Archive for Friday, May 9, 2008

Americans may not be so free after all

May 9, 2008

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I'd like to think it was the sangria talking.

But the plain truth is, when Anna said she doesn't find this country to be especially free, it was Anna talking. Granted, her complaint is hardly new. People often grouse about the lack of freedom in the land of the free.

But you see, Anna is from Estonia, a former republic of the old Soviet Union. As in the Evil Empire, world's leading exporter of communism. So when Anna says she feels less free in the United States where she now lives than in the once-totalitarian regime where she was born, well ... it gets your attention. And when she says Americans sometimes remind her of the gray, fatalistic men and women who shuffled along under communism, unwilling to think too deeply, say too much or laugh too loudly for fear of offending the State, it is striking, to say the least.

You won't know Anna from Estonia. She is a friend's fiance and these insights were not part of some think tank paper but, rather, came in the ebb and flow of table talk one recent night at a Mexican restaurant. Still, I think Anna is onto something.

Americans, she said, love to trumpet their freedom. But it's hard to square that with political correctness that straitjackets communication for fear of giving unintended offense, hair-trigger litigiousness that requires major corporations to treat customers ("Caution: Coffee is hot") like idiots for fear of being sued, zero tolerance policies and mandatory sentencing guidelines that remove human judgment from human encounters for fear of rendering unequal justice.

You do not have to agree that Americans compare unfavorably with the dull and dispirited Party men and women of a generation ago - I don't - to believe Anna has a point. A nation of iconoclasts and originals seems hellbent on becoming a nation of hall monitors. A nation born in revolution has lived to see revolution neutered and co-opted. So much so that even that which poses as a threat to the status quo (hip-hop, for example) nowadays has commercial sponsorship and corporate tie-ins.

It's hard to imagine an Elvis Presley happening in such an era. Or a Malcolm X, a Miles Davis, a Marlon Brando, a Bob Dylan, a Walt Disney, a Betty Friedan or any of the other American originals who pole-axed the 20th century. After all, originality is anathema to uniformity and, make no mistake, uniformity is what we're talking about here, the campaign to regulate language, law, culture and every other aspect of human intercourse in the hope of thereby removing from that intercourse every hint of risk or danger of unequal treatment.

To put it another way: you can hardly accuse the cashier of being rude to you because of your sexual orientation if the cashier is a keypad; you can hardly sue the maker of the vending machine you rocked until it fell over on you if it bears a sign that says rocking this machine will cause it to fall over on you; you can hardly say the judge gave you a harsh sentence because you're Hispanic if the judge had no role in choosing your sentence.

And if this impulse toward uniformity sounds noble in theory, what it leads to in practice is kids kicked out of school because Midol violates the zero-tolerance drug policy, or a guy getting 25-to-life because the pizza he stole violates the three-strike law.

And, too, it leads to Anna from Estonia making it a point to show visiting friends a sight they could never see in the old country. They laugh, they point, they whip out cameras and take pictures.

Of the Everglades? No. Of Mount Rushmore or Lady Liberty? No.

Anna said they take pictures of the idiot signs. These she said, crack her friends up.

"Caution: Coffee is hot." Apparently, elsewhere in the world, you don't need a sign to know this.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on <a href="http://www.MiamiHerald.com">www.MiamiHerald.com</a>.

Comments

gkwhdw 6 years, 11 months ago

This article may be interesting to read if you knew what the writer was talking about half the time, using words a normal person doesn't really know the meaning og, like;anathema or litigiousness, these words don't really fit on if you don't use them in everyday life. If you want to make an article interesting, use normal words everyone can relate to. Thanks.

devobrun 6 years, 11 months ago

Pitts doesn't have as much experience in the sciences as he has in the broader world. If he did, he would include Watson and Crick, Shockley, Claude Shannon, etc to his group of people who can no longer occur in this society.Science today is Big Science. Ingenuity in all realms of life has vanished. "Progressive" is defined in terms of ideas that are 40 years old at least. The hippies are now in charge and they are just like the horned-rimmed-glasses-wearing-fat-old-men that were so vilified in 1968. This theme needs to be amplified by the youth of the world. Rebel against the hippies, young folks. Stop promoting the same old tired themes like "green", and rock and roll. Question authority, demand freedom from the oppression of the old hippies.

Casey_Jones 6 years, 11 months ago

"Demand freedom from the oppression of the old hippies."This must be a joke, right?

jmadison 6 years, 11 months ago

It appears that Pitts is making a thinly veiled harangue against our lawyers, the defenders of freedom.

Baille 6 years, 11 months ago

"You don't pay us until you collect' should be outlawed!"Because then only the rich and injured could afford to hold wrongdoers responsible. Good plan.How...common: strongly held opinion and rough words over a subject one knows so little about.

Godot 6 years, 11 months ago

OMG, Pitts is beginning to sound like Rush Limbaugh!

OnlyTheOne 6 years, 11 months ago

Anonymous usergkwhdw (Anonymous) says:This article may be interesting to read if you knew what the writer was talking about half the time, using words a normal person doesn't really know the meaning og, like;anathema or litigiousness,If you don't know what these mean - seek further education!A for not using in common life. Wrong again.

acg 6 years, 11 months ago

Confrontation (Anonymous) says: If Anna doesn't like the U.S., then I'd highly encourage her to go back home.Now isn't that just the typical comment to expect from confrontation? No, let's not talk about Anna's letter and look at things from her perspective and have an intelligent conversation (you know, one that uses words like anathema and litigious). Instead, let's bag on her and tell her to leave, like the damned fine 'merican you are, right confrontation? You get more annoying as the days go by. I couldn't imagine living in your tiny little closed head. It must really suck!!

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

"We have to have "stupid signs "to cover our a$$ from the politically correct sue happy lowlifes the ACLU has bred in this country!"You have to? No, rather it is overly cautious corporate legal eagles who convince equally weak-minded corporate "leaders" to pollute the world with silly, overly cautious, cya nonsense. That is not the fault of plaintiff's lawyers.You could write volumes on the benefits to society that have resulted from litigation that punished (again!) moronic corporate behavior. The stupid and arrogantly uncaring creeps who maintain dangerous situations and products should never be excused from the consequences of their acts.

kansas778 6 years, 11 months ago

scott3460 (Anonymous) says: You have to? No, rather it is overly cautious corporate legal eagles who convince equally weak-minded corporate "leaders" to pollute the world with silly, overly cautious, cya nonsense. That is not the fault of plaintiff's lawyers.You could write volumes on the benefits to society that have resulted from litigation that punished (again!) moronic corporate behavior. The stupid and arrogantly uncaring creeps who maintain dangerous situations and products should never be excused from the consequences of their acts.*****Yes, many practices have been cleaned up because of lawsuits, but the article refers not to the uncaring creeps polluting water and causing cancer and birth defects, but to companies serving hot coffee. There are tons of examples of people doing stupid things, getting hurt, and then suing and winning. And it's not really the plaintiff's lawyer's fault so much as the judges who allow these cases to go to a jury. Any time you have a little old lady in tennis shoes with an injury suing Deep Pockets Inc. the jury is going to show her the money.

Confrontation 6 years, 11 months ago

If Anna doesn't like the U.S., then I'd highly encourage her to go back home.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 years, 11 months ago

Marion and OnlyTheONe,This is another reason we are less free. People do not have the education and do not read (which is the quickest way to increase your vocabulary). Sometimes when one of my students tells me that they "don't need no education", I tell them they'll make a good little slave someday.

Fatty_McButterpants 6 years, 11 months ago

"This article may be interesting to read if you knew what the writer was talking about half the time, using words a normal person doesn't really know the meaning og, like;anathema or litigiousness, ..."Gee, I'd hate to take you out of your comfort zone. (Sorry, I tried to use no words with more than one syllable, so you idiots, oops, I mean "normal" people don't get confused.)

jonas 6 years, 11 months ago

Ouch. Any yes, man, go read some books sometime. Even John Grisham novels are likely to have litigiousness. You know what you sound like criticizing someone for being educated?Uneducated.

igby 6 years, 11 months ago

"baby on board" was a sign that you really don't see that much of anymore. The lesson learned was a short time coming. Freedom is a relative concept and a illusionary state of mind. Freedom is not free and is costly. Believing that your free is as stupid as having a credit card. The ability forthe government to tax any and all for whatever is prof that freedom is an illusionary lie. However, Estonia, is a nice place to visit but I would not want to live there.

RedwoodCoast 6 years, 11 months ago

Devobrun:"Pitts doesn't have as much experience in the sciences as he has in the broader world. If he did, he would include Watson and Crick, Shockley, Claude Shannon, etc to his group of people who can no longer occur in this society."---------------------There might be better links out there for showing everyone why we shouldn't listen to James Watson, but this one hits on some of the reasons.http://mattdowling.blogspot.com/2007/10/james-watsons-race-row.htmlNice cloak, Devo, but I see your daggers. Every time. The fact is, Watson's theories on race are just bad science. You can't give Africans an IQ test designed for educated westerners and conclude that they are genetically less intelligent when they score lower. Watson may have co-discovered DNA, but the guy should stick with what he knows. It is obvious he understands little about human variation.

Godot 6 years, 11 months ago

Come on, folks, this is just Pitts' attempt to recharactarize the language of Reverend Wright into acceptable speech. Watch for the MSM to follow up with more attacks on restraint of "free speech," and to paint the hate speech of Wright as simply mainstream thought that has been repressed by the notion of poltical correctness, which, by the way, is the invention of the white elites. I wondered why Pitts wrote that article last week condemning Wright, it just seemed so far out of Pitts' comfort zone; now I see where that is leading him....and us.

supertrampofkansas 6 years, 11 months ago

I do wonder exactly what it is that the "old hippies" did to Devobrun. I read his post thinking "Wow", what a depressing view on the current state of the scientific world. I had no idea that science had been overrun by bunch of "hippies"? Last I checked, I thought we had made significant strides in the last 40 years in medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, etc. I guess I am having a hard time understanding how the "hippies" are limiting scientific freedom. I do suspect that in Devobrun's utopic vision of how science should be done (or taught maybe) that his statement of "Ingenuity in all realms of life has vanished" would actually happen. Tell me Devobrun, has your ingenuity vanished?

frankwiles 6 years, 11 months ago

gkwhdw, Go buy a freaking dictionary or use an online one for pete's sake. Please don't make authors dumb down the language they use, that most of us understand, because you are too lazy or ignorant. But then again, the "Caution: Hot" signs are probably for people like yourself.

BrianR 6 years, 11 months ago

"I never knew a pizza could violate a three-stirke law."NEVER trust a pizza.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 years, 11 months ago

gkwhdw We are not making fun of you. We are really warning you that if your reading skills aren't high enough to read this column, then you can't possible know if someone is taking away your rights. Reading anything can increase your vocabulary. This even includes comic books. Uneducated people can never be free, because they don't know when someone is threatening their freedom.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 11 months ago

"Any time you have a little old lady in tennis shoes with an injury suing Deep Pockets Inc. the jury is going to show her the money."And yet this board is seething with people who are clearly philisophically opposed to giving granny a penny for such a ridiculous lawsuit. I wonder why these people never seem to be represented on juries in the "tons" of lawsuits of people suing and winning such frivilous suits.

Navin_R_Johnson 6 years, 11 months ago

gkwhdw (Anonymous) says: "This article may be interesting to read if you knew what the writer was talking about half the time, using words a normal person doesn't really know the meaning og, like;anathema or litigiousness, these words don't really fit on if you don't use them in everyday life. If you want to make an article interesting, use normal words everyone can relate to. Thanks."yeah, that whole "we value education" thing really ought to remain a platitude and political punchline for the rubes, not something we actually mean and practice.

ndmoderate 6 years, 11 months ago

I think in the business world it's called "unconscious incompetency."

bd 6 years, 11 months ago

We have to have "stupid signs "to cover our a$$ from the politically correct sue happy lowlifes the ACLU has bred in this country!

Strontius 6 years, 11 months ago

Nice try Rationalanimal, but your cookie cutter response to this OP didn't quite fit. There's no advocation of policy anywhere in the OP, but a larger discussion about how carefully people have to walk on egg shells anymore to avoid getting sued. This isn't a left-right issue, it's just a PEOPLE issue. I could go on much further discussing how your presentation of liberalism is little more than a failed attempt at trolling, but that would be wasting everyone's time.

Godot 6 years, 11 months ago

Pitts wrote: "or a guy getting 25-to-life because the pizza he stole violates the three-strike law."And this guy got a Pulitzer? I never knew a pizza could violate a three-stirke law.

igby 6 years, 11 months ago

But that's going to have to change in the near future because the economy will not support the population growth the American, welfare government has built over the past 60 years. The leaders know that someday, forced birth control will have to be the law of the land. Freedoms of reckless sex and baby popping will be history.

igby 6 years, 11 months ago

We will all be taxed into communist status by the "have not" majority.

Rationalanimal 6 years, 11 months ago

Aside from the fact the premise of this entire article is so embarrassingly false that to present it as anything other than comedy requires, to borrow from a notable American patriot when convenient, the "suspension of [all logic]." What it does, however, is illustrate the perversness of American liberalism. That is, liberals (aka socialists and communists) have been chipping away at the foundation of America for 50 years now. After 50 years of pushing liberal policies on to Americans, they now say that America is not a free place. The solution they offer to the problems their policies create, as always, is greater implementation of more liberal policies. What liberalism requires to believe is a replacement of dogma at the cost of a complete suspension of the cause and effect relationship. The fact that America has endured, tolerated and allowed liberalism to disparage the very institutions of freedom which make this country great for the last 50 years is conclusive evidence that freedom does in fact exist in this country. The threat is not freedom inherent in America, it is the definition of freedom liberalism has attempted, and continues to thrust upon America.

Confrontation 6 years, 11 months ago

acg: How about trying some birth control? We don't need your genetics spewing forth any more mistakes.

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