchist is a perfect word to describe her.

I’m starting to think I really love this dog.

The road back to whimsy

For grits and shins the other morning, I clicked on one of those three “Related” links at the bottom of the post that are auto-generated, and I found myself a couple of years back and sounding a little more bemused than I have been lately. 

I poked around at a few of my older pieces, wondering who this guy was, when it hit me: I’ve recently lost track of the whimsical. It’s easy enough, with radicals barking on the telly every few moments about how radical the other guy is, to remember about whimsy.

But sure as a new pair of sneakers can whisk you across a small 1928 town before you can say “Jack Robinson,” and as certainly as a good drill will journey you to the center of the Earth and, most importantly, as there’s a door to a magical land in the back of that old wardrobe, whimsy is an essential component of a healthy life.

I knew what I was looking for, and a quick DuckDuckGo search for “Warren Bluhm whimsy” took me straight there, to a 2012 blog post illustrated by a delighted me wondering what Willow The Best Dog There Is™ was doing sitting bolt upright on my lap, titled “I choose whimsy.” No need to go looking, there’s the photo up above, and here’s the post:

+ + + + +

I see and hear the cranky and dyspeptic political tones, philosophical arguments dressed up as a battle between good and evil, and I have seen and heard enough.

“There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me and we just disagree,” the poet sang.

And yet the demagogues behind the curtains conjure images of battlegrounds. We don’t just disagree; you are the embodiment of evil walking on Earth. If your kind keeps/retains power, then the rest of us die.

Hogwash. I say again, hogwash. Pay no attention to the demagogues behind the curtains.

My freedom is not dependent upon someone holding or being ejected from office, and neither is yours. Human beings are born to freedom, not granted liberty by benevolent rulers. What part of “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights” is so hard to understand?

We have a choice to stew in our own bile – or in bile provided for us by willing political toadies – or to live our lives freely, joyfully and in celebration.

You may follow the path to fear and loathing and the infestation of imaginary hobgoblins. I choose whimsy.

Truth and consequences

What do I have to say next? What should I say?

“What should I say?” Now, there’s an interesting question fraught with assumptions. It suggests that, when I consider what to say next, I may have things that I “should” say as well as things that I “should not” say, and the trick is to discern which is which.

Will there be a penalty if I say something I shouldn’t have said, and a reward for saying something that I should? And however do I tell the difference, other than by saying what I like and discovering what is rewarded and what it penalized?

And what if I am rewarded for saying something I should not have said, or I am penalized for saying something that needed to be heard?

The safest course of action is to say nothing, but when I’m busting to say something I believe is important, I conclude that I should just go ahead and say it, rewards or penalties be damned.

Should I have said that?