Archives for posts with tag: freedom

While maybe not surprising to long-term readers who have been following since I wrote an article defending communism, I am now writing an article about how maybe we could all use a little less freedom. George W. Bush was right: we hate your freedoms, and we’re coming to take them away. Sorry America, but the terrorists just had the better argument. Blame the free market of ideas, and then marvel at the irony.

The thing is, freedom is actually a paradoxical ideology. Universal freedom is necessarily contradictory. The current “debate” about masking during a pandemic is case-in-point. If you are free to disregard masks and parade around mouth-breathing your aerosol droplets all over me, my freedom to avoid getting sick from Covid is reduced. There are millions of examples you can come up with: my freedom to be verbally abusive limits your freedom from verbal abuse. If you are free to make puns, it renders my freedom to live in a world without puns sadly utopian. If you believe yourself free to cheat on your monogamous partner and your excuse is, “I thought this was America!”, you will quickly discover that people aren’t super thrilled when your alleged freedom impinges on their own.

Kill me.

Am I entitled to mature and well-developed humour? Maybe not. Am I entitled to health? This point becomes harder to argue against. Am I entitled to health that is not being actively damaged by the choices of others? It would probably be a good idea to have a society that adopts that mentality, yeah. The issue is that the debate never focuses on the issues impacted by the free actions of others, and the freedoms they might be reducing in turn. It typically focuses on ‘freedom’ as an abstract, unexamined concept that just has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that most people find appealing. Even those denouncing the demands of those freedom-loving anti-maskers won’t condemn the concept of freedom itself, but you heard it here first: freedom the way most people imagine it is a masturbatory fantasy.

Freedom advocates would argue that freedom should not exist completely deregulated, but that the only reasonable regulations are negative ones: you can’t murder, for example, but you shouldn’t be compelled to act in any particular way. Hence, you can’t make me put on a mask, you commie! However, the limits on negative regulation are arbitrary. Being forbidden from making puns is a negative regulation, but I have yet to come across a libertarian seriously making this argument despite its expansive merit. The distinction between negative and positive impositions on freedom is completely meaningless, and doesn’t address my original point that all the actions we take are going to be affecting those around us in ways that may well reduce their freedom. While this is a small case of conjecture, I can speculate that the ‘true believers’ would say that those who are negatively impacted by their free actions should just suck it up; they should content themselves with having less freedom than others. Sounds completely reasonable and not at all systemically oppressive.

Those kids should be free to do whatever they want, and if she doesn’t like it, she has the freedom to start her *own* school!

Freedom is a pretty great idea. I like being able to do things, but I also recognize that I am one individual among many with equal entitlement to the things that I ought to be entitled to. I want to be healthy, but I have to recognize that everyone else wants to be healthy too. I want to live in a world without puns, but I have to recognize that other people have the wrong sense of humour, and I just have to live with their wrongness. If I begin to act in a way that limits the puns of others using my own freedom to coerce their behaviour, I am limiting their freedom to make awful “jokes.” I would appreciate the same consideration when I make delightful and well-timed fart jokes from the plebeians that simply don’t understand the nuance!

When we recognize the needs of others as equally requiring consideration, we recognize that we must be responsible to those needs and our freedom must be curtailed. If we disregard the needs of others, we are not actually advocating for universal freedom, we are demanding selfish preference. Freedom is not generalizable, but the great thing about responsibility is that it is! Everyone is capable of shouldering equal amounts of responsibility to their neighbour. An argument could be made that some parties may be more responsible than others (more polluting nations are more responsible for reining in their carbon emissions to address climate change, for example), but aspirational responsibility is not as contradictory as aspirational freedom.

I may have lived long enough to see myself become the villain, here

Viktor Frankl is quoted as saying that America needs a Statue of Responsibility to temper its Statue of Liberty, and his worries are coming to deadly fruition today. Politicians and pundits that espouse and proselytize freedom can only be pandering to the selfish ego of their followers, by the very nature of the ideology they are spouting. The purposeful disregard and neglect of one’s neighbour is the disregard and neglect of their freedom. I guess the point is you’re not supposed to give a shit about your neighbour because your freedom is the only freedom that matters.

Let’s instead work toward a universal responsibility. It’s not particularly difficult because it’s something that can be adopted in every action. We can be responsible to others as individuals; it can be foisted upon our politicians and other macro-level actors sure, and adopted by corporations and those on the mezzo level too. Everyone can be responsible. The less we focus on a pointless concept like freedom, the more we can focus on taking care of one another. I think the world would be much better off, and we’d probably have fewer Covid cases too.

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.

plantation1a_360

“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.

working outside

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?