The Fleeting Feeling of Freedom

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Every now and then, I do something “risky” and illegal, to remind myself what it was like when we were still relatively free.

I roll one of my old bikes out of the garage and take it for a ride around the backroads near my place without a helmet on.

This used to be legal, once upon a time – on the sound premise that it was your head to break and so your business to risk it. Then it became the business of busybodies and control freaks – aka, “the government,” which passes laws that assert the contrary.

It is important to keep this in mind. That there is no such beast as “the government.” It is a term a manipulation only; a technique for getting people not to think about what government actually is – which is a proportionately small number of busybodies and control freaks who have acquired control over mechanisms – physical and economic punishments – which they use to busybody and control us.

They are – for those who get the reference – Mrs. Kravitz, the nosey next-door neighbor from the ’60s TV sitcom, Bewitched. Only armed and very dangerous. Mrs. Kravitz was the object of ridicule; the armed busybodies and control freaks who constitute “the government” are a mortal threat if disobeyed.

My riding around the backroads near my house on my ’76 Kawasaki Kz900 – one of several bikes made long before the country went on regulatory lockdown and people were still largely free to do as they liked in terms of everyday life – is in and of itself now an offense.

Which is to say, actionable.

Even though I have harmed no one – and even though my riding sans a helmet poses no conceivable threat of harm to anyone else – an armed government worker (the agent of the control freaks and busybodies who constitute “the government”) will fix his sights on me and use the threat of murderous violence to interrupt my ride and then filch my pockets – the proceeds going to fund “the government,” including the salary paid to the proxy enforcers of the control freaks and busybodies who constitute it – to punish me for having the audacity to not place a helmet on my head.

Thus it gives me a very special kind of illicit pleasure to ride without one. To feel not just the wind on my face but the load off my back. What it Used to be Like is brought back to life, however fleetingly. It is very much like the smell of something triggering an ancient memory only better because rather than a memory this is actuality.

There was an effort to dole back just a little of the freedom Virginians once enjoyed – a measure that would have made it legal once again for those over 21 o decide for themselves whether to wear a helmet, very much as those over 21 also get to decide whether to eat their veggies without being nagged – or ticketed – by a government-badged busybody.

Of course it failed.

And so I ride contra “the law” – for the sake of something infinitely more respectable. My right to do it.

One of my favorite writers was H.L. Mencken and among my favorite sayings of his was that every normal man, at least once in his life, must spit on his hands and hoist the Jolly Roger – i.e., the skull and bones pirate flag. His meaning wasn’t pillage and plunder; it was to spit in the  face of Authority – the busybodies and control freaks, who were just getting started in his time.

Mencken never placed much stock in the virtue or intelligence of the average person but I imagine even he would be stupefied into sputtering speechlessness to learn that we now live in a country run by Mrs. Kravitzes, control freaks and busybodies who have become so emboldened by their success that it probably won’t be long before they tell us just how much we’re allowed to eat and what we’re allowed to it as well as when to eat it.

Indeed, the what part they already do.

This is what comes of not kicking them off our property – and if need be, in their hind parts – if they won’t go away after being told to.

For my part, I rebel when and where I can.

On the ancient Kawasaki, I am free. It is still quicker than most cars – and I am a better rider than most armed government workers are drivers. A blur of green and gold, polished aluminum and chrome. The moan of the four Keihins, gulping air and fuel – and I am gone.

Once upon a time, it wasn’t necessary.

Because once upon a time, Americans were still relatively free.

There were taxes, certainly. And regulations. But in terms of everyday life, the degree of freedom the average person enjoyed as recently as 30 years ago is almost unreal compared with the suffocating, relentless nagging, nudging and micro-managing of everything by control freaks and busybodies.

Those people, that is, who are “the government.”

. . .

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39 COMMENTS

  1. This article reminds me of one day in the late 70’s when I went to a friend’s house and he had a new motorcycle. It was a new kawasaki kz1000, at that time the fastest production cycle you could buy. He said “Do you want to take it for a ride?” Without hesitating my answer was “Hell yes!” I taxied out to the nearby two lane country road and gave it the throttle. After getting through a few gears I looked down and the speedometer said 85. Oops! Didn’t mean to go that fast so I backed off the throttle. What a thrill! My friend has since succumbed to heart disease and left this earth. I will forever remember him fondly for that day.

  2. I often think about what freedom might mean in the modern context. My best attempt to describe it, might be to drive to my local pub for lunch, without wearing a seat belt, with the airbags lawfully removed, while carrying a concealed pistol with only the Second Amendment as my permit. I would arrive at the pub, and while perusing the beer list, I would pull out my African Meerschaum pipe, fill it with British tobacco, and light it. Then, I would order a beer and a sandwich, and enjoy my pipe until my beer and sandwich showed up. Then, I would pull out my cell phone and order a National Match M-16 from a reputable vendor, without any background check, and pay for it with my credit card. After lunch I would return home, not wearing a seat belt, and put my car in the garage.

    When I was drafted to go over to Vietnam, where I served in the infantry, I was supposedly fighting for freedom, but I could not even have the freedom to refuse my “enlistment” nor oppose my being sent to the infantry. While I was over there, the federal government actually issued me pipes, cheap tobacco, and cheap cigars. Now, they have banned smoking in most public places.

    When I was in graduate school, I told the yuppies in my class that all I wanted from the federal government was the same benign indifference to my fate, that they displayed in 1969. I was flying in helicopters, with my feet on the skids at 2000 feet on combat assaults. I did not have any restraining belt system, as I was considered expendable like most of my buddies, who were also drafted. The yuppie busy bodies didn’t like my statement, and I really didn’t care. I certainly don’t much care for Big Nanny!

    • True my friend. It really boils down to “Who owns your body?” The government thinks they do. That is why they can force you to a foreign land to die for them, throw you in a cage if you smoke or snort an unapproved substance, and force you to hand over a significant portion of your income to them, and tell you that you have to wear a helmet to ride a bike or have an airbag in your car. My solution is voluntary taxation; government must be funded like a charity. Otherwise, it will continue to own us.

      • Hi Van,

        When I was young, I thought seriously about becoming a pilot. I love airplanes. I thought – briefly – about trying for OCS (ROTC) in college; then I thought better. I am glad I did so. A friend of mine became a Naval Aviator and while it has its moments, he tells me on balance he would have rather done something else. The bureaucracy and rule-following is stifling.

        • It’s not much different on the civil side of aviation, especially in the airlines. The airlines have a shitload of rules to follow. There’s 14 CFR 121, aka part 121, which govern airline operations; part 121 applies to all airlines. There’s also part 117 (governs flight crew rest) to worry about. On top of that, each airline has what are known as its operations specifications, or OpSpecs. The OpSpecs tell you where and when to do maintenance; what airports you can use, and for what purpose; what landing minima apply; and on it goes. For the airline I worked at, our OpSpecs were 185 pages.

          Even as a private pilot, there’s a fair amount of rules to follow; this is especially true if you operate in and around busy airports like Dulles, near your old stomping grounds. The FAA is brutal about enforcement of its rules too. If they cite you, it’s not a question of if you’ll lose your license; the only question is for how LONG?

          For example, say you’re flying into the airport at Leesburg, VA. That’s not far from Dulles; in fact, it’s close enough to be under Dulles’ Class B airspace. Let’s say you make an innocent mistake in penetrate the very edge of Dulles’ airspace; Dulles airspace comes down pretty low (1,500 feet) over there, so this is not out of the question. Do you know that the Dulles controllers will TRACK you until landing, so they can bust you? It’s true! They’ll slap a data ID tag on you, so they can follow you on their radar. When you get busted, you WILL lose your license; the only question is for how long.

          • Marky,

            You can still go to a few uncontrolled airports for some touch and gos.

            But I hear you have to pull the fuse on the new xponders.

          • I keep waffling back and forth about getting my private pilot certification. I had a commercial drone cert that I left lapse after it became clear the FAA has no intention of actually allowing small remote aircraft to function legally and profitably. A good chunk of the part 107 test was about maps and airspace and I did very well on the test so I’m pretty certain I could pass the ground school stuff easily. But the expense is still a big hurtle, along with keeping the certs up to date.

            • You could look into the Sport or Recreational certifications too. Granted, they’re more restrictive than a PPL, but they are cheaper and easier to get. Also, if you’re operating in and around uncontrolled airports most of the time, you don’t need much more than that.

              • I bought a few airplanes but found that one that I really liked. It was a modest 1946 Cessna 140that had only 520 TTAF/E. It was so well balanced that you could climb or descend by just leaning the head backward or forward.
                One time I said eff it and took it to 14000 feet just to see what it could do. They are funny at that altitude as in no power and squishy. Being in IFR territory I decided that I didn’t want to go to jail so went back to 12000.
                Some gal in Florida owns the plane now.

      • I remember seeing a photo in some magazine years ago, of a motorcyclist in Vietnam riding around WITHOUT a helmet.

        My instant reaction was: Hey, who is more free — me or this guy living under a communist government?

        • Hi Bruce,

          There are no helmet laws in the former Soviet Union. In terms of the busybody hassling we’re subjected to, the average Russian is far more free than we are.

          • Russia is great. the most stunning women in the world and not corrupted by all this cultural marxist BS (ironically). Very traditional values. It does get cold. Foods pretty good. Any country that would shield Snowden deserves respect.

          • Eric,

            I remember a shortwave radio host (name escapes me now) who related a story about some biker friends who went over to Russia to explore. After a day’s ride, the group has stopped for the night, and they got a camp fire going. The host related how they didn’t need to get permits to make the fire, nor did any AGWs hassle them. He then said it was ironic how, in Russia of all places, they had MORE FREEDOM than us! I never forgot that story…

    • well you were drafted / enslaved / whatever to murder people who never threatened you or your family. i understand you had no choice but neither can i respect your ‘service’ in this regard and it makes me vomit when they do these show things at airports and sports stadiums. the most honorable americans at that time just didnt go. just like today. you were probably too young to know better. thats what uncle relies on.

  3. Eric: I bought a new ’74 900 Z1. I always had to have the fastest thing out there, and at the time that was it. I put a header on it, but otherwise left it stock. I traded it for a new ’84 Honda V65 Magna 1100.

    But those days are long behind me, I drive a Vette now and putz it around like the old man that I am. I still like to get into it sometimes but getting a ticket is my biggest fear.

    Also, wasn’t the end of the Mencken quote: ” . . . and begin slitting throats”? LOL, I’m ready.

  4. I rebel against the mandatory part of helmet “laws” (NOT they are merely encoded statute, only God makes law), BUT for my riding I wear a helmet. It just do happened I hit a ditch where the grass was grown up to the level of the field I was riding in and level with the highway I was headed for, the bike went down and flipped me right off and I hit the road headfirst, split the helmet, and I walked away with nary a scratch. I played football in those days and my neck was much stronger, but I have not a doubt what the pavement would have done to my head without a helmet. Not the only time a helmet has save my skull either.
    However, the choice was mine and that is the critical part. I don’t like taking wasps and bees in the face at 80 mph either.

  5. Mine is one of those states that doesn’t require a helmet for adult riders. I ride daily when it’s not raining, I have for well over four decades, and almost never wear a brain bucket. A few weeks ago I had to shoot a commercial and the director wanted to film me on my bike. He asked me to wear a helmet or he wouldn’t be permitted to use the footage. (?!!)

    Man, what a different experience it is! Can’t see as well, can’t hear as well, there’s much more strain on the neck, hot, steamy… Give me my Wiley X’s and skilled riding any day!

    (Afterthought: I dated a nurse a couple of years ago, and she decided to give me “the speech about traumatic brain injury”. I listened, then told her about my two friends, each of whom had a serious bike accident while wearing full coverage helmets. One’s a para and one’s a quad. Frankly, I’d rather be road pizza. We’re all gonna be dead some day. You don’t ride a bike to be safe.)

    • Hi Bill,

      I’ve been riding a long time, too – and so can remember what it was like to ride before the Helmet law. The argument made by your nurse friend is typically arbitrary busybodyism. Does she also maintain ideal BMI, eat her veggies and exercise daily? No? Then please, spare me the lecture about how it’s “risky” to ride without a helmet.

      My hero H.L. Mencken called these people “uplifters” – and I think they all need a hard slap in the face accompanied by a very stern mind your own damn business!

        • Hi T,

          It’s the arbitrariness that gets me. Well, it’s one of the things that gets me! The people who wag their fingers at me (and sic men who point guns at me) for not wearing a helmet/seatbelt all have their own vices, or do things which are just as “risky” in their own way.

          I’m an exercise fanatic. It is my way of reducing the “risks” that come with being sedentary. But I am not an exercise Nazi – and that’s the difference between me and the control freaks and busybodies. I would never agitate for or approve a law that required exercise – or else. But these control freaks and busybodies – whose lives are probably “riskier” than my own – won’t leave me be, free to exercise a judicious choice in one area that differs from theirs.

  6. My son just got a Police 1000. Got the lights and box. Strong running motorcycles.

    How many of those bikes you got hidden and how do you keep them up AND write this column!

    Anyway,,, nice bike…..

  7. That KZ is beautiful. The 70’s models were my favorite and are very hearty. Raced AMA box-stock in the late 80′ and early 90’s on a KZ1000 with only a kick-starter. (and you DO NOT kick start that the wrong way, trust me)

    Yes, they scrape some underbelly when you get them wayyy over, but when you hammer that throttle the whole beast just pulls away like a tractor, that nothing is going to slow down.

    Biker of 32 years on horse #16 or #17, a Yamaha VStar setup to look like a 58 fatboy.
    Noting like a KZ though.

    • A guy I grew up with on my street had a KZ1000 too-what a BADASS bike! What really astounded me though was seeing how Eddie Lawson raced those things with a mere 120 rear tire-wow! I dare say that the street tires of today are better than what Lawson and his contemporaries raced on…

    • Had a GPZ1000 for a year in 1997-98. Took it up to 163MPH and still had room to the red line. That was some fun times driving from Ft. Benning to Atlanta in under and hour. It was one of the last year of the sport bikes without the huge bulgy tank that forces you to sit up to avoid backpain instead of laying low on the tank when hauling butt.

      This column always brings back such wonderful memories.

  8. Hi Krista,

    I get what you’re saying about helmet laws specifically, but the trend is still towards more and more regulation which necessarily limits personal freedom. One example is the dramatic increase in occupational licensing. In the 50’s about 5% of the workforce needed a license to work, today it’s about 30%. Licensing is a rent-seeking, cronyist racket, initiated by the dominant players in an industry for the purpose of limiting competition and protecting their profits. It is not about protecting the consumer. In fact, by creating barriers to work and raising consumer prices, it harms people as well as limiting all of our freedom.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

    • Jeremy,

      James Bovard, in his book Lost Rights, talks about this. He mentioned how interior designers got a licensing law passed so they could raise the barrier to entry and thus limit competition for themselves.

      • Hi Mark,

        Bovard is great. Anyway, it’s pretty easy to convince someone that licensing for interior designers, hairstylists, etc… is self-serving, stupid and counter-productive. However it’s almost impossible to convince them that licensing for “important” jobs: doctors, lawyers, teachers child care providers, etc… is also self-serving, stupid and counter productive.

        I know I bring this up a lot on this site, but I think it’s really important. Over 100 years ago, the free market and voluntary societies solved the problem of affordable and accessible health care by creating a system of “lodge practice”. But, to the established doctors, lower prices were the crisis. This was unacceptable to the elite medical establishment who petitioned government to create mandated licensing which allowed them to effectively destroy the practice.

        If “lodge practice” had not been destroyed, health care would be of high quality, affordable and nearly universally accessible. The sordid story is recounted here: http://www.freenation.org/a/f12l3.html

        Cheers,
        Jeremy

        • Jeremy,

          “Anyway, it’s pretty easy to convince someone that licensing for interior designers, hairstylists, etc… is self-serving, stupid and counter-productive.”

          Gotta call bullshit Jeremy.

          • Hey Tuan,

            Well, in my own personal conversations, this has been pretty easy. Granted, I’ve never spoken to a licensed interior designer or hairstylist about the issue. I’ve had much less luck getting people to see that the same logic applies to “important” jobs.

            Cheers,
            Jeremy

              • Hi Tuan,

                Well, that limb would break. Pretty much all of my friends and my entire family embrace statism to some degree (pretty large). I met one guy at the local pub who spoke like us and classified himself as an anarchist when I asked him. Years ago I participated in a libertarian reading group of about 20 people, but only 3 of us were anarchists. Nowadays, the only like minded people I talk to are here.

                Cheers,
                Jeremy

    • Jeremy,

      I don’t disagree with anything you said. And certainly there are countless ways that our freedom has been diminished over time. I do think it is worth noting that there are things that actually go in the direction toward more freedom. I don’t like the attitude that everything is getting worse and it is all just a lost cause. I don’t believe that and one of the ways to keep hope alive is to notice the little victories, to notice where freedom is actually on the rise. And there are more examples than just helmet laws. Look at marijuana laws today – that is certainly a good example of moving toward more freedom. Right to try laws are moving toward freedom. It wasn’t that long ago that only a handful of states allowed concealed carry and now all of them allow it in some fashion. There is even some hope for getting civil asset forfeiture laws to be less “excessive”. The way to improve almost all issues is to work on the state and local level. Getting the federal government to give up power voluntarily is nearly impossible but people can take their power back by resisting federal laws in the ways that states are resisting federal marijuana laws. In the end, the federal government only has as much power as we give it so remembering that we actually do have the power and learning how to use it is the most important thing.

      • Hi Krista,

        Thanks for the response. I agree that it is important to recognize and celebrate the things that make our lives freer and better as it is all too easy to build an overly negative narrative. I also agree that, if one decides to play the political game, it is better to concentrate one’s efforts influencing smaller, local and State government. For, as long as most people believe government to be necessary, subsidiarity https://acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-6-number-4/principle-subsidiarity is a much better principle than centralization.

        Cheers,
        Jeremy

  9. Eric, although I disagree with your decision to not wear a helmet, it is YOUR decision, not mine, to make. That goes for a lot of things.

    I recall a few years ago on a sunny summer day seeing a rider, sans helmet which is required in NC, cruising down the road, wind in the hair and feeling that freedom you spoke of. I wondered if he would get pulled over and I no more thought this than an AGW roared after him, lights and siren going like it was the end of the world. I wondered if the AGW had any sense of irony since it was July 4.

    Despite what the bumper sticker says, freedom IS free. It’s a gift from The Almighty. It is only infringed by Caesar not a privilege granted by him or The State. And, it’s certainly not protected by any AGW, ever, anywhere.

  10. I understand the feeling that we are becoming less free over time with the ever growing government but the facts of helmet laws actually don’t support this. Back in the 60s, the federal government withheld highway money if states did not have universal helmet laws so virtually all of them had such laws. In 1976, states were successful in getting Congress to stop this policy – ironically the same year as the Kawasaki you mentioned was produced. Today, there are 19 states that have universal helmet laws, requiring all riders and passengers to wear them, but there are 28 states that have fairly limited laws, mostly requiring helmets only for those under 18 or 21 years old. Adults in those states are able to make the choice to ride without a helmet. And then there are 3 states where nobody is required to wear a helmet. So on this point, the country has actually gotten freer in the past 50 years! And there are plenty of states to choose if you want to ride without a helmet – just select one of the 32 available. Or get the law changed in the state where you live.

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