Monday, April 15, 2024

Movement Toward Unfreedom

Washington, DC – When I was a wee child, my godmother, Beesie, always gave me a new book for birthdays or Christmas or sometimes for no occasion. I happily anticipated these new additions to the “Happy Hollisters” or, as I got older, “Nancy Drew” or the “Cherry Ames” nurse books. I became an avid reader. I walked weekly to our local library to return and get another book. As a kid, I read a lot of romances and learned about other countries and different ways people did the daily things I did or what kinds of things they ate.

I had to hit the dictionary to find out what a perch phaeton or pallisse was. I read and read. I learned to be curious and realize that not everyone believed the same things I did or had the same kind of government. I read about Anne Frank, and learned how Hitler and the Nazis turned Germany into a killing machine and, in the end, cowardly killed himself. That led me to Elie Wiesel and other more dreadful accounts.

Reading led me to reading, and Beesie gave me the gifts of a lifetime. I give my grandchildren books. My granddaughter told me I always gave the best presents. I said I just gave them books. Her answer was “precisely. “

Some Americans want to stop children from having the same amazing journeys I took and still take. They want to decide what books should be available for children to read. They want to settle for not just their own children but for every child what they should be able to read. They want to ensure that their kids and everyone else’s kids only have their version of history, of right and wrong. They want to define, for everyone, who deserves to be respected, what decisions they make about how they live their lives, and who they should love. To do that, they need to make sure that facts, ideas, and stories only reflect their limited version of a proper way to think, believe, and live.

What motivates this fear of knowledge? It seems that those who fear what’s in the books must be highly insecure in their beliefs. A challenge to one’s beliefs allows each of us to clarify what we believe. Does it make sense? Reevaluate if necessary. It appears that the challenge is terrifying. Allowing a child to be exposed to alternative ideas might give them ideas. And that is apparently something book burners just can’t accept. Thinking cannot be tolerated. Blind acceptance is the only way.

A recent poll showed that the members of the Donald cult would believe what he says over any other source. That must be one massive source of cognitive dissonance since the cult leader often contradicts himself in the same sentence. “Influencers,” which can be some kid making paper dolls, can say something, and suddenly it’s a thing. However, suppose that person says something that is not approved. In that case, their lives can be upended, their safety threatened, and their reputation sullied, all to punish them for simply having a notion that varies from the approved catechism.

The steady movement of this country toward unfreedom has been documented in multiple sources. Changes in the earth’s climate systems may be the most pressing item for the physical survival of humans, but the survival of our mental, psychological, and emotional lives is perhaps in much more danger.

There are facts, things that actually happened. Then there is analysis. What these facts might indicate. There can be legitimate ways of interpreting facts, but there cannot be “alternative facts.”

The twenty-four hour “news” cycle of cable television has conflated a plethora of talking head opinions with facts. Corrections or retractions are relegated to captions if they are addressed at all. Lies, knowingly repeated, excused as opinions, lies attributed to some unknown, perhaps nonexistent other but nonetheless are allowed to spread and fulminate.

So here we are, a country rapidly circumscribing rights, trying to hide its history, criminalizing ideas, and embracing whatever madness that supports one’s notions. When something awful happens, mass murder, insurrections, one talking head or other will inevitably say, “This is not who we are as a country.” Yes, it is who we are. We don’t have to be, but for now, we are choosing to be.


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M.A. Callahan
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