Jason Zhou

The Question Is Not Are We Free, But What Does it Mean to Be Free?

Jon and Brian are mice. Jon is white. Brian is brown. But to mice, it’s all the same; a mouse is just a mouse no matter which way you view it. Jon and Brian live in a cardboard box. The sides of the box have been trimmed and the interior has been redesigned. Some would call it a maze, but to Jon and Brian it’s the only world they know. The box is located in a laboratory, and the laboratory in a town, the town in a city, and so on and so forth. Suffice it to say that Jon and Brian are considered lab mice, not by other mice, but by humans who, like all humans, feel a need to exert their authority through the construction of arbitrary groups.

The day is Tuesday, the twenty-fifth of March. However, in the lives of Jon and Brian, there is no such thing as Monday or Friday, the twelfth or the fourteenth, January or April, for everyday is just another day and identical to the previous. These arbitrary segments of time, representative of a fraction of the earth’s journey around the sun, have no bearing on the course of Jon and Brian’s lives. In their maze-house there are no holidays, or days of exception, nothing to break the pattern of going through the same motions each day. This day may just be one day in a year, but for Jon and Brian, it represents a day that will repeat itself, containing the very essence of in their lives.

A slight breeze blowing in from a forgotten window woke Jon and Brian. The wind played across their rough fur with an icy edge. With an abrupt start they rolled simultaneously over onto their bellies and tested the air with their noses for a hint of cheese. Too early, the day of men had yet to begin with the sun still struggling to make its way over to this side of the world. For a brief amount of time, Jon and Brian contemplated returning to their slumber. They didn’t. The biting edge of the wind circulated through the maze leaving no area free from the burning cold. This inescapable cold forced Jon and Brian to generate their own heat by trekking aimlessly through the maze.

The men in white finally arrived when the sun was halfway through its journey across sky. The second cheese entered the maze, summoned by a pair of calm, fated hands, the purpose of Jon and Brian’s lives changed. Suddenly, the mice had lost all ability to hear or see. They pursued the smell of cheese with little regard to their well being or safety, but rather with the singular goal in life being its consumption. The bare walls provided little padding for when their insane sprawl sent them crashing into one.

At one particular turn, the meeting of two walls jutted out into the space of the corner at such an odd angle that it caught Jon by surprise. Jon hit the floor hard, took a second to recover, and never thought of the injury again. Brian, who had been slightly behind, did not even pause to see if his friend had been ok; he simply ran over him. It took Jon and Brian the greater portion of the afternoon for their scramble to amount to something. They came upon a small enclave built into the maze and were soon entranced by the dazzling effects of three different cheeses. Brian nibbled slowly at the Swiss while Jon viciously attacked the mozzarella. The cheddar was soon forgotten with the pains of the day as they consumed more and more of the incredible cheese. After having their fair share, Jon and Brian were ready to return to the sleep that they had left so long ago. As they drifted off into an unconscious slumber they felt satisfied with their day filled with much cheese eating and an absence of any pain or suffering.

Jon and Brian are mice. However, the lives they lead may not be so different from our own. Like Jon and Brian, we are confined. Not by the physical boundaries of any maze but by the limitations of society and of social norms that are imposed upon us from birth that define what we can and cannot do. As we have never known a life outside of these guidelines, we follow them with a passive acceptance. Like Jon and Brian, we are forced to live a meaningless life which is masked by short term victories. We are controlled increasingly by a society based on rampant consumerism. This consumption has long since stopped being a necessity yet we participate because we cannot stop ourselves and break the addiction. The extent of our oppression is masked by small gains which distract us from questioning the state of our existence: a raise in salary, a reduction in gas prices, another step up the economic ladder. Minimal benefits become reasons to be complacent and unquestioning functioning as the cheese of our lives. Like Jon and Brian, we are given a false sense of choice. Democracy dupes us into believing that we have a say in our lives, that we can control the forces making the decisions that will ultimately affect our existence. We are presented with an illusion of decision making, choosing a president between two or three predetermined choices and ignoring the fact that the best candidate is probably not on our ballot just like the best cheese is probably in the fridge.

The lives of Jon and Brian outline what is fundamentally repressive about our society: it masks the economic system through distraction and prevents citizens from challenging the reigning power structures at the root of their exploitation. The narcotics of consumerism deny the ability to shape one's life according to one’s desire. Advertisements and the consumer society create false needs that perpetuate capitalist exploitation by making fragments of capital seem necessary. However, a new brand name can not patch over the unfulfillment in our souls. We become disengaged and alienated. Our perception of rights and obligations and thus the way in which we use them is distorted by the way the news and media portray them for entertainment. The mass population is structurally silenced by capitalism, critics are relegated to the margins, and politics becomes controlled by the elite as citizen’s brains are massaged by a consumer based society that encourages disengagement with the political and grants those who own the means of production blank checks for rule. Jon and Brian are just mice. You and I are just two people out of a world of over six billion. We may not be able to foment a new revolution against our oppression, or conceive of a world without brand value, but a simple withdrawal from the system is enough to give back real meaning to each person who withdraws.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.