The Railroad to Freedom

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July 31, 2008

I had one of those near-religious experiences last month, with the weather. It was just a mid-day thunderstorm, one of the things I look forward to in summertime. (They actually freak me out at night. I get all tensed up waiting to be startled by loud thunder. There's probably at least a thousand dollars' worth of psychological counseling to be made there: 'Yes, but how does this relate to my mother?')

My computer is in my kitchen. That's where it's easiest for me to connect to the web. There are no windows within my direct line of sight when I'm on the computer, so I found it doubly-startling to 'see,' if you will, the sudden shock of lightning that killed my connection. I couldn't actually see it, but I think perhaps it reflected in a mirror in the adjacent room, although I don't know how it would be possible to see it so plainly, with the buildings and trees outside obscuring most of the sky (not to mention the half-closed blinds). I wasn't even looking in that direction, as I wasn't expecting anything. It looked to me like one of those sudden, blinding white bomb bursts you see when you go to a fireworks display on the 4th. Just as it exploded, the sky cracked open. All the thunder and lightning before and after this merely winked and rolled, but this fierce jolt was loud, like God wanted me off the Net that instant. He got what He wanted. Strangely, my power did not go out, nor did my computer die. I just lost my Internet connection. So did a lot of other people. The cable guys came over no less than three times (bad communication with their customer service people, as well as an uncooperative and slightly schizoid downstairs neighbor), and almost one month later, I'm finally back up. This month has been quite an eye-opener for me. Ten years ago, I had little interest in, or need for, the Internet.

I first used it to find cheap plane tickets. Then I discovered I could do the government's taxes online. (I refuse to call them mine.) I still saw little need to have it in my home, however. Even after I realized that the web would become the best place to find classical recordings, I relegated my surfing to work. Now I find it an indispensable part of my life, like having a phone. A month without it at home is far too long. This should be an enhanced interrogation technique of the CIA.

A friend once told me that the Industrial Revolution didn't happen with the invention of the railroad. At first, the railroad was used merely as a new mode of transportation, quickly outpacing canals and stagecoaches. According to him, the Industrial Revolution really began to take shape when trains started to carry freight rather than just travelers. The Internet, he said, would revolutionize the world when businesses appeared on the web and no place else. Now that Amazon and Google are world-wide phenomena, I think he's right. Mostly. The Internet revolution, however, is about much more.

Because, you see, the real revolution has less to do with intangible stores like Amazon, and search engines like Google. It isn't even about the Internet's cheap, easy, and super-fast mode of communication between individuals and organizations. The Internet is the highly visible, above-ground equivalent of the 19th Century's Underground Railroad.

Just as a runaway slave would run from house to house to get to a free state , I have used the Internet to go from websites to blogs, to arrive at a free state of mind. The only difference is that runaway slaves started off with their eyes on freedom; I merely started off with justification for what I believed, to sing in the choir someone was preaching to. I ended up with the frightening notion that freedom really and truly exists within each individual alone; and that any ideology, religious belief, political process, or preconceived notion that opposes or limits individual freedom must be wrestled with and eventually discarded.

I started reading material that contradicted my religious beliefs, and I began to question the authority of the church to which I belonged. This was rather difficult, as I had been an avid member of the faith community for my entire life, more than 30 years. To be honest, part of me wanted to be free of church responsibilities for various personal reasons, but true freedom can be unsettling. If there is a God (and I am still certain that our lives have divine purpose), I feel that He is leading me away from dogma, thanks to the ability of the Internet to make it so.

I started off reading things like National Review online, which led me rather naturally (almost deceptively) from one site to another, then another, all the way to Strike The Root, and true freedom. You could say that I came over from the neoconservative right, and you'd be correct. Mind you, the only baggage I'm taking from that mindset at this point is that there is a great deal of beauty found in the Western art tradition that deserves to be re-discovered, over and over again. You can start here if you need a boost in the right direction. (Trust me, it doesn't matter if the piece is 300 years old. A new recording of something you've never heard is just as exciting as the latest soon-to-be-forgettable pop album. And for all those art-loving Leftists reading this, I think it's quite obvious by now that the Internet has done more for the sake of the classics than any government grant ever did. So there.)

Now I am certain that my religion is not what it claims to be; that the federal government was never designed as an institution to protect individual rights, but an organization that had reins placed on it to prevent it from going 'too far'; and that although communism is truly satanic, the idea that big government is necessary to combat it is also satanic. It is as if I am standing in the midst of Roman ruins, looking up at the sun for the first time.

I am not alone in this. A lot of people are waking up to the truth. It has much less to do with the actual technology, and more to do with the fact that this technology is cheap and user-friendly. Go sit in a radio station, or in a television director's booth sometime, and see how user-friendly it is. Then take a look at the regulations surrounding radio or television broadcasting, and try setting up a channel about true liberty. Did I mention the capital you'd have to scrounge up first? Good luck.

But here I am, a confirmed doofus, prattling on about my own transformation towards real liberty and peace-loving anarchy, proudly able to tell anyone with the energy to click a mouse, about my two guiding principles:

1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2. Every individual can find a way to peacefully, quietly get up from the table government has set, and walk away.

No printing pamphlets or pounding the pavement. No rules and regulations (beyond Rob's). No great mounds of capital (sigh). Just a slave on foot through the night to Harriet's house, then another house, more excited with each successful run. All I have to do is type, point, and click. You get the message. Literally.

Broadcasters can't control this technology. Libraries can't compete. Against this revolution, publishing houses are powerless. It's running rings around government's ability to keep up. The only way to get rid of it is to tear up the tracks, but now that this railroad is increasingly wireless, it will soon be out of the reach of tyrants entirely. My cell phone is a Tracfone. Good luck hunting down who's using it, W. You can pay for this phone with cash, buy cards to fill it up with more time, and there's no name attached to it. If I had the energy, I could text-message ideas of true liberty and peaceful anarchy all day long. My iPod stores my entire music library, consisting of hundreds of symphonies, concertos, tone poems, oratorios, etc. 30 gigabytes, when the maximum storage on my old Gateway desktop was only 4. How much longer before an unidentifiable, cheap, back-pocket cell phone is 30 gigabytes, with the ability to instantly send anonymous messages and videos to China (while listening to Mahler's Ninth)? Modern-day American Imperial ruins, here we come.

There are three young men down in North Carolina who owe their liberty to this technology. They are not alone. I owe mine to it as well. I just wish God wouldn't get so testy with it!

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B.R. Merrick's picture
Columns on STR: 35

B.R. Merrick writes for "Strike The Root" and "A Voice for Men," is  proud to be a classical music reviewer at and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.