Field of Dreams

in Freedom

Not too long ago we Americans became quite certain that our lifestyle represented the pinnacle of civilized progress and the best in scientific and technological advancement. What we as a nation had achieved, so we thought, was a dream come true. And it is this 'American Dream' that we have held out to (or perhaps thrust upon) the rest of the world as the genuine meaning of the 'good life' and the proper goal or end of human existence.

After all, it was our economics, our politics, our science and technology that conceived of and articulated this 'dream world' to begin with... a world of personal automobiles in every garage, single family homes with private fenced yards, well designed and manicured suburbs, credit cards on demand, all the latest modern conveniences, electronic gadgets and games galore for children and adults alike.

So now that the world is facing multiple crises of global proportions - environmentally, ecologically, financially, economically, politically, psychologically and spiritually - where do we lay the blame? Where do we look to better understand the roots of such crises? While pursuit of the American Dream may be initially fingered as a proximate cause of our global crisis, we were not alone in our reliance upon certain fundamental assumptions and values that made it all possible. Practically all civilized regimes, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern China, can share in the blame since all share basic presuppositions about the nature and exercise of power, the necessity for nation building, organizing for warfare, directing cultural progress, structuring and regulating economic activity.

Barack Obama's recent comments in the Russian capital during a two-day summit with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin only serve confirm my above contention. Speaking to graduates of the New Economic School in Moscow, he states, "The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game... Progress must be shared." To clarify, the real issue is not whether the pursuit of power is a zero sum game; but simply, that it is a game invented by civilized nations for ensuring their (global) influence and measuring their progress. The real import of his remark is in acknowledging pursuit of power as a cornerstone of nation-building, and that the progress of a nation or regime is measured through the exercise, consolidation and enhancement of economic and political influence or control.

Now, expanding the hegemonic power of America and its dream required not just ingenuity, but lots of industrial energy and productivity, a good deal of land-clearing, substantial pollution, gross dissipation of natural resources, incredible amounts of human labor, trillions upon trillions of dollars in public and private financing, political 'wrangling' and a good deal of social engineering and international exploitation. In short, the American Dream not only set a new standard for what civilized people expected from life, but it also laid the foundation for exponential exploitation and abuse - of ourselves, our fellow humans, and our planet... a direct consequence of trying to manufacture, market and live the dream. And yet, while we were destroying our planet in this quest, have we really made our personal lives better, more enriched, more satisfying and fulfilling?

Well, of course, the skeptical reader might proclaim, "America has the highest standard of living in the world, and we are an example to the rest of humanity... we are 'that shining city on a hill' that Ronald Reagan spoke about. And we have achieved this status because America is the land of the free - the hope of the world!" Since our founding this has been our national calling card. And the beacon of lady liberty at the entrance to the New York harbor has been a symbol of that freedom and that dream around the world.

'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free...'

But what exactly have we come to understand by this word 'freedom'? What does it mean to American's today? And how has this quest for freedom realized itself in terms of America's lifestyle and living the American Dream?

Maybe it is free time that we have in such abundance here in America! That must be it! Well, come to think of it, this doesn't appear to be the case since we seem to work almost 24/7 - more than any other people on the face of the earth. We are slaves to the time clock, the electronic calendar, the blackberry and any other number of mobile devices marketed for our (read: society's) benefit. With all of this focus on the business of work and schedules, there appears to be very little 'free time' to call our own. True, this compulsion - this apparent slavery to the clock - has made us the most productive and efficient people on earth. But this very "efficiency implies the reification of time... a preoccupation with past and future." So where is there any opportunity for the fleeting present - for freedom from the clock - in which to enjoy the 'good life' and the fruits of our labors?

Along with squandered planetary resources, the fleeting reality of the present moment has all but vanished from American consciousness and Western experience in general. Many of us seem to live in a perpetual state of anticipation - waiting for our next promotion, a pink slip, or that vacation, a new car, getting the kids through college, retirement, or just waiting for our scientists and politicians (our specialists) to find solutions to our latest round of crises.

If one looks even cursorily at life in America today, and the direction of technological innovation supporting and directing our lifeways, it becomes clear that freedom for the American psyche is not freedom to live in the present; rather, with respect to time, we are and remain slaves of the future and the past. We seem, rather, to be more concerned with freedom of movement, of place and location. But, trains, planes and automobiles have given way to wireless networks, mobile devices and virtual communities.

Our search for freedom, beginning with our ancestors' move across the Atlantic from the Old World to the New, has led us to erect a world where we no longer need to be tied to any one place, no longer dependent upon a particular location or home; we are free to roam without anchor, without encumbrance, but also without real kinship or community. And to keep in touch with other freely floating, almost disembodied, newly minted 'friends' and family we have virtual networks that give us the illusion of being connected and being stable. But this is a false sense of connection, and a false stability - part of the illusion spun by our engineers and marketers - but it seems to provide a feeling of freedom that many of us have now come to pursue and enjoy today.

But is it really freedom of mobility that we so cherish and believe we have achieved, or is it yet another, more compelling sense of 'freedom' that haunts us? Is it perhaps freedom from personal identity, an attempt to escape our own embodiment, an almost pathological yearning for anonymity in an increasingly anonymous world that globalized, urban environments and virtual networks provide us with, so that we can be anyone we want to be or no one at all? Is it perhaps a desire to escape our own flesh, our very selfhood? Is the anonymity of wireless, urban virtuality merely a way of escaping that objectified sense of self, which reified linear historical time has created for us? Interestingly enough, it appears that the anonymity of the Internet and its social networking has provided us with a way to 'make believe' we are who we want to be; to be more, better, or other than who or what we actually are; maybe that is the freedom we covet.

The truth of the matter, however, may be quite the opposite. The disembodied virtuality of a wireless and networked world may only provide one with the illusion of anonymity and the promise of an unidentifiable freedom to be. In fact, it may instead lead to a real loss of freedom, to greater public identifiability, and the possibility of being singled out in a wholly networked and connected global village. In this event, not only does it make us slaves to the new media, but it also increases our vulnerability to the state, the perennial political and social forces of manipulation, monitoring and control. Where then is our freedom, and what then of our dream?

Author Box
Sandy Krolick Ph.D. has 1 articles online

After a ten-year career in academia, Dr. Krolick spent the next twenty years in the executive ranks of several of America's largest international firms. Sandy has spent many years traveling around the world, including parts of Asia, Africa, Western and Eastern Europe. Retiring from business at fifty, he recently returned to the USA with his wife Anna, after teaching for several years in the central Siberian Steppe, at the foot of the Altai mountains in Barnaul, Russia. His latest book, The Recovery of Ecstasy: Notebooks from Siberia, is available at http://www.amazon.com/Recovery-Ecstasy-Notebooks-Siberia/dp/1439227365/?tag=widgetsamazon-20 or visit him @ http://www.kulturcritic.com

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Field of Dreams

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This article was published on 2010/03/31
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