Saturday, January 24, 2015

Liberty Ships

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Between 1941 and 1945, 2710 Liberty Ships were built to haul combatants and supplies to the battle fields of WWII. Those ships must have made up a large percentage of the guesstimated 1,768 Merchant Ships lost to war conditions. There appear to be no accurate records of Merchant mariners lost, but another guesstimate ranges toward 10,000. Mass produced, pressed hard in service, with an expected useful life of just five years, nothing about the Liberty ships hinted at glory or glitz. Theirs was a theater of unrelenting hard work and terrible risk offered in the service of their namesake … Liberty.

I sometimes think of Kintala as a kind of liberty ship. She doesn't carry the honor of service and sacrifice those sailing the stormy waters of a World War earned, but she does offer her crew a taste of personal liberty that is increasingly rare in this world. Sundowners and conversations shared with multiple fellow cruisers since we abandoned land living suggests I am not the only one who looks at my little floating home this way. We, as a tribe, take our liberty seriously. It is the thing most attractive about our little gypsy band.

Sometimes though, during amazing and enjoyable conversations, it seems that, as good as we are at living a liberated life, we are less good at recognizing what lies behind this life. The common idea seems to be that liberty is something we grasp and hold onto, by and for ourselves. An idea that plays well with the rugged individualist, Master of our Fate, ethos of America. But that isn't really true, and thinking that it is can put liberty at risk.

Liberty isn't a condition that we make for ourselves, it is a gift we accept from a community. It is, in fact, a rare and precious gift rarely offered in human history, and is only available to those who live in a society that cherishes the idea of personal liberty. Only in such a society are people protected from the power of the elite, of religion, of land owners and overlords. Only a society that actively and strenuously protects the civil liberties of all can offer the gift of liberty to any. No individual can wrest liberty from the mob, the crowd, the tyrant, or the oppressor. The lone “free spirit” is only as free as the community he or she lives in will allow.

Only in such a community can the gift of liberty be offered. Each individual is responsible for accepting that gift, unwrapping it and applying it to living as each sees fit. It is a gift we offer to each other. I can accept the gift of liberty offered to me by the whole. I can be part of the whole that offers the gift to you. But I can't offer it to myself, by myself. Liberty is a community thing. It is, at the risk of goring some oxes, a gift offered exclusively by enlightened, progressive, liberal societies that cherish the idea of civil rights being protected for all and offered to all.

When any society, group, or tribe abandons that responsibility, when people neglect to protect the liberty of their neighbors, the gift is lost for all. It is the scourge of this modern world. Here in America, mass media and our political elite have propagandized liberty, defining it as my right to tell you how to live, how to love, who to worship. Liberty is confined to allowing one to add as much as possible to some corporate bottom line, free only to consume as much as one can. A large part of the rest of the world has dismissed liberty as being of any value at all. Toeing the community line, be it religion, ruling party, or commercial interests, is the only consideration. (As in America, those three interests are often wrapped into a single, crushing, weight.)

The cruising community lives in quiet protest to the death of liberty, holds on to the gift, offers it to any who chose to come this way. Each of us goes our own way when and how we see fit. Some are world travelers, though there are parts of the world they can't go because the gift is not offered. Some, like the crew of Kintala, don't stray as far. But near or far we husband the gift for others, sharing information and skills and support so others of our tribe can continue on their way, when and how they see fit. And they husband the gift for us. It is a shared responsibility and, in a world increasingly hostile to the very idea of living unencumbered, light footed, and considerate of the world around us and the people in it, we are doing a pretty good job of holding on.

I think those who crewed the original Liberty Ships would be proud of what we have done with the gift they labored and sacrificed to protect.