“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” – Kris Kristofferson
Freedom is a feel good word that politicians like to use. It has high value in American culture and you can rarely go wrong crying ‘freedom!”
Listening recently to an interview with the governor of Louisiana as he was visiting in London, I heard him questioned about his use of “no-go zones” in London and Paris and the lack of assimilation of Muslims in Europe. This talking point was recently admitted by Fox News as being a false claim made by an on air consultant. British Prime Minister David Cameron labeled it as the opinion ‘of a complete idiot.” The governor did not back down from his statement while refusing to offer background or the whereabouts of these zones. Whatever his special knowledge of Europe which comes as ‘news’ to the Europeans, it was what he said about America that got my attention, and I think there is a truth to his view of America as he understands it that deserves our attention.
His point was about the necessity of assimilation, restoring the old metaphor of the great melting pot in place of the emerging image of the salad bowl. In one sentence he said that immigrants need to adopt the customs and values of the majority of Americans in order to enjoy the freedom America offers. As I thought about what I had heard, my son said “did in really just say that in the same sentence?”
Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose? Leave behind your cultural heritage, religion, family values, and ethnic identity so that there is nothing of yourself left to lose so that now, you can be free. Our fore bearer immigrants fled persecution of their beliefs, family traditions, and ethnicity. They felt no need to adopt the majority culture that was already here in Native American populations. Sadly, they persecuted the natives and each other over competing beliefs and territory. They enslaved people forcing a culture that was in no way beneficial for them. We watched as Catholics, Jews, Africans, Irish, Asians and Italians struggled to maintain their identities and cultural traditions as have Native Americans. Today we imagine ourselves more enlightened. But to hear a national political figure hearken back to the old, long discredited idea that to earn your freedom you must ‘melt in our pot’ and embrace the majority is greatly disturbing.
Freedom is not leaving everything behind. It is the opportunity for all to achieve self-determination, without fear from the tyranny of the majority. This was, after all, the great concern about democracy. “Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?” asked loyalist and congregational pastor, Mather Byles leading up to the American Revolution. He was surely proved wrong by history, but right in terms of the need to preserve liberty for all, majority and minority alike. Within the genius of our democratic experiment is the role of the courts to protect our liberties from those who would ‘melt’ us into their pot.
Kristofferson said of his song, “Me and Bobby McGee” that it developed out of an a Fellini film about a man who leaves a feeble girl behind on the side of the road, only later in life to be confronted by what he had lost and the guilt for what he had done to gain his freedom. This is the feeling he had writing this song. What all of us want is for freedom to be just another word for all we each want to be.
Grace and Peace,