Democracy in America
The Devil's Bargain, the Bear in the Cage, and the Doorway to Freedom
Once upon a time there was a bear kept in captivity in a small cage. The caged and abused bear spent most of its life restlessly patrolling the perimeter of its cage. Then one day rescuers came and removed the cage. Yet the bear continued to patrol the perimeter of the cage, never stepping outside of its boundaries, which now existed only in its mind.
I used to think this was made-up story to illustrate an important psychological point. Sadly, it was a true story, and it wasn't an isolated case. On January 29th, 2021, Zenger News reported a story about another bear called Ina, which spent 20 years in a tiny cage in a zoo in Romania. In 2014 she was rescued and released onto a wildlife reserve. Seven years later, out in the woods, she still spends many days simply pacing around in a circle that corresponds exactly to the dimensions of the no longer existent cage. The cage defined her world for so long that she cannot properly comprehend life without it.
Society is that bear. We speak the language of freedom. Yet we use government to wrap ourselves in the chains of yesteryear.
Liberating the human spirit is a gradual process, part physical, part philosophical, and part cultural. The American Revolution removed the cage. And the American Constitution created a recipe to give free people the tools to safeguard their individual freedom and to pass it on to future generations.
Yet, bit by bit, motivated by our fears about an uncertain future, by our envy of our neighbors, and by our impulse to control others, we suffocate our own freedom by molding our democratically elected governments to resemble the mighty hand of a king. Freedom is hard work. We do not recognize how easily we lead ourselves back into our own cage. It seems humanity has yet to complete the philosophical and cultural journey to achieve true freedom.
“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835