"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called." ~ John Stuart Mill
Exclusive to STR Every year on The Fourth, I wonder what people are celebrating. That is, the ones who give it any thought at all beyond its being a day off. The celebrants have no sense of irony.If it's all about freedom, then oughtn't we at least have more respect for the word than to associate it with the condition to which we've been reduced? Let's face it, the average American just accepts the following: "We are Americans, ergo we are free." End of discussion. He contemplates how bad things are around the world, and that is sufficient for him to conclude that things are just fine here in America. Contradict him at your peril.What the rest of the world prefers to tolerate is a pretty poor standard by which to gauge our liberty, and I'd like to propose a better one. It is this: Are our rights respected? Are we allowed to own ourselves and our justly acquired property? Ask this of our theoretical free American and he's likely to insist his rights are just fine, thank you. He'll often invite us to love it or leave it.Given the sorry state of government schooling, I can't say I'm surprised. But is it asking too much that people should understand the meaning of words thrown around so casually?A right is something one may do without getting anyone's permission, and if government has any legitimate purpose at all, it is protecting our rights. It has no other legitimate reason for existing. When governments go beyond that, they become as much a criminal as the mugger who takes your watch, or the trespasser who invades your property. Nothing about this is rocket science.But this is way too much theorizing for most folks. Their eyes glaze over. Enjoying their barbecue and ball game tells them all they need to know, and that it just couldn't be better here.In fact, Americans are so thoroughly policed, monitored, and regulated they can scarcely conceive it being otherwise. No aspect of their lives escapes the government's attention and control, and they have no rights at all, only privileges. By a stupendous act of doublethink they believe they are free.A short list should suffice to raise serious questions in the mind of our theoretically free American.He was born in a medical facility which operates only by permission of the State. None other may legally operate, for to do so would invite jailing, fines, or worse. His delivery was attended by medical personnel who have permission from the state to provide that service. Whether or not his parents would have preferred the services of someone without that permission is of no concern to those who presume to rule us.He is required, by men with guns, to attend schools which are acceptable to Our Leaders. And there he is taught what is approved. What his parents would prefer is, once again, irrelevant. It is the sole prerogative of government to determine the curriculum.Anything he owns, including his person, can be confiscated by the authorities under any pretext. At any time any of his possessions may be declared contraband and seized. What he does, or doesn't do, with his property must have the approval of the government, and in spite of the popular myth that he may actually own something, he often must pay rent to the authorities for the actual privilege. He is subject to conscription, and could be dragooned and sent anywhere in the world to destroy anything or murder anyone the State has decided to destroy or murder. His own views on the morality or desirability of such an activity are of no interest to The State.If he wishes to start a business, he must first get permission, and arrange to divulge every detail of its operation. It is the government, not he, that shall decide what he may make and sell, and to whom. It decides what terms are acceptable, even when the two parties to a transaction think otherwise. Absolutely no aspect of his business escapes the attention of the authorities. And, of course, they'll take a nice piece of the action off the top before he gets his.The same is true for all his income "from whatever sources derived." The government takes outright half of everything he earns, and literally wastes it on projects, the sole purpose of which is to promote the interests of political knaves and their influential contributors. Any good that may rarely come of it is merely incidental and was not its intention. The half of his income he is so graciously allowed to keep gets steadily diluted by government inflation of the money supply. His right to own himself and the product of his labor is simply not respected.The government can arrest him and hold him indefinitely without access to a hearing, and the only thing stopping it is its lack of interest. He is subject to the dictates of literally zillions of laws and regulations, most of them onerous, absurd, and insane, and is expected to abide by every jot and tittle of each one. Their violation often carries staggering penalties. A lifetime would be insufficient to even read them all, and clearly the fundamental principle that laws must be easily known and understood by any reasonable man goes unrespected. This being the case, everyone is in violation of some law at any given time. How nice! It should also be noted here that the government does not require itself to abide by any laws.When he opens his mouth to speak, he must be careful what he says, constitutional rights notwithstanding.Privacy? Government snoops have access to everything about him from his financial information, medical records, and e-mail, to his conversations with his lawyer.All this nannying, pillaging, and bossing around goes on with the approval of our fellow slaves. He lives under a totalitarian despotism, but as long as he is permitted his beer and his Super Bowl, all else is acceptable to him. Those things too could be taken from him and no legal principle would prevent it.Some folks will trot out a list of trivial things they may do by right. Fair enough. The State hasn't gotten around to infringing every last one of our rights. Just wait, that list is getting shorter every day. And the accelerating trend does not bode well for what remains of our legacy."But America is the freest nation on Earth!" So it's worse everywhere else. So what? "But it's for your own good!" Sure. Even if it were true, are you a five year old?The distinguishing characteristic of ownership is control. He who controls something owns it, legal fictions notwithstanding. Since the State enjoys the power to dispose of both you and your property, it owns both. There's a word for that and it isn't freedom.