Another bit about “modern society” that people bemoan is our mobility.  Sometimes our excessive moving about is blamed on job and career, but more often than not, its just on the list of self-evident reasons for complaint.  Like the weather.

The more I pay attention to the human past, however, I find this received wisdom puzzling.  Indeed, I would argue that our ability to move is what keeps us from falling back into serfdom.  If the job sucks too much, we can always move.    If there’s a better than good job, we can move for that, too.

Oh, I understand that moving is a pain.  Especially, if you are poor.  But it’s neither against the law nor required by law.  (At least in this country, or in most of Europe.)  Oh, we have passports and immigration rules (sort of), but most of those are restrictions on entry into a place, not restrictions on exit.

And it is the exit possibilities that really make for a non-serf world.

All that said, I’ve always considered myself more an exception to the rule rather than its illustration.  I’ve spent most of my life in two states (Wisconsin and Iowa), and with the exception of one semester in London when in college and a couple other extended research-based visits to England, I’ve never lived farther South than St. Louis or more than 125 miles away from the Mississippi River.

But I decided to count the numbers of homes I’ve lived in over the years.  And the number — 16 — shocked me.

Because this number isn’t particularly padded.  To be sure, I did count multiple places in the same town some.  But I only counted places where I have lived for at least two months.  And even there I didn’t count as separate each return to the town of my birth unless it was to a physical location (once because my mother had moved, the other because I was practicing law and wanted to live in a house rather than a duplex apartment).

But even if you count only the number of different towns or cities, even my number of discrete homes — seven — would have been amazing to  a feudal serf would have considered substantial.

That serf would have likely had at most two different homes in his lifetime — the one he was born in, and the one he lived in after being married. (Many times in fact, the places would have been one and the same.)

From 2 to 7 is an increase in mobility of 350 percent.  From 2 to 16 is an increase of 800 percent.

And I guarantee that I’m far down in the lower tail of the distribution, even among those who have lived most of their lives as I have in “rural America.”

That, I submit, is evidence a fortiori of our escape from serfdom.

And it is a greater protection against tyranny and poverty than industrialization and the Internet combined.  Far more than any revolution, and far, far more than any “political” protection.  More even than modern plumbing.

We can move.

I may be able to choose serfdom.  Sometimes I think a lot of my fellow citizens are willing to do just that.

But you can’t make me choose it.

Nanner, nanner, nanner.


Leave a Reply

All content of this blog, except comments added under names other than "Wade," are copyright © 2008, 2009 Wade E. Shilts