Unfolding the Map
We drop off Arthur O. Bakke in Kalispell, leaving him to go where his Lord takes him. We're about to cross the Rockies and then head into the endless plains of the Northern United States. As we head into a state where the concept of freedom is hotly defended and where the wide-open spaces make it seem almost tangible, I'll reflect a little, based on William Least Heat-Moon's quote below, on freedom and its effects generally and on me personally. To locate Kalispell, exercise your freedom to look at the map!
"We rode on in silence to Kalispell, and Bakke dozed off again.....
"....the word he carried to me wasn't of the City of God; it was of simplicity, spareness, courage, directness, trust and 'charity' in Paul's sense. He lived clean: mind, body, way of life. Hegel believed that freedom is knowledge of one's necessity, and Arthur O. Bakke, I.M.V., was a free man hindered only by his love and conviction. And that was just as he wanted it. I don't know whether he had been chosen to beat the highways and hedges, but clearly he had chosen to. Despite doctrinal differences, he reminded me of a Trappist monk or a Hopi shaman. I liked Arthur. I liked him very much."
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 3
In my last post, I wrote about my search for and need for simplicity, and also how I find it so difficult to implement in my life. This post is not very well-thought out, but I'm going to throw and idea encompassing all kinds of different things that I've been thinking about past you.
In America, we pride ourselves on being "the land of the free." The American Constitution takes great pains to lay out certain freedoms that are guaranteed to all citizens, enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Some are defined as liberties, or those freedoms that existed prior to the advent of governments. Freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the press are such liberties that according to our constitution cannot be taken away from us. Others are considered rights, which are granted us by government but once instilled, must be protected. Such rights are the rights to bear arms, and to due process.
Over the centuries, what constitutes the boundaries of freedoms and rights have been debated. These arguments are still at the base of almost all political disputes today. U.S. citizens demand and expect freedoms and rights, but nobody can truly be completely free to exercise their freedoms and rights. Why? Because an excess of freedom for some people has the potential to trample on the rights of others, and on the ability of governments to maintain societal order. In order to minimize these difficulties, governments create laws which are, in effect, a relinquishment of freedom by the citizenry in exchange for order. In the U.S., we consent to giving up some freedom in order that we can live relatively safely and securely.
An example is fitting. We have laws against murder. The act of murder, freely by one person, is the ultimate denial of another's freedom and rights through the taking of that person's life. It is also a violation of public order. The laws state that we are not free to murder, and if we do, we will lose even more of our rights and freedoms by going to jail, or in many cases, losing our life through execution.
However, in the late 20th century and the early 21st century, the idea of freedom is being pushed to the brink. In particular, excess economic freedom has been touted and is being justified politically. Economic freedom can be as benign as allowing people the right and freedom to exchange goods and services. This freedom to interact economically allows for individuals to build up capital and property. Government, to maintain public order, is tasked with defending the property we gain through our economic freedoms. However, if we keep in mind that more freedoms impinge on an ability to maintain order, then it is easy to see that the accumulation of property (I'm using the general sense of the term here: property is stuff, whether it be little knicknacks one buys to the ownership of large tracts of land) can impede on all types of freedoms.
Politically, we have arguments about whether, in their accumulation of wealth, corporations should be regulated and taxed and how much. Giving corporations carte blanch to do whatever they want may allow them to run roughshod over potential freedoms to work, to live in healthy environments, and to guarantee our access to things we need. We debate, in the current popular terminology, whether the 1% should have so much and continue to gain at the expense of the 99% who seem to be losing more and more. The freedom of the 1% to continue to accumulate takes away from the freedom of the 99% to move upward economically.
But it's not just these big picture questions that economic freedom touches, but also individual lives. To use myself as an example, my steadily increasing income over the past three decades may have increased by ability to get the stuff that I like and want, but that stuff has also contributed to the increased disorder in my life. My wallet may have allowed me to spend anywhere from 6-7 evenings out, but it also took away from my ability to look at big questions of family and stability and led to some decision-making at times that may have not been well thought out.
I don't want it to seem like I'm complaining. My life as an adult has mostly been happy and full of wonderful things. But there have been important deficits that are now begging for my attention, brought about by the freedoms I allowed myself in the past.
Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has argued that the concept of freedom has to be expanded beyond life, liberty and property. Governments that are the most free, he argues, are the ones that guarantee their citizens the freedom, the access and the means to pursue the life that makes them happy. In that way, his concept of freedom encompasses both the political and the economic.
I am in favor of this, even if it means regulating the freedoms of some to guarantee a decent level of freedoms for all. But as I apply his argument to all levels of life, I particularly focus on regulation. Regulation is important. If an economic market cannot self-regulate and fails, and we've seen signs in the past that sometimes it can't, the outcomes may be dangerous for society as a whole. I can also see how this works on an individual level. If a person has no capacity for self-regulation, we consider them at best a "bit off," and at worst dangerous to themselves and others.
My personal quest right now is for more regulation in my own life. By regulation I mean curtailing some of my personal freedom to accumulate, to consume, and to lose myself in distractions in order to focus more discipline on my desire for personal growth and growth in my relationships. Regulation, to me, brings about discipline and entails a willingness to give up some freedoms in order to achieve what one wants. Even as LHM, in his quote above, extols the freedom of Arthur O. Bakke (and this post is the last Bakke will appear in), he writes that even Bakke is limited by his "love and conviction." In other words, Bakke is free to wander the roads but his faith, mission and purpose regulates his freedom in many other ways. And that's not a bad thing, especially if it allows him to pursue what he desires, and to strive for that which makes him happy.
Arthur O. Bakke is let off by LHM at Kalispell. Bakke offers to ride with LHM to North Dakota, but LHM tells him he has to go alone, though he says at times he will miss Bakke's company. As he lets him out into a strong wind, LHM asks Bakke if he will be okay, and Bakke replies with a biblical verse, Philippians 4:11: "For I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content." He adds, "Hardships are good. They prepare a man." Another lesson I've learned only recently, and which has set my mind toward more positive things for my future.
I've been waiting for a reason to play this song. Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb was a gospel song from the 1950s, rendered here by Arnold McCuller (website) with Ry Cooder. I didn't use the conversion story of Arthur Bakke in these posts, but revelation can literally hit with a huge explosive force on the lives of the individuals that experience it. Needless to say, it hasn't happened to me. My insights have always been slow trickles.
If you want to learn more about Kalispell
Next up: Hungry Horse, Montana