If you're as old as me, and maybe a bit younger, you will likely remember that popular song Janice Joplin made such a big hit: Me and Bobby McGee, written by Kris Kristofferson, back in the early 60's. Most everyone's favorite line in that song went: Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose and nothin' ain't worth nothin' (sic) but it's free.
Ah, the times! We were young, invincible, intoxicated with unbounded 'freedom'. The singer's words were an anthem to millions of American youth ready for revolt from authority of all kinds: parental, academic, societal. If we have nothing else thoughts were, at least we're free. And free we had become; free from the restrictive norms of home and family, of disciplined school environments, from dogmatic religious institutions of all faiths and free (if one could avoid the draft) from the supreme authoritarian structure of a military establishment fighting an unpopular war in a far-off land.
And so, a generation of liberated millions redefined the social landscape of this country in a very profound way, partly because of new technologies (though nothing like we see before us now) which left us free to leave home and travel like no generation before us, but also because of expanded opportunities of higher education in our nation's universities; the same universities willing to accede more and more liberty to a rapidly expanding enrollment demanding more freedom and less academic rigor. Our pedagogues themselves seemed eager to shake off all truths of the past for new paths to enlightenment as promised by Aquarian-age gurus Timothy O'Leary, Alan Ginsburg, Hunter S. Thompson, and so many others.
But mostly, I think, it was that horrific war in South East Asia that claimed so many of our best youth, in mind if not in body itself. A nation's flower was crushed by a war so unpopular at home that returning veterans were treated almost like enemy invaders while communist insurgents in the tiny Asian country were treated as conquering heroes, thus opening a dangerous door to a soulless ideology which seeped deeply into the sub-conscience our wounded nation.
A nation once proud to call itself a republic founded on the principals of individual liberty as granted by Natures' Creator, slowly began to turn backward upon itself. As living standards rose, life's burdens eased and boredom settled into the minds of our best thinkers. The inability to create Utopia on earth (despite unparalleled scientific and academic achievement) sowed destructive seeds of doubt in a nation still reeling from war, now led by a new generation of emerging youth giddy with undisciplined freedom yet somehow set to embrace a socialist mentality of increasing governmental authority and central power. The very paradox is breath-taking.
In just over 40 years, our nation has gone from the incredible feat of landing men on the moon while literally turning loose an entire generation of youth to nearly uninhibited freedom, to a nation engaged in verbal, if not actual, civil war over how big to grow our government for increased control over our lives from our cradles to our graves. I cannot imagine a more impossible scenario to have emerged from the 'Summer of Love' fueled with the powerful rendition of Janice's paean to freedom, than this. Yet, here we are.
Now what? Do we continue on this path of increasing governmental control over all facets of our lives for an increased freedom from want or do we decide that freedom from coercion trumps our freedom from want? It is really no longer a serious argument that either one path or the other will not mark our future. One most certainly will, and is. So, we take a deep breath and consider: which course shall we take? In America, we still vote for our leadership and vote we shall, very soon.
Some political thinkers say that some of our individual freedoms must be surrendered for the benefit of society as a whole. Personally, I am not smart enough to know if this is true. Something within warns me against this, but I cannot say dogmatically that it isn't. Can anyone? But I do think it very possible; even likely, that any freedoms surrendered now will be very hard to ever win back.
If surrendering some of our freedoms means fewer people go hungry or without medical treatment (despite personal choices or life's uncertainties) then most, I think, will choose that course. Americans will bow increasingly to the power of omnipotent Government and adjust their lives to that of reduced liberties and freedom; all for (hopefully) increased personal security. And sadly, Janice's line in that famous song will prove to be as illusionary as that of a sustainable republic. We will have lost a large measure of our freedom, but at least we won't have nothin'. We'll still have our I-pods, our football and our Audis; for a little while longer anyway.