I made a trip to the Social Security office the other day. We live in an incredible country, where our contacts with our government are rather few and far between. Drivers licenses, jury duty, Social Security cards – these are really the only times that we have to interact with our by-for-of-the-people-government.
Every imaginable type of person was there when I arrived. There was a middle-aged Caucasian man with an expensive watch and nicely pressed clothes sitting awkwardly and reading a book. There was a woman who was either not fully off last night’s bender, or was beginning a new one already at 9am in the morning. Disheveled hair, tight jeans, short shirt exposing a paunch that *nobody* needed to see that early in the morning – if ever. Immigrants seeking assistance. A beautiful young woman with a manilla envelope with a large heart drawn on it in pink highlighter, surrounding the words “Wedding Paperwork”. New mothers with squirming infants. Adults helping their older parents with some issue or another.
We set up social distinctions for ourselves. We differentiate based on what we do, how much we make, where we live, what we drive, who we marry, where our children go to school, what we eat. A million different decisions to forge distinctions. And we believe that they are real. We believe that we are truly different – better – than those who have fewer options, less money, older cars, smaller homes.
But when we face our government, we’re all essentially the same. Oh, I’m sure there are plenty of folks with enough money to truly distinguish themselves even in their interactions with the government. But by and large, whether you just crossed the border or you’re working at a Fortune 500 company, you’re mostly the same to our government. How pricey your watch is doesn’t really matter. How hung over you are doesn’t really matter. We all have certain needs to be met, and we all conform ourselves to certain behaviors in order to ensure that we can meet those needs – or rather that our government can meet those needs for us.
We are free in many ways, but our freedoms are really superficial things. We all know that at a certain level we have to tow the line in order to reap the benefits of living in this country. For many of us, that line is distant and fuzzy, and only rarely and intermittently do we need to come to it. But we know it’s there.
It’s a good reminder of who we are. Whose we are. And just how far our freedom, our liberty, our distinctions *don’t* go beyond our personal demarcations.