Politics  •  May 13, 2003

Fantastic Freedom

American freedom is not the only kind of freedom that exists. American freedom is a very specific kind of freedom, and it is marketed fanatically in this country as if it is the only kind of freedom there is. It is overrated. I say overrated, not because freedom is insignificant, but because American freedom isn’t any better than freedom of other industrial nations despite the American fanaticism for their own freedom. Freedom in America isn’t any better than, say, freedom in Japan, France, England, or Canada, yet people here constantly sing praises of their own version of freedom. Don’t get me wrong; American freedom isn’t any worse either. It’s not a matter of which is better; it is a matter of which you prefer. I am not here to trash American freedom. I like American freedom just fine. I am simply criticizing the fanatical propaganda of it.

Also, I say it is overrated because most Americans who sing praises of their own freedom have nothing to compare against. All they know is what they see on TV or read about on newspapers. They have never experienced what freedom means in different cultures. So, why are they so fanatical about glorifying their own freedom? I believe that much of it comes from their own feelings of insecurity about their own freedom, like unhappy people telling themselves over and over how happy they are in order to convince themselves.

American freedom is all about possibility, not actuality. You are technically free to go to Harvard, but you can’t afford it. You are technically free to go see any doctors, but you can’t afford it. You are technically free to do a lot of things, but in reality it is unlikely that you would see a day when you take advantage of that freedom. On the other hand, in countries like Japan and France, their freedom may be more limited, but they have real access to many things most Americans do not. In Japan, all the best universities are government owned, and by American standards the tuitions are virtually free. In most countries in Europe, everyone has real access to skilled doctors and decent hospitals. The tradeoff is that you pay a lot more in tax, especially if you are rich, which takes away some of your freedom, but you are free of many responsibilities. For instance, managing your own risk of medical expenses is not part of your responsibility, at least not to the extent that the Americans are.

Again, it all comes down to which you prefer. If the market value of who you are, what you can do, and what you know are above average, you would naturally prefer being in the US, because the possibilities that the US offers can actually turn into reality. If your market value is below average, you are better off living in a more socialized country, because just having possibilities with very little chance of realizing them is a bad deal for them. Furthermore, the US has a way of making the rich richer, the poor poorer. If you are born into a poor family, your chance of succeeding is far less than if you are born into a rich family. Even though there is a small number of success stories of someone poor growing up to be someone rich and powerful, in reality, it is very rare.

If it is just a matter of preference, why do Americans sing and dance so much about their own freedom? This is because otherwise the working class people will catch up to the reality of their predicaments. The rich needs the poor to keep on working. The more dreams and fantasies they feed to the poor, the more they would put up with.

Suppose you were given a choice of which country to be born into. The God offers you two choices: Country X where you will work for $20,000 a year with no benefits, but there is a possibility of becoming a billionaire. Country Y where you will make $40,000 a year with extensive benefits, but you will never be a billionaire.

When you are young with no real experience in life, you would be tempted to pick the first one, because you think you can make it. But, soon enough, you face the reality, and become unhappy unless you are one of the lucky few. So, what do you do? You keep feeding yourself the fantasy that someday you might still be a millionaire. As more people become unhappy about their own predicaments, those who have succeeded must somehow keep the disillusioned ones happy. So, they keep reminding them of the wonderful possibilities.

On the other hand, in country B, the majority of the people will eventually be happy with their choice. Only a small number of very talented people would be unhappy, but since the number is small, you do not need to campaign so hard to keep them happy. By being relatively successful, they would be relatively happy anyway. By contrast, country A is filled with unhappy, unsuccessful people. There is a huge need for feeding them fantasies and dreams in order to keep them happy. And this is the reason why “freedom” becomes a huge advertising campaign driven not only by the government, but also by corporations and the entertainment industry.

This is what I mean by “overrated.” The US has a fundamental need to hype up their own freedom. I am not morally opposed to this. In a way, if they buy the whole hype and accept the lower living standards than those of other industrial nations for the possibility that someday they might become billionaires, that’s their own freedom.