Today I was reading Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. There's a passage where a character says that France has the physical freedom but everybody must think the same, Germany has the freedom of the mind, but everyone must do the same thing physically, and Great Britain has neither form of freedom--body or mind. What does this say about the US, the "land" of freedom?
I was schocked, as I usually am, to hear a severely homophobic remark--perhaps it's the breath that gets me--the human voice can do so much good and evil. My co-worker Bobby, while remarking that he grew up in the Baltimore, MD, area, with about 3/4 of the population black, said that "Black people always crack me up, and faggots too" [my emphasis].
Likely he doesn't realize the dehumanizing aim of the term. A "faggot" is a bundle of sticks for burning; when applied to a person, this may mean that the utterer means, at some semantic level, that the said person should burn--in hell or otherwise.
So at the semantic level the utterance is profoundly homophobic. But I don't think Bobby will be going out to hate crime somebody tonight.
France, Germany, the UK and the US all have some freedom. I'd have to say that it goes in that order, from most to least. When I had the coming out panel in my two English 101 sections, I had to come to that conclusion. It's easy for some Nashville country songwriter to pawn the phrase, "Freedom isn't free," to Americans incapable of perceiving jingoistic sappiness. But "freedom," if it is to be something other than meaningless, must start at home. The experiences of those that told their stories, especially Audrey, who is as American as anyone else, shows that one place to start promulgating freedom would be to acknowledge what future generations certainly will: the LGBTQ community has been deprived of freedom legally and via social stigma. Some, good-natured though they be, fail to see this. For whatever reason, my shock at certain utterances of hatred, even though they are not spoken in hatred, shocks me into silence. I again felt like I did when I was an RA at Buena Vista University, where "fag," "that's so gay," and other derogatory language was so de riguer that I was paralyzed--with my own (self-)righteous fear and anger.
So what freedom is, or should be, is the ability to resist oppression in such a way that it may be affected, changed, altered--the choice and power to say No to Things as They Are. The power, then, to normalize the abnormal, to allow the subaltern the space to rear back and succeed. The power to augment the scope of our social imagination, lest the barbarians at the gates, who are us, take us down.
Why doesn't George W. Bush's head explode when he talks about exporting "freedom?" A country whose will is to deny both mind and body for the sake of an ambiguous "moral" order can only export misunderstanding at best, and compliance at the barrell of a gun at worst.
This is the Empire of Hate.