Sunday, November 15, 2009

Degrees of Freedom

Just How Free Are You?

There are those persons and institutions that believe they hold the moral authority to abridge the freedoms of others. Where so-called “legitimate” government bodies are concerned, they back that belief with the means and the will to threaten and apply various types and measures of force upon the governed pursuant to the capricious dictates of law that violates the individual right to be free. Underlying this mentality of entitlement there is a notion of "degrees of freedom". We will analyze this notion that some claim the necessity for which grants them the moral and/or the legal authority to infringe upon the freedom of others.

Some definitions are in order before we proceed:

slave – noun

1. a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person

slavery - noun

1. the condition of a slave; bondage
2. a state of subjection like that of a slave

subject – noun

1. One who or that which is under the power, control, influence, observation, or action of some other person or thing, especially a person who owes allegiance to a ruler, government, etc.

freeman – noun

1. one who enjoys liberty, or who is not subject to the will of another
2. one who is not in slavery or bondage

bondage – noun

1. slavery or involuntary servitude
2. restraint of a person’s liberty by compulsion
3. serfdom

serf - noun

1. a slave
2. any person who is oppressed or without freedom

chattel - noun

1. law: a movable article of personal property
2. a slave

abject – adjective

1. sunk to a low condition: applied to persons or things

utter – noun

1. situated at or beyond the limits of something
2. complete; total
3. absolute; unconditional; unqualified;

subjugation - verb

1. to bring under complete control or subjection; conquer; master
2. to make submissive or subservient; enslave

citizen - noun

1. a native or inhabitant, especially a freeman or burgess of a town or city

2. a member of a state or nation, especially one with a republican form of government, who owes allegiance to it by birth or naturalization and is entitled to full civil rights

Note the second definition under “slavery”: a state of subjugation like that of a slave, the use of which indicates “similarity”, in turn indicating that one need not be an abject slave in order to live under conditions of slavery, thereby denoting degree. Furthermore, the term “abject slave” indicates the degree to which one is a slave, in this case the worst possible condition. Other terms that we may use interchangeably with “slave” include bondman, bondservant, and serf.

Consider “serf”; it equates with “slave” as well as denoting any person who is oppressed or without freedom. Once again, the concept of degree applies because oppression need not be absolute in order to be present. We commonly accept that oppression exists in degrees. One may say the same of “subject”. Degree follows axiomatically from these terms due to their very nature. One person ruling over another such that the other’s role is that of a serf, slave, or subject directly implies the ruler’s power of caprice and his discretion to dispose of the other as he sees fit in some degree, which is not always absolute. It is, in fact, rarely absolute, for even kings were often bounded in what they were legitimately empowered to do with their subjects, though most often those limits were broad enough to render them effectively limitless. The point is that kings and other governments exercise varying degrees of illegitimate and unjustifiable power over their respective people as a rule, particularly if we accept the premise that we are all equal and free.

The Fallacy of “Degrees of Freedom”

Those who justify the circumscription and denial of the freedom of others will often raise the argument that "one cannot do anything they want", implying that this is what the concept of "freedom" represents. One commonly offered remark is that one cannot go around killing people just because they want to; therefore we are not completely free." This position and its attendant reasoning demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of what freedom really connotes as it relates to the personal state of liberty of the individual, and by extension, a nation. A corollary of this point of view is the concept of "degrees of freedom". Let us begin by stating unequivocally that there is no such thing as "degrees of individual freedom". One is free or one is not; there is nothing in between. This implies that one is either a freeman or a slave.

There are those who object to the use of the terms “slave” and “slavery” when discussing issues of personal liberty on the grounds that the words are simply too strong and therefore misleading and inappropriate. They further argue that this is especially so today, an age where slavery has been “eliminated” from the world. To this, they will add that use of such terms in the context of the people of “free world” (USA, Europe, etc.) is absurd on its face. For such people it appears that their understanding of the term relates solely to the archetype of the manacled abject slave, betraying their belief that slavery does not exist in degrees, but is an all or nothing proposition and that "freedom" exists and is therefore "allowed" in degrees. In fact, such objections most often stem from a precisely reversed understanding of this very aspect of the terms “freedom” and “slavery” in the all too commonly held false beliefs that freedom exists in degrees and slavery does not.

Freedom never exists in degrees, while slavery always does, over a very broad continuum. The "best" forms of slavery therefore, may appear as freedom to those for whom the state of subjugation is more severe. Understandably, such people may observe the conditions of less restricted people and wish for their “freedom”, not quite realizing that what they wish for is actually a similar cage, only with more gilding and perhaps a bit roomier. For those living under the comparatively enviable circumstances, their chains often rest lightly upon them and the perceived benefits of their subjugation, mild as they may be, provide little or no motivation to strive for actual freedom. Real freedom is, in fact, anathema to the way such people appear to view life. They view actual freedom as something reckless, dangerous, antisocial, and therefore something to avoid assiduously and with vehemence; something to be eliminated. Many who live in their gilt cages are more than happy with the restrictions placed upon them, at least so long as the gilding does not start to peel. It is their right to agree to such conditions for themselves.
What of the rest of us? An oft-forwarded justification for imposing interference upon those who do not agree is the fallaciously employed doctrine of "fairness", which holds that what applies to one must apply to all. In such cases, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Let us then answer the question as to why there can be no degrees of freedom. The answer is straightforward: "degrees of freedom" implies an arbitrary, therefore capricious, and therefore unpredictable third party control over one's prerogatives. If freedom exists in degrees, it follows that someone is making the determination of which beliefs and behaviors the "authority" in question shall allow, a direct contradiction of the definition of "personal freedom". It also begs the question: Who is this third party and by what moral authority do they assume the right or the power over others to thwart them arbitrarily? Clearly, they are not arguing for what axiomatically flows from the very definition of freedom; the actions of legislators at every level of government rocketed past that boundary long ago. Such people seek nothing less than ever-greater degrees of subjugation of the individual's freedom pursuant to a purpose, fair or foul. Rarely will they admit to such goals, most often arguing that their actions constitute that which is ‘best”, rather than an act of war against the individual in the name of some inorganic justification. A litany of equally fallacious justifications usually accompanies such arguments and usually fall into categories that include:

1. The greatest good for the greatest number must be served

· Ex.: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his congress shove the welfare state down the throats of a proud and self-sufficient American people.

· Ex.: The Soviet Union under Stalin murders tens of millions of its own people to “protect the people from counter-revolutionaries”

· Ex.: Adolph Hitler exterminates millions of people and destroys nearly the entire European continent pursuant to his goal of the 1000 year Reich of which his people were to be the masters.

· Ex.: China, under helmsman Mao, purged and “reeducated” tens of millions of his own people during the “cultural” revolution. The Chinese government destroyed much of ancient Chinese architecture and art in an apoplectic fit of serving the greatest good for the greatest number.

· Ex.: The Khmer Rouge engaged in a massive “social engineering” program wherein they murdered approximately 1.5 million Cambodians through torture, execution, forced labor, and starvation, all for the good of "the people".

· Ex.: Fidel Castro seized Cuba, nationalized everything for the good of one and all, resulting in a nation still living in 1959, short on food, medicines, and … freedom

· Ex.: The long-standing attempts at firearms prohibition on the presumption that removal of the guns from the hands of the citizens will make for a safer society, the ostensible goal of which makes right the denial and abridgement of the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.

· Ex.: The Volstead Act passed on the basis that alcohol consumption was to be prohibited for the good of “society”.

· The litany of such historical events appears to have no discernible end. There is always someone out there claiming he has the solution for all human woes and that those who succeed must be subdued and suborned for the benefit of the rest. The implication here is that someone’s opinion of how the world should be supersedes the inborn and natural rights of people.

2. It is for your own good

· A variation on the point, above.

· Ex.: The outlawing of possession and use of illicit drugs such as marijuana and heroin, even when such possession and use affects none but the users.

· Ex.: The long standing attempts at firearms prohibition where one much loved argument in favor of it has been the claim that one is “43 times more likely to be shot with their gun than to be saved by it.”

· Ex. Prohibition of gambling. Prohibited, except of course in approved government monitored facilities where the taxman is most likely to get his pound of flesh.

· There are those ostensibly well-meaning souls out there who presume to know what is best for you and will save you from yourself no matter how stridently you may object. Such people will go so far as to see you go to prison for your own good, the Constitution and your freedom be damned.

3. One owes it to “society” to accept the transgression

· Ex.: Prohibition of tobacco smoking in public places. The City of Philadelphia adopted such stringent public anti-smoking laws that it was once observed that apparently the only place where it was still legal to smoke in public was the middle of two lane and larger roads, on the yellow line.

· Ex.: Property taxes – you owe it to society to subsidize the educations of your neighbor’s children in perpetuity. If you fail to pay for any reason, your friendly county sheriff will forcibly remove your private property (i.e. your home) from you, at gunpoint if necessary, and auction it off for the outstanding sum. If you resist, you will arrested and possibly tried and jailed. If you really resist, "law" enforcement may even kill you.

· Ex.: Times are tough and we all must make sacrifices; therefore, you are no longer entitled to do, own, or act upon X. We in the United States hear presidents make this claim now and again, particularly when the freedoms they are demanding we abdicate are particularly important to us.

· For some, being “free” apparently means you owe something to somebody just because they occupy space. This is a central pillar of all forced-collectivist philosophies.

4. An emergency condition exists and we must give up some rights

· Ex. We are at war and must give up some of our rights. Do not worry though; you will get them back when the war is over.

· Ex. For fifty years, the US government bilked US taxpayers because of the never-ending threat the Soviet Union posed to our security.

· Ex. “National security” becomes the catch all imprimatur by which government arrogated to themselves an ever-growing litany of powers.

· Ex. 9/11/2001 – the war on terror begins, showing no potential for seeing an end. One of the earliest babies born of this disaster was the USA PATRIOT act, the provisions of which every American is behooved to read. PATRIOT II was so bizarrely and overtly extreme that even the US Congress had to say no to it. Never fear, though, for congress incorporated most of the provisions of PATRIOT II in some form into other legislation.

· Need to maintain extraordinary power for an extraordinary period? Just concoct an extraordinarily severe emergency that is never resolved and you are good to go.

5. It is only "fair"

· If it applies to one, it must apply to all.

6. It is the will of "the people"

· Perhaps the lamest excuse of them all.

When such schemes are forced upon a person, he is no longer free, but a slave or a subject to a greater or lesser degree. Note how in such cases, force or its threat universally serve as the means by which governments of all sorts thrust such transgressions against individual freedom upon the people. In most cases, legislators never even bother to consult the citizens on such matters, regardless of the fact that they are supposed to be public servants and not anyone's masters.

When one accepts the notion of “degrees of freedom”, they have rejected, perhaps unwittingly, actual freedom in favor of some degree of slavery. Some appear to be largely unaware of what it is they are choosing. Many seem to believe that slavery is freedom and freedom some dangerous horror to be stamped out, along with all its proponents. These people constitute the most eloquent vindication of George Orwell, who is perhaps spinning like a lathe in his grave. Recall the definition of personal freedom as we developed it here: the prerogative to choose any action one wishes, within their means, as long as it does not constitute a violation of the freedom of others. This definition is unequivocal and the prerogatives it allows for are expansively broad and the restrictions vanishingly small, yet few people are aware of it and of those, fewer still, accept it. Given the definition, who can look at even the great United States and conclude that their people are free?

If they are not free, then they are slaves, or subjects - but subjects of whom? Certainly, the question cannot be "subjects of what?” for how can an inanimate object or a materially insubstantial concept hold dominion over us? Who is it, then, that holds moral supremacy over the rest such that they may dictate what shall be allowed? By what standard are they superior to the rest such that they may claim moral authority over everyone else? These are the questions each and every human being on the planet should be asking themselves and each other. Each of us should question with healthy skepticism the standard assumptions and suppositions upon which the arguments for third party interference rest, always asking, "Who says?" and "By what standard is this so?"

The lesson here is simple: freedom is monotonic, i.e., you are free or you are not. There are no variations on the meaning of the term or the condition that it represents. If you are not free, then at the very best, you are a subject and not a citizen, for the latter implies a free man whereas the former implies one subject to the opinions and whims of another. If we agree to the notion of “equality” as commonly used in this context, then how can one man act as the master of another? Is that not the very definition of slavery? Is slavery not one of the things our cultural values have taught us to despise, reject, and act against with venom and single-minded determination? How is it, then, that we tolerate such intrusion and theft; such violation? Why do we tolerate the intolerable? What is it about our ways of thinking that have brought us to this unfortunate state of being? Why do we not act to reclaim that which was born to us and stolen from us through force and fraud by those who would presume to be our masters? How can it be justified? How do you justify it? What are your reasons? What are your excuses? Finally, ask yourself how you will feel if one day you wake up to find that the most precious thing you ever possessed is now far gone, never to return.

Please take the time to consider the ideas and questions here and discuss them with others. Is your freedom not worth this much?

Until next time, please accept my best wishes.

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