Janis Joplin was a singer, an artist, a poet and a revolutionary. Her very existence was a celebration of the individuality that America reveres. But when she said “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,” the gaze of her critical eye had turned blind. Freedom is the only thing man can win or lose. It is the base of all accomplishment, the passageway to all joy.
The word freedom is cliched now, stripped of all substantive meaning by chest-thumping politicians and other self-celebrating egotists, but it is the only thing that humanity can ever fairly aspire to, and its endurance is the lone burden of every society. Every writer, theorist, and amateur philosopher throughout time has attempted to define freedom, but it has no definition. It is everything.
Freedom is the ideal that all valorous human sacrifice is laid upon. It is all encompassing. It is only, and most profoundly, the right to breathe. It is the right to prosper and the right to fail, and to do so in any manner one chooses. All truth is a little less true if it is not supported by unquestioned freedom.
People observe the new American freedom, marked by bomb-sniffing dogs, three-hour security checkpoints and military fly-overs of major cities, and they are devastated. We think that everything we took for granted has been stolen, but no culture has ever enjoyed unchallenged freedom.
It is the omnipresence of tyranny that makes freedom poignant and worthwhile. It is evil that acknowledges heroism, and incompetence that allows us to recognize greatness when it surfaces. How could we appreciate music if we never heard a bad song?
Americans feel helpless because it seems as if their way of life has been assaulted like never before, that unforeseen obstacles invade their environment. But it was just over 60 years ago that America faced a rogue, unpredictable enemy at Pearl Harbor and readied itself to defend liberty against a maniacal dictator in Europe. One year removed from the events of Sept. 11, America once again dusts itself off from a tragic strike, and prepares to eliminate the world’s new chief threat to liberty, Saddam Hussein.
The struggle is a perpetual one, and we too often become complacent when our dominance of lifestyle seems assured and protected. On Sept. 11, 2001, the government’s major mal-function was deemed to be President Clinton’s questionable personal ethics, but wouldn’t we all like to be faced with such “hardship” again?
There is no particular moral lesson to be learned or specific tactical strategy to be employed as we reach the anniversary of one of the nation’s darkest days. And while it is impossible to say what freedom is, it is important to note what it is not. It is not an obligation to be patriotic. It is not an obligation to support the actions of one’s government. It is not only displayed through bravery or ingenuity.
And while Joplin’s take on freedom was in reverse, she spoke the truth when she said, “feeling good was good enough for me.” It is the only mindset we can ever ask for, or expect to achieve.