George Carlin discusses the illusion of freedom in America

February 15, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More

The following video contains various clips in which comedian George Carlin argued that Americans only have the illusion of freedom regarding the things that are most important.

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Category: Civil Rights, Humor

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Adam Herman says:

    I hear this line of argument a lot and frankly it reminds me of the Religious Right’s critique of our modern culture. Seems like too many people are trying to find meaning in life and they see modern society as empty of meaning. In that, the far left and the far right seem to agree. There’s some truth in it, but the idea that we all pursue happiness in our own way is what this country was founded on. If the majority finds happiness in Ipods and Wiis and Jersey Shore and McDonalds, then that’s where they find happiness.

    If this was just a harmless critique though, I’d consider it unworthy of a response. The reason I find this kind of thing dangerous is that most of the time it’s paired with a message of restricting freedoms to somehow make us more free. But don’t worry, we’ll just restrict the rights of “other people”, or maybe even corporations, since they aren’t people. And somehow from these restrictions freedom will bloom. Or something.

  2. The unpleasant conundrum about the United States is that we grew up on two ideas that have competed with each other to occasionally destructive results—self-reliance and comfort. We place a premium on the idea of working hard, succeeding, and reaping the rewards of that success which then gives us the ability to live in comfort. And our descendents. Our forebears worked hard to make things easy for us and we then failed to value the independence and self-reliance of our forebears—because that is hard. What the person who takes power and responsibility on him or herself to create a place in this world where their choices matter has to go through to do it is at odds with a concept of safety, security, and comfort—all of which are the things we have collectively striven for. And when we achieved them, the power it took to do so is abandoned because we don’t really need it anymore, not to live the life we always wanted to live.

    But power doesn’t vanish. Unused, someone else will pick it up and if we don’t keep our hands on it, they will use it for their own ends, which may be inimical to ours. That’s what has happened.

    But it has happened repeatedly. You can see it in our history where success was followed by apathy was followed by struggle was followed by success was followed by apathy…

    What George doesn’t notice—or maybe he did and just didn’t say—is that the success we aimed for was to build a country wherein the most important choice anyone had to make was which bagel to buy. We wanted all the other questions settled. What we got was a vacation. Time to struggle again.

  3. Adam Herman says:

    Quite true. There’s been a lot of critiques of consumerism, and I get them, but I also believe that people are not sheep. Most of us are looking for more meaning our lives and we strive for it in our own ways. I think there’s a temptation for people to want to organize the country towards lofty goals and diminish the freedoms we use unwisely as unnecessary, as opposed to the real “freedom” of “a better world” or something. No one has found a better alternative to just letting people do what makes them happy, no matter how insipid, and many have tried.

    • Can’t argue with that, although there’s probably a kind of inertia involved. One of my favorite lines from a movie (The Big Fix) is that of a former counterculture activist-turned ad exec who says: “The problem with being a protestor in this country is, they lay out all these goodies for you and when you say no you feel like a spoilsport at an orgy.” The sheer numbers of the less committed counterbalance and perhaps occasionally overwhelm those of us who are seeking fulfillment in our own way.

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