Monday, July 2, 2012

Freedom is a zero sum game.

I totally stole the title for this post. It was , I think, a throw away phrase in the middle of an argument putting forth the idea that there are two types of rich in the states - those who still labor under the code of conduct imparted by the idea of  noblesse oblige  - the idea that the rich owe something to the community from which they gathered their riches, and those for whom freedom is defined as the right to, as an individual, do whatever you damn well please. Up to and including beating the crap out of your slaves, servants, wives and children.
For the latter group, freedom is very obviously a zero sum game - that is for any freedom that the peasants gain, it removes a freedom that the rich currently have. Give a slave the freedom to walk safely down the street and you remove the freedom of the slave owner to beat the crap out of the slave at will.
For the former group, it's not quite so obvious, but it's still the case. It is reliant on the realization that if you operate as part of a community, you put limits on your own individual freedoms. Which (and this isn't a contradiction) leads to a free society, though one should note that this is not the same as totally subjugating oneself to a society - limits don't need to be all encompassing. That is, the society is free, self imposed limits on individual freedoms stops the society from becoming subject to the control of the few.

The argument is illustrated using two sets of elites in the states - with those currently in control of the Republicans being an example of those pursuing absolute individual freedom. While the scale of elite may be significantly smaller, the same attitudes exist here in New Zealand. Chris Trotter looks on, I suspect in horror or despair (though not surprise) as some of New Zealand's rich make the same arguments here - that the poor must not rely on help from the state and if that means that the poor must suffer, then so be it. Anna Stretton argues that strict limits must be placed on the assistance our society should offer to the poor, that there is a culture of entitlement amongst the poor that must be eradicated. This is the end result of idolizing the absolute freedom of the individual. Eradicating a supposed culture of entitlement without regard for the consequences is reduces a societies ability to care for it's own and it skews the distribution of freedoms within a society towards those who have the resources to take care of them selves. Freedom becomes unequally distributed.

And what you get is this. Societies where no matter how hard those trying to get ahead struggle, they just can't get started. Things are there yet. but when they get bad enough, those at the bottom tear it up and try and rebuild or slip away and set up their own, new one. Those insisting on the absolute freedom of the individual are time and time again, either brought low or left behind. Which is not surprising, we're social animals.

In the end, the absolute freedom of the individual is only achievable by one person at a time.

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