Freedom in the American Dream

An interesting story, courtesy of the BBC World News Web service about a survey of American teens. One of the findings is that American teens tend to be authoritarian in defence of patriotic values. They tend to think the First Amendment is too liberal and promotes anti-American values. The group responsible for the survey has its own web site with a page devoted to the survey.

The study seems to reinforce complaints – from people with many different political perspectives – about the failures of the educational system to teach children enough about their country’s laws and history to educate them in patriotic and democratic values.
My own dealings with adolescents and my own reading about adolescents have educated me to the problems of getting most teens interested in things that don’t seem to relate directly to their peers and their families. Many teens are self-absorbed and resistant to thinking about boring issues but it is hard to generalize, because teens, like adults, hold to a range of attitudes and values. I would have thought that teens are rebellious by nature and might be oriented to the value of liberty but on that point, the study is counter-intuitive. The results seem to show that teenagers, regardless of their wish to rebel against parents and teachers are not natural liberals. I suppose the truth is that teens want to be independent of their parents and teachers, but their priorities are predictable and conventional. Freedom from parental control – particularly freedom to associate with friends and to experiment with drugs and sex – has more immediate importance to teens than abstract political freedoms and civil rights. For many teens, that is the limit of freedom. Even more politically conscious and active teens tend to be more involved with identity and sexual issues, and to take political freedoms for granted. In fact, some of the old core freedoms are under attack by modern liberals. Many modern liberals, and almost all post-modernists, favour political correctness over freedom of speech.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, political liberalism was strongly identified with the personal freedom values of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I think society changed to the point that those personal freedoms are taken for granted by many teens and freely ceded by many parents. If we look at movies, TV and popular music, teens are reinforced in their sense of entitlement to those personal freedoms. It almost seems that teens (and adults) think that if life is exciting and entertaining, we are living in a free society. The pursuit of happiness has overtaken life and liberty as the most important values.
I think Orwell’s “1984” may not have portrayed a repressive society very accurately. He portrayed a life in an efficiently repressive state as numbingly boring, to the point that people had to be medicated against their own boredom. I wonder if Blade Runner (the novel was by Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) didn’t do a better job of visualizing a society crushed under the decadence of personal freedoms. You can do anything and buy anything, but you aren’t free to be a person.


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