Springingtiger's Blog


Loveless Flightpaths (Die Gedanken Sind Frei)

I don’t live on a flightpath, thank goodness. However planes approaching Glasgow Airport pass a mile or so to the North of my house, some closer than others. Some days I sit on my bed and watch them wandering where they’ve come from and to what exotic places they are going next. Some days there is little else I can do but sit, particularly just now when my vertigo is making me very unsteady. My current poverty and unemployment mean that I am unlikely to be flying anywhere myself very soon. My body may be the prisoner of my circumstances, but my mind is free to soar wherever it will.

In some ways with its childlike capacity for infinite wonder my mind reminds me of Dr Loveless, but without the towering genius (and the megalomania). In Wild Wild West Loveless (played by Michael Dunn) is trapped within his dwarfed body and by the prejudices of society. He escapes his limitations by exploring possibilities undreamed of by normal intellects and fearless experimentation and testing of not only his own limits, but also those of the society that has abused him. Becoming a mad scientist is not in my schedule, however the capacity to ask ‘What if…?’ without the fetters of realism brings with it a freedom the realists will never experience. If we have any doubt about the power of the imagination to soar above the walls of our physical prisons we only have to look at the life and works of Professor Stephen Hawking who has crossed galaxies from the prison of his wheelchair.

 

In German folk song since the Middle Ages the idea that regardless of oppression and circumstances thought remains free has been a recurrent theme. The song ‘Die Gedanken Sind Frei’ a popular anthem of protest was banned in Germany after the various European revolutions of 1848.

When Robert Scholl was imprisoned for the first time by the Nazis his daughter, Sophie Scholl, played ‘Die Gedanken Sind Frei’ outside the prison on her violin to encourage him. She was eventually executed for distributing anti Nazi leaflets. The song, banned or not, remains a reminder of the truth that thoughts are free.

However for thought to be free people must be free to think freely. It is because ideas can be so dangerous that those in power try to program the thinking of people to ensure they think only what the establishment wants them to. Hence we see the book burnings of the Nazis, Stalin’s rewriting of history, and the Tories’ determination to pervert the curriculum to impose a limited, Conservative set of English values on school pupils. Hence we see right wing propagandists like Rupert Murdoch, Joseph Goebbels and Laura Kuensberg peddling half truths and often downright lies to further their agenda.

Oppressive regimes have always tried to control information through state control of the media and the press. When that has failed they have tried to price control of the media beyond the ordinary people. It is noteworthy that one of James Connolly’s first actions as a socialist organiser in Dublin was to organise the purchase of a printing press to enable the IRSP to counter establishment propaganda. When they couldn’t control the production of information the establishment sought to control it with censorship and costly libel laws. Now we have social media and the minority who want to control us are trying to seize social media back from its users by means of instruments like the ‘Snoopers Charter’. As long as the people can disseminate the truth it removes the power of the government and their propagandists to pervert it. Soon, if the establishment gets its way, the voices of Jon Snow and Michael Crick will be silenced and the only news on the media will be whatever they let Laura Kuensberg and Adam Boulton tell us.

‘Die Gedanken Sind Frei’ When the presses are closed to us, the media owned only by the establishment and the internet taken into the control of business and government, all we will have left is the words of our mouths. That is why Connolly told his daughter to keep the songs alive because when the powerful own everything else “yet still thoughts are free” as one medieval German poet wrote. The slaves on the plantations, the exiled Jews in Babylon, colonial peoples and political prisoners have kept hope alive in their songs.

Doctor Loveless was liberated by his thought, our establishment is devoid of imagination, opposed to free thought and truly loveless. The power of thought is the root of freedom, they may try to take everything from us but, unless we let them, they cannot take our freedom.

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