Freedom, Real vs Memorex
I am always amazed at the thoughtful comments I get on posts. Even posts that were extemporaneous and not particularly profound, or at least I didn’t think so. My last post was a good example of same. Just a random post on a Nazi saluting dog, but it got some thoughtful comments. And they in fact inspired me to write this follow up post, comparing freedom in the USA to freedom in Western Europe.
First codicil, I have ever been to Europe and am basing my impressions of what travellers to there have told me and what I read in the news. So if there are egregious errors in my impressions of Europe, hopefully some esteemed reader will correct same. And the second codicil is I will be talking about two types of freedom, freedom of expression and political freedom. The first I am defining as citizen’s ability to express themselves freely in what they say and do. The second is the amount of representation people have in the political system.
Now in the USA, in theory, both are enshrined in the Constitution, the law of the land. I say in theory, because frankly I agree with the German commenter on the last post, in the USA we have far less freedom in either sphere than is enjoyed by the citizens of western Europe. While Americans pride themselves on freedom of speech, in practice there are severe social restrictions of what one is allowed to say. Anything outside the established norm will face social sanction, and won’t be allowed on any mainstream media venue. And the established norm is a combination of anything completely noncontroversial … and extremist Christian religious/misogynistic views. Many Americans are in fact so afraid of freedom of expression that a Constitutional ban on flag burning has widespread support. Um, a Constitutional ban on flag burning would be far more insulting to the principles this country was ostensibly founded upon than flag burning itself.
Freedom of speech in the USA has been further diluted by the bizarre Supreme Court ruling that corporations have freedom of speech too. This means that corporate advertising and political influence knows no bounds. This was bad enough when it was just speech, but now it’s been ruled that corporations may basically spend as much as they want however they want in election campaigns. To put it mildly, when corporations, IE the ultra rich, have no restrictions on their advertising or political influence, it for all practical purposes allows them to completely control public discourse. And few Americans are really aware of just how insidious this is.
Insidious because it has evolved into a situation where on paper all political views are allowed to participate in the democratic process, but only the two main parties, one party really, completely control the government. Any third party has little chance of getting into office, and zero chance of accomplishing anything if they do. Legislation written by third party representatives is simply killed in committee and never even gets voted on. This works on both a state and a national level. The only real political freedom Americans have is to choose which faction of the governing party they support, whose policies except on a few wedge social issues, are identical. One can choose between a pro gay marriage party or a anti gay marriage party, but both parties are pro war, pro big government, and completely owned by corporate interests. This is sham political freedom, not real political freedom.
Compare this to the parliamentary governments in Europe (and elsewhere) and it’s frightening. In countries with healthy parliamentary systems of government, minority parties not only can get members into government, when there they can influence policy. This is because after an election and it’s time to form a government, the large parties need to ally with smaller parties to get the votes they need to have a majority in parliament. It’s messier than the US system, and has problems of its own, but at least things like environmental parties and animal rights parties have a voice in government. (It wouldn’t surprise me if many Americans are aghast at this idea, so programmed they are that anyone outside the two party mould are dangerous extremists.)
And I think it goes without saying, it sure seems like public discussion of a much wider range of ideas is the norm in Europe. That’s at least the impression I get from my European correspondents and the European media. Though they too are having the same sorts of homogenizing corporate influences, and frankly sinister influences. It’s not that corporations or the people running them are inherently evil, it’s just that when wealth and power goes too concentrated, it very much tends to get abused. Look at any country where for ideological reasons a tiny cadre of people gained absolute power, it’s usually pretty ugly. Bankers and CFOs may practice not any ideology other than greed is good, but the end result isn’t looking pretty.
Anyhow, I digressed all over the place here. I think many European countries do enjoy more political and personal freedom than America. Persuade me otherwise. And if it is true, what does it mean?
(The above image was released into the public domain by its creator. It’s the Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the most famous sculptures in the world. It was made in Europe, and other than that and vague symbolic allusions, it has nothing to do with this post.)