The world, or most of it, is marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today. In a commentary in the Kansas City Star (here) one German from what used to be the other side of that cold wall reminisced, “When the wall came down, we all wanted to be Americans. To us, at that time, it meant to buy beautiful things.” But, as it turned out, this dream wasn’t all that satisfying.
The article continues:
But as her small apartment began to fill with things, she began to notice something leaving as well: The passion that had infused her life. No longer was she weaving subtle anti-government statements between the words of her performances. No one cared for such things; they were all too busy with their own lives. Her shows were no longer driven by a need to bring hope to society. People had become increasingly isolated and self-absorbed.
In work, and in society, Schmitt sensed the notion of a greater purpose was fading.
Why did a life oppressed by fear and totalitarianism have meaning, when a free life became a bit empty? The world, as a whole, was obviously safer. Yet, to many, it felt more dangerous. It’s irrational. But so are the threats of this modern world.
There is, I think, a good lesson in what in means to be free in this keen observation. For, a free world and a safe environment can prove to be just as dangerous. The words of Bill Clinton come to mind in such moments. I believe there was some wisdom in his answer to the question why he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. He said, “Because I could.”
I am certainly not advocating a totalitarian regime. But freedom itself, or the idea of it, can be turned into something which rules our lives in a very totalitarian way where we do things – at times unexplainable and oftentimes in vain – simply because we can.