Monday, September 16, 2013

Are We More Free Now Than In 1975?

Poster Lexington Green over at Chicago Boyz asked that over a week ago.  There was some variety of opinion, but the trend in the comments was that we are far less free now than then.  Some were so adamant that I felt obliged to take up the contrary position.

Much was made of things individuals could do then that they could do now.  Buying cough medicine, where you could smoke, whether you got searched boarding a plane, what you could burn in your backyard - these loomed large.  Drug forfeiture laws and raids, which are uncommon but a clear unfreedom, were also mentioned.

I thought it was largely perspective. There was a focus on what had been lost, rather than gained.  Many drugs are now OTC rather than prescription.  You can't burn leaves, but you can buy fireworks more easily.  If you value choice = freedom, we are much freer now, as there are more than three networks, for example.  But if you value privacy, 1975 was better.


james said...

I can do research in hours that would have (did) taken weeks back in 77. The internet has given some of us much more power--but most of us have less scope. It is harder to get a politician to notice you--the last one to notice a message of mine was Paul Simon back before he was a Senator.

I think Chicago Boyz audience is somewhat enriched in entrepreneurs, who probably have a special take on relative liberty.

bs king said...

I looked at the post and the comments, and then found it a few other places on the web and read the comments on those sites too.

An interesting theme arose, and I was reminded of Screwtape, talking about the man's mother, who complained that "no one made tea and toast correctly any more"...when really what she was harking back to was a time when her palate was younger and more easily pleased.

1975 was almost 40 years no one under 55 can claim to have a reasonable mental comparison. Anyone between 55 and 65 or so would be comparing how they felt in high school/college/young adulthood to how they feel now. Many of the comments fell in to this...people recalling bring guns/knives to high school before camping trips with their buddies, etc.

This struck me as interesting, because I doubt if we offered to bring back the freedoms mentioned that these people would feel much better (does anyone really actively support high schoolers being able to keep a gun in their backpack at school?). I think that many people commenting are conflating their feeling of youthful freedom with actual freedom.

None of that is to say there aren't real concerns about freedom to be had, or that all commenters are doing this. However, I think any time I see a general comparison between a few decades ago and now, people old enough to remember that year need to watch out for this.

tl;dr: Of course you feel worse now. You're 60, not 20.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Garrison Keillor remarked, in his story "Hog Slaughter," We believe life was simpler then. It was simpler because we were children, and our needs were looked after by others. It wasn't simpler for the others.

Luke Lea said...

The the extent that money is freedom, real hourly wages are lower now for most workers so in that sense we are less free now.

Also, back then you didn't have to use seat belts. I remember driving across the country with my girlfriend's two-year-old lying on the flat panel behind the back seat. Probably not safe but that's the way we did it when I was a kid.

Information is infinitely freer now than it was back then, thanks to the Internet. I could have learned plenty of stuff about science and mathematics that I was hungry for then but that nobody knew where to point me to when I was 14, including my teachers.

jaed said...

We have gone from a society where most people didn't have to research government regulations at all to one in which many perfectly ordinary actions are subject to such regulation. So much that we do now is subject to control by people we don't know and who aren't accountable to us. (It's not just the amount and pervasiveness of regulation; it's that so much of it is federal rather than local, and so much of the federal is created by the bureaucracy rather than by Congress.) "Lockdowns" in schools, a term that used to be reserved for prisons. Kids' lemonade stands. Medical insurance. Buying fresh orange juice. Filling in that hole in your back yard so you can plant something there. Whether it's safe to let your daughter nurse a bird she rescued from the cat back to health.

As against this, we have more scope, more power, in information and communication. We are richer in some important ways. That is desirable, but it's not the same as freedom and not a replacement for it.

jaed said...