Saturday, November 3, 2012

True Freedom Can be Ugly

Recently, I took a trip to Mystic Lake Casino in Shakopee, Minnesota.  The casino is owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.  This trip to the casino was two weeks after returning from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I went to about twenty different gambling establishments and saw elements of society that was well dressed and there for tourism and fun.  In Las Vegas, there seemed to be very few compulsive and unhealthy gamblers on the playing floors.

That wasn't the case at Mystic Lake.

Arriving at the casino, I pulled my car up to the valet and noticed the man's false teeth.  He couldn't have been much older than forty and yet he had that leathery look to his skin, the false teeth, the watery look to his eyes - essentially, all of his features revealed to me that he had an alcohol problem.

The gentleman whisked my car away and I walked into the casino to be greeted with a shock to my system that would affect me for the next 16 hours until I realized the reason why.

Inside, the air was thick with smoke. Disabled people were hobbling around from machine to machine, slipping in money, pressing buttons, losing.  Wheelchairs were everywhere, being pushed by relatives or friends.  Some of the wheelchair-bound couldn't even hold their heads up on their own and had to have assistance to play the slots.  Poor and ragged men and women slumped over every other machine.  Elderly, with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, while sometimes another one unknowingly between their fingers, the ashes growing longer, sat at the card tables or slot machines, throwing a leg up on the machine for comfort.  Single mother's with their teenage sons and daughters standing behind them with a dazed "I've been here all day" look on their faces.  Security walked around in pairs, dressed very poorly, in ill-fitting clothing, looking bored and callous.  It was 8:00 at night.

I walked past a bank of four machines.  A lady was sitting at one of the machines, playing all four.  Her son, probably in his early twenties, shifted his feet behind her.  As I passed, he looked my way with a blank stare.  He didn't really see me but looked through me.  To him, I was just another person traveling through the casino, looking for my big win that was never going to come.  He stared for a few seconds, shifted his feet again, then looked back to his mother, grabbing the back of her chair for support.  She lost some more money.

I died inside.

My head began to spin.  I wanted to help these people.  I wanted them to do the right thing and make better decisions with their money.  I wanted them to think about their future and actually run the math on their betting and realize that, in all reality, they were better off buying fireworks and actually having fun burning their money, with no hope of return.  I wanted to grab them and drag them off to college or some skills training center. I wanted to go sit at a workforce center and help them fill out hundreds of applications for employment.  I wanted to help them regain their dignity.

But mostly, I wanted to legislate gambling out of existence.

I went home sore.  I couldn't sleep.  If there had been a dog or cat, I would have kicked it.  Instead, I stayed up and talked to my wife and then myself - all night, sleeping only fitfully.  I had no idea what was wrong with me.  I hurt for these people. 

In the morning, I woke up and went to work, still drunk on the feelings deep inside me.  I sat at my desk - working - nose to grindstone on a project, the thoughts and memories of the night before roiling in my head.

Then it hit me.

My mind and heart were having a war.  I have a deeply held belief in freedom of personal choice.  It's a foundational, core belief of mine that I constantly check with new ideas and inputs to see if it is being trampled upon.  But, fighting this core belief was a philosophical paradigm shift - the deep desire to save people from themselves.  To rein back their ability to freely choose to destroy their lives.  Essentially, what I was fighting was the desire to remove the foundations of freedom from society to force people to act as I felt they should act. 

Then I realized that the idea of personal freedom had nothing to do with whether I agreed with another's choice or not.  The reality of freedom was such that every person in society had the ability to choose how they wanted to live their lives. 

Freedom, while a necessary principle for life in a contented society, was and is never guaranteed to be pretty.  In practice, freedom can and is, many times, very ugly - like the type of people gambling attracts.  But, better than the realization that freedom will manifest many unholy acts in those that practice it, freedom also gives me, a person who has made arguably good choices in life, the ability to change the minds of those that add to the ugliness of it.


  1. if there is no ugly side, it isn't really freedom.

    1. Exactly, freedom means the freedom to make choices that may not even be the best for us. Using the force of government isn't the answer. Changing minds instead, and showing people a better way (and hope that they accept it) is the real solution.