Friday, June 19, 2009

Your wonderful totally bogus freedom

You are so wild and lawless and rebellious! But not really

Damn all these rules and regulations! Damn these incessant edicts and bans and restrictions!

It's like you can't swing a dead economy these days without hitting some new decree set up by the ever-prying government, some new commandment ostensibly designed to stop harmful or stupid behavior and make it tougher for good, law-abiding citizens to, say, smoke, stab, scream, urinate in public, kill themselves, pollute, make a mess of things in general.

Don't you hate that? No? You really should.

Don't you feel the outrage? There is outrage. There is always outrage, even over what might seem the most trivial and relatively optimistic advancements and announcements and legislation. It's just how we roll.

Here's a good one: the FDA has just been given sweeping new powers to regulate the nasty tobacco industry, powers it should have had about, oh, 300 years ago, but because the tobacco lobby is so malevolent and because the tobacco industry helps so many politicians make their boat payments and because, well, we love our toxic addictions to death, it often takes awhile before we fully acknowledge how these companies mean us very, very ill indeed.

No matter. Some people are outraged that the FDA might now step in and restrict smoking even further. Some people don't want more crackdowns on the free 'n' happy use of tobacco. Why? Because smoking bans are abusive and invasive. People hate them. Check that: smokers hate them; everyone else thinks they're pretty great and long overdue and hey, check it out, my clothes don't reek anymore after five minutes in a bar. Nice.

Even now, smokers feel they are the last, great persecuted group on the planet. They feel they are unjustly shunned and mocked and made to go far, far away to enjoy their toxin of choice, unless they are shoved inside a sad little glass box at the airport like some sort of exotic animal zoo display from the depths of 1976. Look over there, kids! Sickly, yellowish people who smell awful and enjoy phlegm! Don't stare, Timmy.

I find this kind of outrage both fascinating and very strange, this schizophrenic, Janus-faced stance where we claim to absolutely abhor government restrictions on our God-given right to shoot and eat and waste and kill and smoke and drive whatever the hell we want, while at the same time we essentially welcome and expect and even beg for those impositions and controls, so as to make life easier and better and safer. Hypocrisy? We're soaking in it.

You have but to pause and ponder. Can you name a single aspect of modern urban life, of human existence, that is not, at some level, regulated and controlled by laws, rules, the government?

It ain't easy. From the food you eat to the language you speak, the schools you attend, shows you watch, books you read, the history you learn, the clothes you wear, the computer you're looking at right now -- hell, nearly every physical object in your immediate environment: It is all, at some level, controlled and regulated and overseen by the government, by codified, largely invisible agreements of what it means to live in a functioning society. Deny it at your peril.

This is the hilarious paradox of America, of modern life in general. We do not actually want complete freedom. We don't even understand what the hell such an unfettered beast would entail, really. As Thomas Hobbes so famously said, were mankind to live in a true state of nature, free of structure and laws and our million beloved social contracts, life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." And who the hell wants that?

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