COLUMN: Freedom's folly? The rise of the 'Opt Out' culture
Go to http://books.google.com/ngrams/to see the N-Gram service and play with the search function yourself.
Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. Dr. Wayne Baker is traveling and welcomes back popular guest columnist Terry Gallagher.
All this week, we’ve been discussing how our American passion for freedom may have taken us too far from the values that build healthy communities. We started by talking about our obsession with cars and getting away, then the trend toward opting out of organized religion. We looked at the Boy Scout decision banning gays — and looked at whether people who disagree with such a stand should opt out of scouting. On Thursday, I reported on the Supreme Court decision limiting union flexibility in political activism — centering on employees who want to opt out on various political causes.
See the pattern? “Getting away,” “opting out,” “opt out,” “opt out.” So, for this final column in the series, I ran the phrase “opt out” through Google’s n-gram tool. It scans Google’s vast database of books and charts, over time, the relative frequency of English-language terms. The chart, above, speaks for itself. We’re doing a lot more opting out these days — or at least we’re talking about it more.
Is all this “opting out” a reflection of an American core value, a way of reaffirming our belief in individualism, in freedom and independence? Or is it a sign of the deterioration of civil society, a tearing of the social fabric?
When independence is paramount, what happens to other values? What happens to solidarity, to community, to empathy? What happens to the value of going along to get along?
Come on — add a comment below ...
Feel free to comment on any of our topics this week.
The core issue all week is ...
Should we try to limit our desire for unfettered freedom?
ABOUT TERRY GALLAGHER: Terry is the communications director of the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor. Terry worked for two decades in higher education before moving to the Ecology Center. He is an expert in using media to connect and strengthen diverse communities.