Bryan Caplan started a stir Monday, saying women were freer in 1880 than today: Women of the Gilded Age were very poor … But from a libertarian standpoint, they were freer than they are on Sex and the City
Variety of life outcomes (in terms of careers, hobbies, income, life choices, etc...) seems a reasonable proxy mesure for level of liberty and lack of brainwashing. And by that measure, the modern USA does seem to have the past beat hands down.
Of course there are subcultures, past and modern which score higher on this scale, but, in general, we moderns seem to be doing something right.
Rather interesting. Sexual relations is by far *the* key issue, not so much the barometer as the determining factor of civilisation, or lack of. A mere glance at the barometer is enough to be aware of the Perfect Storm on the horizon.
Marvin Minsky on culture:
The whole transcript http://season1.closertotrut...
ROBERT: But doesn't this reflect what human beings really are?
MARVIN: No. Most cultures exist because they've taught their people to reject new ideas. It's not human nature, it's culture nature. I regard cultures as huge parasites. I think each person has a lot of potential, and I find it painful when I'm introduced to somebody, say, in Europe, and when I hear that a man's name is O'Brien, I know he's Catholic. He didn't choose it. His culture chose it. And to me that culture is an evil, mindless force that first teaches its values and then teaches you to fear other values. So, of course it looks like human nature, but it's meme nature.
ROBERT: "Meme" being a term coined by British biologist Richard Dawkins to describe the contagious spread of ideas that replicate like viruses and spread from mind to mind. Memes are inherited, like genes--they're transferred from one person to another by imitation, and they compete as they spread throughout society. They've been described as "mind viruses," caring only about their own propagation.
MARVIN: They're ideas that get into the brain. And the ones that stick best are the ones that are best at killing the other ideas.
ROBERT: Don't you have a culture in Cambridge at MIT?
MARVIN: I have many cultures. Look, the other day I logged on to the Net because a little girl was asking me something, and I found a group of people who collect the whiskers of cats. There are only about fifty of them, all over the world. They spend a lot of time collecting these whiskers, and they send little E-mails to each other about how to find them. On a long-haired cat, the whiskers get blown around....Oh, well, forget it. The point is that I'm in a lot of cultures. Every week I find a culture, and I say, "I'm going to get into this."
FRANK: But you're not really part of those cultures. You're just a visitor.
MARVIN: What do you mean, part? You mean it doesn't eat up my whole brain? Thank God, no.
MARVIN: I share norms and values with the chemists in our Chemistry Department. That's a little culture. But I don't want ninety percent of my mind eaten up by sharing the norms and values of a bunch of rules that were written thousands of years ago and don't reflect anything good.
MARVIN: What's so great about tolerance? Do you mean we should teach our kids that all ideas are equal and good?
MARVIN: It would be nice to prevent violence, but I don't think that we should tolerate ideas that say, "It's OK--let that poor person have his brain eaten by that set of ideas." That offends me.
MARVIN: But [cultural thinking] is a disease, yes? So critical thinking is not exactly an imposition; it's more a cure. Most cultures, although they've defended themselves against other bad theological ideas, haven't found a way to defend themselves against critical thinking very well, and they're terrified.
[Post edited to be <500 words. RH]
Rob, in 1880, people tolerated others choosing from a wide range of medical treatments; "patent medicines" were popular and widely varied. Today we do not tolerate people using medical treatments, or even talking publicly about health effects of common things like alcohol, that have not been approved by our central authority.
On what sorts of behavior is there more general social opprobrium now than in 1880 in the US or Australia?
"But other than being rich, we are not an especially open culture; on the whole our young are just as brainwashed into doing things our way as are the young of most cultures."
Can you give an example of an especially 'open culture'?
Interesting ideas but the term 'culture' is so vague to me that I never know what people mean by it.
The post you are thinking of is this one, though I also argued with Wilkinson about the FLDS before that.
"My colleague Bryan Caplan is the sharpest thinker I’ve personally known."
Someone interested in overcoming bias might be interested in updating his priors at this point.
It's almost as if... overcoming bias isn't about overcoming bias.
I wish comments were editable. :-)
Simpler rationale supporting the decline of human freedom with time (applys to past few hundred years):
1. freedom is euphemism for power2. obtaining power grows more difficult, on average, as population size increases
Re: young vs. old, I put a comment on the Amish women post about how teenagers are more constrained than adults, yet they have free exit and should be considered free.
But if we look at pre-pubescent children, they are a lot more free. They don't have such conformist cliques, they feel little regret offending their friends (their parents have to scold them to get them to behave properly toward friends), etc.
The cut-off for learning a new language is about 14; after that you're committed to a particular culture. So here young vs. old is a pre vs post-pubescent split, not pre and post-21 or so.
Nevertheless, I find the question whether American women were freer (in Caplan's narrow sense) in 1880 than in 2010 mildly interesting. He may be right that they were. But it's *so* hard to figure out how to measure freedom.
"[W]e all become slaves to our culture." Well, sort of. But this is using 'slave' metaphorically, in quite an extended sense. If my doing X is not against the law--so that it would bring upon me no formal (governmental) punishment--but I don't do X because it is *not customary in my culture*, to which I am thoroughly acculturated, I am "free" to do X in Caplan's sense of the term (Wilbin's "useless (?) sense"). Only in some broader, looser sense am I "unfree."
Caplan's critics mostly reject his simpleminded libertarianism because of its inadequate treatment of children; they think that the acculturation process may have been a *wrong done to the child*. Whatever the plausibily of endorsing a nightwatchman state for the imaginary situation where everyone is an adult from the start, they think the state must stand in some sort of quasi-paternal relationship to *children* (and it's hard to disagree!). Thus, as it seems to the critics, the state's responsibilities cannot be limited to *maximizing freedom*.
"Boy I disagree with that. I think that youth culture is far more ridged and is in fact brutal toward non conformists."
I'd have to second this sentiment, assuming we are talking empowerment to do what we desire. Young people face pretty severe reprimand when they buck trends, as you mention. They also have limited assets (in the traditional financial sense), which some spin as having no entanglements, but I see as a huge barrier.
Most commentary surrounding this seems to delicately avoid what I consider to be crucial; what exactly is meant by free? Are we talking legally allowed to engage in a wider variety of activities, or some more philosophical endowed sense of the word? Either way, I think Bryan is definitely wrong, but it would be nice to define our terms.
Once the young commit they mostly become less free in the sense that once they have built things of value they don't want to give them up by changing their minds. The young are free because they haven't got much to lose. This is only enslavement of the old in the same way paying someone a lot if they do what you want them to is enslavement.
There is also some social retribution for changing your mind much later in life, but I doubt it's significant next to risking a career, marriage, lifestyle, friends, familiarity with your locale, routines and so on.