Basics of Freedom in the UK
SECTION ONE : Definitions
Lets start out with some basic definitions. There would be little point in discussing a subject without having first outlined some principle definitions.
What is reality?
This 'big' philosophical question is a fundamental one. For the sake of my purpose I shall say simply that reality is reality. That A is A. It sounds obvious, and it is. This definition of reality was first recognised by Aristotle.
Aristotle basically said that reality is, i.e. it exists and requires no one to perceive it for it to exist. The question "if a tree falls when no one is near does it make a sound?" is answered by Aristotle with an emphatic YES! If you doubt something exists without one having to perceive it, or that the nature of the existence is subject to your perception then observe people felled by an unobserved stimulus (e.g. a bullet). More over, if the nature of what exists is subject to your perception try persuading yourself that a half brick is a feather and drop it on your foot - regardless of what you believe the reality of the brick and gravity don't let you get away with faking it. The damage is done (even if you pretend its isn't - you couldn't run as fast out of the way of a speeding car as you normally would - reality does not 'let people off'). The fact that one perceives the world through yourself (is the subject) is evidence that your perception is subjective, rather than evidence of subjective reality.
What this means in day to day life is that a field poorly sown will not yield a good crop, that an unskilled attempt at DIY will not yield superb furniture, that any attempt to cheat reality by evading it will result in failure.
The second important addition made by Aristotle is that of non-contradiction. The nature of reality does not contradict itself. One thing is not another thing at the same time. By this we mean the nature of the object. A leaf is not a mouse, water is not sand, a person is not dead and alive at the same time. You cant have you cake and eat it too. Again, this appears to be common sense - it should be, but its also important.
When dealing with reality there is an important feature of man, and his nature, to consider. A person can choose to pretend that reality is not what it is, can evade it. Mankind's outstanding survival feature is his capacity to think. However (unlike most animals and plants) mankind has no automatic knowledge which leads to his survival. You do not know from birth how to acquire the things necessary for survival. You do require them or you'll die. You may choose to understand what it takes to acquire them or you may not, but if you do not then in order to survive you must be provided for by those who do understand. Mankind's reason (understanding reality) is his survival tool. If it is interfered with then his ability to survive is interfered with, or at least his ability to live at his best.
I shall now briefly discuss determinism ; The famous 'cause and effect' argument that determinists use to point out a flaw in the open universe argument. They state that all effects have a cause, and that therefore all effects can be traced to the beginning of the universe, thus the starting condition of the universe has caused every effect, which in turn causes every other effect! Not enough has been discovered in this area yet, but it is important. My understanding is that the laws of entropy and chaos create an open ended universe (where its course cannot be predicted by the starting conditions), but this is not a closed book.
Even taking that on, it doesn't make any act 'ok' because of a deterministic belief. Even if people change because they were destined to, it does not provide an excuse for crime nor for greatness. What is crime is still crime, and what is great is
still great. Philosophical interpretation of scientific understanding is valuable, but has also led to some people deciding that everything is ok (and pointless at once!). A kind of nihilism - "what will be will be".
People's experience in life does not confirm a deterministic stance, people make choices and change. You can argue that they do so because of the previous 'cause'. You may ask "what's this got to do with freedom?" Its one of the
fundamental questions - "are we free to choose, or do we act out of causes we cannot control (the universal start)?"
The appropriate joke may be that when a scientist finally discovers that's the universe is not pre-determined (as seems likely in current science trends) the opponent will simply say "but you were bound to discover that!" )
What is an individual?
Briefly, its you! Each person is an entity in themselves. When I think you do not know what I think, and when you think I do not know what you think. No one person can 'know' another in the sense they know themselves.
There is no such thing as a collective thought. When a people gather round and proclaim "we believe" it is not the result of some collective thought, but the agreement of many individual thoughts. As such, society does not exist apart from the individual but is made up of individuals, just as a bowl of sugar is made up of individual sugar granules. Ofcourse you are affected by other people - you were bought up by them for starters! But that doesn't mean you cease to be an individual.
When you have a thought, it belongs to you. This is important, as we shall see in the discussion of wealth creation below.
In practice it means that you are you, your personal characteristics are influenced by, but not wholly determined by your sex, skin colour, your family, your economic status, nor any group to which you may be placed in by another. Although all of the above things may affect you, they are affecting you the individual - you are not helpless in the face of it. All racist like beliefs are borne of the belief that a person's worth (positive or negative) is derived from a genetic, geographic, or family heritage. Such thinking is plain wrong - a persons worth is to be judged on the character of that person, and that is all. People who attempt to apply various 'groupings' to a person in evaluating him/her are engaging in the equivalent of racism.
Incidentally, not only does this include 'white supremacist' groups, it also includes supporters of so called 'affirmative action/ positive discrimination' activities. In every instance where one person judges another based upon an immutable characteristic (race, sex, height, cultural background) that person is prejudging in a manner similar to the more readily understood racist.
What is morality?
Morality, put simply, is the conformity to ideals of right human conduct. A fuller discussion of the various types of morality is available here.
I would support the objectivist-libertarian stance that a person needs to be free of the force of others in order to deal with reality. Its called the non-aggression principle and basically means people should *not* go about initiating force on one another. This includes the mugger, the con-man and the state.
But more over, a people free to choose and pursue their own values tend to lead better lives, they can reap what they sow and are free to help whom they value.
What is wealth?
A dictionary definition first : "abundance of valuable material possessions or resources". The value of an item is decided by the relationship between it supply (availability) and its demand (how much it is wanted). The term wealth, on this site, applies to all material objects like land, food, cars, microwaves etc.
So let us consider how wealth comes about. 20,000 years ago mankind enjoyed the use of some simple tools and otherwise had to forage from nature in order to survive. In a modern western society almost all of us have things like communications, medicine, houses, travel and food the likes of which we could not hope to create for ourselves from scratch yet which we can acquire for the cost of 35 hours a week at our job! How did such incredible wealth come about?
It was created. All wealth is created, even land is useless if not put to 'work'. There is no static pot from which one must steal (and thus deprive another). If it was so then today would be the same as it was all those millennia ago. Think about everything you own, every holiday you've taken, every tool you use, every person you are able to communicate with and lets say a deserved 'thank-you' to every worthy inventor and honest businessperson that made the existence and distribution of all these things possible. Conversely lets say a big 'no thanks' to those psuedo business people who dont want to create wealth by trade, but go cap in hand to government looking for protection and favours in return for money and return favours.
How did they do it? The creators of wealth were free to think. They were free to act. They were free to own the product of that thought and action. Property rights are fundamental to freedom. If you do not own the property of your own thinking then not only is your means of survival (reason) in the hands of those who decide what to do with your property - your also worse off and probably getting very demotivated. Trying to divorce what you own from what you do is not a good idea!
There is a bizarre idea in some circles that property is theft. That to own a piece of property is to 'thieve' it from other potential users. This is an empty argument. Any property created or traded is not theft, only expropriation by force is theft. Only a robber can thieve property. Allow me to consider a possible outcome of the notion 'property is theft'. If a person has no right to the produce of his ability then why make anything? Why take effort to grow food when it doesn't belong to you, and your hours of toil can 'rightly' be snatched by a passer by? If your thought is your property then the produce of it (all produce requires thought) is yours by extension. To suggest property rights are a recent political construct is to suggest that your thoughts are anybody's property too. Imagine a society where anything you make can be taken by anyone, and no one has no right to keep anything for themselves. Who would benefit in that society? Thieves. Would people vigorously pursue innovation and efficiency? No, why bother?
What is (and is not) Freedom?
Provided no other person is forcing you, you are free. In order to substantiate that statement lets define terms.
Lets define force. If a person forces you to act, and sets about hurting you if you don't comply then you are subject to force (and thus not free). Such behaviour is characteristic of criminals and governments.
If you are living a miserable subsistence existence and a person offers employment, the employer is not forcing the original subsistence existence on you - it exists anyway! This counters efforts at 'proving' a causal relationship between western capitalism and third world poverty. If you are living at a subsistence level, and one person is wealthy and chooses not to give you some of that wealth, they are not forcing the subsistence level upon you - it exists anyway! This counters the ludricious notion that a rich man is guilty, by definition, of an impoverished mans' state.
The starting condition of your life is the fact of reality, whatever opportunity is offered in addition (included most importantly - those you create yourself) to this is exactly that, an opportunity. Therefore a man who has no material wealth but is not subject to the force of others is as free as a multi-millionaire who also is not subject to the force of others.
Freedom has been associated with the volume and quality of opportunities a person has. However the definition opportunity is appropriate here, not freedom. Freedom means simply being free of the coercion of other people, it does not mean volume of choices.
Freedom is "exemption from the power and control of another; liberty; independence. " (Websters). It is therefore a negative, in the sense that it requires that people do not coerce you. I do not mean "Exemption from necessity, in choice and action" (also websters) which a human cannot be. 'Freedom from starvation' is earned by mankind, it must be created, it is a positive. Prior to the use of technology (and I mean any technology including spears etc.) mankind had no more 'freedom' in this sense than an animal. Following industrialisation and new farming technologies much of mankind has 'freedom' from starvation, but not freedom from the forceful coercion of others.
The natural state of a man is to be free of coercion, but not free of necessity. This is mankind's 'default' setting, if you will. To make him un-free one must act to control him, to make him free of necessity he must act (by making food). If you create a farming machine then you do not suddenly restrict the freedom of the man who cannot - his status is the same as before, his freedom is the same as before.
This is not 'cruel' or 'heartless' - it is reality, and reality is not subject to whim.
Now we are ready to move onto section two, and consider the various political systems open to us.