Saturday, 7 February 2015

Freedom Isn't Free: Why Political Partisans Get It Wrong

Since we're all influenced by American political thought, which is more polarised than ours, I tend to represent the struggle for supremacy between its duopoly with a picture of their mascots pushing against each other. Notice how I've got their background colours intertwined and merging? That's to represent the authoritarian nature of both sides. A recent story brought to my attention by following Nick Hanauer on Twitter highlights the promises and failures in both ideologies and serves to illustrate the value of a pragmatic, centrist, market-inclusive approach to "all the things."

The argument

Certain Americans have decided that to be conservative/right wing is to unreservedly support and encourage low taxes, self-reliance, personal freedom, private enterprise, and capitalism in a free market economy.

Progressive/left wing types want a well-developed welfare state and social services all funded by a progessive tax regime. Personal freedom must be restricted to avoid causing distress to members of the cause-du-jour. Business, they say, should be run for the benefit of all, not just the owners, as part of a centrally-planned economy.

Why they're both wrong: the Right

Many of the biggest businesses in America are privately owned and publicly funded, receiving "boondoggles" from the state in terms of subsidies, tax breaks, and other favours that put them at an advantage compared to their competitors. Certain telcos have even got legislation passed to provide them with a monopoly so they alone can run telecommunications in those areas even when they don't want to actually provide services there. And if they keep pushing for wages to stay low, there won't be enough tax to subsidize their alleged infrastructure projects.

What free market?

And if you're a woman rape is bad but it's beautiful that a baby can result from it.

These are the people who deny that there's such a thing as rape culture while actively contributing to and perpetuating it in every way they can. The idea is that the threat of "rough sex with buyer's guilt" can persuade a sexually independent woman to consider a life of Westernised purdah, or something. Remember this, from my post Rape Culture: Women Who Cry Wolf?

On a tangent, you can’t have both sexual liberation and intolerance to rape. If you support sexual liberation, you are tolerant to rape. If you are against rape, then you should be for traditional values. What’s difference between rough sex and rape? An angry chick’s say-so. With murder, there is a body. With rape, there are some chick’s (probably fake) tears. The difference is from hear [sic] to the moon. - commenter "Jimbo Jones" on "Is the Rolling Stone Story True?" - Shots in the Dark.

I've written several posts on rape culture, all of which required a fair amount of research. That comment still sums up the Right's take on rape; Republican delegate Brian Kurcaba's might sound a little nicer, but not by much. He evidently wants every sexual encounter to result in a child whether it was forced or not. That, in a nutshell, is why rape culture exists. What personal freedom? As a woman in a red state you have none.

Why they're both wrong: the Left

Left-wing authoritarianism is turning bedrooms into prospective crime scenes. RE: sexual freedom, they promote an irresponsible sexual imperative double standard that shames sexually inactive people and promotes risky behaviours as if there were no consequences for such actions. Due process is viewed with suspicion where their target groups are concerned — but then, they are a mirror of the Right in that regard.

Their frantic desire to control people leads them to jump hard on speech they don't like while promoting hateful speech that they do. Don't get me started on Charlie Hebdo, I'll be here all day.

As for the economy, it CAN'T, by definition, be centrally planned. The central planning theatre that results of such efforts usually results in bloated bureaucracy for its own sake to administer inefficient programs that benefit the party faithful. When t'other lot get in, they tweak the system to benefit their friends and blame the last incumbents for the mess. Farming subsidies, anyone? Don't get me started on "defence."

I made a meme:


What Maru says. In a recent post, I looked at why talking common sense to people in entrenched positions is a waste of time. Short version, they're more interested in promoting the viewpoints they've invested in than in seeking out the truth of a matter or actually solving problems. I've got no time at all for people who aren't interested in a) seeking out the truth of a matter or b) solving the problems they claim to be addressing. Give me solutions that work in practice or GTHO.

Real Freedom

Basically, the Right decries any attempt at instilling social responsibility on anyone by force of law as an infringement on their freedoms while the Left demands that individuals and groups fund state programs on principle, whether they work or not, for the common good. Both insist that individuals sublimate themselves to their systems in the hope of sharing in the benefits resulting therefrom.

Well I have to break it to you: neither Red Team nor Blue Team can provide individuals or groups with true freedom. If you subscribe to either philosophy, you're going to end up curtailing the freedoms of others to "secure" your own.

What freedom means

In any society, freedom is actually a subtle trade-off between personal freedom and social responsibility; true freedom can only be achieved by going to live on an island by yourself. So if you want to live in the same block as me you can't play your Death Metal at top volume at 03.00, whether it's a work night or not. By that same token I can't get my hammer and drill out and put up shelves at that time, either, because you wouldn't like it. In any case, promoting selfishness in either or both situations would simply result in a poor performance at work by me and angry neighbours knocking on my door to complain. A selfish outlook proposes a best case scenario in which everyone respects everyone else's personal freedom. In fact, it results in personal alienation and a breakdown in society and social values.

Freedom from unscrupulous practices

Let's look again at the story that prompted this post:

"Don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentlemen to wash his hands before he serves your food is important?" Tillis was asked by the person at his table. 

"I think it’s one I can illustrate the point," Tillis told the women. "I said, I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says 'We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restrooms.' The market will take care of that." 

So much wrong... and don't get me started on the comments. Okay, assume it's hard to enforce regulations on food service staff washing their hands after using the toilet. It'd be just as hard to enforce regulations on posting a sign to warn people about dirty-handed staff serving food. Does that mean we shouldn't have them? Hell, no. Because if you apply the same principle, "Don't regulate [thing] because enforcing compliance is difficult" to everything, we'll have to abolish the courts because all crime would now be legal.

Of course, the implication in Tillis's statement is that the restaurant would VOLUNTARILY put up a sign to warn its patrons. About that...

"That’s probably one where every business that did that would go out of business," he added. "But I think it’s good to illustrate the point that that’s the sort of mentality that we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country."

So chances are, they wouldn't put the signs up, resulting in all sorts of health problems for restaurant patrons in North Carolina. The point that it actually ends up illustrating is that health and safety regulations that do in fact protect the public are essential and should be rigorously enforced. The market won't take care of that because it's not in the financial interests of companies, in the short term, to provide toilets, toilet roll, soap, and restroom facilities for staff. Making them go elsewhere or just go on the floor would save them bajillions of $$$, right? Pesky old regulations messing with our freedoms!

Freedom from bad things happening to us

And what about the good old-fashioned back-watching that a young Conor Friedersdorf engaged in while at college? While encouraging people to act as older siblings to prevent high people falling off balconies or to warn off lecherous predators may infringe on the personal freedom of Stoner Steve to dangle precariously over the edge, or on the right of Creepy Kevin to score a hot date with a soon-to-become-angry chick, this can and does create stronger, healthier communities. Put it this way: I'm suspicious of any philosophy that requires its adherents to be suspicious of each other and of everyone else to the point where they only feel comfortable if they're packing heat or have enough money to go elsewhere to choose other things.

The value of decentralised distributed systems

One of the main reasons I champion decentralised distributed systems is that they guarantee the freedom promised in the Twofold Principle:

The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.

Anti-authoritarian at its core, it disdains the blue-skying at the heart of those philosophies I challenge the most and demands that individuals take personal responsibility for the choices they make while giving them the freedom to make them.

Economic freedom

As I have already pointed out, there's no such thing as a free market, but there is a market. And market forces do exist; they shape our society for better or worse so trying to trammel them is a pointless exercise that causes more problems than it solves. While I'm opposed to efforts to centralise economic planning on the grounds that it doesn't work, I've got no problem with a managed form of capitalism that actually frees up the market. The right has a problem with it being managed via legislation (the government!) and the left doesn't like that it means people have to work, perhaps at jobs they don't like (the horror!) instead of receiving free money given to all so poor people won't feel bad about getting it. Both sides mess with the market by imposing their own brand of authoritaranism on it while denying the harm done. Middle-out does away with all that by weeding out bad behaviour and allowing true competition.

Since Middle-out actually provides economic freedom, why is it not more popular?

Personal freedom

As for personal freedom, the decentralised distributed good neighbour model is valuable for day-to-day issues. However, in a fractured society, this can be hard to implement unless there is a governing authority or peer group to report to, e.g. Neighbourhood Watch.

Laws that govern our behaviour exist because someone, somewhere, caused a problem that created public outrage. Result: Something Must Be Done. If we could only just behave ourselves we wouldn't have half the laws that there are. "No-consequence freedom" is an oxymoron. Everything we do, from passively breathing to making memes on the internet, has a consequence. Real, legitimate, honest freedom requires that consequences are taken into account, and that includes the cost to yourself and to the community of your choices and actions. Framing those laws in such a way as to provide maximum freedom to individuals and groups ought to take the Twofold Principle into account if we're going to avoid being forced to choose between two or more kinds of authoritarianism. Any philosophy that rejects this maxim should ideally be rejected on principle. Once more, with feeling:

The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.

Forget that at your peril.

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