Is Freedom a one-way street?

Is Freedom a one-way street? 

by Igal Tivoni


As the Jewish holiday of Passover looms upon us, it occurred to me to write a few words. Consider yourself someone I value and care about, someone I love, admire, and wish to share my feelings and learn from. I am hopeful and trusting that these words will resonate. Even if not, I have to try.

We Jewish (and other) folks, bless each other with "Happy Passover" & "חג שמח". These words are easy to type/pronounce. They don't cost us time/effort/action. We've become so accustomed to saying and hearing those words, that they will be forgotten by the next time we peek at our smart phones. Hopefully my words will linger with you a bit longer.

Passover. Pass-Over? Yes, the holiday is named after the (alleged) angel of death passing over the Jewish homes, and not taking the lives of the first born sons. Now, as I happen to be a first born son, this got me contemplating. If I was born back then in those happy days, say to an average suburban Egyptian family, I wouldn't really live past this holiday, now would I? A bit concerning, you'd probably agree.

Perhaps we can learn something from the story of Passover. As we celebrate the sparing of our own rear ends, maybe there's a bigger picture here which we can become aware of? For example, we can look at which lives we take, how, and why? Obviously, we don't. We're good, honest people. But wait, what if we do it by proxy? Does it still count, or is it good enough to keep our conscience clear and our sleep undisturbed?

We celebrate freedom. Freedom from slavery, oppression, exploitation, and harshness. According to the legend, these evils were served to the Israelites at the hands of Egyptian tyrants. Certainly we should be grateful this is no longer the case. If men will try to put us through this, will we fight or will we follow the tyrant's orders? We would like to think we will fight, as we consider ourselves free, and willing to defend our freedom.

That said, there's a disturbing question we must to ask ourselves. As we're standing our ground in shining armor, brave and proud in the face of tyranny to protect ourselves and our families, it is possible that we're actually missing something? Are we all that matters? If the tyrant turns to other defenseless victims, should we look the other way? Assuming we could stop it, would we?

My friends, the unfortunate answer is unclear. Today there are still tyrants and there are still slaves, but they are not us. We were trained to look away from their pain and suffering, and we do that exceptionally well. We realize that if we were to become aware of it, the image would become too much for us to handle. Collectively, we ignore the suffering of every individual animal that reaches our plate. An entire world of feelings: joy of life, happiness, sadness, desires - harshly and routinely oppressed, violated and terminated. Why? so that we can have fractions of the animal staring at us from our plates. 

We don't even know why they are on our plate, that's the absurd part. They've been there forever. We believe placing them there is our own decision. It defines us, after all. Tell me, then: can you remember which day you sat down, thought about it and said: 

"You know what? I did some research and/or serious thinking. Following that, I reached the decision that it's a good idea to start consuming animal body parts and their secretions". 

The sad truth is that there was no such day. We were presented with the 'preconceived truth' as a given. We were conditioned into it from day one as complying with existing social norms. We were deceived into thinking our desires originated from our own, original identity. It didn't happen, which I find highly disturbing.

The decisions never took place. Yet when confronted, some of us experience a strong emotional response while we defend this choice. Why is that? We perceive criticism to the way we live our lives as a direct physical attack. Certain brain circuitry (amygdala) kicks in to assist us in confronting the threat more efficiently. The amygdala does not excel in rational thinking, to say the least. In such condition our brain deals with cognitive dissonance by rationalizing the irrational, and stirring up a strong and confident emotional response (even if completely irrational). At the end of the day, when in conflict, emotions override logic. Sadly, this is one of the reasons this subject is rarely discussed rationally.

We're not evil. We're not weak. It's just the way things are. It's true. Things 'somewhat work' the way modern society exists, at the moment. At least for some humans, the privileged ones. Definitely not for all humans, and absolutely not for the remaining of the natural world, which suffers accelerating collapse on a daily basis. Most understand and agree the current ways are not sustainable and cannot last. Staying course, we will bring doomsday upon ourselves and our planet. Change is inevitable. If human history taught us something, it's that when complex human societies collapse, there is a consensus of complete denial about it until the very last moment, among the privileged.

We have witnessed great advances, and I am confident we will see more at an ever increasing rate. In times of large changes we will need to rely on a healthy decision making process which comes out of awareness and mindfulness combined with strong logical processes. Sure, we have our ups and downs, but at the end of the day we have healthy senses. We can or even should evaluate our progress according to realistic moral values. These values need to take into account the health of: ourselves, our neighbors and friends, all living creatures and our planet.

If not for the sake of this holiday then for yourself, I urge you to look at your decision making process. Is it truly yours? Did you come up with it, or is it a prepackaged bundle blindly accepted from a 'dealership salesman'? Follow through your decisions and confront yourself with the difficult questions: When did you approve cruelty, violence, terror, mutilation? When did you decide to vote your support for intense confinement and killing of defenseless innocent beings? Beings who's only crime was to be born into the wrong species, while 'humane' humans roam the earth. 

Passover celebrates freedom. But freedom is not a one way street. It comes with responsibility and goes both ways.