During Friday's broadcast of Air America's The Majority Report, a caller named Matt, from Georgia, said, "What I am opposed to, what I'm worried about is a permissive society. I mean let's face it, that's what brought down all great, uh, all great nations before us."
First of all, I don't think that Matt's sweeping statement is true. There are many countries around the world that are even more permissive than America and are not teetering on the brink of collapse. Host Sam Seder may be closer to the mark when he blames the fall of nations on empire building. Then again, Brittan, while not as powerful as it once was, is still a thriving nation and an important player on the world stage in its post-imperial phase.
But there is a subtler and more disturbing aspect to Matt's statement. Since he is worried about a "permissive society", consider what makes a society "permissive".
A permissive society allows its citizens to say and write whatever they want, even when others disapprove or it results in public criticism of that society.
A permissive society allows its citizens to freely assemble and travel without special permission.
A permissive society allows its citizens to worship in whatever way they set fit, including not at all.
A permissive society allows its citizens to own weapons and doesn't even ask why they need them.
A permissive society allows its citizens to do whatever they want in private. In cases where this might harm the society, it still places significant restrictions on how and when invasions of privacy are allowed.
A permissive society allows its citizens to remain silent rather than admit criminal wrongdoing.
A permissive society treats even its criminals fairly, rejecting cruel or unusual punishment.
A permissive society places the burden of proof on the government, not the individual. Citizens can only be held accountable for crimes that the government can prove they committed, even if everyone "knows" they are guilty.
It appears to me that we've been living in a permissive society for well over 200 years and it's been treating us very well. It was designed to be "permissive" by great men who realized that, to be free, people must be able live their lives as they see fit. They must not be subject to the tyranny of their government or the majority of their fellow citizens.
In my opinion, some people define "permissive" as the ability to behave in ways of which they don't approve. Gays want to marry? That's too permissive and must be stopped. People want to speak out against the war? That's dangerously permissive, emboldening our enemies. That cannot be tolerated. In the past, mixed-race marriages were considered too permissive.
If America is to remain The Land of the Free, it must cling to its tradition as one of the most permissive societies in history. Permissive = Free. Get it?
If any form of pleasure is exhibited.
Report to me and it shall be prohibited.
I'll put my foot down, so shall it be!
This is the land of the free!
-- Rufus T. Firefly, "Duck Soup"
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