“Greed? Deception? Abuse of power? That’s no plan. …See, according to Cocteau’s plan, I’m the enemy, ’cause I like to think. I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, ‘Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecue ribs with a side order of gravy fries?’ I want high cholesterol! I want to eat bacon and butter and buckets of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinatti in the non-smoking section! I want to run through the streets naked with green jello all over my body reading Playpoy magazine! Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay pal? I’ve seen the future, you know what it is? It’s a forty-seven-year-old virgin sittin’ around in his space pajamas drinking a banana-broccoli shake and I’m an Oscar Mayer wiener! You live up top, you live Cocteau’s way: what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. Your other choice: come down here, maybe starve to death.”
– Edgar Friendly, Demoliton Man
It was only a few weeks ago I used another quote from this movie to comment on the perils of trying to govern others too much, to dictate everything about their behavior to realize some ideal that can only exist in our heads. But this week, in the spirit of my country’s celebration of our Independence Day, I thought I’d comment more directly on the spirit of freedom itself.
The basic setup of Demolition Man is that one man’s efforts and technology brought peace and prosperity to the world, but only for those who behave as he wants them to. Every last thing that could be called “bad for you” was soon labeled as “bad,” including proper meat with cholesterol, bad language, gasoline, chocolate, and more. People are forbidden to have kids without a license, and even sex itself has become taboo. It’s a nanny state, all for the benefit of its ruler.
And then there’s the people in the sewers, led by Edgar Friendly. These are the people who, despite having little food, little education, and little of anything at all, they just can’t take living under such absolutely tyranny. So they scavenge and steal to survive, and they have the only real burger left in the world, albeit one made with rat meat instead of beef.
Most everyone who has ever fought for freedom could attest to how uncomfortable it gets. When one defies the powers that be, it can be as if the entire world is the enemy. Enemy commanders, enemy soldiers, spies and traitors, neighbors and friends and perfect strangers who sell you out, cancel you, feed you to the wolves and the gallows, there’s no end to the people who turn against those who stand up. The pains and hazards are unending, including open warfare, starvation, disease, injury, and the brutality of the elements. The soil of American liberty has been watered with the sweat, the tears, and the blood of patriots from the very beginning, even before our forefathers broke free from the Great Britain. They gave their all and suffered every kind of deprivation because they wanted freedom.
They wanted the freedom to think whatever they might, read whatever they liked, and speak their minds frankly. They wanted the freedom to prosper as best they could by their own sweat, without some distant crown coming and taking everything from them on a whim. They wanted the freedom to improve themselves, their circumstances, and the world itself, by their labor. They wanted the freedom to eat better, more delicious food. They wanted the freedom to not take any crap from anybody, not a soldier, not a governor, not even a king! They wanted the freedom to not have their wealth pillaged, their industry smothered, and their spirits stifled by anyone or anything on this Earth.
They risked everything for it. They suffered and endured much for it. Many died for it, and those who were left had to bury their comrades. From the common soldier to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, from the most ordinary citizen to the President, all sorts of people from all walks of life have had to step up and bleed for the normal, mundane, everyday things that others want to take away from them.
Such is the spirit of freedom – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the maintenance of which requires unending vigilance, generation after generation, to break the chains that are forged even from their first link.
Happy Independence Day!