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Borrowed trouble

By Lady Liberty
web posted July 3, 2006

I like to read, and I also like to watch movies. Because I like doing both of those things so much, I'm happy to encourage others to enjoy them, too.

I have a lot (okay, I have more than a lot) of books, and I have a few of my favorite movies on DVD. Although I'm fairly careful of these books and movies because I value them so much, I have been known to loan those I recommend to good friends. After all, if you can't trust a good friend, who can you trust?

Earlier this week, I was in a foul mood after having had to write a check. No, it wasn't for an extortionate utility bill, nor was it a payment on something I didn't really want or need. Instead it represented the amount it cost me to replace several books and DVDs that had not been returned to me by a so-called friend despite her ongoing promises (ongoing without results for about nine months now).

In reality, I should have known what was coming concerning this particular friend. I'd loaned her books in the past that had been returned to me somewhat the worse for wear; I'd also asked for books to be returned that she couldn't immediately lay hands on because she'd loaned them in turn to her own friends without my knowledge or permission. I'd seen DVDs stacked on the floor at her house where the cats chewed on the plastic cases and where people could easily trip or step on them. Once, I'd had to take her to task for loaning an expensive collector's edition DVD set to someone I didn't personally trust any further than I could pick him up and throw him.

Still, she was a good friend, and so I forgave her her faults. Despite misgivings, and because forgiveness means just that, I continued on occasion to loan her books or movies. No more. Fool me once — or a dozen times — shame on you. Fool me twice — or a dozen times — shame on me. Just to cement the lesson learned, I had to pay for it with both an unpleasant end to a longtime friendship and the check I mailed a week ago.

Not everyone is irresponsible though I sadly assume that most people are since so many turn out to be. I still have a couple of good friends to whom I occasionally loan books and movies; to date, all have been returned promptly and all have been in good condition (frankly, if they weren't, these friends are of the responsible sort that would immediately offer to replace them with new — and while I probably wouldn't accept their offer if the damages were beyond their control, it's awfully nice to know that the offer would almost certainly be made). But I regret that the circle of those I trust with such relatively small things as books and DVDs has become so small itself.

Meanwhile, my own losses pale in comparison to those suffered by a friend of mine in recent days. A so-called friend had been care taking some household goods for him, and when he came to collect those goods, they were gone. A flurry of accusations and excuses ensued, but the bottom line is that my friend lost many dollars worth of goods with little hope of their return or any recompense. Even more valuable, he lost all of his trust and doubtless the relationship as well with someone who had previously been considered a good friend.

When I borrow things from people, I try to treat them as I'd hope they'd treat the things they might borrow from me. I don't let the cats chew on them (while the cats are pretty much spoiled beyond control, they've not yet learned to open cupboard doors); I don't hand them off to other people. I don't mistreat them (I'll never forget a book returned to me without comment that had obviously been dropped into the bathtub, nor will I soon get over a beautiful necklace that was given back — I kid you not — as loose beads in a box). I wouldn't even ask about replacing something if I damaged it badly. I'd just replace it.

The definition of borrowing is simple enough: it's when you enjoy the use of something you don't own. Now you may have to pay for that privilege through a form of borrowing known as "renting" or "leasing." You might barter instead via some kind of temporary exchange of goods or services. But if you don't outright buy or trade for something, it's borrowed; if it must eventually revert to the care of somebody else, it's borrowed; and it would behoove you to care for it until its return.

Some Americans are under the mistaken assumption that they "own" their freedom. While it's certainly true that their unalienable rights are theirs, both personally and collectively, the freedom that ensures they can exercise those rights was really bought and paid for by others. And the truth is that, even if they've paid some of the purchase price themselves, it's still not theirs to do with as they will.

As far back as the 13th Century, men fought for freedom; the Magna Charta enshrined the notion that their freedom was theirs and that the government had no right to interfere. In the late 1700's, a group of revolutionaries fought against the unreasoning curbs on freedom by a King and won. Referencing the Magna Charta, they fashioned a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that belongs to no man because it's effectively owned by all of them.

Over the course of the years, Americans have fought and died for freedom. But the reality of it is that they weren't so much fighting for themselves as they were for themselves and their posterity. Freedom, like some other things, is only momentarily meaningful if it's not passed on. So it's perfectly legitimate to suggest that the freedom you and I enjoy today (such as it is) is freedom we're only using until we can pass it on to the next generation.

When our generation was charged with the administration of our country, we were able to speak freely (with a very few notable and thankfully momentary exceptions). Today, political correctness has already resulted in provisions for the deterrence and punishment of "hate speech," and misplaced (and frankly misnamed) patriotism threatens political speech ranging from association to flag burning (certainly you're aware of the FBI monitoring of various anti-war groups and of the Senate's push to amend the Constitution itself to outlaw flag desecration).

When our generation was handed the reins of the country, we were able to order guns via mail orders. But because of the actions of one irresponsible man (conspiracy theories aside for the moment), the assassination of John F. Kennedy (followed by those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) put a stop to the freedom of the rest of the population from being able to buy firearms so simply. Boys (and often girls too) looked forward to receiving their first guns, and when they did, they were taught safety and responsibility that ensured they'd enjoy target practice and hunting; today, such recent all American traditions are looked upon as "redneck" at best, and oftentimes viewed as just plain wrong.

When our generation was given the care of American liberties, searches required warrants. But because of the federal government's unbending "war on drugs," various warrantless searches (more commonly called "sobriety checkpoints") are common; because of the federal government's claims of defense in the "war on terror," our e-mails, phone calls, Internet habits, and banking transactions have been monitored, sorted, data-mined, and who knows what else.

When our generation took over from the generation before us, our justice system relied on the crucial proviso that we were innocent 'til proven guilty. Today, the merest accusation of child abuse or drug use is enough that those so accused are often forced to prove their innocence before the courts will set them free — and even then, most find their reputations irredeemably damaged among their neighbors and associates. In the past, men and women were arrested on charges, and held on charges, and tried on charges, and then jailed or released; today, men are even now being held without any charges at all.

When our generation took hold of powers of government, privacy had been ruled a basic right by courts which determined our bedrooms were sacrosanct and our medical privacy inviolate. Today, privacy is assailed at every street corner by ubiquitous cameras in the name of "safety," and in every home with the "war on terror's" arsenal that permits searches and worse without cause, or even the knowledge of the person being searched that a search has been conducted. Data theft is rampant largely because data collection is rampant; medical privacy is virtually non-existent thanks to federal regulations which claim to protect privacy but which in realty offer broad-based exceptions to rules that were previously just fine as they were.

We're bad borrowers. We're returning freedoms to the next generation that, after our use, have been damaged almost beyond repair. The broken strands of liberty have only haphazardly been collected up and, in the little container to which we've relegated real freedom, could likely not even be used to put together the whole of the original Bill of Rights the first generation of Americans believed that all were entitled to own merely by virtue of birth. Adding insult to already grievous injury, we're failing to pass on some freedoms at all. And worst of all, many of our children are sanguine about the loss because we've effectively taught them that they "have nothing to hide," or that some sacrifices of freedom are necessary for our security, all the while hiding from them the very real truth that, throughout history, the loss of freedom proves very real and very long term while the security gained is temporary at best.

It might be sad, but friendships end. Sometimes, they end in very real anger and resentment because one of the friends betrays the other. But no matter the extent of your loss when a friendship is over, and no matter your own pain or frustrations, consider the far greater misdeed of our failure to return freedom in its original condition to those who next inherit it from us. Can you even begin to imagine the pain, frustration, and entirely justified anger of our posterity for what we're doing — and not doing — today?

Yes, I still have a couple of friends who are good borrowers, and I hope that I'm a good borrower, too. And yes, there are still those in America who take their temporary responsibility for the long term freedom of this country seriously. But unless those few work as hard as they can to stop loaning the care of freedom to the bad borrowers, then there's going to be little left for any of us to pass on. It's up to each of us if we want to be thought of as the kind of person who would blithely return a flood-damaged book or a broken necklace, or if we're going to step up to our responsibilities and make good on what we've broken and preserve all that we've not.

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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