Why Do We Choose Servitude in the “Land of the Free?”

It’s a controversial question, I know, but please hear me out.

The most pressing issues of our time have a single common denominator- power. Who has it? How do they use (or, more often, abuse) it? What needs to be done to alleviate the suffering it causes?

Upon reflecting on my own life, I have come to understand that nearly every choice I’ve made has been forced or coerced through power dynamics and I think this is true for nearly all of us. As children, we are dependent on our caregivers for survival and this sets up patterns of power that become internalized. If we are raised by people who have, themselves, internalized unhealthy or abusive conceptions of power, we are most likely going to repeat the patterns we’ve learned unless and until there are countervailing interventions of various kinds.

It is also the case that we are raised not only within families, but within social institutions with cultural norms that are also internalized. Schools, faith communities, media, acquaintances, and other influences exert power in our lives when we are still developing our cognitive and emotional capacities and are vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation. It is no wonder, then, that so many young people experience some form of identity crisis and/or emotional instability as their brains develop greater executive function and are compelled both internally and externally to become more independent. What does it mean, though, to be independent in our culture?

In the United States, freedom and independence are so deeply engrained in our ethos that we often don’t interrogate the meaning of the words or the ideas they represent in any meaningful way- we just assume we have freedom because we are American. We are taught that this is the ‘Land of the Free’ and are expected to glorify the symbols of liberty that our “Founding Fathers” enshrined in the construction of our country- the flag, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all of the institutions and positions of power that were created out of their ideas. Challenges to these ideas and the constructed reality they produced are typically dismissed or vilified automatically by most of us. The status quo is stubbornly persistent because our entire culture is built around a framework of resistance to change and we are, as a society, in deep denial that there may be flaws in the original design.

We are, collectively, choosing to serve these systems and institutions regardless of the overwhelming evidence that they do not serve us and are, in fact, causing irreparable harm to all life on Earth. Are we capable of thinking bigger?

What do you think?

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