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01/15/2007 Archived Entry: "Freedom doesn't always equal independence"

DO YOU SOMETIMES USE THE WORDS freedom and independence interchangeably? I do when I'm writing. Writers are always in search of ways to avoid clunkily repeating themselves, so we become dancers with connotation. I've often elided those two words. And sometimes that's fair and fine.

The second definition for independence on Dictionary.com is "freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others." (The first definition is useless, since it tries to define itself with itself, saying roughly "Independence is a state of independency.")

The second definition of freedom on Dictionary.com is "exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc."

So there you go. The experts speak. Independence and freedom are the same.

But as I've been footing it to town and busing it around town these last four weeks, my own experience is making a division between those two words.

I am less independent now that I'm on foot. But I enjoy more freedom.

And enjoy is the word.

I've become sometimes-dependent on friends or public transport. But at the same time, I've broken free from so many fetters!

For the moment, I don't have to feed and water some expensive mechanical beastie (though I am still putting a sum each month toward its eventual repair). I'm free from frets about the truck breaking down, because it already has.

For the last few years I've been driving ... well, shall we say in a somewhat ad hoc manner, not being a Properly Documented Subject Citizen of the State. I'm actually a safer driver because of being "unpapered." But still, the fear that most drivers feel when a cop is practically attached to their rear-view mirror and the fear I sometimes felt ... no comparison. I had this horror that someday some cop in the middle of the California desert would haul me to jail over some minimal infraction, leaving my dogs to die agonizingly in 100 degree heat.

I'm free of that now.

Being truckless in my circumstances leads to another kind of freedom -- that freedom to roam and ramble. In a car or truck, unless you still observe the quaint old tradition of the Sunday "drive in the country," you go from here. To here. To here. To there. To home. One parking lot to the next, or one highly directed on-foot drive. As a result, you see less. You experience less. You're less free of your own schedule.

Afoot, and using public transport, you find yourself dawdling a lot or waiting a lot. "Hey, look at that old dock by the river there. It's falling in the water and I know it's dangerous. But damn, it looks so picturesque that way. Gotta stop. No, wait. Gotta go over to the bakery, get a croissant, come back, sit here on this bench and eat the kind of breakfast I'd never think of having at home. And hey, now that I'm sitting here, how come I've never even gone into that antique store across the street?"

So I have these freedoms, despite actually being less independent.

And I don't think this experience is particularly unique to me. True, if you were forced afoot when you had to get to a vital job, it wouldn't be enjoyable -- or even possible to put up with for more than a few days. In that case, no, a person would of course not be more free as a result of being without wheels. But I believe anyone who had the unwelcome opportunity to hoof it, would, in circumstances similar to mine, make similar discoveries. And enjoy them.

Libertarians and Randians have always praised the automobile for the striking independence it's enabled us humans to have. It's given us choices. It's opened new horizons. It's enabled us to get further and further out from what is so ironically called civilization. I join the praise.

But in giving us that independence, it has taken us away from many freedoms. The automobile has been used as a prime justification for many aspects of the control state. The government forces us to buy licenses for both ourselves and our vehicles. The government demands emissions tests. The government claims that our vehicles are less sacrosanct against search than our houses, even though that's patently ridiculous. The government wants checkpoints to make sure we're wearing our leashes seat belts. The government wants our cattle-tracking numbers social security numbers on our driver's licenses, and wants biometric control through Mordor on the Potomac. The government wants cameras that automatically set us up for tickets when we harmlessly go faster than the speed limit at 4:00 a.m. The government wants forfeiture because we may have used our vehicles to commit crime, or we might use them to escape. The government wants ... well, everything it can get.

All justified by our vehicles. I don't think anything, including the drug war (with which these vehicle-related erosions of rights are often mated), has excused more advances of the control state than our reliance on our motor vehicles has.

Is the poor machine at fault? Of course not. No more than the gun is at fault for the murder. But the murder of our rights has been justified and enabled by the independence we seek by becoming so very dependent on our vehicles!

Though I still mourn every day for my country, I rejoice every time I set foot out in the snow that I am free, for the moment, of so many of those state-perpetrated outrages.

(Thank you to E.B. for saving me from my own punctuation and spelling once again.)

Posted by Claire @ 09:07 AM CST

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