Critiques & Controversies: August 2008 Archives

Fear and Freedom

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Please forgive the paucity of entries the last several days. I have been in New York City, working hard to complete a project--and when I wasn't working I was spending time touring the city.

It is about this latter that I want to make some comments. The other day, I was down on Wall Street. I had gotten there walking up Broad Street after visiting Fraunces Tavern. After taking a picture of the place where Washington was sworn in as president and of two police men standing outside the J.P. Morgan building in gear little short of complete military including machine or submachine guns, I took one of my favorite pictures up the street of Trinity Church framed by the canyon of buildings.

Let me pause here for my first comment. It amazes me how little Wall Street "gets it". The entire street is blocked off to traffic, as is Broad street--the two on which the New York Stock Exchange sits. It is impossible to enter this building or, in fact, almost any building along Wall Street without passing through a battery of security. Now, I suppose it is wise for us to be cautious, but the purpose of 9-11 was not to attack Wall Street, American Finance, or anything else--it was to make a point--you are vulnerable--any time and all of the time. Period. You can be as secure as you care to be, but you are still vulnerable--completely. These buildings were chosen not because of commerce, or at least not entirely, but because they were one of the most recognizable landmarks on the American scene. But Wall Street hunkered in like a turtle withdrawing into its shell to the point of what happened next.

Continuing my walk to the end of Wall Street on Broadway, I saw a plaque. I love historical markers. I take pictures of nearly all that I see and then read them when I get home. This marker announced the location of the fortified wall that protected early New Amsterdam--certainly an important one for NYC and the United States. So, naturally I wanted to take a picture. Raising my camera, and very obviously focused on an otherwise completely blank piece of wall, I apparently alarmed a security person who informed me that no pictures were allowed. I pointed to the plaque. He said, "Not even of the plaque. It's stupid if you ask me, but that's the rule." Well the rule was made by the Bank of New York on which the plaque resides, and it struck me then, as it does now that in all senses of the word, a business does not own the exterior view of that business. They have neither right nor cause to prevent photography of exteriors. Even if we grant that some regulation can be sanctioned in these times, they certainly do not have the right to regulate what happens to the plaque on the building--a piece of public property and heritage if ever there was one.

Which leads me to the point. We have grown so security conscious and so frightened of our own shadows, that we have begun to sacrifice some of our liberty and some of our freedom to our fear. As Benjamin Franklin pointed out--"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

It can be legitimately argued that photographing a plaque on the side of a building does not constitute an essential liberty. I would probably agree with that. But nevertheless, if we live in such fear that we limit these kinds of activities, then haven't those who planned the attacks actually won a tremendous victory? Haven't we robbed ourselves of one of the essentials of a free people and government--that being living in reality, not in fear?

We have become a society of fear. Any group that requires old women in walkers to remove their shoes before getting on a plane has had something go wrong with its wiring. We've seen this problem in other aspects of our society as well. It is a continuation of the culture-of-death mentality that dominates the modern landscape. Global warming, abortion, euthanasia, airport security, and a host of other symptoms point to the essential facts of a people who have lost their faith and their willingness to believe. Whether or not we like to admit it, this is one of the things that transformed a handful of bickering colonies into a super-power. Our ascendancy was short, and is passing--we have moved into the shadow of fear from which I see no sign of return. Our work goes out to India and China and so our great wealth flows out of a land of promise into the lands of new promise. There is nothing much to mourn here except the loss of moral conviction without which we all stand naked--the emperor in his new clothes--and these clothes take the form of hyperprotected guards at the mouths of financial institutions of no interest to anyone save those who work within them, and hysterical prohibitions against celebrating our heritage and history.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from August 2008.

Critiques & Controversies: July 2008 is the previous archive.

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