Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Living loose

This Washington Post chart of tightest to loosest states fascinates me, mainly in how it quantifies what I've so strongly suspected for many years.

The study factored in the relative strictness of social entities, corporal punishment in schools, alcohol availability, executions and same-sex union status, among other things.

Louisiana, where I'm from and lived most of my life, is 7th tightest overall. I suppose the Cajuns docked it two spots and New Orleans dropped it another four. What keeps Louisiana high on the list is likely the obsession with rote social etiquette (the "Yes Ma'am, No Ma'am" rule in schools sums that up perfectly); the virtual consensus that spanking children is part of their balanced breakfast; and the all-but-unquestioned need for the death penalty.

When I first moved away from Louisiana, shortly before turning 27, I was immediately struck by how progressive the new state I lived in seemed by comparison. The people didn't judge anyone else nearly as harshly for holding different opinions or for leading nonconformist lifestyles (i.e., being single at 27). There was very little social pressure or allusion to unspoken rules. This place had a vibrant (and much-used) recycling system, bike trails and biodiesel-fueled public transit. My first food in the state was a sandwich at the new-to-me Jimmy John's, but I felt like I was breathing granola from the moment I got there.

And yet, Missouri ranks 13th — barely below Louisiana, just like the Show-Me State borders the South.

Now I'm living in Nevada, which is 47th on the list, a 40-slot drop from Louisiana. Ironically, that felt less like a culture shock than the 6-place drop I felt seven years ago. Maybe because I know now that the uptight social mores I never cared for aren't just a fact of life, so it's no surprise that other places are different. Over time and across three states, I think I've become a better person — more laid-back and empathetic. Or, to use the study's terminology, looser.

Yes, sir.

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