A Fable of Freedom and Hong Kong

There are men who have never known freedom. It is not their fault, but nonetheless they have never seen it in its naked splendor or glory, never tasted its intoxicating headiness, never smelled its exhilarating scent, never felt it settle joyfully upon their expanding minds, never felt its bubbles tickling their their nose telling them whatever they want and work for can be theirs, or felt it enliven and embolden their hearts. Because they are not free men, their dreams are smaller more timid, their ambitions less lofty. When they make love, they are poorly equipped to enjoy its wonder, for they have never been free and thus they have never known boundless love.

They live in a cage and have surrendered their life force to the evil men who imprison them. Make no mistake, men who deny other men their freedom are in league with the Devil. They are evil. The idea that the enslaved might contest their condition or wrest their lives back from their gaolers is a thought that cannot form and survive in their minds. They do not have the nutrients to sustain it. They believe they are entitled to nothing more, because they know nothing of this “more.” They are not even men.

At the other extreme, there are men who have manufactured freedom, who have made it with their own hands, who have fought for it, bled for it, suffered for it. They have looked the price tag in the eye and said, “For freedom, I will pay that price, consider it cheap in the bargain at ten times that price. Show me to the fight, clear out, and let me get about what I am here to do.” These are the dangerous men who dream with their eyes open and do not wake to think it was all just a dream. They saw it and will have it.

These men have faced down the Devil and taken freedom, usually by force. These men have seen freedom, perhaps they lost it and fought to regain it, and in that loss and reclamation their senses are keener and more alive for they have known both freedom and its loss. They revel in it because it liberates their souls, inspires their minds, emboldens their tongues, strengthens their arms, and reveals their character. Character is revealed in these men through the friction of this struggle for freedom. Where other men shrink, they blossom. And there is nothing in life that may be denied to a man of character. Knowing what might be won with a little freedom, these men are willing to risk all they have for it, because they know its taste.

These men—the ones who have made their own freedom—have dreams that are beyond measurement. When asked what of life they want, they respond, “Why not all of it?”

When life brings these men a hardship, they whisper, “Steel sharpens steel and I am the best steel ever made, so take your best stroke, but know when I am sharp enough, I will rise up and kill you for I am a free man.”

Between these two groups of men—the ones who are unacquainted with freedom and those who have won it, mined it, minted it, manufactured it—are those who have enjoyed freedom with no knowledge of its absence, no knowledge of its loss, but no knowledge of from whence it has come. They are like the lost soul in the storm who wanders into a home and finds it tight against the rain, steady against the wind, with a comforting fire, and well provisioned. Not knowing whose house they are in, who has made this house, the cost of this house, they enjoy it with a willfully blind eye toward the question, “Why me? Why am I safe from the storm? I have done nothing to deserve it, but I will enjoy it and ask for seconds. Thank you very much.”

These men, the consumers of another man’s sacrifice and industry, have known only the benefits and are ignorant of the price, and yet they are free men. In their freedom, having grown comfortable, they believe they are entitled to freedom because they have made no sacrifice to attain it and thus they must be worthy, somehow, of it. It doesn’t bother them, enjoying this unearned bounty of freedom, as it has always been there for them. They nod to and smile at those who have provided it for them; they may even acknowledge them, but they have no idea who they are other than they are not them. As long as others will provide it, these men will accept it.

And, so the world is a conundrum of those who have known nothing of freedom, those who take freedom for granted, and those dangerous men who not only know freedom, but can make it, but most importantly they are willing to sacrifice their lives to attain it.

Freedom is an opiate that once breathed is addictive. The world is not so orderly that those who have never known freedom will be denied some small knowledge of freedom. Their gaolers will try, but they cannot kill an idea, they cannot blind a man to the possibility, and in the world, even in the hearts of those men who have been broken to the absence of freedom, there is a siren’s whisper. “Could there be something out there I don’t know of? Some thing, some idea, some—something, that is mine if only I would seek it out?”

The gaolers tell these men, “No. This is all there is. There is you and you are to do what you are told because we control your life, your destiny. We will time your death, and you will accept it because there is nothing else.”

But somehow, some small whiff of freedom goes astray. From one of those who know how to manufacture it, protect it, project it—some small idea escapes and seeks refuge in the part of a man’s brain that must be empty to accept that there is no such thing as freedom.

It is a dangerous thing, this whiff of freedom, because it softly whispers, “God has given you this unalienable right. Your gaolers have taken it. A man is supposed to be free. It is the natural state of a man. It is what God intended.”

The man who hears this whisper tells another. He waits until they are safe, hard at work for the state who also steals their work. He says, “Is a man supposed to be free? Has God granted us this unalienable right? Are our gaolers only lesser men who remain in power because we do not take our freedom back from them?”

“Blasphemy. Who told you such nonsense? Look at us. We are not men. We don’t deserve freedom. We don’t even know what it is,” the other man says, but that night when he feigns sleep, this idea worms its way into that same dark unoccupied part of his brain and says, “Your friend is right. You are supposed to be a free man. It is an unalienable right granted by God. Your gaolers are all that stands between you and freedom.”

This small interchange, this viral thought that unsettles the purposeless existence of the man who has never known freedom begins to grow, nurtured by the continuous stream of men who are willing to say, “God gave me this right. No man can take it away from me unless I allow that to happen.”

That man the next day stands a little straighter, ponders what it might be like to be a free man, sees the same look on his co-workers’ faces, and wonders how can so few gaolers deny so many of us?

One day a man comes and warms his hands at the slave’s fire. As he rubs his hands together, he says, “I have lived in a free land. I have lived amongst men who are free, their women, their children. They do not have to ask to exercise freedom. They go to a church of their own choosing to worship a God who imbues them with unalienable rights who confirms they are his children and not wards of the state.”

“And how do we go to that land?” the slave asks.

The man laughs. “You cannot go there. You must remain here. This is your country, but, my dear man, you do not have to accept only what your gaolers give you. You can rise up and throw off the yoke and live as free men.”

“No, we are afraid. We have no weapons. We would all be killed.”

“You are already dead. Look at you. This is not living. You are slaves of lesser men. They have stolen your lives, your souls, and you have been their accomplices.”

“No, we haven’t been their accomplices,” the slave says angrily. “We don’t know what to do. Help us.”

“I already have. I gave you free will. I gave you strong backs, beating hearts. I gave you the same gift that I gave to free men—twenty-four hours in every day.”

“It’s not enough.”

“It’s all there is.”

“God has to help us. We cannot do it without Him.”

The visitor who had lived as a free man, who had gotten drunk on its intoxication laughed.

“God helps those who help themselves. He will help you, Hong Kong. Freedom will always triumph, but there will be blood. When you are ready, He will bless you with the grace he gives to all His children. Trust Him.”