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A few observations on freedom

Summary:
Guest Post by Infidel as posted from his Blog of the same name. Intro . . . In the real world, which contains many individuals interacting within a society, overall freedom is maximized when the total ability of all individuals to do whatever they want is maximized.  In practice, achieving this involves a vast number of compromises and trade-offs, because there are so many cases where the wants of one person clash with the wants of another (when, for example, my neighbor wants to play loud music in his apartment but I want to exist in my own apartment without excessive noise).  ~~~~~~~~ A few observations on freedom, Infidel753 In my post last week about some right-wing bloggers’ fantasies of a civilizational collapse, I listed

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Guest Post by Infidel as posted from his Blog of the same name.

Intro . . .

In the real world, which contains many individuals interacting within a society, overall freedom is maximized when the total ability of all individuals to do whatever they want is maximized.  In practice, achieving this involves a vast number of compromises and trade-offs, because there are so many cases where the wants of one person clash with the wants of another (when, for example, my neighbor wants to play loud music in his apartment but I want to exist in my own apartment without excessive noise). 

~~~~~~~~

A few observations on freedom, Infidel753

A few observations on freedom

In my post last week about some right-wing bloggers’ fantasies of a civilizational collapse, I listed some of the reasons why a post-collapse environment (if it ever actually happened) would not be worth living in — “No more internet, no more dentists with modern anesthetics, no more modern hospitals or clinics, no more vaccines or antibiotics,” etc, ending with “no more real freedom.”  In a right-wing context, it has occurred to me that some libertarian types might find this objection surprising, since their concept of freedom is freedom from control by government, and after a civilizational collapse, obviously there would be no government.

Here’s what I meant, which I think illustrates why libertarian thinking is fundamentally flawed.

Looking at just myself as an isolated individual, and ignoring for the moment the existence of other people, my freedom is maximized when, to the greatest extent possible, I can do whatever I want, without any obstacles to my doing so.  In the real world, which contains many individuals interacting within a society, overall freedom is maximized when the total ability of all individuals to do whatever they want is maximized.  In practice, achieving this involves a vast number of compromises and trade-offs, because there are so many cases where the wants of one person clash with the wants of another (when, for example, my neighbor wants to play loud music in his apartment but I want to exist in my own apartment without excessive noise).  Various ideologies and philosophies have been concocted which claim to give rules for resolving such conflicts, but that’s not relevant to this post.  Just keep in mind that conflicts of one person’s freedom with another’s do exist.

The point is, if my freedom is being limited, it’s totally unimportant to me whether that limitation is being imposed by a government, a boss, a neighbor, a criminal, an animal, a feature of the natural environment, or whatever.  If I want to do something and cannot, that’s a constraint on my freedom, regardless of the nature of the obstacle.

If I could travel back in time two billion years, before complex life had evolved, then by libertarian standards I would have total freedom.  I would be the only person on Earth, so not only would no government exist, but there would be no chance of one being established.  But in reality, my freedom of action would be far more constrained than it is in the present.  There would exist nothing I could eat.  The air would not be breathable.  I would die immediately if I stepped outside the time machine.  There would be no other people to interact with, and nothing to do.  I would have no effective freedom at all.

A post-collapse scenario would be an intermediate case.  Almost every aspect of life would be more limited and hemmed in than it is now.  Getting enough food to survive would be a constant struggle, perhaps involving literal battles, if it were possible at all — not just a simple trip to Safeway.  The environment might well be dominated by looters or anarchic mobs, or by packs of the kind of nutballs who now keep huge stockpiles of guns and ammunition in their basements for this very eventuality.  Going outside would be too dangerous to do except for dire necessities.  Even staying home would not be safe, not in a world of violent gangs and no police.  There would be no government, but in almost every real-world, practical way, I would have far less freedom of action than I do now.  A few especially cruel, ruthless, and well-armed people might feel more free, but only because the circumstances would enable them to trample the freedoms of everyone else.

Consider how freedom would diminish if society were run according to the fantasies of libertarianism as it is today, which resolves all conflicts by robotically applying a rule that property rights trump everything else.  Your boss could demand unlimited extra work time, pay you as little as the market let him get away with, sexually harass you, require you to join his church — if you didn’t like it, you’d be “free” to switch jobs, after all.  Landlords could charge as much as they wanted, neglect upkeep and noise problems as much as they wanted, invade your unit without notice — if you didn’t like it, you’d be “free” to move elsewhere, after all.  Restaurants would have no state-mandated safety rules; you would need to do your own research and find out how good their standards were.  Employers and business owners who disliked gays, blacks, Jews, etc. could simply exclude them — they’d be “free” to go elsewhere.  In some extremely abstract sense, there would be more “freedom” (well, for those who owned the most things), but in reality most people would face endless and wearisome new burdens and constraints.

In practice, the only virtue of establishing the libertarian dream as a reality would be that it would rapidly provoke the violent overthrow of the entire system.  But looking at the history of violent revolutions in the real world, they don’t have a very good track record of leading to systems with more real freedom.  We’re better off sticking with the unexciting but pragmatic course of fine-tuning and improving the existing system.

Infidel753: “A few observations on freedom

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