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Gentle On my Mind: Musings on Freedom - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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August 27th, 2007


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12:47 am - Gentle On my Mind: Musings on Freedom
While sitting next to teaotter and reading, while she played a computer puzzle game, the old Glen Campbell song Gentle On My Mind came up on her playlist. I had not heard that song since I was perhaps 12. We talked a bit about it, and Becca mentioned that it was a song of a sort that she couldn't imagine being played in the radio today. I agreed and mused over this a bit. Casual on-again-off-again relationships are an accepted (or at least fairly common) part of the lives of many people and also appear on TV, so that's not it. However, the person in the song being a hippy drifter (or any other sort of drifter for that matter) is completely unacceptable. Anyone doing that is either (conservative version) a lazy bum who the police should chase out of town or find some way to arrest, or (liberal version) a homeless person in need of social services and a standard job.

Ultimately, one of the things that has changed in our culture over the last 30 or so years has been an increasing discomfort with of certain types of freedom. The fascinating thing about even making this statement is that in my mind (and I'm guessing, the minds of many people reading this) it sounds like a libertarian argument. It isn't. What I mean by freedom is the freedom to make purely personal choices – to become a drifter, to make unusual or frowned upon choice, or even to choose whether or not to wear a seat-belt.

These choices are fundamentally different from the sorts of choices that can directly affect others – the freedom to dump toxic waste that can get in someone else's water, to skimp on safety equipment so that someone working in your factory is more likely to get hurt, to pay people exceptionally low wages and give them horrible working conditions, secure in the assumption that there are usually people sufficiently desperate that they may have no choices other than starvation or taking the job you are offering. I'm vehemently in favor of protecting people from each other, just as I am equally strongly in favor of making certain that people incapable of making their own decisions – children and the mentally impaired, have good and sensible decisions made for them. However, over the last 35 years, independent of being liberal or conservative, the idea that people should be both protected from themselves and (especially for conservatives) ultimately controlled has become increasingly powerful – especially since September 11 (an event I am very much looking forward to dropping from public and political consciousness).

In any case, and back to the original point – it's simultaneously fascinating and perhaps somewhat sad that depictions of freedom, from the above-mentioned song to TV shows where the protagonist is a rootless wanderer who is content to be a rootless wanderer have become increasingly rare.

I am curious to know if positive depictions of the sort of freedom I'm describing are more or less common in the rest of the first world.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:pompe
Date:August 27th, 2007 09:14 am (UTC)
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I think there is a relevant critique about freedom in a relatively welfarish state and that is that we all pay for everyone else.

Take health care as an example. It is socialized, which IMO is rather good, because otherwise poor people get lousy or no health care and despite my liberal (right wing stance here) leanings I'm not at all sure a non-socialized alterantive would be better or cheaper. But that also means that if people are stupid enough to drive cars without seat belts and get much worse enjured (or killed, so they won't work and pay taxes) their decision doesn't just affect themselves, it affects all of us and our wallets.

The same arguments can be made about drifters. We provide "free" school, "free" university, subsidized health care, roads, defense and so on for everyone. But part of that equation is that people work and pay taxes.

But to return to your final question, I think a somewhat romantic portrayal of drifters are present here too, although usually in a historical context and not today, where such people are homeless to be pitied or otherwise suspect. So I'd say less common for present-day settings. People are perceived to be free spirits in other ways than wandering - like living in a little house deep in the forest without electricity.
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From:heron61
Date:August 27th, 2007 10:09 am (UTC)
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Take health care as an example. It is socialized, which IMO is rather good, because otherwise poor people get lousy or no health care and despite my liberal (right wing stance here) leanings I'm not at all sure a non-socialized alterantive would be better or cheaper.

There is fairly hard data on this, and it's all quite clear. The US spends more per capita on healthcare than any of the nations with state-sponsored healthcare (almost twice as much as most of them) and coverage is far less good (more than 15% of the population has no hearth insurance and a nearly equal number has very limited insurance). Even for those people who are fully covered, the level of care is no better than most other first world nations. In short, socialized healthcare is better on both ethical and financial grounds and no worse in terms of effectivness. Conservatives and libertarians in the US regularly argue that socialized medicine would be worse or more expensive, but all of the data contradicts both of these claims.

But that also means that if people are stupid enough to drive cars without seat belts and get much worse enjured (or killed, so they won't work and pay taxes) their decision doesn't just affect themselves, it affects all of us and our wallets.

True, and I can sympethize with wanting some level of control based on this, but such laws could very easily get out of hand, leading to situations where someone with high blood pressure was legally required to cut back on their salt intake. I'm fairly suspicious of arguments that involve individuals giving up freedoms solely to save someone else (including their society as a whole) money. I'm not saying it shouldn't ever be done, but I can easily see limiting such laws solely to extreme cases, of which seat belt wearing might validly be considered one, given the number of car accidents and the expense typically involved. However, I do think that such laws should be both carefully considered and very limited.

The same arguments can be made about drifters. We provide "free" school, "free" university, subsidized health care, roads, defense and so on for everyone. But part of that equation is that people work and pay taxes.

Obviously, and yet one of the reasons that I loathe the US so much is that economic pressure has greatly discouraged social experimentation. The communes and other experiments of the 1960s are largely impossible now, because people attempting to do them would starve because economic pressures in the US are impressively harsh. Whether the social and economic system is US corporate capitalism or Eurosocialism, there (IMHO at least) needs to be room for people who wish to drop out, wander, try radical social experiments, or whatever. Obviously most people cannot do this and have the society continue to function, but there is also no evidence that most people wish to live in this fashion.

So I'd say less common for present-day settings. People are perceived to be free spirits in other ways than wandering - like living in a little house deep in the forest without electricity.

Fair enough, that is a perfectly valid non-standard choice.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:August 27th, 2007 11:58 am (UTC)
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I can't imagine anyone choosing to be a drifter, unless the person is young, healthy, beautiful, and charming. Only the young and healthy can afford to even think of going without health insurance, which can only be obtained through employment. Only the beautiful and charming can depend on having others support them, which is what our drifter would have to do in order not to die of exposure or starvation.
[User Picture]
From:hereville
Date:August 27th, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
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Well, that's an advantage to socialized medicine -- you don't have to be young and super-healthy to drift for a while, because if the worse happens you're covered even if you don't have a job. You just have to be willing to live as a drifter for a while.

Traditionally, drifters don't die of starvation; they have a little savings they live cheaply off of, combined with picking up day labor here or there.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:August 27th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC)
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Ironically enough, I do have the means to do this financially. Although I am 33, I am also robust and healthy. I have an obsession with security that is ridiculous.

Plus, I have a husband and cat, and I have no wish to leave them (waves to Tantric_Chef).
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 27th, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
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I'm fairly certain that one deliberate result of the economic changes between the early 1970s and the late 1980s was strongly discouraging social experimentation and the ability to drop out or experiment. I think that sort of behavior both scares and angers conservatives and they did their best to make it as difficult as possible.

Obviously, stopping socialized medicine was done for all manner of vile conservative reasons, but I think stopping this sort of behavior was definitely one of them - the 60s scared the right-wingers and they don't want it to ever happen again. I'm very much hoping that the possible liberal backlash that may be starting to form will among other things result in a return to this sort of rebellion and experimentation.
[User Picture]
From:pompe
Date:August 27th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
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I've been thinking about writing a story about a person trying to "leave" the welfare state (and not because of some wild libertarian ideals but simply because of a wish to just, well, secede) and how mind-numbingly problematic it would be in our society. I mean, presumably the US is less controlled than our system.
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From:heron61
Date:August 27th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC)
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Dropping out of society is trivially easy in the US for anyone with a vehicle and a few hundred dollars or less money and a willingness to hitchhike, I think that's typically what moving to either Montana or Alaska is meant to accomplish. Much of this is because the population density is so low in much of the central & western US. I'd be absolutely fascinated to know in what ways this situation would be more difficult in Sweden.
[User Picture]
From:pompe
Date:August 27th, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
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It's the record keeping which would limit your choices. We all have a number, which we use all the time. We're logged where we live, so we'll be taxed correctly and be able to vote. I mean, we're in a nation where making census is "unnecessary", where you don't register to vote (everyone is already registered) and where doing the taxation is essentially signing a pre-filled form. That of course doesn't mean it is impossible to drop out of society but one's choices are quite limited. Especially if no one else supports you.
[User Picture]
From:hereville
Date:August 27th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
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The rootless-wanderer hero used to be a staple of TV adventure drama. Kung Fu, Highway to Heaven, Quantum Leap, The Hulk, goodness knows how many gunslinger shows... the basic formula of rootless dude blowing into town, solving peoples' problems there, and then wandering off was once pretty common, and now seems gone from pop culture. The only currently popular example I can think of is the "Jack Reacher" series of novels.

Also, has there ever been a popular "rootless wanderer" series with a female protagonist, or is it always a male protagonist?
[User Picture]
From:moominmuppet
Date:August 27th, 2007 04:33 pm (UTC)
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Also, has there ever been a popular "rootless wanderer" series with a female protagonist

More often in pairs, but I can think of them. Xena and Gabrielle would be one set. Lackey's Tarma and Kethy would be another, as would... Argh! Blanking on the character's name. Shows up in Magic in Ithkar, and there was a separate collection of stories about her, and now all I can remember is the blue star on her forehead.

However, I can't think, off the top of my head, of an example that isn't set in a SF/F format, generally in a different time and place.
[User Picture]
From:hereville
Date:August 27th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC)
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I can't believe I didn't think of Xena! (Bad geek, bad geek - no comic books for me!)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 27th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
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When I was talking about this with Becca, I was stunned to realize that the rootless wanderer is essentially gone from TV, and it's happened within the last 10 years. This is a huge change in the US media landscape. My best guess is that this archetypes disappearance is yet another crazed reaction to post-September 11 paranoia. If so, perhaps one of the signals that the nation is finally getting over this madness would be the return of shows with those sorts of characters - preferably with both male and female versions.
From:5eh
Date:August 27th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
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Actually, wanderers are encouraged by services like CouchSurfing.com and other programs, but they do seem a bit sanitary.

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