I spent a recent afternoon in the morgue organizing and taking inventory of the bound editions of all of our newspapers.
The oldest of these date back to the 1890s. There is a wealth of history in those old volumes, and we took the opportunity to glance at some of the issues from days gone by.
One thing that caught my attention in a World War II era copy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press was cigarette advertising on the comics page.
This struck me, not just because it has been years since cigarette advertising was banished from the light of day, but because of the position across the bottom of a page of colorful comics.
Today, this would probably generate a congressional inquiry.
It should be noted that the comics were different in those days, too. Many had a distinctly military theme, which is not surprising in view of the events that were occurring in the world at the time.
I posted a photo of the page on Facebook, and this led to some conversations about how things have changed.
An old friend of mine (she is quite young, really, but we have been friends for a long time) reminisced about how, when she was growing up back in west Duluth, her mother would send her to the store with a note to buy cigarettes (for her mother), and there were never any questions asked.
That was not at all uncommon at the time, and I remember many of my friends doing the same thing for their parents.
My friend observed how different the world was then, and I have to agree with her.
It occurred to me that if a mother tried to send a child to buy cigarettes today, the clerk (who is probably not making much more than minimum wage), would be hit with a huge fine, the authorities would threaten to revoke the business owner’s license, and the parent would probably be thrown in jail.
I understand why people want to keep tobacco out of the hands of the youth of our nation.
On the other hand, it seems to me that in our zeal to protect people from themselves, we have lost a lot along the way.
We have definitely given up much of the freedom we once enjoyed.
Personal responsibility and neighbors helping neighbors have given way to government trying to legislate whatever behavior is deemed politically acceptable at the time. We apparently didn’t learn anything from that whole Prohibition fiasco.
This assault on personal liberty has grown like a cancer until it affects nearly every part of our lives.
In the days when my friend was skipping to the corner store to buy cigarettes for her mom, seat belts were still relatively new. Those of us who grew up in that era spent most of our lives unbuckled, and many of us didn’t even ride in seats, but were stowed in the back of station wagons among a loose assortment of luggage and picnic supplies.
I suppose the seat belt laws have saved some lives, but at what cost?
The trend today is to make criminals of ordinary people.
Instead of chasing bad guys, the cops are kept busy conducting sting operations to try to catch businesses that might sell tobacco to a minor, or people who might choose to drive their cars without wearing seat belts.
We spend more energy persecuting motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets or people who don’t mow their lawns as often as we might like than we do dealing with issues that really matter.
The land of the free has become the land of petty regulations.
In the meantime, the big problems remain unsolved.
We don’t hear much about the war on drugs these days, but taxpayers are still forking over a fortune to wage this never-ending battle.
We might be keeping tobacco out of the hands of kids, but they seem to be finding new and much more dangerous ways to pollute their bodies every year, sometimes with lethal consequences, and the new chemicals kill people faster than tobacco ever did.
It is a different world today.
There was a time when children learned to get along with others by organizing their own games, and creating their own entertainment. They learned the art of compromise early, because dealing with others meant they didn’t always get their own way.
Now, it appears that every aspect of a child’s life is organized for him. Instead of picking teams and agreeing on rules for their games, children are pawns in a system where adults have made all of the decisions for them.
Perhaps this is good training for the age in which we live. As a society, we seem increasingly determined to prevent not just children, but also adults from making their own decisions. Instead, the most vocal busybodies try to pass laws to control our lives based on their narrow view of the world.
It is frightening how we have quietly stood by and allowed our freedom to be taken away from us.
When we, as a nation, lost our innocence, we also lost a lot of our common sense.
The result is a world that is colder and more terrifying than the one where people were allowed to think for themselves and live with the consequences.