1976 Vs. 2016: Freedom Scorecard
In 1976, like many Americans, I smoked cigarettes regularly. I could smoke virtually anywhere, including inside most hospital patient rooms. All stores permitted smoking inside. It wasn’t until the 1980s that smoking was first banned in elevators.
I attended lots of rock concerts in the 1970s and 1980s. At every event, the strong smell of marijuana permeated the air. Attendees freely passed joints and pipes among themselves. I never once saw a police officer at a concert.
In the 1970s, the notion that one would pay for a bottle of water would have been scoffed at. The trend probably started in discos like Studio 54, with celebrities touting Perrier. Of course, buying pure spring water seemed reasonable considering how polluted our public tap water had become.
There were no computerized time card systems for workers in 1976. For all but the most menial jobs, employees were trusted to enter their own start and end times, and often filled in the dates all at once, at the end of the time period. Many shift workers left when their relief arrived, and still were paid for the entire eight hours.
I knew several fellow young people who smoked dope on the job. Older workers tended to keep a bottle of liquor in their desk drawer, and wouldn’t hesitate to imbibe while on the clock.
I’m not advocating for workers being allowed to drink or smoke dope on the job. But it was undeniably common forty years ago, and what is truly amazing is how things still seemed to run so much smoother then. Even while being drunk or stoned, employees somehow seemed more competent.
Forty years ago, there were few if any security cameras in workplaces, on street corners, or attached to stoplights. There wasn’t the same sort of Big Brother atmosphere we’ve come to know and love. Hate speech and hate crimes had yet to be invented. There were no free speech zones. One heard the term “victim less crimes” bandied about all the time.
The “n” word wasn’t the “n” word yet. Racial relations seemed much better. It was possible to flirt on the job without being automatically charged with sexual harassment. Sensitivity training had yet to be invented.
A good portion of the girls in my high school graduating glass had boyfriends who were in college, or at least a few years older. By today’s standards, these young men would have been considered guilty of statutory rape. The film Taxi Driver promoted twelve year old Jodie Foster as a sex symbol, and just two years later Pretty Baby would be lauded at the Cannes Film Festival, featuring nude scenes of twelve year old Brooke Shields in the title role. Today that movie would be considered child pornography.
The films of Cheech and Chong were incredibly popular, and driven exclusively by drug humor. Popular magazine National Lampoon and the original cast of Saturday Night Live featured numerous references to drug use. Buck Henry, who hosted numerous early Saturday Night Live shows, played a recurring character known as Uncle Roy, who was a pedophile but portrayed in an almost lovable light.
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, there was an abrupt, dramatic cultural change. A public that had been fed Cheech and Chong, George Carlin, National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live, was suddenly advised to “Just say no.” The very term “victim less crimes” was flushed down the memory hole. Prepubescent sex symbols became a thing of the past. In some ways, a new Puritanism was born. Rocky and Rambo took the place of Cheech and Chong.
With all its flaws, the 1970s permitted young people like me far more personal freedom and liberties than Millenials enjoy today. As noted, even with an inestimable amount of workers drinking or smoking dope while on the job, things got done quicker and better. Roads were repaired on a timely basis. Snow plows actually cleared the way in inclement weather. Patients didn’t worry about contracting an infection when entering a hospital. There was the feeling that, even though they were hard asses and often corrupt, those in charge of everything were at least competent.
In 1976, even non-college graduates could find a decent job. It was still possible to work your way up the corporate ladder to at least some extent. Many of the jobs that now demand at least a bachelor’s degree were done proficiently forty years ago by high school graduates or even high school dropouts.
I was always a dreamer, but lacked a practical sense of ambition. Still, I never disputed the reality that, if I put my nose to the grindstone then, I could and would be able to make a better life for myself. Baby Boomers and Millenials often argue on conspiracy forums. I invariably take the Millenials’ side. I was there, and there is no question that things were easier in almost every way for us. Jobs were plentiful, and training was still provided to anyone willing to learn.
Finally, as I have pointed out numerous times in interviews, President Gerald Ford (a member of the Warren Commission no less) was pressured into signing an Executive Order in 1976, which banned assassination as an American political resource. Less than forty years later, “liberal” Barack Obama used a drone to assassinate an American citizen who hadn’t even been charged with a crime, and bragged about it. Hillary Clinton boasts, “We came, we saw, he died.” Our leaders have crossed a huge moral line in the sand by publicly endorsing assassination.
In 2016, we are all dealing with a perpetual “war on terror.” The enemy could be anyone or everyone. We aren’t fighting an identifiable country, and the foe is not wearing a uniform. We are advised, “If you see something, say something.” And President Bush, like other leaders before him, warned us that if we aren’t “with” the government, then we are “with” the terrorists.
Since the events of 9/11, which have never been properly investigated, Americans live under the edicts of the Patriot Act. The Homeland Security Department has become yet another monstrously unconstitutional branch of the federal leviathan. The unconstitutional roadblocks, which were meekly accepted by the public, led to the odious reality of free speech zones, hate speech, hate crimes and the obscene groping by TSA agents.
Security cameras are everywhere now. Every business establishment has them. An increasing number of traffic lights feature them, and citizens have grown accustomed to receiving their tickets for running red lights via the mail. An essential component of Orwell’s 1984 is clearly here, but few seem to have noticed. The one good thing to come out of this increased surveillance is the exposure of rampant police brutality. But some of the same people who want average citizens under constant video scrutiny want to ban the filming of police officers doing their “thing.”
Drug tests and drug screenings are routine now, for almost any job. Not only is smoking banned nearly everywhere, many companies openly advertise that they will not hire smokers, period. In other words, you are not free to consume a perfectly legal product, even in your own leisure time.
In 1976, few people worried about a medical crisis destroying them financially. Healthcare costs have risen more sharply than anything else over the past four decades. A young person could work almost any job and be able to afford their own apartment. Nowadays, rental costs have become prohibitive for all but a few well- paid Millenials. Adult children living at home is not a mere punchline, but a sad reality that is solely dictated by the madness of our modern economy.
The popularity of fart comedies and casual standards of dress, which have resulted in people sometimes wearing pajamas outside, seem to represent a more relaxed culture. But the presence of social justice warriors, with their aggressive authoritarianism, serves the opposite purpose. Our speech and thought are being policed like never before, incredibly enough, in the name of “tolerance.” Even without any literal Big Brother posters, the Thought Police have become all too real.
With our industry being effectively outsourced, and massive waves of immigration taking jobs and lowering wages for blue collar workers, job-seekers today face a much more daunting task than we did forty years ago. The future is bleak in every way for Millenials, not to mention those who are just being born. Young people today will have to deal with a toxic mixture of authoritarian political correctness, continuous militarism, foreign visa workers, illegal immigrants, dramatically lowered standards of living and a constant plea for “sacrifice.”
Perhaps I’m just getting old. Previous generations have always tended to recall the past as the “good old days.” But I’m not claiming we walked fifteen miles to school each day, or that we had it inordinately rough. On the contrary, I maintain it was much easier for my generation. We had greater personal freedom by any measurable standard. Jobs were easier to get, and careers were there for the asking. You had a chance to learn on the job, and benefits were far more plentiful than they are now.
The term CEO was unknown in 1976. Huge executive bonuses and outlandish disparities in wealth didn’t exist. The rich were rich, and the poor were poor, but neither was quite as rich or poor as they are now. No one had heard of golden umbrellas or golden parachutes. Yearly pay raises were a reality for nearly every American worker, and they left everyone better able to meet the costs of living than today, when many receive no raises while the costs of everything continues to rise.
While some states have legalized marijuana to varying degrees, the mandatory sentences implemented in the 1990s have created a prison population boom, most of it from drug-related offenses. If the social justice warriors get their way, thought and speech criminals may soon be imprisoned alongside them.
I remember thinking that the World War II generation, who were still largely in charge as I entered the workforce, were harsh task maskers. I thought there were too many rules and restrictions back then. I could never have imagined how much more controlling the Baby Boomers would become, once they took over.
Every new regulation creates a slew of new offenders. Every new law creates a slew of new criminals. As the great Ernest T. Bass once said, there are “too dad burn many rules.” Somehow, the world seemed to run smoother, and things were more laid back, forty years ago when there were fewer regulations and fewer laws.
I have often lamented the lack of civil libertarians in our society today. Where are the Nat Hentoffs when we need them? The libertarian in me will always bemoan the prosecution of “victim less crimes.” Every one of us should want the government to stay far, far away from our personal lives. Forty years ago, even when many of us were protesting against the comparatively small infractions on our civil liberties, neither the government or the business world was as intrusive as they are now.
My generation helped to build this horrific, decaying culture. Bad decisions and bad legislation on the part of our leaders constructed this nightmare. The only aspect of life that can said to have improved over the past forty years is the fact we now have more technologically advanced toys. Perhaps the greatest of these advances is the internet, which permits alternative thinkers like me to share my thoughts with others electronically. Sure, smart phones are cool, but how did everyone get along without them for so long?
I have great empathy for young people today. Although, like the vast majority of Baby Boomers, I had no influence over what transpired over the last several decades, I apologize on behalf of my generation. You deserve better, and I hope the Millenials are able to reign in the authoritarianism and restore our liberties and freedom.