Can we remain free?
31 May 2020
ADELAIDE - The current coronavirus crisis has thrown into stark relief the inherent tension between individual freedom and social obligation.
This has perhaps been most evident in the United States, where there is now active resistance against demands that individuals sacrifice their personal liberty for the greater good in an effort to control the Covid-19 pandemic that had by yesterday killed 105,000 Americans.
Without going into a long explanation of its origins, there is a fierce attachment to individual liberty in the US together with a related suspicion of authority.
This distrust lies at the very core of how many if not most Americans conceive of themselves as citizens.
In Papua New Guinea, in traditional societies at least, there was no question that social obligations always took precedence over personal freedom.
Indeed, it seems to me that the concept of personal freedom as it is understood in western thought would have been incomprehensible to traditional people.
In fact, the whole notion of individual freedom as we in the democratic world understand it is, historically speaking, a recent development.
For most of recorded human history the freedom of individuals has been constrained in a variety of ways, ranging from family and clan obligations of the type well understood by Papua New Guineans through to outright slavery.
In the Roman Empire, for example, even citizens were obliged to endure a variety of restrictions upon their freedom, for example, there were limits to their ability to participate in the governance of their city or the wider empire.
Roman citizens had certain rights enforced through the law, but they still could be subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment or even execution at the whim of the Emperor or his delegates.
The slaves, who constituted about a third of the population of ancient Rome and did much of the hard work throughout the Empire, had no rights or freedom at all.
They were bought and sold as goods or chattels without regard to their individual needs or desires.
In the medieval era, across much of the world, those people not part of the ruling elite were often bound in servitude to others or locked into a specified social position.
Even the great lords of the land had sometimes onerous obligations to their social superiors which they could not easily avoid.
The notion that an individual had a largely unfettered right to freedom would have been regarded then as incomprehensible, laughable or even treasonous.
Attempts to assert such rights, such as the Peasants Revolt in England of 1381 were ruthlessly crushed by force, with the leaders rounded up, tortured and then publicly executed by very horrible means to reinforce the message that the prevailing social order would be mercilessly enforced.
The first glimmering of real change arose in England during the 17th century, mainly in response to the crisis which arose when King Charles I clashed with parliament over the supposed ‘divine right’ of kings.
This so-called right was based upon the long held idea that kings were appointed to their role by God and thus were answerable to God alone.
Even today, the motto on the British Monarch’s coat of arms is Dieu et Mon Droit, ‘God and my Right’, a quaint Latin hangover from a time when it was believed that kings truly ruled by God’s will.
In 1642 the already tense relations between Charles I and the English parliament irretrievably broke down when his demands for additional revenue to be collected by taxation were refused by parliament.
A subsequent botched attempt by Charles to arrest the leading parliamentarians proved to be the trigger for a civil war.
The war raged until 1651, when the parliamentary forces finally crushed all military resistance to its rule. Charles was arrested, tried for treason and executed.
This event signalled to Charles’ astonished and appalled fellow monarchs in Europe the beginning of the end for the long European tradition of rule by absolute monarchs, although the last of them would not be deposed for another 250 years.
Part of the justification for ending the rule of absolute monarchs came from English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704).
In his book, Two Treatises on Government, Locke argued that people are by nature free, and that claims that God had made them subject to a monarch were false.
These days it is very hard for us to understand how radical and shocking an idea this was.
It overturned thousands of years of tradition where the social order was a system into which you were born and social advancement on merit alone was impossible.
Hitherto, God had ordained your position in society and, with very few exceptions, no amount of effort or wealth or inventiveness by an individual could make any real difference.
But in the 17th century it was emerging that not only did individuals have a natural right to freedom but they could, by exercising this right, hope to advance their position in society.
Of course, English society then and for a long time afterwards was neither especially free nor fair. The thinking about personal freedom had changed but the practical impact for most people was very limited.
There were, however, small but perceptible changes beginning to occur which would lead to the emergence of a wealthy and influential ‘middle class’ of merchants, landowners and skilled professionals.
This new middle class, full of what we might now call ‘aspirationals’, was the driving force behind the creation of the market economy we take for granted today.
As this middle class grew in size and power, it forced a gradual extension of the franchise. Some of the ruling elite began to worry that unfettered liberty for individuals might lead to a form of mob rule which might be even more tyrannical than that of a monarch.
Another important English philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), discussed this problem at length in his book, On Liberty (1859).
In essence, Mill argued that individual freedom was naturally constrained by the requirement to not do harm to others or otherwise disrupt the social order unless this was necessary to resist tyranny.
This idea is central to our current notion of what freedom means, where individual liberty is constrained in a whole variety of ways by the imposition of laws to govern how society works.
This is the basis of what is generally called classical liberalism.
Notwithstanding Mill’s attempt to square the circle between individual freedom and the need for an orderly society, the fear that unfettered individual liberty will lead to anarchy or worse is still alive and well in much of the world.
Many people and societies regard the world’s noisy, argumentative and messy democracies as inherently unstable and very threatening to the overriding need for social order above everything else.
Authoritarian governments of all forms recognise and use this fear as leverage to sustain their regimes.
They invariably promise to deliver the desired stability, security and certainty, but at the price of a significant loss of individual liberty.
The tension between these supposedly mutually exclusive social objectives can result in significant conflict.
We can see this playing out at the moment in Hong Kong, where much of the citizenry is resisting Beijing’s efforts to impose greater controls upon them.
Unlike the mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese are used to having much more individual freedom. Ironically, this is because the former British colonial regime was much less authoritarian in nature than the current Chinese government.
Meanwhile, in the USA, the generally right wing advocates for largely unfettered individual freedom do not see that they should have any obligation to comply with measures intended to protect the wider community from the ravages of Covid-19.
They claim that their rights take precedence over any actual or implied obligations to the communities they live in.
I should also note here that, in more recent times, individual freedom has been explicitly linked to the functioning of the economy.
This idea arose out of what is known as the Chicago school of economics in the USA. Its principal and most famous advocate was Milton Friedman (1912-2006), who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976.
In his book Capitalism and Freedom (1962) Friedman argued that people must be free to make economic choices that best meet their individual needs, unfettered by government regulation or other interference.
Friedman contended that only then could people achieve true political and personal freedom.
There is, I think, some truth in this proposition, especially in the highly materialistic, consumption based economy of today.
That said, there are grounds to believe that this is not necessarily the case for someone living a subsistence lifestyle such as that found in much of Papua New Guinea, where mutually supportive communalism at least ensures that the trials imposed by having little money are more equally shared.
Friedman also believed that government interventions in the economy were invariably bad and that, by individuals exercising their free choices in the marketplace, an inherently efficient and self regulating economy would be created.
This thinking, to my mind at least, is peculiarly American in nature because it plainly appeals to those pre-existing ideas, deeply embedded in the American psyche, that governments are inherently oppressive and inefficient and that individuals should be allowed to get on with their lives largely unhindered by rules and regulations.
In any event, Friedman’s idea gripped the imagination of many economists, politicians and business people across the world and now lies at the very heart of what I and many others call neo-liberalism.
There is much to recommend Friedman’s ideas (to which I can hardly do justice in this short article).
But his belief that a free market is invariably the best mechanism to produce and distribute goods and services has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, most recently during the current crisis.
He did not, in my view, give sufficient attention to things like information differences between the seller and buyer, nor to the problem of market failure in the event of massive economic disruption such as major wars or the global financial crisis of 2008 or the current crisis.
In the case of other common forms of market failure, Adam Smith (1723-1790), who first articulated the basic ideas about how a modern capitalist economy should work, foresaw such problems as the emergence of monopolies and oligopolies which would distort the market in favour of the supplier.
We have in the last 40 years seen the growth of gigantic multinational corporations which are either close to outright monopolies, like Microsoft or Alphabet (Google), or so big (like Amazon) that they can utterly dominate the market on a global scale.
Another example is OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which is a cartel that openly manipulates the market for oil and petroleum products to its members’ benefit.
And because its members are all nation states, they are effectively immune to regulatory control.
Adam Smith’s remedy for monopolies and oligopolies was to point to the need for judicious government regulation. This is an anathema to modern neo-liberal business leaders, who see any government regulation as a problem (except, of course, if it is in their interests).
This brings us to today, where individual freedoms and rights are apparently more numerous than ever, at least in the democratic world.
Despite this, many if not most people find themselves heavily enmeshed in a struggle to accumulate wealth.
All too often this process entails the accumulation of debt, the scale of which has increased exponentially to a magnitude never before seen in human history.
The world’s ‘debt mountain’ is now so large that it could disastrously destabilise the entire global economy when that point is reached where it is understood that much of that debt will never be repaid.
If Friedman’s idea of economic freedom being a precondition for political and personal freedom is correct, then it seems to me that most people today are not free at all.
They must sell their labour to earn the money required to service their debts and thus are in a form of servitude that belies their supposed freedom to do as they please politically or in most other ways.
Those corporations and individuals who control the economy have taken many people prisoner through the iron grip of extensive consumerism and debt.
As is so often the way in human history, it turns out that what seem like self evidently true and good ideas can have unexpected or even perverse consequences.
The notion of an unfettered ‘natural right’ to individual freedom, while deeply attractive, comes with more than a few caveats attached to it.
It seems to me that while traditional Papua New Guinean societies may not have got the balance between individual freedom and societal needs quite right, the current demand, both from the political right and the left, for the rights of individuals to take precedence over society’s broader needs is certainly wrongheaded and, potentially at least, downright dangerous.
The current health and economic crisis has exposed these tensions and the way they are resolved will likely have a profound impact on our collective futures.
If, as some people believe, neo-liberalism and the associated belief in unrestrained personal freedom are now dead, we all have a powerful interest in what form of ideology replaces neo-liberalism.
As has happened in the past, our current understanding of personal freedom, especially its linkage to economics, may need revision to better suit the times in which we live.
New readers are welcomed and comment encouraged.
Learning is enabled and discovery is available.
Almost certainly, another reader will help a new-comer.
Even for often-writers, help is at hand, and beneficially.
By way of example, and perhaps following admonition of “Nullius in verba”, PF (Phil) has shared knowledge of age at death of EAB (known as George Orwell), so helping me to discover.
Recently KJ (Keith) listed the very first comments made by many of the contributors to this blog. Mine was a question, and as I recall, it was partly because I was unsure of swimming in a ‘see’ so populated by widely read and learned folk.
Quoting Thomas Ricks, I had noted his book was ‘written 2017’. Rather it was published 2017.
Recalling that I wrote ‘living long and productively’, I was uneasy then about the word ‘long’ though productively seemed reasonable. Upon reaching again into Rick’s writing, there I see two dates for EAB (Orwell) that amount to a 47th year, though that means EAB died at “forty-six years old”.
Truth be known, my experience is short on actual reading of Orwell, although by so many and various means Orwellian outlines frame options orthogonally.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 10 July 2020 at 11:16 PM
Ah!. Just throw the Cat to the Canary.
Posted by: William Dunlop | 10 July 2020 at 11:06 AM
George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) died of TB at 47 Lindsay.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 10 July 2020 at 08:36 AM
Adding to my last comment, it came from Thomas E. Ricks, in "Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom", written 2017.
Both Churchill and Orwell were personally exposed to armed conflict (warfare), Churchill exhilarated at being shot at. Orwell was shot through the neck. Both went on living long and productively.
As to any facts, please note the motto "Nullius in verba" (Latin said to mean, ‘take nobody’s word for it’) is the motto of the Royal Society (The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) which dates from the mid 1600s.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 09 July 2020 at 06:08 PM
In momentous months of 1939, on calamity of an impending war, Winston Churchill spoke of “the rights of the individual…in defence of all that is most sacred”.
Eric Blair (known as George Orwell) later wrote, the crux was of “intellectual liberty…freedom of thought”.
Turmoil of six years world-wide ensued, in which non-combatant people were deprived not only of freedom but of their very lives.
A different topic today, but of concern is from Hong Kong. Following China’s enactment of a new ‘national security law’, in this past week comes a report of “…At least nine titles by Joshua Wong, Horace Chin and Tanya Chan are not available to the public”, such as a book ‘My journeys for food and justice’ by Tanya Chan.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 09 July 2020 at 08:14 AM
Sigmund Freud and his team of psychoanalysts dealt with complex issues of human consciousness and personality.
Sigmund Freud instructed Carl Jung and other psychoanalysts not to abandon his sexual theory but make it a dogma.
He mentioned that sex drive is a powerful force that forms human character and personality. Sexuality is the only active driving force in the dark universe of the soul in which everything can be traced back.
All this is programmed within us and we have no freedom to make choices. The evil is the consequences of dark impulses (sex drive) over which we have no control.
Our sex drive is stored in the unconscious and sometimes it happens simultaneously and we are not conscious of what is happening within us.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 02 June 2020 at 03:59 PM
Stan Grant is always worth reading:
He says that Obama's legacy to America and the world is Donald Trump.
I think Chris has suggested we are living in momentous times when change, bad or good, looms prominently on the horizon.
Australia and PNG have a difficult choice to make. Go down with the ship or swim for it?
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 02 June 2020 at 10:43 AM
Isn't the parent/adult/child framework split between constructive and destructive?
If I recall most creative people, scientists and artists operate in the child mode, and I think it was suggested that this is where genius phenomenon is possible.
The adult on the other hand can be manipulative, while the parent can be smothering: this may prevent the deepest expression of the child in wonder of the world we live in.
What's more, the parent may determine that war is necessary for the preservation of liberty, while the adult formulates the arguments, plans and prepares for it, then they collectively brainwash the child into believing that there is glory in dying for your country, and connive to have their geniuses make better weapons too.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 02 June 2020 at 08:42 AM
As a Roger Martin puts it, Aristotle “maintained that happiness does not derive from its pursuit but rather is the inevitable consequence of leading a virtuous life."
Yet along with 'obligation' and 'responsibility', virtuousness has relativity variously construed.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 02 June 2020 at 12:20 AM
Eric Berne’s transactional analysis theory on parent, adult and child fits well with id, ergo and super ego of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis theory.
All of us processed the parental voice of giving directions, strict advice, manipulating and controlling others. The adult voice is similar to superego that is a moral guide with assertive skills.
It mediates between child and parent and comes up with a solution. It regards all people as equal with dignity and rights. The child's voice is similar to id, complaining, demanding pleasure including sex and fun etc.
To be fully functional or self actualised human beings we have to follow the adult voice within us and make it our predominant behaviour.
We have to analyse and differentiate between parent, adult and child.
If all of us try to abandon parent and child and hold onto our adult voice, the world will be in a better place to live in. Countries will made better diplomatic relationships with each other using the adult voices.
Like Philip Fitzpatrick mentions, Trump is an id as well as a child and a critical parent. Trump complains a lot, accuses others without good reason, manipulates, doesn’t take advice, takes revenge on those who accuse him etc.
He is the opposite of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King who were advocates of freedom and humanity.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 01 June 2020 at 10:40 PM
The brain does not make commands, it merely hosts conversations - Intelligence in the Flesh by Guy Claxton
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 01 June 2020 at 09:50 PM
I like your question Philip, and I believe you answer yourself.
While we may have social obligations your commitment to participate is one that only you can make, weighing the moral or, more likely, the resource and inter-relational implications of participation/execution of your duty.
For example, taking part in bride price may be considered a poorer choice than paying your children's school fees when they're both required at the same time.
Do you kowtow to your community norms or remain true to your family needs?
In traditional times such a choice did not exist, so community norms ruled, but today things are different.
As for having an obligation towards the major social, environmental and economic ills which global society faces, I believe that the cry for such social justice (used collectively here) is more often taking everyone on either an ego trip, or a guilt trip, or provides a cure for the underemployed and bored, and a convenient excuse for the disenfranchised and bitter to exact revenge upon their fellow members of society. The real issues get lost in the fray.
In my opinion, every small action you take is one which you are in total control of and builds up into a community service that provides to society. It's your moral responsibility and obligation to the society that produced you to be the best person that you can be.
For example, paying you children's school fees enables them to be better educated and with your full support produces another valuable human being into society. Em wok bilong gutpela mama na papa.
Alternatively, bai yumi ken kaikai gris-pik, dring cola na pasim moni antap long diwai, paitim bros na singsing igo tulait long naispla samting ia, na tumoro bai hauslain iken hangre.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 01 June 2020 at 06:48 PM
According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, the super-ego operates as a moral conscience, and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.
Trump is pure id.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 01 June 2020 at 04:49 PM
Sadly I think you are correct Michael.
The appalling Trump will be elected mainly because, as was the case with Hilary Clinton, the alternative is just more of the same.
The Democrats have yet to demonstrate the ability to walk the talk to any significant extent.
And Phil, I agree with you that humans are complex and sometimes irrational in the way they perceive and exercise freedom when they actually have it.
No wonder John Stuart Mill and those after him have struggled to get a handle on what actually constitutes freedom, let alone the constraints that could or should apply to it.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 01 June 2020 at 03:47 PM
My personal experience is that social obligation supersedes my personal freedom to make choices.
I am living in a social environment where I can’t avoid communal obligation to contribute towards bride price or compensation or other demands.
I have a choice about whether I contribute towards compensation or bride price or pay my children's school fees.
What are my moral choices between social obligation towards a communal event and individual commitment?
I also have a moral obligation to promote biodiversity, address social issues affecting human beings, to address drug problems, human trafficking and so on.
Slavery in our modern society in the form of child labour, forced marriage, sexual slavery and other forms of suppressing human beings is becoming complicated.
Neo -colonisation is a form of modern slavery. Australian controlled big business in Papua New Guinea and nations and institutions like China, America, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international organisations are manipulating us to benefit them and not us.
Political independence and freedom have no real meaning if we are not independent economically.
Our government and international organisations have a moral obligation to give our people priority.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 01 June 2020 at 02:47 PM
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 01 June 2020 at 02:08 PM
In my opinion, Trump's election was mostly a response to Obama and Trump's victory was sealed by the rejection of Hilary Clinton, a wealthy neoliberal who was posing as a 'social ("fuck you") democrat'.
What we observe now is the system righting (very appropriate term) itself.
Trump will have a second term.
Neoliberal excess may be a toxin but a larger dose of something notoriously poisonous is not a recommendable cure.
Much the same with the so called race based violence in Minnesota.
There's much wisdom in the teaching that goes something like "it will not be sufficient to say that my brother was doing it so I did it too", proposed by some guy whose own society begged their overlords to have crucified.
And wasn't that the same foundation upon which the Nuremberg trials were executed?
Posted by: Michael Dom | 01 June 2020 at 02:01 PM
Obama the harbinger and Trump the catastrophe?
What happens next is happening as we speak.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 01 June 2020 at 12:19 PM
An interesting conversation - I'm not sure whether you're just playing with semantics or not.
Would it be unwise of me to suggest that even within the individual there are multiple forces at work, sometimes reflecting the state of society but sometimes quite unique and often irrational?
This is the old argument that within any individual there are good and bad elements, which come to the fore depending upon the outside stimulus, i.e., watching a black man strangled by a white policeman in the street.
This would suggest that you have to go deeper than just the individual to understand how society works and what can be defined as social responsibility. As such it is akin to chaos theory rather than neat circles and squares.
Neo-liberalism in the USA clearly has an impact on the deeper recesses of individual minds and produces reactions that are predictable, mixed, confused and often irrational.
Whether an individual can be held responsible for such visceral responses is problematic. So too are their responses in terms of social responsibility.
I was involved in the Vietnam moratoriums in the early 1970s and the reasons for that are quite complex.
First of all I was scared of being called up and potentially killed but I was also opposed to war as a principle. I also enjoyed the political intrigues of the movement.
I'm not sure any of those reasons can be regarded as socially responsible.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 01 June 2020 at 11:57 AM
Alternatively, it may be suggested that while Trump may be an unfortunate necessity, Obama may have been the harbinger of catastrophe.
What happens next? We'll have to wait and see.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 01 June 2020 at 11:43 AM
Thanks again for your comments Michael.
I do not think that there is any great distance between us in terms of our understanding about how we as citizens should responsibly exercise our freedom, to the extent that we actually have any.
Our conversation about the meaning of a term like "social obligation" or "social responsibility" is really a repetition of the intellectual struggle that John Stuart Mill had in his efforts to, as I said in my article, square the circle.
Trying to draw a distinction between where individual responsibility begins and ends as it relates to a person's role as a citizen is necessarily a fraught process.
It seems to me to be contextual as much as anything, rather than some fixed point or readily discernible border of some sort.
In World War I, for example, many people in Britain and elsewhere deemed it a person's civic duty to sign up for the military. Men were told that they had a duty to God, King and Country to fight.
In short, it was widely held that it was a man's social obligation or responsibility to fight. When moral arguments eventually failed to generate enough recruits, conscription was introduced that compelled men to fight.
If, as some did, you believed that either all wars, or this war in particular, were unjustifiable, then you had to seek an exemption from this duty. Such exemptions were rarely granted and continued refusal to enlist resulted in imprisonment.
In Australia, attempts to introduce conscription were highly contested and failed twice, eventually leading to an irretrievable split in the Australian Labor Party.
The debate between those who insisted there was a social obligation to fight and those who said it was an individual's right and responsibility to make that decision, was so passionate that it sometimes descended into violence.
There even were threats to assassinate the prime minister, Billy Hughes, who felt obliged to carry a gun to defend himself.
So I hope you will see that our polite debate over terminology can turn into something much more intense and disturbing when there are real issues at stake.
Right now, in the USA, I think that we are seeing something similar playing out in the streets because of persistent and consistent breaches of the rights of individuals by the representatives of the state, in this case a small minority of police who feel empowered to brutalise or kill black citizens.
While the racial issues involved tend to obscure it, the underlying issue here is that many Americans (be they Black, Hispanic or simply poor) feel marginalised, exploited and degraded by how the country's neo-liberal economy and polity actually work.
In this situation, many have decided that their supposed obligation to passively accept their place in the socio-economic hierarchy is unacceptable and unendurable, hence the resort to violence and looting. They are not just criminals although no doubt there are criminals amongst them.
My guess is that the authorities will eventually suppress these riots and the situation will return to normal.
If Americans eventually get lucky, someone may emerge who can lead them peacefully to the creation of a new social contract, in which there is greater socio-economic equity and fairness in their society. President Obama might have done this had he not been thwarted by the forces of reaction.
Such change has already occurred in other countries but the USA is hampered by the widespread belief that it is exceptional and already has created a perfectly free society.
In the context of our discussion, this means a society in which individual liberty is paramount and the socio-economic system reflects this fact. It is a dog eat dog system, where the winner takes all and the losers can please themselves.
The idea that society has certain obligations to its citizens beyond refereeing the ongoing economic struggle has hardly penetrated the minds of many Americans.
Right now, under the leadership of Donald Trump and the contemptible Republican Party that supports him, there is zero prospect of worthwhile change occurring so, most probably, the simmering tensions will just be suppressed until next time it erupts.
So, Michael, we can see I little debate being played out before our eyes. The circle has yet to be squared.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 01 June 2020 at 11:00 AM
While I appreciate your specified terminology, Chris, I must submit that to me there is no other evaluation for responsibility: we either are or we aren't responsible and the term 'social' makes little definitive sense in my mind.
Individual as a term is only useful insofar as it distinguishes from and opposes the illogic of this proposed social responsibility terminology.
In fact I suspect that social responsibility is a neoliberal term used to conjure up the 'good works' of being a corporate citizen. Like cigarette companies sponsoring golf and the like, and now borrowed elsewhere.
Social responsibility may be an abbreviated version of 'an individual's moral and ethical responsibility to society' but it's taken on a whole new meaning in practice today.
And more damagingly the term seems to suggest that external retribution will be enforced (i.e. social justice) if an individual does not keep within ethical domains, which themselves are heavily disputed, e.g. burqa or no burqa at airports and for firearm licensing.
It's a ... mess.
Social responsibility does not make sense at the unit level and in the extreme.
E.g., when a criminal reforms himself (higher male probability) and renters society the final evaluation made to determine their fitness to rejoin society entails (hopefully) some form of psychoanalysis of their personality and how this expression (character) had been readjusted to be less of their previous 'criminal minded' state and more towards an ability to participate in society productively.
There is no cure, and society does not provide one either, only individual determination has any chance of working.
Alternatively, sociopaths and psychopaths (as mental tendencies not the Hollywood versions) do exist in our normal social settings and in fact they all too easily 'fit in' with society.
And yet they have very little notion of maintaining their social responsibility, so how do we handle them, let alone know when they're playing mischief?
Even your own resistance to 'fierce pressure' demonstrates the importance of the individual for taking responsibility for what is morally and ethically right in the face of opposing views from society, i.e. social pressure.
Frankly, I think that nowadays 'social' is the new 'fuck you' term used by the self-righteous to defend their idea of 'the greater good'. It's farcical.
In regards to expression of economic power, well that's a whole other think.
I agree that neoliberal capitalism does tend to unethical and immoral outcomes, but so does socialism.
To me the character Bane (Batman Rises) sums up part of my thoughts pretty well: "And because you give me money, this gives you power over me?" [then he strangled Mr Money Bags.]
Neoliberal ideology cannot reasonably n out the will to power of people who find little intrinsic value in actual cash money.
That's why terrorists are successful.
And may also be why most Westerners are either nostalgic or myopic or unrealistic about what life is like in traditional societies.
The thinking that economic power provides more options may be valid for cash economies, however the extended logic that more economic power entails more freedom is a fallacy, particularly when we ask 'freedom to what end?' (e.g. check the reasons for suicide rates in developed nations)
The pursuit of happiness was most likely conceived during a drug induced delirium.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 31 May 2020 at 10:22 PM
Thanks for your comments Michael.
In relation to my use of the term "social obligation" I may inadvertently have created the wrong idea of what I intended to say.
It may have been better to use the term "social responsibility" which would sit much more comfortably with your focus on individual responsibility.
I believe that as citizens we each have a responsibility to adhere to the law and to behave in an ethical and moral way towards others. That is what I think of as our social obligation.
My rule of thumb as a decision maker whilst at work was that I would not direct or sanction action that I judged illegal, immoral, unethical or unsafe.
That simple rule stood me in good stead, even in the face of sometimes fierce pressure to break it.
As to Friedman's idea that economic freedom is an essential precursor to political and personal freedom, I think he was at least partly right, certainly in relation to the position of an individual within the current form of neo-liberal capitalism.
In my experience, the acquisition of economic power gives a person options that are not available to a person who has little or no economic power. By extension, it is arguable that the possessor of economic power has more freedom than does the person with no economic power.
A person like, say, Bill Gates has a range of freedoms that you and I can only dream about. Vast wealth may not confer vast power, but it does provide more or less unlimited freedom, both within the law and sometimes outside of it, to pursue whatever course of action occurs to you.
Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to use their freedom to deploy their vast wealth for the good of others. For example, their foundation has funded a world wide effort to eliminate polio.
Others with vast wealth have simply used it to acquire even more wealth, often through the exploitation of other people.
Neo-liberal capitalism has no time for ethics or morality or the environment or improving the human condition except in so far as this impacts upon the accumulation of wealth.
Where once money was a means to an end, now it has become the point of the exercise.
As someone once said, too much wealth is never enough. This saying encapsulates the alpha and the omega of neo-liberal philosophy.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 31 May 2020 at 02:58 PM
This looks a very interesting book:
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 31 May 2020 at 02:05 PM
Oh give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 31 May 2020 at 12:53 PM
Although I've not read anything from Milton Friedman, the supposition that "Friedman’s idea of economic freedom being a precondition for political and personal freedom is correct" seems a false premise, namely, that production systems should dictate our level of political freedom.
That sounds odd to me.
I'm no political scholar either, but it occurs to me that social obligation is not an appropriate counterbalance to individual freedom.
The two are at dialectical odds.
We each individually don't always do what's best for our families and friends, let alone society, even when directed by authorities.
Moreover, it does not appear self-evident to me that social obligation is a major underlying factor behind traditional societies communal lifestyle (I think the true factor may be survival), which may apparently be touted as containing some answers to our current politico-economic crises.
This idea of social obligation would appeal to both the far right and far left because it is "radical change". In such group-think radical change usually entails violent means. Pick an example.
The desire of enforcing social obligation is why we end up with a situation where people on the unreasonable left or right think that it's alright "for the rights of individuals to take precedence over society’s broader needs [and which I agree] is certainly wrongheaded and, potentially at least, downright dangerous".
We need to balance that individual freedom and its associated practice.
A more appropriate counterbalance to individual freedom is individual responsibility: in the practice.
That is an underlying tenet of the hard fought and well attained Western idea of universal suffrage.
Politically: you have the right to vote for your leader and simultaneously you have the responsibility to choose a good leader.
There is no dialectical distance between rights and responsibility; the two are intersecting notions which apparently have become separated by the mode of production.
Every time you have an equal right, you have an equal responsibility.
With freedom comes justice.
Not less justice, more justice or social justice, for less freedom, more freedom, and social freedom, that's absurd.
But an equally important value is truth.
And truth has more fundamental roots than freedom. You can take away one but not the other.
Here's one truth which I believe.
Individual responsibility is rooted in foundations of morality which, in our adopted Western law, are fundamentally of Christian origin.
But no one wants to hear that opinion because it's old fashioned.
We in the secularized world refuse the very basis of Western law which was absorbed across the world.
On the other hand, even traditional societies have readily embraced the ideas of capitalism, as a production system.
Now we confuse socialism, the alternative production system, with an altruistic notion of ensuring that social obligation is met, when it's more likely that violent retribution will be meted out in order to achieve it.
Can we seek truth?
Em tinting bilong mi. Tenkiu
Posted by: Michael Dom | 31 May 2020 at 12:53 PM