Freedom's just another word for lots of stuff to buy
BY C. L. BOTHWELL III
I could probably be convinced to be a one-worlder -- that is, a believer in world government. The only minor obstacle to planetary federalism I can see is that everyone is running, not walking, in precisely the opposite direction. Every ethnic, religious and racial crowd seems to want to organize its own circus and hoist its own flag.
Nations are fragmenting, not congealing. Even the militia movement recognizes this fact. In the most popular version of their paranoid fantasy of black helicopters and Soviet tanks poised to launch a United Nations' invasion of the good ole U.S. of A., they insist that the goal is to break up our country into regional blocks.
Until the day flying saucers settle over all of our major cities and quietly remind us of the biological bottom line that makes us all sisters and brothers, it seems humans are bent on bickering. No sooner do we form a political party than factions start popping out of the woodwork. One-worlders see the mirage-like possibility of an orderly, deliberative congress of nations while, in the real world, all of the splinter groups are splintering.
Meanwhile, the rapidly changing nation-scape exists in a world increasingly run by and for multinational marketing con-sortiums. Afghani rebels, Hutus and Tutsis, Chechnyans and Quebecois may willingly go to the wall for political autonomy but they all cheerfully agree that things go better with Coke. Factions become fractions and you can track them all on a Microsoft database.
Recently, a Serbian soldier told a reporter that he will feel the revolution has succeeded when he can watch NBA games live from his home.
When was the last time you saw a rebel army that wasn't outfitted in sneakers and blue jeans, carrying camcorders and keeping in touch with fax machines, if not the Internet? As every conceivable socio-political group demands the God-given right to be themselves, they all seem to be converging at the mall.
Rebel leaders order their togs from L.L. Bean or Land's End and dial 1-800 numbers to overnight their laptops. With Wal-Mart headed south of the border, it's a cinch where Zapatista footsoldiers will shop for denims. Wait til they get their Hanes on you.
It's not that I'm unsympathetic with the desire for freedom and self-determination, but I wonder if the headlong rush to Americanize doesn't make potential rebel victory Pyrrhic. If the end result is global homogeneity, what was the point? Will we all volunteer to kill each other for the right to be the same?
Beyond fashion, the convergence toward a world-wide consumer culture makes me wonder if freedom fighters aren't simply trading shackles for chains. The largest corporations now wield far more power than most small countries.
Last summer a special issue of The Nation detailed how four companies control most of the information we receive. Two of them, Time Warner and Disney/Capital Cities are entertainment giants, and the others, General Electric and Westinghouse, are the major players in nuclear power. Can little countries control financial behemoths?
Money gives muscle to companies that play off nations like amateur soccer teams, and the winners get tin trophies: a chance to sell their resources and labor at bargain basement prices.
Even here at home, where the federal system seems pretty stable, states nownegotiate their own foreign trade deals and tax their citizens to fund bond issues that benefit very big businesses. Environmental protection is sidelined when it interferes. Growth, we are told, is worth sacrifice.
All of this leaves me wondering just who wins the revolution. Is the bottom line for freedom the right to choose a long-distance company? Is owing your soul to the company store an improvement over a government run by ethnic rivals? As we divide ourselves into smaller and smaller flocks, who ends up picking the sacrificial lambs?
And who ends up being one?
C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina. Duck Soup is served up at 8:40 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday on North Carolina stations WNCW 88.7FM Spindale, 100.7FM Charlotte, 95.5FM Beech Mountain, 92.9FM Boone; on 97.3FM in Knoxville, Tenn., and on 97.3FM in Greenville.