Particularly with regard to COVID, there’s been a huge debate over “freedom.” As I pointed out earlier, a society that is densely populated or one that has densely populated urban areas that make up the majority of its population will, by necessity, need to restrict the freedoms of its citizens, if it doesn’t want its society to drown in chaos, anarchy, and violence.

I’m scarcely the first person to note this. Theodore Roosevelt observed, “Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.”

The historian Will Durant put it another way, “When liberty destroys order, the hunger for order will destroy liberty.”

The United States has a unique demographic problem. It contains vast areas of land with extremely low population density, but most of its population [86%, according to the 2020 Census] lives in urban or suburban areas with much denser population. Yet the 14% of the population that lives in non-urban/non-suburban areas occupies 72% of the land area of the U.S.

In Utah, where I live, 82% of the population lives in five counties, which hold only 15% of the land in the state, for a rough population density of roughly 203 people per square mile in those five counties. The population density in the rest of the state averages 8 people per square mile, but many counties have far less dense populations. On average, Daggett County has 1.4 people per square mile. And Utah is a low-density state.

New York City averages 26,403 people per square mile, while San Francisco has 26,403 people per square mile and Los Angeles 8,485 people per square mile. Yet even in states with densely populated cities, there are often large areas with low population densities.

What does this have to do with “freedom’? Damned near everything. People in rural Utah, or rural anywhere, don’t think they need as much government and regulation because not everything they do impacts thousands of people.

But there are two problems with that. First, those people in the more densely populated areas do need such regulation to keep order and maintain a reasonable level of safety. Admittedly, there are urban areas suffering excessive and unnecessary regulation, i.e., California, but some of California’s bigger problems, like the explosion of homelessness, might well be tied to not only the lack of affordable housing, but also to the lack of regulation of where people can live and under what conditions. Perhaps their “freedom” to squat or erect tent cities in public parks and thoroughfares is a bit excessive, but talking about that is has become political suicide.

Second, like it or not, lack of regulation and order in rural areas has adverse impacts not only on those areas, but on everyone, because everything is connected to everything else.

COVID, for example, while often late in coming, still hit rural counties and almost always had a more devastating effect because those counties don’t usually have strong health care infrastructure. In addition, most of those who have died disproportionately of COVID in rural counties were people who didn’t get vaccinated, largely because they didn’t want the federal government infringing on their freedoms. But now they’re demanding far more federal and state health care and support than they’re paying for.

While rural counties tend to be conservative and anti-government, they also benefit disproportionately from a wide range of federal government programs, even while their inhabitants complain about the government that provides those services. Counties like Daggett County would have difficulty even maintaining roads without financial aid from the state and federal government.

The other associated problem is that too often under-regulated companies operating in rural locales not only ruin the local environment, but far more. For example, in 1972, in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, Pittston Coal’s sludge dams collapsed,sending hundreds of millions of gallons of black polluted water down the valley, killing 125, injuring 1,100, destroying 16 communities, 1000 homes, and in the end, the company paid little more than a million dollars, despite all that, as well as polluting all the drinking water for years in a large section of West Virginia for years.

PG&E in California has been found legally responsible for massive groundwater pollution, fatal natural gas pipe explosions, and, most lately, for massive wildfires, almost all of which have occurred in rural areas where the company faced less intense regulatory scrutiny.

The bottom line is pretty simple. The less populated areas get a disproportionate share of federal resources, but they don’t want to operate under any laws that they see as unnecessary, even when those laws are for everyone’s benefit. Yet they want the funding from those higher density areas to fund services they want and can’t afford without outside government assistance. What’s worse is that all too many of the local politicians in such areas either don’t know or won’t admit that they receive such subsidies.

8 thoughts on ““Freedom””

  1. Postagoras says:

    Republican politicians in these rural areas have found a winning message of bogeyman wedge issues. None of these issues have much to do with everyday life, with building bridges or running a school system. A short list includes fear of illegal immigration, fear of crime, fear of library books, fear of taxes, and fostering a myth of cowboy individualism.
    This message works.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    No large city could feed itself; that right there says that those in the high population areas are the ones that should pay for EVERYBODY, because they couldn’t survive without importing food and exporting garbage by the megaton.

    If those who choose to live in (or fail to accrue enough choice to get the heck out of) high density areas surrender a bunch of freedoms, that may be necessary for THEM given their circumstances, but not for everyone else; and to expect rural dwellers to tolerate rules for high-density society being imposed on them is nuts, since the rural dwellers don’t actually need the city dwellers (paperwork and tertiary services and even Internet and utility service are NOT ACTUALLY NECESSARY TO SURVIVE), while the reverse is clearly not true.

    So crowd-lovers, you probably need your masks, mandates, gun-free zones (good luck with that, it just lets the crooks know where they’ll be unopposed); but the rest of us can figure these things out for ourselves, and the more sensible may even CHOOSE to follow of their own free will such portion of what are necessary rules for the urban as is still useful out in the boonies. If not, sooner or later consequences will befall them, one way or the other.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      …and I should have said right off, all I really see is an argument that most government should remain local and any trend to centralization largely reversed, so that different circumstances can be dealt with differently.

    2. Chris says:

      The rural people do need something from the cities: tax revenue (both federal and state where applicable). The military won’t fund itself, and without that tax revenue the US would not be able to afford to defend itself from foreign powers that want to conquer and take our resources. The rural areas couldn’t afford roads between them and other rural areas to ship exchange their food just amongst themselves. They wouldn’t have the money to educate their citizens (though I believe most of them would rather not be educated). And they would not be able to fund the recovery after the next tornado, wildfire, or hurricane.

      But none of those services are really needed. Everyone should instead be out killing their own bears (but only on their own property, since government shouldn’t own things), growing their own crops, learning the basics of chemical reactions without schools, and driving humanity to extinction because societal cooperation is evil.

    3. Postagoras says:

      Howdy R! Hey, I know you have a great imagination for a perfect world, but in this world, rural parts of the country get more federal aid than densely populated areas.
      It’s how our society works, so I’m not too stressed about it. But for folks to portray rural dwellers as cowboys who don’t need the cities… THAT AIN’T SO.

  3. Tom says:

    By actively managing their food supplies, agricultural societies were able to produce more food than hunter-foragers and support denser populations, and thus build nations.

    The Aztec Empire had a strong and thriving economy before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Republicans favored an economy based on agriculture. They opposed business and manufacturing. Food trumps housing but is itself trumped by possession of water. Having an economy based on agriculture does not constitute a nation.

    Nation-state, a territorially bounded sovereign polity—i.e., a state—that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who identify themselves as a nation. The legitimacy of a nation-state’s rule over a territory and over the population inhabiting it stems from the right of a core national group within the state (which may include all or only some of its citizens) to self-determination. Members of the core national group see the state as belonging to them and consider the approximate territory of the state to be their homeland. Accordingly, they demand that other groups, both within and outside the state, recognize and respect their control over the state. Nation-states are “states of and for particular nations” dependent upon but not defined by an agricultural economy.

  4. K. Lorenz says:

    Mr. Modesitt,

    As I can’t find a place to request a blog topic, I thought I’d add that request in response to this most recent blog post of yours.

    As an author, I might believe you would have some relevant thoughts on book bans in the U.S. While these are not new from an historical perspective, the recent large spike introducing specific book bans in state legislatures and school districts in some parts of the country seems concerning. These bans also appear coordinated based on some recent reporting in the media.

    I’d be interested in seeing you write something on the subject.

    1. See today’s blog post.

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