When we read stories or watch movies of sailors on the sea, or of the (overwhelmingly male) population of the Old West, it is easy to wonder why there wasn’t as much violence and homosexual rape as we now see in modern prisons. After all, overwhelmingly male environments invite such trouble, don’t they?
But such is not the case. That was not the culture. Instead, bad guys were hanged. And there’s one key reason, one that should clarify what “freedom” really is.
Freedom is not freedom from poverty. Freedom is not safety, or freedom from danger.
Freedom is, well, to be free. The pioneers were free. The laborers in the city were free (and often better off than the pioneers). Sailors were free. Prisoners are not.
The prison, the caging of the human animal, is like a reverse invisible hand. Prisons make life worse for us (because we are forced to pay for them) and make the prisoners themselves worse.
And that’s because the prisoner has nothing to live for. No future ahead - or even if one will soon be freed, far fewer resources for self-improvement than can be had in free society. The short-term pleasures are therefore valued higher than the long-term gain. And, since we are talking about often violent people, their idea of “pleasure” isn’t exactly watching the symphony on PBS.
What inspires a free person is something to live for. Doing what one enjoys doing, and/or providing for loved ones and/or building a better future for oneself. The pioneers had it. The factory laborers had it. The sailors had it. Prisoners don’t have it.
Depravity, however one wants to define it, sets in as soon as we see our freedoms diminished. Once we can not live for ourselves, but are forced, more and more, to live for others through taxes and regulations, the less free we are. Likewise, the more we depend on government aid instead of our own initiative for our well-being, the less free we are.
The prisoner gets it both ways: he is forced to live for “others,” that is, he exists in order to make society feel better about itself because such a person has been locked up. Likewise, he is completely dependent on the government for his existence.
A devastating one-two combination. Maybe prisons are necessary (I have my doubts) to keep violent criminals out of society. But rehabilitation is, if not impossible, quite improbable.
Likewise, where do we see most violent crime? It is in urban ghettoes, where taxes and regulations discourage business investment and where, therefore, illegal trade, such as the drug trade, flourishes. Likewise, we see it in places where the government schools are so incompetently run that its victims grow up barely literate and often unemployable. And where more people collect government welfare checks.
Those most dependent on the government are not free, and are thus more likely to succumb to the allure of crime or other self-destructive behavior.
But this applies not only to the most dependent, but to everyone with a dependency on the government, albeit to a lesser degree. For we are all, supposedly, guaranteed the safety nets of Social Security and unemployment insurance. Who pays for it? You and me through taxes and government-induced inflation. And the next generation, through even higher taxes to pay interest on the debt, or even higher inflation.
That is, we don’t have to take care of ourselves, the government will - other people will. The politicians promise it, the Christian preachers of both the Left and the so-called Right tell us this is social justice and recommend voting for politicians who endorse this vision.
And then they wonder why civilization is declining.
It is declining because people have less to live for, because they are not free to live for themselves and their loved ones. If somebody else takes care of us and our families, and this by legal entitlement, then what are we to do?
This is the crisis of father-less families, especially but not only among African-Americans. If government provides, why should I provide? The moral capital of religious faith isn’t always sufficient for most people. It is important, not only as an article of faith, to be moral and personally responsible, it must also be an economic imperative. But the government’s “safety net” guarantees, and more importantly, its taxing away of a large portion of our income, discourages such far-sighted thinking and action.
For when government takes from us, and makes us dependent on it, we truly, like the prisoner (although not to the same degree), have less to live for. We are not free to use as much of our own resources as we see fit. We are thus less able to provide for the future, reduced instead to praying that the government won’t fall into bankruptcy.
And then there are other controls on our life, especially the War on Drugs. With that War, which violates more provisions of the Constitution more than does any other federal program, the government is telling us point blank that we are irresponsible adolescents who don’t know what’s good for us.
The less we can focus on the long-term, the more we focus on the present. The more the government treats us like children, the more we will act like children.
And this is the secret of Janet Jackson letting her breast be exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show. And of the Madonna-Brittany Spears kiss. We are a nation of bored people, wanting the next distraction and entertainment. Our media companies and entertainers know this. This also explains the explosion of legal gambling. And, in large degree, the spectacle of the Super Bowl itself, with or without a “decent” halftime show. What Murray Sperber called the modern NCAA Division I university culture may as well be applied to the nation itself: we are a culture of “beer and circuses.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with circuses, or with beer. It is rather a question of, what is our nation not just entertained by, but transfixed upon? Do we care about the things we care about because they are important, or because we are bored and looking for a diversion? And aren’t we bored because the things we should care about, our work and our family, are now the government’s responsibility instead of our own?
The Jackson controversy is itself a case in point. The fact that it’s a controversy is itself a diversion: should the FCC step in, or should this be left alone? This renews the phony-baloney “culture war” that has created fake divisions between Democrats and Republicans, so that they can dupe us into agreeing with their bi-partisan foreign wars, Drug War, crackdown on civil liberties, explosion of federal Department of Education’s budget, and so much else.
With the culture war, the big lie is perpetuated: Democrats are socialist and anti-family; Republicans are racist, uptight fundamentalists. There is, in fact, zero evidence of any of this having been true, ever. But it makes for effective scare-mongering. And that’s all the culture war is, scare mongering to blind us to the real injustices, the real invasions of liberty.
With Big Government nanny-state provision, and paternalistic rules, politicians of both major parties want to pretend that they will take care of us, and especially “the children.” But they haven’t. All they’ve done is turn us all into immature adolescents, transfixed on sex and violence. Since we’re no longer allowed to live our own lives, what else can be expected?
To reverse the cultural slide is not to pass this or that law, or this or that amendment. Rather, it is to allow as much freedom as possible.