Thursday, 6 November 2008


I just got a comment, don't worry - I know that's how the last one started and then I got angry! But I just got a comment, actually it was on that last blog, this time from a perfectly lovely and intelligent sounding man named James. It began like this;

One thing that makes America great is our freedom of choice. We Americans have the right to support who and what we want. We can decide on our faith, our political views and if we don’t agree with any pre-existing ones we can start our own. This freedom is what defines us.

You hear a lot about freedom from American people, and that's fine - it's a wonderful thing to have, a wonderful thing to build a society on. But the idea that freedom defines them, is also something I've heard in some form or other many times before. And I must confess I'm a little confused. I live in a country where all of those things are also true. In fact it's true in most countries across the world. Certainly there are places it's not true, but surely if there is an established norm, it's for people to have freedom.

In the UK we have freedom, but it's never really spoken of. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand maybe it's wrong to take such an important thing for granted, but perhaps it's good that it's just assumed - it's built into us, we don't need to talk about it, just like we don't need to talk about gravity for it to affect us. The idea of not being free is pretty much unthinkable. I quite like it that way.

So my question is, why has freedom become such a defining feature of the USA? Are people there any more free than others?

That's not rhetorical, I'm curious.


Adriana said...

hahaha... I thought exactly in the same lines when i read that comment. US citizens take a lot like it's only theirs. Freedom as you say, they love to say it out loud "I can do/say whatever I want, I'm free 'cause this is America" or something like that... and my answer always: "yeah, right, whatever", because I'm free too, not just in the US but also in my country. It's like they have to say it to feel it real or something.

Another thing, that's probably just a dumb thing to say... I hate they (as a society) taking for them the "american" demonym . I live in Ecuador, South-America... so... I'm also american. But if I go anywhere in the world and say "hey! I'm American" people are going to:
a) think I'm a latin descendant born in the US or
b) think I'm nuts.
Why is that? (prob. for the complete country name, I know, but still!)

Phyllis said...

In response to Adriana, I think that what makes America most special in my eyes is that you can go to another country and say you are American and that seems completely possible. Americans are made up of every shade of skin possibilities. And no matter what your skin color you are as much American as anybody else in that country. There are not many other places in the world where that is true.

In response to Dave, from a very young age the fact that we are free is drilled into us. Our country, being so young, was built on the notion of freedom, we did not eventually establish freedom. Our first government declare us free. Even though we hardly practiced it, it was the ideal we are built on.

Also, Americans are constantly fighting for freedom. We aren't just free. Since day one we've been fighting for it. Freedom from Great Britain. Freedom for black people and women to vote. Freedom of choice. We aren't even completely free yet.

eh, that was a crap answer, sorry.

Bujio said...

Hey Dave. Great post.

I have actually thought about this before, and I think I might have an answer that could satisfy your curiosity. The simple thing is, American culture is quite far removed from European culture. The USA descended from a British Colony, this much is true. Once we got our independence, everything really changed. Originally freedom in America meant simply that we were free from British rule. This makes a lot of sense because it was true. We no longer had to take orders from a Monarch. In this way, people in the UK and many other countries are not free. You still have a Queen, and will have a King someday, and it will continue until it stops. You are not free from British rule as we are.

Nowadays you can do and say what you want. I think it's because you have a good Queen right now. But imagine if the Queen didn't just sit behind closed doors and let the politicians do their thing. They talk about the President of the United States being the most powerful person...I tell you truly, Queen Elizabeth is the most powerful person in the world right now. Though Britain is no longer sovereign of the large empire it had in the past, Elizabeth is still the Queen of most of those countries. All those places are likewise free in the same way you are, but none of them are free in the way that America is. If Queen Elizabeth decided to take the reigns, she would be in total control of the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Normandy, and many many other countries that we just don't think about. None of these countries are free in the same way that the US is. The US has no Queen. We are free.

Please don't take that the wrong way. I absolutely love Queen Elizabeth. I'm a British Loyalist, even though I live in America. But the fact remains that she is the Queen, and if she wanted to she could do a lot of damage in the world.

There are other reasons as well why Americans talk about Freedom so much. Freedom is literally drilled into our heads ever since we are little children. The final line of the National Anthem is "The Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave." America is literally the Land of the Free, and America refuses to let us forget it. The phrase is everywhere. It's on the television, on posters in schools. Most children in the public school system have to dissect the phrase to figure out exactly what it means, and in High School we examine the very irony of the phrase to a fault.

I do not know how big the War in Iraq is, but it is literally the main topic every day here in the US. The War on Terror. Defending Freedom. Every day the news shows us picture after picture of places were people aren't free to be who they are. They drill into us that it is our privilege to be in America. "Freedom don't come Free." In America, they don't teach that Freedom is the norm. They teach us that Freedom is hard to come by. The US is a very elitist country despite the fact that we are no better than anyone else. They actually teach us that we are better than everyone else. I have had teachers tell me with straight faced honesty when I expressed my desire to move to England that people in the UK and all over Europe are jealous of us. "Some of them are okay, but most of them aren't." The ignorance astonishes me.

Here's the thing, Dave. Everyone in the world knows about the US. They know what the US is capable of, they know the language the US speaks, what's on US televisions, they know the way that people in the US think. It's not true with us. Most people in the US don't care about Europe, Britain, or anywhere else. We speak only one language, and sit in our houses watching the television. We aren't bad people, we are just very ignorant and set in our ways. And in our minds, it is okay to ignore everyone else because we are Free.

And the strange irony is, we have never been Free. There has always been some sort of barrier between us and total Freedom. First it was Slavery. We were the Land of the Free, but we had slaves. You can still see the direct effects of Slavery if you look at the demographics of the Southern USA. There is a large concentration of African Americans down there, because they had nowhere else to go when Slavery ended. Now we can't marry whoever we want. They are starting to attack our belief structures. We can't smoke weed. They listen to our phone conversations. There was a time when we were even burned at the stake.

The US was a nation founded by hypocrites. We are making our way to the future, slowly, but we still have a long way to go. We look at our supposed freedoms and ignore the rest of the world. It's okay, we are allowed to do that. At least we're free.

Melissa said...

In response to Bujio, you're completely right on most of what you say. We (Americans) are more or less ignorant of the world, but I'd like to think that that's slowly changing. At least in my high school it is - we have some really active groups that are constantly fundraising and donating. And it's a public school.

The only thing I disagree with is when you said the US was founded by hypocrites. The US was founded by people who were in a different time and raised with different beliefs. The saw the future of America as an agrarian republic, they didn't anticipate political parties, and slavery wasn't an issue. When the US was founded, slavery was still being practiced everywhere. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independance, he included a clause that slavery would be abolished - unfortunately is was more important at the time to get the Constitution ratified than it was to settle social issues. George Washington set his slaves free in his will, and the early presidents knew that there would come a time where it was necessary to eliminate the practice of slavery entirely from American society.

To Dave, we were fed that we were free from the very beginning. Not just free in that we can do anything we want, but also that we are ABLE to do whatever we want. We have the resources, the money, the support to choose how our lives will play out. And if we don't have it at hand, we can get it through hard work. It's possible.

Are problem now is that Americans are to interesed in themselves to help each other out. We NEED equal opportunities for this government to work, people need to rise and people need to fall. In the direction we're currently headed, we're going to have only two classes - the extremely rich and the dirt poor. And then it will filter down just to the dirt poor.

There are a lot of countries that are free, but to America, it's really the thought that we're free that convinces us to act that makes us special. I don't really know why, I just know that that's how it is. And I'd much rather be known as a country that's free than the most powerful country in the world.

James R said...

Now what have I started?

I had no intentions of trying to sound arrogant in that last comment, but looking back I could see it construed that way. I'm still just slightly more then excited about the election yesterday, especially after watching it go the other way 4 years ago.

It's an interesting question to say the least. To be truthful, I have no idea why freedom has become a defining feature of America, I can only speculate. I'd imagine that one of the more significant reasons is the media. After the terror attacks here, the Bush Administration claimed the reasons for the attacks were to attack our freedoms. It's the reason they claim as to why we are still at war. It's all around us; "Operation Enduring Freedom" is heard all the time in the news. It's certainly become a popular word here.

To use what Bujio and Phyllis said, freedom is something we're also taught at a young age. We're taught that our nation was built on the notion of being free. As a result it's a feature the defines us as a nation. It's however not the only defining feature and it's certainly not unique to the U.S.

As for the second half of your question, I'd say no. When I thought about the answer to this question, I started to come up with many examples from our past when freedoms were restricted. Take the issues of Slavery, Woman's Suffrage and the Civil Rights movement. Looking the other way, there are a great many freedom's were lacking. Take the popular issue of gay marriage for example. Warrant-less wiretapping and domestic spying are issues were just starting to face as a result of this administration. We're far from being a "free" country in the truest sense of the word. Maybe these issues, all struggles for freedom in some form, rights that we have not had in the past that we have now, remind us of all the freedoms we've come to achieve.

It certainly is ignorant for us to act as if we're the only ones with these rights. None the less, we maintain the notion that we are free as we understand that these freedoms we hold important aren't something as humans we are born with and feel are important for us to protect.

Ellie said...

Pretty much everything I was going to say has been said already, plus it was said way better then I could say it. For me the way I learned it was that America is special because over two hundred years ago we weren't free and we had to fight hard to gain our freedom. I think it's because of the revolution that we define ourselves by our freedom. It was what we were figting for and what our country was founded on. It may not have always been put into practice for everyone in America i.e. witch burning, slavery, women's rights, gay marriage ect. but still we are taught from very early on that it is what makes us different...whether that's true or not.

cheekychen said...

i think i'll make pancakes

Dale said...

These comments needed something like that, pancakes it is.

Kate said...

Are any of us really free though? We may be freeER than some others in the world, and in history, but i would wager that none of us completely free at all.

Bujio said...

I also tend to think that we keep reminding ourselves that we are free to help keep the illusion of Freedom in tact. We can't be not free if we keep talking about it, can we?

I think we will be talking about how free we are even after the government has stripped us of all of our freedoms.

That's something we should probably think about.

How many freedoms must we give up to protect the freedoms we shall never truly have?


freedom =

Veel said...

not everyone is healthy and sensible, so to give humankind total freedom is...just not gonna happen.

these comments are so intense.

(but the thought of Queen Elizabeth causing world destruction is pretty amusing, LOL)

i think my comments always seem shallow and misplaced, but meh.
have a nice weekend, theDave.

Alice said...

I think that freedom is so defining in the US, because it is a relatively new place. People went there to live "the American dream" and therefore the sort of people who went there in the first place were dreamers, and (forgive me for stereotyping) the sort of people who believed that freedom could be achieved simply because of your location.

The people who went to live in the USA originally probably desired freedom, so I think that this desire has been passed on through the generations. Remember, Britain is an old country, and I think that that is one of the key reasons behind the British lack of moral and patriotism. The US is new, and around the time of its prime, so many of the residents believe that they are free, liberated and happy.

I'm from London myself, so these are just ideas.

Adriana said...

lack of moral???
I hear more inmoral stuff from the States than from England to be honest

wordsfromblueskies said...

Yeah I couldn't figure that out, think maybe she meant morale? Though I'd argue with that too XD
I think British people are patriotic in a way, we just don't shout about it. I don't need a flag outside my house to show everyone, I know I love it here.

I'd also say that Alice may be right about the fact that it's a new country having something to do with the freedom thing, but I think our country being old gives more reason to be patriotic not less, I think we're really lucky to have such a rich history.

Cadwaladr said...

My perspective on it is this: The US is founded upon the ideal of freedom. That's why there is such emphasis on it. England was not always free; as I'm sure you well know, the monarchs once held absolute power, and violently crushed any and all opposition. Freedom in Britain has been more of a gradual process, probably little noticed by most people.

When a country has a revolution, though, then people notice. France is a good example as well. Liberté, egalité, fraternité--freedom, equality, brotherhood, that's what the modern French state is founded on.

So when a country's foundation is freedom, when one of its most important founding documents cites Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness as inalienable rights, the notion that our freedom is special is woven into the fabric of our society.

At the time of our founding, our freedom really was special. As you point out, it is less so now, but the fact that we were the first (I can't think of another off the top of my head, anyway) free democratic state in the modern world is something that most Americans are fiercely proud of.

ehvee said...

Several people have really given you insightful and thoughtful answers... I don't want to repeat what they said though I thought many of the same thoughts. You commented about "old country" vs "new country", and someone else mentioned Her Majesty... I see part of the explanation in those two things.

You see, when our founding politicians decided it was time to make a break from England, it was because they were tired of the political stuff coming from the Crown, including excessive, nit-picky taxation along with patronage and political manipulation. All that stirred up a desire to be independant from a wealthy land owner who, because of the power their wealth gave them, call the shots. So there was a declaration of independance, and people got pissed off and there was a war, etc. You know the story.

What they learned about themselves, our forefathers, is that they loved being in love with the Crown. Not necessarily the king, himself (although about 20% of the population were loyalists), but many loved the idea of something bigger than one's self. Thats why you have all the pomp and trappings of the monarchy (and the church) is to create a pagentry for that which is bigger than you are. It gives you a feeling of being part of something.

There was debate here over that... many discussed having a King instead of a President. In the end, maybe without them realising it, the thing that became bigger than all of us here is Freedom. We stand in awe of it, and like the Brits and their Queen, we feel our Freedom is better than everyone else's. Freedom replaced the monarchy as something to which we all claim a connection.

In the end, its all symbolic and mental. But it is important for the unity of our people, just as the monarchy is to you and your neighbors.

Elena said...

Wow, a lot has been said, and I can add more.

The first amendment of our constitution is five freedoms that most Americans think of when addressing what it is to be an American citizen, it is basically our right to be free, to have freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and to petition the government when our rights are abused.
There are so many different ways people consider freedom in America and I agree that there is a degree of brain washing the masses to believe that America is the land of the free. Who knows, it could be a whole conspiracy that the government just wants us to think we are free, but I highly doubt it is to that degree.

Each country has their high points and their low points, but what I think is most important is to stop destroying our planet and for us all to get along and accept each other's differences.

cameronn said...

First off, I want to apologize for leaving a rude comment on your video, Dance On.
I know it's not related to the topic at hand, but it's tearing me up inside.

I think that no country can ever be free, truly, because there isn't really such a thing as freedom. What do you define freedom as? Being able to do whatever you want? If that is what freedom really is, then the only way to gain it is to leave all civilization and live in the wilderness. Even if you did that you would still be under the control of the government.

Living in Canada, I am under the rule of Queen Elizabeth. I actually met the Queen when she visited my town. I try to be as apathetic as possible, but living in such a conservative christian family, it's tough. I don't think I'll ever vote for anyone but a conservative. And also, it's difficult being related distantly to the conservative Prime Minister. I really hated McCain, but I couldn't bring myself to follow Obama as obsessively as everyone else did. They were won over by empty rhetoric and a phrase as simple as, "Yes we can".

So how are we free? What is freedom? Will we ever gain it?
I will never know.

Vutarie said...

probably because it was a colony until it wasn't anymore, and because all the people in ireland who failed to grow potatoes went there and became, uh, "free". from potatoes, even.

also, to be fair, i'm not sure why america is the land of freedom, when they are obviously not that free.

A US Voice said...

Americans’ emphasis on freedom is not based on a contemporary comparison with other countries, but on the reason the US became independent. Britain would not recognize the American’s rights as British subjects to send their own representatives to Parliament.

This was a significant blow to our Founding Fathers, who were especially proud of their British heritage and protective of their rights as loyal subjects of the Crown. But there was more to it. They also came to believe the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all British subjects were being curtailed. And that’s why they began thinking about independence. To preserve the rights they believed Britain was abandoning.

How much of this is based on temporary short-sightedness of the British government under George III and Lord North, how much on American paranoia, and how much exacerbated by the unreliability of communication via dangerous 2-3 month ocean voyages, I leave to you to judge. Suffice it to say their pessimistic view of the future of British liberty did not come to pass.

Read the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. None of its ideals are original or uniquely American. They are all traceable to European thinking. The difference is our Founding Fathers were working in a green field and had the opportunity to implement its principles all at once in the formation of a new government. We have yet to achieve its ideals, but it still points us in the right direction.

A final point: Without the benefits of British culture, America would not be what it is. The British monarch was constrained; the continental Europeans mostly absolute. The resistance to authority so characteristic of the British also defined the American character in the colonial period. It’s why the most popular European put-down of early Americans was: they’re more British than the British. And it may be why Great Britain still uses Pounds not Euros.

Mette said...

I have thought a lot about this lately too. I'm a norwegian girl currently living in the US, and i'm amazed by how the freedom is such an important issue. don't get me wrong, freedom is wonderful. The thing that confuses me is the concept of freedom of religion. how can the USA have freedom of religion, and be very proud of it, but they still have clear traditions for everyone closely connected to christianity.
For example; every dollar bill says "In god we trust." well, not everyone does...? and everyone talking as witnesses in court must place their hand on the bible and so on, the same goes for the president. Lately, i've heard talk about how Barack Obama supposedly will place his hand on the koran instead of the bible. This is just a rumor, but if it was true, should it really make a difference!?! the country has freedom of religion, but the president must be a christian?
some of the american freedom is just a lie in my eyes....

Katarina said...

well,it's the first time ever i send a comment to anyone, and i dont know why but i was interested in this topic...i m not english or american,but i think i can say something about this..
i dont think americans are more free than other people in normal democracy countries, in a political way, but there is a reason why it's considered to be like that. since the beginnig of 20th century there were 2 world wars and after that came socialism in many countries and people were forced to look for better life eather because of poverty or because of political reasons when they werent allowed to think, speak or do whatever they wanted, even if it was good, actually especially if it was intelectually advanced..
they thought they were going to find that freedom to live their lives the way they wanted in america...usa also accepted all those people through all those years as america wanted to create a picture of a refuge to the world...that's why i think there is that phrase about 'free country', but i'm not sure that's the same reason for repeating it all the time nowadays..i think today it' s the thing that every little american must learn, so he never forgets his country is the best in the world to live in, even if it wasnt' s the way to keep people pleased to live there, its the way to make people feel patriotism in a country that was acctually created of immigrants.. i think that's why it is so emphasized among them..
i am 22 and i dont remember when in my country was comunism but i can say on my parents stories its the worst thing not to feel free in a religious, political or any other, i dont feel any less free than any other wo-man that feels free in this world, but i have to say that every child in this world doesnt have same chances for success ,but causes dont have to be connected only with freedom, but economics, development and such things..
and about america... it's very disputable have the immigrants there found real freedom(or just better than in countries they come from), and are they ready to accept racism and often not so open-mineded society just because they found a shelter that offers(economic) prosperity??i m not sure...
and i m sorry because ive written so much and because of my probable grammar mistakes but i just felt i had to write something..
p.s i like your music and i agree when you said it mustnt be mixed with political opinions...i think it's just about are very interesting person..
all best..

Michela said...

Being American, i've always wondered that as well. Like, arent many many other countries living with the same rights as us? Maybe just because we have the whole grand Bill of Rights and all that jazz, and it was a big deal when it was written. I dont know. i really dont understand it.

hermionejg said...

This has been something on my mind a lot recently - in part because I'm halfway through my political philosophy unit and in the light of all the blogs and general press surrounding the US elections. I actually prefer that freedom is left unstated (perhaps I'm biased) and while many of us probably take our freedom for granted - especially if that freedom has never been threatened - I don't feel like we should constantly announce our freedom, *especially* not as though it is superior, because it is and it isn't.

From a geeky philosophy student's perspective, the distinction between positive and negative freedom makes all the difference. Socialists would probably say that we're not actually free in the USA and UK if we keep embracing the negative liberal concept of freedom because while we are free from authority, rule by another country, whatever, what are we free to do? While I'm far from a socialist, I do think the ideology makes some good points - in the USA you're not free to have health care irrespective of your income, you're not free to have a good education as you are in most of Europe or even China (again, not that that's a perfect model of society, but many would say that the strength of a country is measured by the strength of your education). So if you're not free to have a high standard of health care and education, or to live in a decent house, or to work where you want to work (because of gender inequalities, lack of money to fund a degree or lack of opportunities to stimulate you to want to go to university) how can it be said that you have true freedom? Positive freedom is inherently flawed and very scary in that whoever decides what is "good for you" or "for the greater good" makes a totally subjective decision, but I think the two concepts need to be merged and would say that we have more freedom in the UK and Europe as a whole with universal health care in many parts, cheaper university fees and so on than in the USA, and that China in many ways has more freedom than the USA (this doesn't excuse their lack of freedom of thought or the way they "re-educate" those who commit acts of civil disobedience, but it's a pretty major point).

Also, I think there is a huge absence of religious freedom. I wouldn't say that a Muslim is able to practise freely in the USA without discrimination, nor an atheist in many parts. For a country where Church and State are supposedly separated, religion interferes hugely with the government, and I think that inhibits how free we can call society. It would probably be accurate to say that an atheist could not in our present climate be elected US President, so the USA still have a long way to go.

I could go on, but this is turning into a bit of an essay.

Plus I enjoyed the suggestions of the Queen's global domination. I think it should involve mass corgi releases.

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