Here is part of Ted's take on the matter:
(a) It’s true that in many societies the extended family, the clan, or the
village could be very confining. The paterfamilias (the “old man” who headed
the extended family), or the council of village elders, kept people on a leash.
But when the paterfamilias and the village elders lost their grip on the leash
as a result of modernization, it was picked up by “the system,” which now
holds it much more tightly than the old-timers ever did.
The family or the village was small enough so that individuals within it
were not powerless. Even where all authority was theoretically vested in the
paterfamilias, in practice he could not retain his power unless he listened
and responded to the grievances and problems of the individual members
of his family.
Today, however, we are at the mercy of organizations, such as
corporations, governments and political parties, that are too large to be
responsive to single individuals. These organizations leave us a great deal of
latitude where harmless recreational activities are concerned, but they keep
under their own control the life-and-death issues on which our existence
depends. With respect to these issues, individuals are powerless.
(b) In former times, for those who were willing to take serious risks,
it was often possible to escape the bonds of the family, of the village,
or of feudal structures. In medieval Western Europe, serfs ran away to
become peddlers, robbers, or town-dwellers. Later, Russian peasants ran
away to become Cossacks, black slaves ran away to live in the wilderness
as “Maroons,” and indentured servants in the West Indies ran away to
But in the modern world there is nowhere left to run. Wherever you
go, you can be traced by your credit card, your social-security number, your
fingerprints. You, Mr. N., live in California. Can you get a hotel or motel
room there without showing your picture I.D.? You can’t survive unless you
fit into a slot in the system, otherwise known as a “job.” And it is becoming
increasingly difficult to get a job without making your whole past history
accessible to prospective employers. So how can you defend your statement
that “[m]odern urban society allows one to escape into an anonymity that
family and clan based cultures couldn’t”?
Granted, there are still corners of the world where one can find
wilderness, or governments so disorganized that one can escape from the
system there. But these are relics of the past, and they will disappear as the
system continues to grow.
Here is an excerpt from part (c):
But even under the most oppressive conditions of the past, people were
not as powerless as they are today. Russian serfs, for example, had means
of resisting their landlords. They engaged in deception, theft, poaching,
evasion of work, arson. If a peasant got angry enough, he would kill his
landlord. If many peasants got angry at the same time, there would be a
bloody revolt, a “jacquerie.”
It’s not a pretty picture. But it is at least arguable that Russian serfs
had more freedom—the kind of freedom that really counts—than does the
average well-trained, modern middle-class person, who has almost unlimited
freedom in regard to recreational activities but is completely impotent vis-à-
vis the large organizations that control the conditions under which he lives
and the life-and-death issues on which his existence depends.
If the technoindustrial system collapses the probable result will be a
reversion to a situation roughly equivalent to that which existed several
hundred years ago, in the sense that people will live under widely varying
conditions in different parts of the world. There will be sickness and
health, full bellies and starvation, hatred and love, brotherhood and ethnic
bitterness, war and peace, justice and oppression, violence and kindliness,
freedom and servitude, misery and contentment. But it will be a world
in which such a thing as freedom will at least be possible, even though
everyone might not have it.