People are, in most ways, freer than they have ever been in the history of the world.
Throughout most of history, outright chattel slavery (not just of minorities, but even within ethnic groups) has been commonplace. De facto ownership of wives existed in almost every society until a century ago. Less than a hundred years ago, it was fairly uncommon for most people to travel more than a few dozen miles from their place of birth within their lifetime. And even a decade ago in the “freest nation in the world,” it was unthinkable outside of a few progressive areas of the country for homosexual couples to hold hands in public.
Thomas Jefferson said in 1788 that "the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground." That has certainly been true in the United States, but simply focusing on State expansion can mask an important truth: while liberty has suffered under the weight of government, it has also expanded in other directions. Like the tendrils of a vine reaching for sunlight despite an obstruction, liberty grows outward and upward. For every corrupt cop, there’s an entrepreneur making lives better through innovation, and for every bureaucrat, a programmer works to cripple tyranny at its foundations. For every useless bill, someone is working to make it obsolete.
Governments want you to live your life in fear: fear of terrorism, crime, climate change, Ebola, ISIS, and whatever other fear is politically expedient in the next news cycle. When people concentrate on fear, they are more willing to give over their liberties to an entity that arrogantly claims to be able to keep them safe. Many who love liberty live in fear, too. Their bogeymen are government spying, gun control laws, or any number of government conspiracies. While people can have good reasons to be afraid, shaking that fear altogether can be the most liberating experience of all. Encryption is infiltrating the mainstream (to the consternation of the FBI and others), and organizations like Defense Distributed are working to completely obviate gun regulation.
If you only look at the ways governments are expanding, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the fear. What is needed is a broader perspective — one that takes into account the myriad ways in which our lives are getting better despite State intrusion. Those with this perspective are hopeful about startup cities, seasteading, and groups building censorship-resistant free markets that ignore government regulations; they understand that we are richer, healthier, and more comfortable than those who came before us. Shed the fear, and embrace hope — not a false hope, but a reasoned, pragmatic confidence based on both the concrete avenues for liberation that we see and the general trend we can observe since the rise of capitalism. We have great cause for optimism.
You have been born into a time when you can communicate with thousands of people in an instant, people who share your interests and concerns. You can leave town for the weekend and see things daily that your ancestors could not possibly have imagined. Your job is almost certainly less physically taxing than any job any of your parents, grandparents, or virtually any person who lived prior to them ever had. Statistically, you are likely to live longer and better than anyone born before you. Entrepreneurs are busy creating and popularizing some of the first tools in history that are more useful for undermining coercion than for furthering it. Freedom is expanding daily in ways our predecessors could hardly have dreamed.
You are one of the freest people in all of history. Maybe it’s time to start living like it.