Fairly free

Interesting post about the different ways Europeans and Americans approach the concepts of freedom and fairness.
As a not-terribly-related side note, I’m pretty sure the phrase “With great power comes great responsibility” pre-dates the Spiderman movie, but I can’t hear that sentence these days without conjuring up the sound clip from said film.

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3 thoughts on “Fairly free

  1. Ed Heil

    Couple thoughts on that article.
    1) Is it really accurate to characterize people who are in dire straits in America as typically being there because they have failed to exercise their freedom with responsibility? That is to say, does the fact that a game has huge rewards for the winners and huge penalties for the losers *actually* indicate that those rewards and penalties are more “freely” chosen than in a game with more modest rewards and penalties?
    2) In a post-9/11, USA PATRIOT ACT, Jose Padilla, civil-liberties-in-the-toilet world, is it really accurate to characterize Americans as particularly interested in preserving their own freedom?
    3) The suggestion is made that the fact that African-Americans tend to be better off than Africans says something about how good they have it in America despite their history of slavery. Might it not have been appropriate to consider Africa’s history of colonial and post-colonial exploitation too, of which the slave trade was but one small facet?
    I think that the article fails to make a good case (though it is probably useful for preaching to the choir) that the apparent “unfairness” of the American system is made up for by its greater “freedom.” Greater possible success and failure doesn’t signify greater freedom in and of itself; one must actually be free to succeed or fail by one’s own choice, and I think if people really had so much power to choose, fewer would choose to fail. (A lottery has huge rewards for success and a penalty of complete loss of your money for failure; however, I don’t think that anyone would say that therefore players in the lottery have greater “freedom” than players in the stock market, where both probable gains and probable losses are much smaller — and yet by the author’s logic, the lottery must be an arena of greater “freedom” than the stock market.)
    It is always easier to justify inequality by claiming that the people on the losing end of it chose to lose; this article seems like more of that tactic — probably it is unintentionally so and simply reflects the ideology that has been drummed into the author’s mind.

  2. KDC

    The original post is better than the many comments that follow it. Ed’s point is interesting, though I’m not sure it’s completely accurate either. What I find interesting in the post is the notion that Europeans are really giving up a significant amount of freedom. I don’t question that there are choices that in the US are easier to make later in life or not make at all, or more flexible or such – but I’m not convinced that the sheer ability to make such choices is really such an ennobling thing.
    If Americans all of a sudden couldn’t buy guns, there would be a huge black market overnight (in addition to the already existing one for criminals); if in Germany (my experience) it all of a sudden became easy to buy a handgun, not many people would; a few people would hunt or shoot skeet (or go to Vogelschiessen for Schuetzenfest, a small-town summer celebration), and the rest would ignore it. Or maybe criminals would shoot more often, though I couldn’t say what the stats on that would be.
    So perhaps I would agree with the poster that Europeans and Americans have the _laws_ they want, but I’m not sure that it is about freedoms per se. They are different cultures that have more in common than most randomly chosen pairs of cultures, but are nowhere near identical, and let’s leave it at that.
    PS Andy, sorry you won’t be able to make it to Chi-Town next week. I’d love to see you both, especially since Val will be out of town.

  3. Kim

    This was an interesting theory and, as a generalization, I think it reflects some of my experience living and travelling in Europe. There were a couple of exceptions that stood out to me, however:
    One idea that the writer doesn’t explore is the idea of protection and common welfare in Europe – the governments take a larger role in protecting its citizens from poverty or illness, as well as keeping them relatively safe from crime and violence. Since 9/11, the US government has taken a more significant role in protecting its citizens from danger as well, and I think we’re becoming a lot more European in that regard. I remember stories of Austrian police who curtailed the rights of criminals much more than in America. I also recall being shocked by how restrictive security was and how heavily armed police and security officers were in the airport in Paris when I was there 7 years ago. Nowadays, heavily armed guards and invasive searches are quite common in American airports and criminal suspects have a lot fewer freedoms than they used to here. Many people would argue that this is a necessary and reasonable trade-off of freedom for security, but it is a trade-off nevertheless.
    I also think the notion of a greater freedom in America breaks down when considering so-called “moral issues.” Americans are much more comfortable with restrictions on our freedoms than our European counterparts when it comes to drugs, alcohol, smoking, abortion, prostitution, gay unions, and the like. As much as we are a freedom-loving nation, it is important to remember that the Puritans were our forebears as well.

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