Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Three Aspects of Liberty: Independence

America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbears, and true to our founding documents. - Barack Obama

Liberty was the vision for America and the charge of our political philosophy. It was not given to us by our forbears or by the government they created, rather it was defended and advocated. Liberty is a universal intrinsic property and Right of all men that can only be taken away by injustice or by indifference.

Where there is independence, choice, and consciousness there is also liberty.

Independence is the first aspect of liberty.

Thomas Hobbes would have categorized "independence" among the same pile of nonsense words inhabited by "free will." He would probably point out that universal independence is an absurdity and cannot be demonstrated anywhere. Perhaps early theologians sensed this uncomfortable fact when they re-invented their god sans parts or passions, without substance and without being, but finally independent! I suspect that if you were to order a cheeseburger without parts or passions, you would end up with exactly the same thing as our third and fourth-century churchmen: Nothing.

Let us admit that there is little room for "pure independence" within our universe. Being itself demands a hierarchy of dependencies before creation is possible. Existence depends on matter, energy, properties, and laws. Outside of these boundaries, ontology, epistemology, and philosophy all become paradoxical, self-contradictory, and illogical.

However, if we place the idea of independence within a certain context, it becomes a very useful and natural concept. The independence upon which liberty is predicated belongs to a natural human domain. It is not infinite and absolute.

For example, Free people enjoy healthy bodies unhampered by sickness or addiction. Dead or sick people are less free to choose and to act than healthy living people. Thus, freedom itself depends in part upon health and wholeness.

A healthy body requires clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, wholesome food to eat, and adequate exercise. A healthy body also depends on property, such as clothing and shelter. Physical property requires skill, knowledge, and tools to cultivate and create.

Infants depend upon parents to care for them; children and parents require family relationships in order to thrive. Local community and professional associations are important to secure stability and prosperity for all. To all of this, we must add a sense of spiritual fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a sense of calling that humans need in order to be genuinely happy.

This web of dependence, far from being the enemy of liberty, is a natural and organic phenomenon. Indeed, wherever these fundamental and natural dependencies are infringed, it is liberty that suffers.

But it is possible for dependence to become artificial and complex, extending beyond or replacing the natural dependencies found wherever artifice is not imposed.

Instead of healthy food and exercise, a person may become dependent upon synthetic drugs and medical procedures.

Instead of depending on his own property for comfort and shelter, a person may come to depend on abstract money and the property of other distant and unknown people.

One may depend on virtual friends, committees, and political parties instead of parents, families, and communities.

Instead of relying on self-command, rely instead on the moral hazard of "technologically preempted" consequences. Choose results instead of actions.

Instead of personal skills, require the skills of impoverished aliens or invisible foreigners.

Unions replace local guilds, power and hierarchy replace common interest; sinecure and management replace actual productive work.

In the place of spiritual fulfillment, put insatiable consumerism and recreation.

Where there was once purpose and calling, there are now citizens ready-made by their government, not to follow their own dreams, but "to meet the demands of a new age."1

The test for independence is simple. Do individuals and local communities have all that they need to be self-sufficient? If not, then they are not Free. Where artificial, distant, and abstract dependencies have been introduced, the individual's influence and capacity for working out his own good and directing his own destiny is greatly reduced or eliminated.

Imagine if some or all of our artificial infrastructure were to disappear, including long-haul trucking, fossil fuels, synthetic drugs and contraceptives, artificial foods and materials; utilities, transportation, and so forth. If we were left thus, only to ourselves, to the care and skill of our neighbors, and to our own productive property, would we live or die? And if we live, could we thrive and progress on our own? This is what independence is all about. It exists at a national, local and individual level.

Our forbears envisioned an independent people, not a people dependent on distant strangers, complex processes, abstract systems, or bureaucracies.

Have we been faithful to this ideal?

In the next essay, some words about choice.

1. From Barack Obama's inaugural speech, January 20, 2009


Dave said...

How is independence, say illustrated in Amish lifestyle, possible with a population of how many billions?

Technology requires specialists rather than generalists.

Man has always been dependent on society -- so much so that it is thought emotions such as guilt and shame are derivatives of an evolved sense of "separation anxiety". Being cut off from society (for most individuals) meant death. Interdependence is the rule. It used to be a local community, and now it has become global. This seems more ethically and practically desirable than isolationism.

I agree that our focus has become skewed -- cell phones and the Internet and automobiles have brought our relationships with people and everything around us to a more superficial level. Yet, my optimistic bias is that the benefits will outweigh the casualties of technologically reformed society.

Independence, for me, can exist for a prisoner in a death camp: it is entirely metaphysical. Assuming there's an afterlife, is independence something you can "take with you"?

I do, however, agree with your interpretation of independence as our ancestors had envisioned it. Nevertheless, I doubt they could ever have anticipated the state of the nation as it is now with better than 200 million.

Peter McCombs said...

What you are saying is that independence decreases as population increases, because interdependence also increases. But our increasing dependence hasn't been a natural byproduct of population explosion, but of artificial industrialization.

Let me answer how at least some form of independence is possible with a population of billions:

1) People own their own property, not disinterested 3rd parties who own everything
2) People own their own work and ideas, not work for hire
3) City planners keep necessities in close communities, instead of sprawling homogeneous zones, distant from residential areas
4) Education doesn't get monopolized
5) Nothing gets monopolized
6) Less dense communities cover greater land area, making more productive property available
7) Things are produced closest to where they are most economically consumed. That's called subsidiarity.

Even though population makes some aspects of independence more challenging, there are still good ways to preserve it.

The fact that technology requires only specialists is a definite drawback. But it's possible to be a generalist and still specialize. It's a liberal education with mastery in a preferred subject.

Independence isn't something you take or leave. It's a property you possess within the context you reside in. You have the most independence when you are least artificially restrained, even if your natural environment places some restrictions on you.

Dave said...

All those things would be nice, and some of them might become necessary. The suburbs will certainly be viewed by future generations as appalling wastes -- as I'm sure a lot of other things will be, like landfills.

I'm not actually sure what I thought independence was. I wiffled that one. I mean, there's the independence of thought -- free thought -- but that's free. If I think of myself *being* independent, I actually think you're right. I have at least three basic requirements (and a close fourth):

1) A place to live of my own (versus a massive financial black hole)
2) An adequate source of income derived from my productive output
3) Time
4) Access to health care

I do feel that too many people work too much to pay too much money to live and then leave too much debt for the next generation. It's absurd. The distribution of wealth has a way of really irritating me, too. Yet, I have no alternative suggestions. (And who doesn't harbor the delusion of making it big?)

On the other hand, I'm also thinking about population densities like India and China and Japan where it seems to be getting to the point where you can, at best, hope to rent a person tube for the night.

Peter McCombs said...

The population problem is a tough topic. In the first place, it's hard to really know when too much is too much - when the tipping point has been reached. In some areas it seems really obvious that there are just too many people, and in places like Japan, where else will they go?

If you go to Brazil or to the western United States, there are still population problems. The problem exists in any urban setting. Big cities don't make very good sense. Yet we have enormous expanses of useful empty land that has been locked away from the grubby hands of mankind by the bleeding-heart, back-to-nature True Believers who can't see us do anything but ruin all that we touch.

Fine, I concede that under the present system, we would probably ruin everything. We don't know how to responsibly use our resources. Like I said elsewhere, we use our technology against us, not for us.

There are other ways of living that are more natural and reasonable, but for some reason we don't think about them because, as it turns out, free and independent thought is less common than we might hope. We are conditioned to only think in familiar circles(I'll write about that when I discuss consciousness... I need a better word than consciousness).

For instance, the best Garrett Hardin could come up with was coercive denial of breeding rights. Stop making more people. Ok, maybe it would come down to that eventually, but why start at the end? The intellectuals always want to begin at the end.

In any case, overwhelming population will bring its own restrictions to liberty, and those are natural. I can't complain against natural dependence, as you have seen. I think our natural dependencies become our rights.

What I don't see is the natural relationship between population growth and globalization. I think globalization is an artificial phenomenon brought about by monopolistic capitalism, and this is where we become artificially dependent. We stopped believing in independence and started believing in the power of the market.

Even a densely populated place would typically find its immediate needs met within a relatively local geography. Why can't technology be used to create efficiency in local spaces? Because a tenet of capitalism is that goods are made where they are most efficiently produced in order to maximize profit. It's wasteful and backwards. Our technology has been applied to profit taking, not to human needs.

You mentioned access to health care. Because we are dependent on good health in order to maximize independence, you can rightly say that health care is a human right. Or is it?

Think further; because what has happened with health care represents our backwards-thinking intellectualism that puts last things first.

What do bodies need to be healthy? Clean air, fresh water, healthy food, and exercise. According to Dr. Aldana (The Culprit and the Cure), statistically only 2% of people will experience inevitable terminal disease and the rest of us can avoid it by proper care of the body. Even the terminal cases can prolong and enhance their years through proper care. The natural human right is therefore a right to clean air, fresh water, healthy food and adequate exercise. With a first-things-first approach, there is little dependence on health care at all. It really isn't needed beyond the local doctor or herbalist who actually follow the Hippocratic oath and admit that healing is already natural to the human body.

What has our technology made for us? Filthy air, chemically treated water, trans-fat laden junk food (in 30 minutes or it's FREE!), and sedentary lives in front of TVs. Now we are artificially dependent on a massively bureaucratic, distant and synthetic "health care" industry that only profits when there are plenty of sick people to care for. At least two studies have been published that demonstrate the #1 cause of death in America is actually doctors. In our state, prescription drugs alone are the #3 cause of death.

Now, why can't technology provide us with what we really need?

Jodi said...

I just wanted to post the Hoppocratic Oath in its entirety:

The Hippocratic Oath

"I swear by Apollo the physician and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-Heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation - to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this Art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others. I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. I will not cut persons laboring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and further, from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves. Whatever in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times, but should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot."
- Hippocrates

Dave said...

Sure, people would be more healthy without sedentary lifestyles, poor food quality, pollution, etc. -- but there are still things like broken arms, dental care, vision correction, and I still maintain, mental health care.

Those who desire independence should be able to achieve it -- I think that's what the American Dream is. A lot of people strive for this, and in a way, it's the reason things are the way they are: people want a house, a car, a lifestyle, their rights. It's that they are unaware of *why* they want all these things, and the cost of getting them. As you say, it's the "non-thought of received ideas" mixed with the unfortunate reality that our standard of living isn't practical.

And, of course, America is the way it is because of people with vision, idealistic individuals with ambitions and wealth. This is what we've come to. It seems any attempt to control the destiny of humanity and civilization just doesn't work as intended, no matter how well-meaning.

Peter McCombs said...


Yes, I think we also have to consider accidents and other things when thinking about the dependency on and the right to health care.

It's just that even when you consider those unexpected problems that will happen from time to time among healthy people, the truth is that these kinds of things can usually be handled by local experts. I think we can claim a right to the level of health care that would be expected for a people who also care for themselves. There's a bit of casuistry involved in it. So, what if something really horrific happens to someone and it isn't their fault? Those are cases you have to look at. It's like there's a distinction between what our natural rights are, and what our extended privileges should be. We have a right to privileges, but they have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis using principles as a guide.

Our current health care debacle is tooled for massive and widespread illness. Look at the pharmaceutical business. Who living in America today can't expect to be on a cocktail of medications by the time they die? Dr. Campbell entitled one of his chapters in The China Study, "Diseases of Affluence." That's what our health care is designed to tackle (not prevent, mind you - they'd go out of business!). I contend that we don't generally (in principle) have a right to that kind of health care. There may be occasional "cases" that are exceptions. It's a moral hazard because it gives us the impression that we can live unhealthy lives and expect the miracle of synthetic medicine to save us. It maintains a status-quo - that's what Capitalism is good at. So, our health care is actually bad for us! Who would have thought?

That level of dependence limits our liberty because now we need something big and complex where we used to need only something small and simple, which we could easily procure for ourselves or with the help of a family member or neighbor.

You're right about the "American Dream." It's not a dream of independence anymore. It's true that property is a big part of independence, but property has lost its meaning. That's another discussion...

Well, you begin to sound like Eric Hoffer who once said that when big ideas are loose in the streets, beware! That's true enough.

Anyway, I've tried to make the point that, when it comes to Independence, we have NOT remained faithful to the ideals of our founding fathers. I intend to show the same thing with the aspects of choice and consciousness, as well as with property and other principles. We can do a lot better than we are doing without resorting to new "big ideas," in spite of challenges such as population growth (which was a good point to bring up).