by Frank Turrisi
“Findlater” by Siorne John appears in the Fall Print Issue of PCC Inscape Magazine
In the U.S., it seems the issue of securing our border is being met with more intense scrutiny every day. Whether you’re a proponent of President Trump building “the wall”, or a champion to citizens of political asylum everywhere, there is no denying that being the leader of the free world has put U.S. residents in the center of conflicting ideologies about what freedom means to us as individuals and the restrictions we must maintain to protect it. The alt-right groups and progressives have grabbed the headlines, but the voices of these factions are only the reflection of a political climate that has grown increasingly contentious between less extreme versions of the broader American left and right at large (to put it nicely). The election of our president has caused an escalation of these conflicts to great polarizing effect, and it is easy for me to argue there is more vitriol and a louder mouthpiece behind the political divide in our country than I have experienced in my life thus far. Staunch proponents of the right have emerged angrily on the heels of two terms of America's first black president to back the current president, but that has not been enough to prevent the lowest approval ratings of any president on record. With things so heated on the homefront, many concerns have risen as both country and society about who or what (ideologically) the real enemy is in our nation's continual efforts to establish both the precedents and policies remove our people from harm's way. In this country, where the enemy has proven to be able to infiltrate and grow among us to commit great evil, Homeland Security has been overwhelmed with efforts to proactively identify covert operatives, while the public is often left in the dark about what the true motivations behind our attackers are, and the greater agenda beyond what the media reports. With open war declared on the U.S. by well-funded terrorist organizations like ISIS (most identifiably), and even smaller, lesser-known domestic groups, there has been no answer for several random strikes at the hands of enemies with seemingly “faceless” origins. In roughly the past year-and-a-half alone, we have endured a rash of massacres of innocent people, with deaths in record numbers, targeted in places meant to celebrate our different individual freedoms. With occurrences in places like Gay Nightclubs, Country Western concerts, and even churches and schools, we have no choice but to believe the assailants organized these brutal attacks as an objection to the individual freedoms many Americans rightfully choose to express. As the U.S. continues to champion the fight for freedom worldwide, innocent American citizens will remain targets, vulnerable to hate crimes and terrorism for embracing what the enemies of freedom hope to thwart. Perhaps more disturbing, many of our own citizens will fall victim to the poisonous propaganda from the outspread tentacles of our many enemies, whose formulated ideological assaults on freedom know no borders, but seek to attract and corrupt the minds of people in the U.S. in their efforts to spread terror worldwide.
Siorne John's "Findlater" is an ominous portrayal of the old feudal stronghold, Findlater Castle, now destined to crumble from the high cliffs of its foundation into the Moray Firth. At the time of its construction, times were simpler, and the simple fact back then was you’d better be prepared for an attack. Hence, Findlater was designed like most castles, a fortress with high walls, but instead of the usual mote full of alligators, it had sheer cliffs surrounding it on three sides and reaching panoramic views to make its walls virtually impregnable, and invasion far too ambitious an undertaking for most in the time of Findlater's construction. Yet with full appreciation of its dramatic promontory, we can now recognize Findlater's design, once its strength, to later be flawed in its own rigidity - for time would tell protection easier with more plentiful resources and the aid of newer technology abound. Not only could this be evidenced in the castle's eventual seizure at the hands of the Danes and Scots, but later even more basically, by the utter isolation of its location, too remote for the workings of modernity, and eventually its own good. Most importantly, since this is poetic analysis, we wouldn't do Findlater justice without serving up some potent metaphor of the the castle's ultimate fate. The need to abandon the structure would become imminent for no reason more important than its excessively careful vantage "too close to the edge". For Father Time has transformed the might of Findlater's lofty position too precarious atop eroding high cliffs, and no longer suitable for its defense. The castle's man-made bones were left forsaken, to erode under the immortal forces of nature, and to one day crumble in its final battle with a timeless neighbor - the sea. In the poem "Findlater", John writes:
This bastion of my ancestors
Could be the death of me.
Held by a thread of time
The cliff hung o'er the sea.
At least a league drop.
Into stone filled deep
On the edge of green hills
In midst of thick ocean air
Stood a monument of solidarity
One thing history has taught us is the walls we build will eventually be the ones we wish to tear down, or will simply no longer function for, but only remain ornaments to the purpose in which they were first erected. Whether you would like to ponder this historical evidence quite literally in the case of Hadrian’s, Berlin and the Great Wall of China, or as metaphor for how we allow our different beliefs to stand in the way of us coming together as a people, in order to really overcome the modern evil within our borders, we must consider far more than the physical barriers and borders that contain us. Americans must work to find tolerance of each other's freedoms, a coexistence based upon the expanding fundamentals of our ideals, or we will isolate ourselves from one another, and fail each other by not sharing the values that will allow us to grow as the leader of the free world in modern times. We will become enemy to our nation's ideology, and give in to the paranoia and fear that destroys the cohesion of ideals our great country was founded on, the foundation of our solidarity, and the base principle that has always been our country's greatest strength - the pursuit of freedom. Those that do not embrace the ideals of freedom's expanse are building their own ideological walls, isolating themselves from the workings of modern society, and are getting left behind, where their ideals too will finally be forsaken, and their walls crumble with the lost meaning of their values and the passage of time. The poem goes on to depict the castle's construction, and the great lengths humans go to for protection out of fear:
No one can come, and no one can leave
The walls so high
Crows laugh as I find
The only way in, a pinhole
Out, a grain of sand.
Who built such a place?
Men of strategy and solitude
Who knew what evil lies
Beyond that horizon
And in our own blood.
As Americans, our core beliefs are rooted in a tremendous diversity that requires tolerance for the liberty of individual expression. Yet, in our country, we see time and time again, how matters of sexuality, religion, race, and a vast many other beliefs held in our melting pot culture can interfere with our tolerance as they manifest in the ever-contentious world of politics. As Americans struggling to coexist, we must remember we are most fortunate to have freedom of expression as an ideological birthright, but too must pay the price to contend with a sociopolitical identity that during globalization amongst many conflicting world and institutional ideologies, even our neighbors sometimes view our expression of different freedoms as a threat to their own. As citizens of America and of the world, we many feel that the freedom we choose to express can expose us to danger, with know enemies to our freedom existing among us. Expressing our individual freedoms often comes at a risk, and at times may force us to protect ourself. This is happening now in the cultural clashes caused by the geographic isolation within our own vast borders, where the different thought we experience from urban centers to rural areas is polarizing and contentious, yet demonstrates how easy it is reject the values of others and insulate ourselves within our own belief systems. It is there we can comfortably cohabitate amongst like-minded individuals, building our walls of self-segregation, that not only fail to embrace the value of our neighbors' diversity (the true gift of American culture) but makes enemies of them, and simultaneously foster greater political divide! If we are to overcome this divide, it is necessary to embrace that it is the open expression of our individual freedoms which must work to tear down the walls of our own isolated beliefs, and introduce the spirit of independence to integrate us. To live our lives with this spirit of open independence is to be the most American we can be, and the fabric of our ideology is woven with hope that widespread exposure of our individual freedoms will eventually teach the rest of the free world how to respect, if not accept, and ultimately appreciate our differences as a society. It is a choice to "let freedom ring!" It is this choice and this spirit of freedom that has enabled America to make leaps toward equal rights in every basic humanitarian respect across the political spectrum in the last 50 years - but especially in the areas of gender, race, religion, and sexuality that are under ideological attack from enemies of freedom. Indeed there will continue to be struggles for equality within our borders, but the progress we have achieved as a society is undeniable. Our youth have been rewarded with more open minds than their ancestors, and hence a greater tolerance of one another's freedom, if not a celebration for it. It is this openness of our thoughts that is the motor of freedom's expanse, and it beckons greater connection for all people. It is this ideological freedom that is capable of breeching any wall, and the gateway to this freedom lies within our individual beliefs in equality, beliefs that must be embraced within our borders if America is still to lead the charge for freedom and extend hope worldwide.
Freedom is an ideal that has proven expansive throughout American history, and views of what freedom means to society have swayed with modern times as greater numbers of people continue to rise up and break out of the old roles and stereotypes that have led to past oppression, and as we continue to open our borders to offer asylum from the destructive rule of enemies to freedom. Thus it can be said, the freedoms we have gained historically ultimately come from the courage to fight against the rigidity of outdated ideology, from within our own country movements worldwide that seek respect for people who have long experienced injustice. This is not only within our borders, but for the many that have sought our borders for refuge and the promise of a greater life. There is no doubt this very progression has left many Americans feeling slighted, as once favored groups they identify with (mostly, but not limited to working class whites) have lost their preferential treatment and the gratitude (they feel) for generations of service to the country. These disenfranchised citizens have lost connection to the very fight they once believed was for freedom of all Americans. This dynamic has ironically fostered a great resentment toward immigration, though all Americans are technically immigrants, and these people can no longer recognize the country their ancestors fought for through their own lenses of race, religion, and often virtues of Christianity. The Pro-Trump set, many of whom have isolated themselves from the workings of progressive America for generations, are no longer willing to stay silent, and look to the president to protect their own "patriotic" interests and antiquated positions, refusing to support the movements of a greater equality they believe ostracizes them. People have started taking up arms to a greater degree for this very cause, spurring many to believe it is Domestic terrorism to blame for the Las Vegas shootings, though it is still puzzling for the public to understand the motivation of white-on-white crime organized to such a great degree.
There is a need for our society to be peaceful and patient as we champion the greater freedom for all, for it is an ideological fundamental of who we are as a people. We must understand and learn from one another, realize our own progression will come from the courage to share our voices amongst increasing diversity, and have faith that the fear we cannot coexist will subside with greater understanding of everyones' positions. As a rule, history has shown us that the greater the oppression, the greater the voice must be, and the harder the fight. Make no mistake, there can be no complacency in the fight for freedom that we have now found ourselves in as Americans. We cannot win this fight with bullets or bombs, but only with tolerance and understanding, for the world is watching. This means joining in the fight for true freedom of all people, and not just the benefit of a few. By living our lives as Americans embracing the freedom of one another, and supporting our neighbors' expression, we are leading the charge in the battle of freedom worldwide. That precedent must not only first be established within our borders, but in our individual minds. Like our forefathers, we can also be freedom fighters as individuals living in an ever modern America that embraces expansive ideals of freedoms. These are freedoms that could not exist to any extent, nor breathe, nor continue to build momentum and thrive without the gratitude and knowledge we have gained from accepting other oppressed citizens of the world within our borders. Yes, this is whom our forefathers were, of different cultures and beliefs that came together, fighting for and even with one another to shape the America we live in today. It is this collective experience from all of the cultures within our society that allows us to see and bond against (despite our differences) true tyranny. We cannot allow ourselves as individuals to become short-sighted in our own beliefs and forget this. In America, we have been afforded the opportunity to live our lives as virtual heroes of our own freedom, and that comes with allowing the the freedom of others to exist. Being American is about gaining freedom, and if you feel like you are losing freedoms in America, then it probably reflects on the beliefs you hold that do not serve the greater freedom of all. We must take the risk of accepting our neighbors' differences, and thus we embrace the fact that no hero lives without risk. This is the unique ideological battle we face within ourselves, living with and amongst the many freedoms we are allowed to express as Americans.
Those that have fought for the peaceful freedoms of all have been honored throughout our history. In less fortunate places and times, many of those same people too have died for those beliefs, before even getting to reap the benefits for themselves. In our past, many heroes have died before we glorify them, and all of us that have remained on the sidelines in their fight often take the benefits we reap, paid for with these lost lives, for granted. As a society, in the ideological battle we face, we have the unique opportunity to win by living in the glory of a place that has won the battle to expression of freedoms most societies can only dream of, and are still dying fighting for. It is our ideology that sets this precedent for the world, and if we cannot accept one another, we stand to lose the battle we lead worldwide, and the glory of heroes past, on our own grounds. Our different freedoms must be shared and celebrated, or we as individuals will face the same fate as Findlater Castle - utter isolation, too concentrated on our defense of a small belief system to engage in the larger winning battle. Over time, no position can remain powerful without the ability to adapt to the future. Our very own rigid beliefs will crumble at their foundations, until they must be abandoned, all for reluctance to trust a greater good and move forward. There will always be enemies to your freedoms, and there will always be walls and a need for protection, but freedom itself is never the enemy. If you believe this, you can embrace the peaceful freedoms of all, and all will embrace you peacefully as friends and neighbors. This is how American has consistently generated greater opportunities than the rest of the world, and will surely give rise to more, with communities that support the well-being of each other.
As we look to secure our border, let us learn from Findlater that the evil in our blood cannot be kept out with our construction of walls. The enemy is already among us, and it takes refuge in our inability to coexist. It rears its ugly head when we cannot respect peaceful freedoms of our neighbors. We can stop this enemy by not succumbing to fear inside that tries to convince us it is not safe to be ourselves. This is the same fear that terrorists use to try and stop the progression of independence, and a fear that pits us against one another, instead of allowing us to engage in the battle of freedom and equality for all. We cannot be fooled into isolation from each other because we have differences, or because we are fighting to protect what we have. We must join forces with one another and fight from a place of abundance. For the problems this might cause, will surely be solved with more heads working together. It is the very rejection of our differences, rather than the acceptance of them, that will surely undo our ideology as a free society, and that make us vulnerable to the enemy's evil within. Yet, the first evil we must overcome is our inability to coexist within our own society, and to have the respectful conversations we need to have with our neighbors. Do not be fooled by your own ideas of solidarity within the comfortable walls of your short-sighted, immediate reach, and like-minded circles. True solidarity is boundless, and an ideal that exists “beyond the horizon” of the most vantage viewpoint. We must remember this when drawing borders, building fortresses, and more importantly in the isolation caused by drawing the lines of our own tolerance and personal beliefs. As Americans, we are looked to as the example for fighting for the freedoms of a boundless world, and merging with cultures where some have yet to experience true freedom. Any "walls" we build will surely trap us ideologically (though doubtful physically for long), while sending the wrong message to the rest of the world. There will always be the West Bank barriers in the world, but the true obstructions to peace reside inside of us as individuals, and it is the beliefs we carry in our hearts that give these constructs any significance.
As Americans, we must prove that we can live in harmony with our individual freedoms before it will be embraced as universal freedom abroad. It starts with how we choose to express the many freedoms we have been given as individuals. This is both the gift and burden of being the leaders of the free world, and the truth is, it has never been more important in our country or in the world at large. For leading the fight for freedom has never proven easy in any civilization, but to lead it through expanding globalization comes with greater responsibility. And so, it is our incomparably diverse society that must come together to lead the rest of the world to coexistence. We are the ones that must show it can be done. We must have the courage to accept our differences, and to express the individual freedoms that will work to make our union stronger. For this union we share is forged from individuals, melting into one pot of this great common ideal we are all fortunate to know as Americans - freedom. And if we cannot support the freedoms of one another, we are fighting a very un-American, small battle, that if we might win for a time, only leaves us a very small victory that will not stand the test of time. Like Findlater Castle, our shortsighted strategies for protection, our walls, our isolation, only leave us with a foundation of beliefs destined to become old and crumble, but not before abandoning the beliefs upon which this country was fought for, built upon, and foregoing the greatest freedoms we share as a people, made possible by the inclusion that exists in America today.
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.