July 2008 - Posts

The Pluralism of Liberty

The concept of individual liberty, consistantly applied, would seem to have pluralistic implications. For it leaves room for anyone to act as they please within the context of voluntary interpersonal relations, and by its very nature a society consists of a plurality of different types of people with a plurality of traits and preferances. Individualism, when applied to an entire society of people, recognizes the high degree of diversity among individuals, that each individual is fundamentally different from the other in some way. On the other hand, collectivism and the fallacy of holism that is often present in sociological analysis views a society as if it were a singular autonamous individual or as if it is unanimous, hence failing to recognize the the inherently plural nature of human interpersonal relations. The abstractions of group identities obscures the individual and the diversity within a given group and creates false dichotomies that pits each respective group against the other.

While all human beings share some fundamental features that define them as human beings, when one looks beyond these fundamental features one finds extreme complexity and variation. Noone's traits, preferances and desires are entirely identical to anyone else's. This is especially true with respect to aesthetic experience and taste. What type of food tastes the best, what kind of music or art is the most pleasing to the eye or ear, which fiction books are the most interesting, which person is the most attractive? These are all questions that each individual may very well have a completely different answer to. There is no real "objective" answer to such questions, and by "objective" I mean universally true irrespective of time or place or context or perspective. Such preferances are inherently not universal and they always change over time. Neither do I think that there is any moral imperative to choose one such preferance over any other. Noone has an obligation to choose Bach over Debussy or Robert Heinline over Isaac Assimov.

Considering the extreme diversity among the personal preferances of human beings, some important questions arise. Does this imply that everyone must inherently conflict with eachother? The short answer is no. The fact that Joe prefers X and Jack prefers Y does not inherently imply that either Joe must enforce their preferance on Jack or vice versa. It is perfectly possible for both Joe and Jack to each get what they want for themselves, especially if each of them has to can produce or obtain what the other wants and make a voluntary exchange of values. Or each of them can individually persue and obtain what they want. The only way in which this can occur, of course, is in the context of voluntary interpersonal relations. One must recognize the liberty of the individual to pursue their own personally preferances and happiness without infringement by others and without infringing on the like liberty of anyone else to do the same. Equality of liberty. Once this basic principle is established, everything else has total free reign, and the outcome will inherently be highly pluralistic in light of the vast diversity between human beings.

What kind of system makes the most sense in consideration of the conflicts of personal preferance between people? A properly formed answer to this question must question one of it's premises in the first place, I.E. the alleged "need" for a singular or universal system. No singular system or central plan can take such a diversity into account. The only thing that can take such diversity into account is a process by which people can voluntarily choose or not choose systems. So the answer does not lie in a particular system but within the broader context of an overall framework in which systems can be experimented with. In short, the answer to the question is: the free market and anarchism, which are essentially the same thing in a certain context. "The free market" and "anarchism" is not a system but a process and framework by which systems are chosen. The idea is that each individual may voluntarily choose what type of associations and organizations they wish to participate in and patronize. Noone may legitimately force their particular prefered kind of association or organization onto anyone else. The moment that one proposes a singular system or plan for an entire society or the entire world, equality of liberty has been breached and the plural nature of humanity isn't properly being taken into account.

If a particular preferance truly is superior, it will prove itself to be superior, not by force but as consequence of competiting on the basis of its own merits. The use of force in such matters to universally coerce an entire society into a given system is the choice of cowards who are not willing to genuinely put their own ideas and preferances to the test. If someone genuinely thinks that their prefered system is optimal, then they should feel no need to resort to coercion to implement their system. The fact that someone wishes to coercively enforce their system onto others would seem to indicate some degree of uncertainty on their own part, a lack of genuine confidence and a reversion to childish means of getting what they want. It also demonstrates a lack of tolerance for the fact that there are other people who disagree, who have different preferances. Those who think that the only option is either coercively imposing their preferances onto others or having other people do the same to them have set up a false dichotomy that ignores the option to simply "live and let live", to allow each individual the liberty to pursue their personal preferances and possibly mutually obtain them. There is no reason why all parties cannot win.

Unless everyone magically became entirely identical or unanimous, which blatantly goes against how individuals actually are and/or work, individual liberty is inherently pluralistic in its implications. Competition and monopoly are opposed in principle. One cannot survive without the elimination of the other. Perhaps what really scares people about individual liberty is the fact that in a free society they indeed would have to be tolerant of the co-existance of people with different preferances and who participate in different kinds of associations and different forms of organization. "Capitalists" are uncomfortable with the prospect of people forming cooperatives or communes, "communists" are uncomfortable with the prospect of people working for wages or engaging in trade for profit, "racists" are uncomfortable with the prospect of people from different races interacting and mixing, and so on and so forth. The true proponent of liberty is perfectly fine with all of it so long as it is within the context of voluntary choice, with equality of liberty. If they are truly are confident in the inefficiency of a particular preferance or mode of organization, they won't think it can possibly survive the competition in the long run anyways.

Subcategories of anarchism such as "anarcho-capitalism", "anarcho-syndicalism", "anarcho-primitivism", and so on, are only genuinely anarchic if the adjectives placed after the "anarcho" are viewed as personal preferances, perhaps that the individual thinks are ultimately the most efficient and sustainable, that they will survive the competition. But the moment that any such adjectives are proposed as universal systems or central plans, the moment that one advocates them as something that everyone must choose or live under, it ceases to be anarchism and reduces to the proposal for a new state. This is why I consider pluralism to be such an important principle with respect to anarchism. The truly consistant proponent of liberty is a pluralist in that they have no problem with the peaceful co-existance of people with different preferances, the co-existance of various associations and organizations or organizational forms. They are keenly aware of the diversity among human beings and have no desire to force them all into a single mold. They support the ability of everyone to foster their own individuality without coercive restraints. In short, they are aware of the pluralism of liberty.

Objects Are Morally Neutral

I've always been a stickler for the notion that objects are morally neutral. This notion usually comes to play in debates about gun prohibition, to counter people essentially claiming that guns are causal determinant for violence in and of themselves, but of course they truly aren't causal determinants, only instrumental means. A gun can be used to murder someone or to defend someone from an attempted murderer. In either case, the moral neutrality of objects has implications more far reaching than the issue of gun control. For example, there is the idea among some people that money is the root of all evil, but money is only a means and object that one can use for a plethora of purposes, both good and bad.

In the case of both the gun prohibitionist and the "anti-monetarist", an object is claimed to be intrinsically and absolutely evil merely because sometimes certain people may use them towards negative ends, and the abolition of the object is proposed as a solution. The problem is that no such intrinsic value exists in such objects, and morality judges actions, not tools. There is nothing about such tools in and of themselves that can be rationally assigned with moral properties. What matters from the perspective of morality are the actions that people engage in while using such objects. While the nature of an object may certainly be to facilitate a particular end, it is only the end in question and the way in which the object is used that can be morally judged, not the object itself.

Some may nitpick and try to find acceptions to the rule by pointing to something such as nuclear weaponry, which can function for nothing but mass destruction. But once again it would not be the mere existance of the object itself that can constitute immorality, it would be the decision of an individual to make offensive use of them. Isolated from any decision on the part of people and interaction between people and the object, the object has no moral significance whatsoever. Personally, in an ideal world I'd like all nuclear weapons to be jettison into the sun. Of course, I don't except that to happen. But all the same my own weariness about nuclear weapons does not stem from a moral condemnation of the object itself, but an awareness of the general danger of the object itself when used by human beings.

The moral condemnation of objects would seem to naturally lead towards primitivism the more consistantly that one applies it. What is contemporary industrial civilization but the extensive use of objects for the purposes of mass-production to appease human needs and wants? Instead of opposing power or institutional frameworks or bad ideas, the neo-luddite puts all of their energy into opposing objects, tools, instruments. They misplace blame entirely, effectively ignoring the role of individual action. They only emphasize the negative possibilities for how objects can be used while acting as if they have no positive use.

It should be fairly obvious why objects cannot be assigned with moral properties. Objects are not moral agents, they do not have conciousness or willpower, they do not think or act. A rock cannot be blamed for anything, it makes no sense to assign responsibilities to it. A rock can only be an instrumental tool for something that one can blame a human being for. It is possible for a rock to be thrown at someone to harm them, and it just as possible that a rock can be turned into a statue or carving or used to build a building. Indeed, treating objects as moral agents leads to absurdity, as such objects would have to be regaurded as if they were human beings. Surely one doesn't want to end up at the reductio ad absurdum of arresting objects for disturbing the peace.