Back in 2010, a German family was granted political asylum in Tennessee, because they had been homeschooling their children in a country that prosecutes, fines, and removes children from homeschooling parents. This immigration judge sent a strong message to the world: America is still a country where Liberty is writ large.
Today, the same family stands in danger of being deported back to Germany. Whether the appeal stems from a fear of offending an ally, or a fear of having immigration offices overrun (by legal immigrants), the message is the same: “We’re scared of our Liberty.” (I suspect the family could just stay in Tennessee as illegal immigrants and wait for amnesty, perhaps?)
I don’t think these fears started with 9/11, but 9/11 and the specter of unlikely but terrible events got enough people shaking in their booties to give the government a mandate to act on its fear of Liberty.
As someone with a vested interest to see the right to homeschool protected, I frequently find myself opposed to regulation in the educational field. I know plenty of homeschoolers and trust that Liberty in this area will not lead to dire consequences (or the “parallel societies” that have the Germans wetting their pants). When it comes to gun control, I’m less likely to oppose regulation because I’m used to regulation and because I’m not very familiar with how gun owners tick. I remember reading Deer Hunting with Jesus and being struck with how Joe Bageant, a Liberal himself, denounced the Liberals for their stance on gun control. Folks in Winchester, he said, take great pride in knowing how to safely use a gun. Gun regulation will not make them safer, just more outraged at Democrats. Gun owners who know those in their community must trust other gun owners and therefore oppose regulation as unnecessary; we who don’t own guns and to whom the part of society that does is alien are more likely to be in favor of regulation of those scary gun-owning folks we don’t understand.
In other words, we oppose regulation for the familiar, and favor it for the unfamiliar.
Thus, what we clearly need is understanding, and one would expect that globalization and social media would help bring us closer and facilitate mutual understanding. Instead, it has made it easier to congregate with the like-minded (a sociological phenomenon already observed and made economically relevant in Anderson’s The Long Tail). The upshot, I believe, is that we’re more willing than ever to regulate, ban, and condemn behavior we don’t understand – and less willing to try to understand it.
A recent example of the bizarre flotsam of condemnations in our media is how the most recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (may I call that SISI, pronounced “sissy?”) was widely panned for exploitation – of those people in the photos that got to stay dressed! I’d always thought that accusing the SISI of exploitation was like accusing Marx of being a leftist, but here the SISI’s being accused only of exploiting those people whose (presumably equally willing) participation doesn’t align with how we think they should behave. We expect the model to objectify herself, but object to the old Chinese boatsman being objectified as a backdrop in the same picture. Why the difference? The model gets her handful of silverlings to feed her habit, and the boatsman his smaller handful to feed his family. Does anyone think for a moment that the boatsman, today, is at all bothered by that photoshoot?
But I also see the advantages of the like-minded being more easily able to congregate. I just sold my old 5.25″ copy of Indiana Jones to a guy in Iceland, and interest in my apparently rare French version of Maniac Mansion is coming in from all over Europe. (If you want to, you can join the bidding here.) The Lucasfilm game collectors community may be small, but eBay aggregates them into a community easily reached.
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