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On Freedom & Liberty (and a Belated Happy 4th!)

(This blog post was meant to be in honor of the Fourth of July last Wednesday, but as I spent Independence Day and the subsequent rest of the week incapacitated by a freak summer cold, I’m a little late.  Sorry!)

I love America.  I really do.  I cry at museum films about the Revolutionary War and Ellis Island and the writing of the Constitution.  When abroad, I’m indignant at the little things other countries do wrong even when they don’t affect me directly (handicap accessibility, anyone?) and I spend the whole trip wishing I was home.  And like any good American, I believe strongly in the ideals of liberty and freedom.

But what does freedom really mean?  There are all kinds of freedoms.  Obviously there’s the broadest concept of being free, i.e. not someone else’s property (America was a little slow on the uptake here… great job, USA…).  But once you’ve got that basic freedom, there are still many other facets to consider – freedom from want, freedom from coercion, freedom to express ideas.  And it’s at this intersection that some of the themes of Stitch lie.

Now, considering that the book hasn’t been published yet, I’m going to shy away from spoilers, which makes it difficult to get into specifics.  So instead of an analysis of how these themes appear in Stitch, let me instead talk about how I see the ideas of freedom and liberty evolving today, and how those observations inspired me to touch on these topics in the book.

As I mentioned before, I am wholly vested in the patriotic ideals of freedom and believe that these ideals are what make the US great.  However, I think that the way we think about freedom is very different today than what it once was.  Because the majority of Americans are lucky enough to be free from basic wants – food, shelter, clothing – and are afforded every foundational liberty we could ask for just by virtue of being citizens of this country – the ability to choose our own religious beliefs, to express our opinions to whatever degree we desire, etc. – we tend to take these things for granted.

So my first thought was, how would Americans of today react if we suddenly couldn’t take these things for granted anymore?  What would it mean to my daily life if I no longer felt secure that I could get food whenever I wanted, or didn’t have a safe place to go home to, or couldn’t say whatever I please to whomever I want without having to worry about being thrown in jail?  What personal or ethical compromises would I make to achieve this sense of security that I so rely on?

My next thought was, well, how could we have gotten to that point?  What would have had to take place to change America into a place where freedom wasn’t given so freely anymore?  Post-9/11, I think we all saw how quickly we were willing to trade liberty for safety.  Suddenly, racial profiling and phone tapping didn’t seem quite so wrong, as long as they were for the collective good, of course.  And based on my brother’s experience, these days it’s nearly impossible for a recent college grad to even get a credit card, since a newly-financially-independent 21 year old doesn’t have enough of a record to prove their identity (that is, to prove they’re not a terrorist).  For crying out loud, we can’t even bring water through airport security anymore!  This sort of subtle erosion of freedom is a slippery slope indeed, and it’s happening all around us already.  So what if the world suddenly got less safe?  What else would we be willing to trade?

And finally, this begs the question of what it really means to be “free.”  If you can’t leave the community you live in whenever you please, are you free?  Probably not.  If you are fed and clothed and sheltered and entertained, but you’re afraid to ask too many questions, are you really free?  I think most of us would say no.

But what if you don’t know enough to be afraid?  What if you’re living a comfortable, state-constructed life that’s better than what you came from before, and you’re happy and have no desire to leave, or even to look beyond your own borders?  Are you free then?  Maybe not, but is your liberty compromised enough that it’s worth fighting for?  Is it worth dying for?

These are some of the questions that the characters in Stitch will struggle with over the course of the series, and I think they are important for everyone to consider (which is why so many great science fiction novels before mine have asked the same questions).  After all, how can we ever truly appreciate what we have if we don’t consider what it would be like to not have it?

And with that, I’ll leave you to your thoughts – feel free to share them in the comments!  Happy (belated) Fourth of July and God bless America.

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