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On Preserving the Final Freedom

Updated: Jun 16

I was born in 1962 into a world of hope and optimism. Things were getting better and better and as a country, America was on a positive trajectory towards giving all people a better chance of self-fulfillment.  In those days of the late 60’s and through the 70’s, social justice was not a dirty word to evangelicals, even the regressive Southern Baptist Convention had acknowledged their sinful past and had groups, especially in their Seminaries, working to undo the damage they had done under the guise of “Christianity.”


Even more, I grew up in a home where upward and onward was the ethos. Both of my parents had escaped grinding poverty to build a solidly middle-class home. My dad (the first in his family to finish high school) went to college on the GI Bill and became a NASA engineer. So, in his world, focused on his job, things were only getting better and better.  Though my mother had been blocked from pursuing the college dreams she had because her father was adamant that girls only went to school to become nurses or teachers; she had become an RN, and when I was in elementary school, she began working on her long-delayed bachelor’s degree.


As a child, my world was shaped in large part by my mother, and she was all about helping others escape the poverty, abuse, and injustice that she faced growing up. For instance, as a child in suburban Houston, Texas I was the only kid I knew who was told that the “N” word was not acceptable and I would not use it (like everyone else I knew did.)   Or, when on vacation in the mountains of northern New Mexico, when a group of hippies were bathing nude in the river right in front of our campsite, rather than be offended, my mother was thrilled and went over to talk with them.


On a side note for readers under 60, hippies were like unicorns, everyone had heard of them but nobody in my world had ever met one.


So Mom was super excited. No, she did not strip off and join them as she certainly would have done 20 years later, but to us kids, she made it very clear that what the hippies were doing was wonderful. I think it was on the same vacation in about 1970, that Mom excitedly pointed out some women in very thin shirts were braless. I was too young to understand why Mom thought that was a good thing, but it is one of those events that I remember as I shaped my own values.


Similarly, she was always proud of the fact she was the first woman at our Southern Baptist church to wear a mini-skirt to services. I actually don’t remember that day since I simply didn’t care what Mom wore to church; but in photos of the period (around 1970) show she often wore mini-skirts.


(I'm the handsome devil in the middle)


For my mother, as for many people, the freedom to express one's sexuality was an outward manifestation of a broad range of freedoms. Conversely, attacks on sexual freedoms are always a harbinger of a broader range of oppression.  I never thought a thing about what Mom wore in the 70s. It was only later, after I married Paula and met her family, did I realize how different my mother was. In old photos from the 70’s she seemed to have worn halter & tube tops that showed her off pretty much all the time.  At home, late 60’s early seventies sexual freedom was always on display. The first comics I remember looking forward to reading were the “Little Annie Fannie” stories in the monthly issue of Playboy. You see every Christmas, Mom bought Dad a subscription to Playboy, and both Playboy and Penthouse magazines were always out in the open in our home. 


I have a distinct memory of sitting on the floor of my parent's bedroom reading Playboy when I was about ten. My Mom saw me and rather than telling me to put it up, she said that there were some really good photos this month that I would like.  The reason I remember is that I didn’t understand why she thought I would like the photos more than the comics. I saw nothing tantalizing or titillating in the naked pictures; there was no taboo to draw me. Also significant was that I didn’t see any difference between Annie Fanny and Mad Magazine. Their style was very similar and appealed to me. The sex and nudity was simply background that I didn’t even notice.

  

It is also in hindsight (and since both Mom and Dad are gone), I can see that Mom began having sex with other men in the mid-70’s when she went on overnight trips with her friends from the branch of The University of Texas she attended. By her choices of clothing at that time, she was telling everyone that she identified with college life and sexual values. One summer, when I was about 12, she spent six weeks on an archaeological dig, living in a tent with both males and females. This was the height of the sexual revolution, and again, with anecdotes I’ve picked up since she passed, it appears certain she stopped being monogamous at that time. What was important is that I was raised on an ethos of sexual freedom and social justice. Thus, I am the quintessential child of that era. Even in my decade-long sojourn into Christian fundamentalism, those values survived. I simply incorporated them as best I could in public, but in my own mind, I saw the disconnect between the values of my new peers and those I held deep down.

 

The United States is sort of like that. Our roots are in the 18th-century liberal ideals that cast off the authoritarian model and made the bold claim that happiness was not only for the few while the rest are pre-destined to toil in misery and servitude. There was not a God-ordained pecking order that everyone was expected to follow. Personal freedom to follow one's own path became the bedrock of the American identity, and anyone who got tired of the toil, could pick up and move west. The thing about it, even in the conservative backlash of the 1950’s and early 60’s that kind of freedom to go your own path was still lauded, even if the expression of that freedom was submerged.


Consider this, for three generations, American kids grew up watching Westerns on movies and TV where brothels/saloons were the social centers of the town. Even while sex outside of marriage was roundly condemned and across the South, alcohol was banned by localities or limited to certain places, the brothel/saloon was still held up as an ideal.  Even nudity, in the form of behind-the-bar paintings, was simply part of the background in “wholesome shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke. So even in the most conservative era of the 20th Century, the icons of freedom persisted.


 There is a reason for this, Western movies reflect how Americans want to see themselves. Oddly, the open-West ethic and the hippy ethic are ultimately the same set of values just expressed in different ways. In both, personal freedom from social expectations and conventions is seen as superior to the grey flannel suit. While the Western is no longer popular with youth, the hippy ethos and style is.


 Even our country's plethora of churches is a direct result of our radical liberal national origins. By kicking out the Church of England, for the first time anywhere in Western Culture, anyone could declare himself (or radically herself) to be a prophet of God and start a church without any need to get official permission from local authorities. So, even the right-wing Christian Taliban movement only exists because the liberals of 1776 fought for their right to do so.

 

At the same time, just like I went through my conservative phase, and my wife still holds vestiges of her Old South upbringing, so too America holds its own conservative siren call for stability over personal freedom. There has always been a counter message of right-wing conservatism that seeks stability at the price of freedom. We must keep in mind that only a small fraction of the population in 1776 actively supported the patriot cause of independence.  Among the monied class and the clergy, most remained loyal to the king until it was obvious their cause was lost. I get amused when the MAGA right use the iconography of the American Revolution because the followers of Trump most certainly would have been loyalists supporting the status quo, not radical liberal patriots. But ignorance and self-delusion is bliss.

 

Even during the Roaring Twenties and the rise of New Deal progressivism of the 1920’s & 30’s, there was an undercurrent of right-wing reactionaries. The American Bund (American Nazis) had hundreds of thousands of members before Pearl Harbor, and the KKK had literally millions of white men in white robes. The post-war years saw America disappear into a fearful conservative straitjacket of uniformity. Change was seen as subversive and difference of any kind was suspect.  Our movies, television and radio were closely monitored and censored to prevent any ideas that challenged the conservative orthodoxy. Oddly, even while the KKK was actively attacking Catholics as invaders, up until the mid-60’s the American Catholic Bishops exercised near total control over what entertainment could be circulated nationally. (Oh in a side note it was the American Catholic Bishops that created the National Right to Life org as an arm of their church).

 

But by the 1980’s and 1990’s things seemed to have righted itself, not just in the US, but across the globe. Personal freedoms were on the march across the world. We honestly believed that democracy had won the day. Even in China and Russia, millennia of iron-fisted autocracy was giving way to new liberal ideas.  By the early 2000’s, with our first black president, we thought we’d arrived. Finally, the forces that sought equal justice for all now turned their attention to the last minority that was openly persecuted without even pretending to be even-handed: the LGBT community.  Sexual freedom was on the move again. Like the African American community and Latinos, the efforts at social justice for sexual minorities were not new, but it was only in the early 2000s that mainstream Americans began to apply the credo of “We are not free until we are all free” to those who were sexual exiles.

 

Then came the turn to the right and back to repression of those who do not conform to the majority's desires. When we thought those who define freedom as the right to persecute those they don’t like had been driven underground permanently, they hadn’t. They were just awaiting a sign that their ideas would be accepted by the mainstream once again. When I began In Search of the Final Freedom, my goal was to promote a pathway to the next level of sexual freedom. Now, there is a broad attack on sexual freedoms and holding on to our existing rights has taken the place of expanding rights.

 

Just this week, Republicans in the US Congress stopped an effort to codify the right to contraception, then just a few days later they did the same to stop the right to in-vitro fertilization.  While I think to some this was a surprise, it was not to anyone paying attention.  When the Catholic Church began The National Right to Life, the goal was always to bring American law into line with Catholic teachings regarding sexuality.  Contraception was always on their radar, but they left it out of their propaganda… and for good reason.


Make no mistake, the claims about “preserving life” is a sham and always has been. One only need to look at the right-wing opposition to a right to health care for proof.  The same people who claim to want to stop abortion also oppose sex ed in schools, social support for impoverished mothers and easy access to contraception. It proves the lie they are peddling. The goal was always to put women back under the thumb of men, barefoot and pregnant. A girl who has a baby at 17 is very unlikely to be competing for an executive job in twenty years… and the right-wing in both the US and Europe know that.  Any close look at the global rising tide of neo-fascism will show a strong tendency not only to be anti-immigrant but anti-sexual rights.  In places like Spain and Italy, the far right is working in concert with the Vatican, in Germany, the AfD party is blatantly misogynistic, and in the US, MAGAism is nearly synonymous with the Christian Taliban… oh I mean the Christian right.

 

My concern is that while the hateful rhetoric thus far has largely been confined to immigrants and LGBT people, there is a larger anti-sex agenda at work.  We need only to look at the link between the loss of the segregation battle by the right and the rise of the fight to criminalize abortion.  The goal… the real goal has always been to put women back in the home, barefoot and pregnant, under the complete domination of men. This goes hand in glove with the desire to keep immigrants and black people as a permanent servile class that is no threat to “white” men. It is high time that those who value their own sexual freedoms understand that while right now it is other people who are being attacked, the goal (as two of our Supreme Court justices believe) is the criminalization of all sex outside of government-approved heterosexual marriages.


If you want to protect your right to have sex with the person (or people) of your choosing and to visit a website like this, you must protect those who are under right-wing assault now.  I have little doubt that should the Christian Taliban get their man in the White House this time, they will be going after far more than just LGBT people.  If they succeed in marginalizing and criminalizing LGBT people, they WILL be after you next. To believe otherwise is simply self-delusion.

 



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sugarlessroark
sugarlessroark
16 juin
Noté 5 étoiles sur 5.

As a space cowboy who's a little older than yourself, I have to admire your historical synopsis. You accurately caught the time that I can remember, and your old-timey stuff is as I have been given to understand it.


It's occurred to me, about abortion, that it would be useful to substitute the word "sentience" for "life." I'm sure there's a line, sometime, when a cluster of cells becomes somebody, but a zygote is alive, a gamete is alive, my gall bladder was alive when they removed it, and none of those are people.


(Speaking of the wonders of western medicine, it's saved my life twice since I turned fifty, and it sounds like it's going to do the same…

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Ananda
Ananda
16 juin
En réponse à

We all agree that the world needs you longer on planet earth to continue your great work.

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Ananda
Ananda
16 juin
Noté 5 étoiles sur 5.

May the Universe smile upon you and smooth your road to a successful kidney transplant.

 

I found this excellent essay enlightening about the evolution of the American psyche from progress to restricted values. You mentioned that in the Western of your youth “the icons of freedom persisted,” like the saloon/brothel and the nude images against the walls. I see that the Western is making a comeback on the big screen and on the streaming services. There is a good reason for this, I think:

 

“The key to understanding how the Western works is embedded in its title: go west. This process not only encapsulates the basic theme of the genre, it’s the ethic upon which all American storytelling…

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Ananda
Ananda
17 juin
En réponse à

Wilber identified 5 different types of Wholeness: Waking Up, Growing Up, Opening Up, Cleaning Up, and Showing Up. Waking Up is the Ultimate Truth, while Growing Up, Opening Up, Cleaning Up, and Showing Up are Relative Truths. You are correct in saying that meditation will be more important than prayer, because that is the best way to Wake Up. According to Karl Rahner, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” While Alan Watts said, “A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.”  We know what Christianity, for the most part, turned into. Scientific materialism is of no use either. We have no unifying mythology…


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Noté 5 étoiles sur 5.

First off, I hope that the "moving in mysterious ways" kicks in and you are successful with your kidney transplant odyssey, and in an expedient manner.


As to your essay, we have a candidate who openly says he wants to be a dictator so he can attack his enemies, millions of his supporters who are fully behind that idea, media that treat that as a normal political stance, and a strange marriage* of Catholics and Southern Baptists who are salivating at the idea of punishing sinners. Dark times for the Republic


*funny the two biggest anti-gay marriage groups are in bed together, who would've thunk it?

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sugarlessroark
sugarlessroark
16 juin
En réponse à

Having grown up pre-Vat II Catholic, having attended a Jesuit University until we parted ways over psychedelics and war resistance, and having my own highly evolved epistemology, I do have to stipulate that "They's Catholics, and They's Catholics." When he was about my age, my very devout father told me he was pro-choice. (My jaw dropped, but there you are.) There are Catholics that I swear believe in the God of Spinoza, then there are some like my Aunt Genevieve who had an ornately carved pre-dieu with red velvet cushions in her bedroom, and who refused to come to my second wedding. If you watch Vatican politics, you'll see both groups exist at the ultimate level.


(In spite of that,…

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