Archives for posts with tag: freedom

Would you ever sell yourself into slavery? If you think this is a paradox, remember that slavery is not simply unpaid labour, but giving up our control to the whims of another. Slaves were property, not unpaid labourers. The conditions of the slavery aren’t even that important; I don’t think anyone would go back in time and choose to be a slave, even if they got to be a house slave. Slavery isn’t abominable because of the conditions, though they certainly didn’t help, nor was it anything to do with the type of labour involved since all of that labour still exists today with little controversy. Slavery was abolished because it took away our liberty as human beings.

Maybe you’re a bit more cynical. I was a quite vague in my offer, but perhaps a huge cash sum might change your mind? The thing is, though, if any amount of money tempts us to give up a fundamental condition of our human nature, then that desire can only be driven by desperation. If the thought arises that this amount of money might make life more livable, it is only blinding us to the fact that a life of slavery is less than a life. We cannot abandon liberty and still be fully human.

Now, if we wouldn’t accept a single cash buyout to enter into slavery, then why do we accept smaller, biweekly payments in the form of a wage? The conditions of our labour today remove from us our autonomy just as much as any plantation, even if the conditions might be better. If you disagree, ask yourself how able you are to say no to your boss, and how able your boss is to say no to you. There is a disparity in freedom there, and it very likely isn’t favouring you. Any ability to say “no” to your boss that you possess today was fought and bled for by unionists before you. The pittance of liberty we possess at work was not given but taken, and, under many employers, is slowly being clawed back.

You might be skeptical. If you aren’t happy with your job, you can just pick up and leave for another, right? But consider this: how many employers are there out there right now that allow you to say no to your boss? How many employers are there that don’t follow this fundamental relationship of capital ownership? Trading one plantation for another is not liberty.

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“Let’s work next door. I hear they only give out ten lashes for insubordination instead of twenty!” Businesses might offer perks to compete for your labour, but never liberty; all you receive are allowances from your master.

Maybe you dream of one day becoming the boss, then you’ll have freedom! Climb that corporate ladder! Regardless of how unfeasible this might be in reality due to the disparity of opportunities, the number of aspirants, the nepotism and politics of advancement, this is still the dream of the hooker wishing to become the pimp. Regardless of where you might fall along the spectrum of middle management, it is still an immoral system. Self-interest and greedy delusion are not sufficient justification.

The movie Office Space exists and is so relatable because we all inherently recognize that the disparate hierarchy we possess in our workplace is ultimately degrading. We agree to it because if we don’t work, we starve. We agree out of desperation.

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And yet if Peter’s new boss asks him to come in on Saturday, he is still in the same predicament as in the beginning of the film. His relationship to work has not changed.

In our work today, we live less than a life. What we need is autonomy in our labour. What we need is a voice in the conditions of our labour. We demand democracy in our politics, but remain blind to it for the eight hours or more we slog through in our employment. We’ve been convinced we’re free because we have a few tired hours after work to spend the money we’ve been allowed on streaming television, forgetting that those hours required workers to die because the bosses of the past couldn’t be bothered to allow us even that.

Is that what we want? A life where our few pleasures are those “allowed” to us by our employer? Or do we want a say in our lives? Do we want real choice? If we do, what then are we willing to do for our liberty?

Freedom isn’t free. Notoriously it costs $1.05, but generally the metaphor is assumed to mean that freedom is incessantly under attack, and therefore must be defended. There are terrorists and rogue nations who hate our way of life, and if they are unchecked, the freedom to live our lives the way we choose is imperiled. We must therefore adhere to a universal responsibility to fight wars, or at the very least, support those who fight them for us, against these existential threats. However, implicit responsibility suggests that those who adhere to this belief are not actually free: they are slaves to conflict. If we must fight, then we are no longer free to engage in peace.

There is also the freedom implied in the Free Market. No interference, no subjugation, allow the whims of the Market to dictate social direction. The ebb and flow of supply and demand will nurture and care for us. Yet, if our ability to participate in the market is determined by our wealth (either in the ownership of the supply side or the purchasing power of the demand side), then indeed social direction will be commanded by the wealthy. Voting with your dollar naturally leads to those with more dollars owning more votes. Even in the free market we are not free: we are slaves to wealth. Even the wealthy are encumbered by their duties to wealth perpetuation. If we seek responsibility toward externalities and an equality of opportunity, we will not find it in an ideology with implicit responsibility toward the profit motive.

Is it controversial to say that freedom requires submission? Bob Dylan waxed poetic that it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but we’re gonna have to serve somebody. Human beings have needs; we will always be beholden to bread. What are we willing to submit to in order to enjoy other freedoms? Who then benefits from that submission? What if we want to live in a world with freedom from conflict? What if we want to be responsible toward other human beings rather than to an abstraction? Maybe it would be nice to be responsible to your neighbours instead of responsible to a conflict with them.

Anyone who preaches freedom is preaching slavery on some other level. This is not always a terrible thing; responsibility is a necessity for social cohesion. The despots who hide its presence in their proselytizing are seeking only to deceive their listeners into accepting their shackles without critical thought. Be open about where the restraints will lie, and allow them to be justified. We were never free. We will never be free. We will always need to submit. The question is: where do we wish to place our submission?

You know who perpetually sucks? Those jerks in the out-group. They’ll never be as cool as us in our in-group. They’ll always be the Other, and as such, we will literally never care about them. At worst, we’ll go out of our way to kill every God damned one of them. Remember, it’s not because we’re jerks; it’s because they’re jerks.

Us and them have always been at odds, and that conflict has resulted in quite a lot of really tragic things, in hindsight. However, it’s a mentality that’s difficult to escape. Jonathan Haidt posits that there are five moral frameworks with which every human is imbued: harm, fairness, in-group, authority, and purity. The last three are often rejected by liberal-minded individuals, or at least not given as much weight, while all five are embraced by the conservative-minded, though the first two are generally less weighted than for liberals. Haidt suggests that while a focus on the in-group, authority, and purity can lead to terrible outcomes, they are needed for social cooperation in the long term. Cohesion requires solidarity, and solidarity requires some degree of enforceable rigidity.

We need union. We need to be a part of a group. We are social creatures. The nature of that group is important, however. Conformity within the in-group is problematic. Conformity means that abnormal behaviour, even benign abnormal behaviour, becomes stigmatized. Michael Warner describes a modern reality where gays are becoming part of a sterile “normal”, where they will be accepted so long as they blend in to the sexual status quo. Marriage is encouraged because it offers a legitimacy to a gay relationship, even if by doing so it still delegitimizes other, non-state recognized relationships such as polyamory, casual encounters, or cohabitation. Deviance is still deviant, and gays are only accepted so long as they conform to the generally puritanical sexual standards of the West. This is obviously despite the fact that homosexuality itself was once considered inherently deviant, and seeking conformity to a shaming culture belittles the underlying goals of the movement.

The shame of deviance is problematic for more than just sexual minorities. New ideas are quashed because they do not fit with the current paradigm. Information that is in conflict with the accepted group ideology is swept under the rug which means that any output generated can only be considered propaganda. Consider a political party; are they going to champion new research that disagrees with their values? Is the backbencher going to have a say if they aren’t going to toe the party line? Of course not. Social conformity on the macro level is just the expansion of partisanship to a larger ideology.

Can we have union without the perils of conformity? In truth, we cannot. There will always need to be a thread that interweaves throughout society that binds everyone together. However, the perils can be mitigated. Celebrating deviance from the norm is in fact a form of conformity. If everyone is called upon to support diversity, that is in itself a structure of conformity. Consider this quotation from Karl Popper:

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

Relativism fails because it simply becomes an argument for nihilism, but absolute relativism, where relativism is itself something that is demanded, creates an ideology that can be successfully promulgated. There are of course other factors to be taken into account (universal tolerance could potentially lead to the acceptance of child molestation, for example), and to go through a full list isn’t something that I’d like to get into just now, but the basic foundation that Warner suggests is focused on personal autonomy. We decide how we behave, and society as a whole fights for our right to do so.

However, as with the paradox of tolerance, freedom is something that cannot be universal. There are two types of freedom: freedom from oppression, and freedom to oppress. I’m sure you can come up with contemporary examples of each on your own as people aren’t very subtle when they are describing the type of freedom that they are after.  The two are mutually exclusive, and society can only fight for one. Given the nature of Popper’s tolerant society, the choice ought to be fairly straight forward.