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The Full Price of Free

Fireworks are Not Free - Even in the Land of the Free

As certain humans in the northern Americas prepare to harm themselves with incendiary devices, in plain view of sedate but humored livestock, the Mules plan to lean back, watch the chickens fluster, and think a moment on freedom.

The human kind.

Especially the special case of a related word… free.

Oh, it sounds like a nice word, four letters aside.  But it can deceive the innocent and genuine, used to coarse ends by those who know full well what the price of free is.

The Mules have helped old ladies cross the street.  We did it to be “nice” — but never for free.

Nor has any human ever done anything for “free” in our presence.  Selfless is synonymous with selfish — and all selfless acts are done at a price, often to the benefit of the self.

Even in sacrifice, to include that ultimate sacrifice, the white crosses kind that one might consider on holidays conceived of war and struggle… the freedom to sacrifice, or risk the sacrifice of, one’s own life is freely made with full reward in mind. Holidays and memorials immortalize them, they leave a safer land for their progeny to inhabit.

Eventually, there come the future forgetful generations of selfish beings, ones too stigmatized by claimants of the keys to “free” to ever freely admit they profit by their valuable contributions to others.

That the value exchanged may not be enjoyed in the bank of an individual charging enemy positions does not make the sacrifice free.  It is terrifically expensive, and yet has been chosen. Nor is it, even in the face of much risk, free — or unselfish.

There is no free.

Those of you bipedal anomalies of nature, the only species foolish enough to claim that “free is free” — those who talk of free, you are wrong.  A certain exchange of value is present in every human action, interaction; it is entrenched even in every reaction, and there’s no space left for thoughts of string-free “free” in that famously active brain of yours.

A financial payment is not an adequate definition, nor anti-definition, of free.  Free is the easiest, cheapest way to say “paid in full” — it is economical use of language, for free is paid, and not here, perhaps, there are mirrors and curtains and the magicians’ hands move swiftly… but somewhere, somehow, payment passed.

Why? Did humans truly believe they could get 20% more detergent for free?  Was it the free shipping that caused this?  Free trials? Free love?  Free rides? Was it the century of marketing’s psychological rise that created this sense of bumbling entitlement to “free” without reciprocation? Or, more accurately, without the comprehension to recognize that a reciprocal value is always transferred?

Free means there was a bill, and free means it was paid in full.

At the very least, an expectation of payment was present at the time of the freely-offered, and even a missed expectation conveys experience — a free lesson for next time.  Perhaps it was your vote you sold, perhaps you bought a nod, or exchanged a scratched back. None of that was free.

That the reciprocation feels of less value than the exchanged good or service received is of no consequence — the value exchanged is never zero, and the value of a given “free” varies in its perception of worth across each individual and all groups.

Are you one of the freeloaders who freely invoke the freedom of free?

Perhaps you feel like you helped upon detaching your hand from the cold grip of that wrinkled crone, one more old biddy now safely to the other side of the road — the busy one, the one that chickens won’t cross?

The Mules regret to inform… you were, through your gift of self-satisfaction, paid in full.

When you donate to a charity or project — even should you forget or deliberately choose not to take a tax deduction — were you not paying to generate an expected emotion?

If you erupt a $100 bill into fire for a cigar, did you not convert representative value into nothing more than another symbol?  What is the conversion of one symbol into another? Whatever it is, it is not the definition of free.

Mules are creatures, and like humans, creatures of deep habit — habits being an excuse by which to deny our gene sequence; without choices, life sounds boringly predetermined.  To admit that free is not free is not to embrace set destiny.

We mules know that tomorrow the fly will return to bite our flanks, for it is compelled to sustain itself. Our tail shall swish in response to the bite; the fly will flee the incoming threat to itself.  The world will spin freely on its axis, and another day will pass, with another fly in the liniment, and none of it free.

Free at last?  Never without a tag attached. Free for all? Never long with equality – and thus value was shifted, and thus it was free for none.

While the Mules have made a point to gain “nothing” financially from this site, every tap of our hooves is a payment of a sort, an exchange of value, our time for… what? 

Is it not free?

The site is “free” in its promotion of a community and software we enjoy.  Free is “featuring” a selection of humans who have shown themselves competent representatives of design and development.  And yet none of it is free.

This is a for-profit endeavor. Money may not slide under tables in black bags, but profit comes in many flavors.

While our profit is not the most common symbol of wealth — nor even, alas, is it fresh hay — ours is the barter all animals make with each and every action, conscious or not.

All thought, even those thoughts not acted upon, naturally balance risk and reward… all decisions involve checks against expected gains or losses.  Our minds seek in all things to find the farther thing from free.

Hallmarks of value exchange are sundry… authority, pride, rankings, ego, traffic, riches, influence, fans, a pat on the head, power, status, gaining points for the afterlife — oh yes, these fell into our laps, of course, but you did it for “free” — or so some would say.  But the thinnest mule knows these were always among the many ways free is prepared for payment.

Be a dear — on this holiday of celebrated Independence — don’t tell the Mules anything you’re pushing, selling, or coaxing is “free” — no really, free free? We’re not buying it. Save your breath for the fiery displays.

Not being bitten or kicked on the fourth of July: a free service from the Mules, paid for by those humans who are not idiots in our presence.

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