Sliding Scale: The Price of Losing

by Kurt Dugger

“There are no cats in America”
– Papa Mousekowitz: An American Tail

Credit cards. Payday loans. Title loans. Mortgages. As we get older and more experienced we learn how dangerous these things can be. Having the warm security blanket of a credit card is a comfort to some people, like a big cuddly tiger. And like a tiger, if we ever forget what it is, it can destroy everything you love in an instant. We learn to respect the dangers of this type of debt by making our own mistakes and seeing the mistakes of others. But there are other less tangible debts that must be paid down and controlled.

Liberty, like any other debt, must be serviced regularly. And make no mistake; this is a debt that requires payment. The longer we avoid it, the more difficult the payments are to make. If we don’t cover our share of the debt, it gets shifted onto our children, then grows and moves on to their children. The price of nonpayment is worse than anything a debt collector can bring to bear.

Get a picture in your mind of your family, anyone living under the same roof as you. Now take everything from them they can’t carry. Family pictures – gone. Favorite stuffed animals – gone. Pets, makeup, tools, grandpa’s old rifle, your mother’s earrings – gone. Imagine you either had to leave it or sell it to pay a smuggler to give you room in the cargo hold of a dangerously overcrowded ship. Your family gets a bucket for a bathroom and access to the community water barrel for drinking. Anyone who isn’t strong enough to make the trip gets buried at sea. Your captain gets paid either way. Imagine all the new experiences you get to explain to your children along the way. Imagine having to keep the fear out of your voice and eyes to reassure them everything is okay. Imagine watching them get sick and not being able offer anything but a caring embrace. Imagine sleeping with your shoes on lying on top of what few possessions you saved from your old life. It’s the only way to prevent someone from stealing them.

Imagine putting on a face of confidence while knowing that at the end of this trip you are on your own. There’s no support group, no savings to fall back on, and no way to be certain you can provide food and shelter when you step off the boat. What you can be sure of is that your family will start at the bottom. Most everyone they meet will look down on them. Other children will laugh at yours for being different. Men will look at you with distrust and become impatient when you struggle with your new language. Mothers will avoid making play-dates with you and your kids. What work history you had has been erased. Now you’re a day laborer or if you’re very lucky, picking crops by hand for minimum wage. Welcome to your new life. Now, imagine you thank God every night for it.

How bad would life have to be for us to do this? It’s hard to create that world in our minds isn’t it? But, that world does exist. That’s why we have had people risking everything to get to America since the time we were thirteen colonies – not the promise of prosperity. You can’t guarantee that for anyone. It’s the possibility of safety and a better life, mixed with the threat of their current situation, which prompts them to roll the dice and run to our nation.

But what created that terrible world they ran from? The answer is easy. Too few people paid to create Freedom. Over time the price of regaining lost liberties became too much, and tyrants took power. We don’t have a large population that experienced this firsthand so it seems less possible here. However, we do have all of history to learn from. The U.S. Civil War didn’t happen overnight. It built slowly over the years as slavery, banking practices, and various politicians ate away at the freedoms Americans had embraced. Afghanistan once had a thriving trade economy and the Middle East at one time led the world in art and science. China and Russia have both experienced that same rise in quality of life and the terrifying fall into tyranny that left millions dead.

We all have the same natural resources, mental and physical capacity, and 24 hours in the day. The only thing that has kept us from sliding into the same abyss is remembering that “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Our Declaration of Independence does not say all Americans, but all men, and women, and children everywhere. Remembering this reminds us to pay our bill.

Paying that bill doesn’t require blood, as long as we stay on top of it. It requires that we allow our neighbor use their property as they wish. It also requires us respecting others – on the road and in the line at the grocery store. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance and standing for the National Anthem may give us a warm feeling inside, but if we fail to learn our history and teach it to the next generation, it doesn’t count for much. Sometimes paying the tab means doing things that are uncomfortable and scary, for example, letting in outsiders. It’s a risk to be sure, but if we live in fear of what may happen, we can’t build the Freedom that will prevent true evil from taking root.

On a somewhat positive note, we are very lucky. It’s unlikely we or our children will ever have to make that trip into an unfamiliar land. It’s not because it can’t happen here. It’s because we just don’t have anywhere to run to. Because of this, if we lose freedom here, the price to get it back will be enormous. Let’s remember this when we get the urge to make any government more powerful so they can keep us safe. Just like any other service, that temporary safety will be paid for sooner or later.