Author Topic: No strings attached freedom  (Read 14445 times)

Cain

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No strings attached freedom
« on: December 04, 2008, 06:11:53 pm »
Freedom in politics is a curious thing.  When it comes to the topic, I can't help but think of the past 8 years of lunacy, highlighted in particular in the years following 2003.  It has become increasingly clear that “freedom” (with the speech marks) is a very odd project, not least because it is diametrically opposed to what most of us understand freedom to be.  Indeed, as events in Iraq and subsequent US military statements seem to suggest, one can actually be fighting against one's own freedom without even realizing it, or even while thinking one is doing just that.

Snarky comments about the war aside, it is increasingly clear that not only is the brand of freedom which the US Neoconservatives believe in so fervently something of a chimera, but that all political projects may themselves be dangerous to exercise of liberty.  Politics, so long as it is based on any form of ideological idiocy or the naïve multiculturalist relativism that is practiced nowadays is something that cannot be in favour of freedom, that in fact works against it.

This is something I have been grappling with for about the past year or so, to very little avail.  My thinking has traversed elements of all sorts of socially liberal thought, trying to pin down the elements or essence that makes them so much more free, the common bond which unites their purpose and rhetoric, even if it fails in the practice.  This is why I have been notoriously inconsistent in my political opinions of late, and have flirted between elements of all sorts of political opinions from the socialist end of the spectrum to the laissez-faire end with mutualism.  I've been hoping to find a way or method to overcome the inconsistencies, to try and bring together the elements of freedom, untainted by the less attractive elements that came with them.

But the thing is, once you go deep into the ideological structure of all these theories, you see how logically dependent on the basic assumptions of the theory these less attractive elements are.  In many ways, trying to purge these elements ends up in nothing more than throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  So the question for me became not how do we find a political system which brings about the greatest amount of freedom.  That was too limiting, and in some ways impossible to figure out anyway.  How do we measure the right to vote against the freedom to own arms?  Freedom of speech against the presumption of innocence?  And in ranking already existing alternatives, is this not nothing more than settling for, and legitimizing, the current flawed systems, when something better may still be possible.

Instead, I wanted to think about freedom outside of the constrains of politics.  And, with some help and a couple of useful guide maps, I found my way to this strange and unusual ground.  The problem, you see, is this.  Every single political conception of freedom comes with strings attached.  These strings may be obvious, in the guise of an all powerful central committee, or super-empowered secret police service.  But they may be lesser too.  One of the most insidious guises of these strings are those theories which have a certain theory of human nature.  While of course humans are animals and thus in some ways have predictable traits, our social and communicative systems have elevated and hastened our social landscape in such a way that practically any human trait can be followed with a “maybe”.  The problem with this is that it assumes that people will act in certain ways conducive to the theory in question.  But when people dissent or act in unexpected or accounted for ways, as they invariably do, then questions of exile, ostracism, “re-education” and witch hunts all come to the fore.  When freedom is conceived of as being a functioning part of the current political order, any excesses can be excused in the name of protecting 'freedom', be it the 'freedom' of contemporary neoliberal democracy, or that of the Peoples Revolution.  Or the Commune.  And so on and so forth.

So long as freedom is framed with certain identities, constrained with certain ideologies, given a grand project, it becomes no longer freedom, but a method of excusing the use of power towards various political ends.

So instead, we must conceive of freedom in a more literal way.  Freedom, instead, is the ability to be other than we are.  To have choices, and to be able to make them, freely.  Despite what you are, what you do or what you believe, freedom means having the potential to do something different in the next moment, if you please.

And when we apprehend freedom in such a personal and obvious manner, it is more liberating than any other feeling.  Obviously, it puts one in opposition to all the above theories, insofar as they all try to constrain identities or create projects for the Betterment of Mankind, but as Camus once said “I revolt, therefore we are.”  In acting against all such narratives, in an act of personalized revolt and transgression of their norms, one can find actual freedom.  The only guarantee of freedom is freedom itself.  It sounds tautological, but if you accept the premise, then it must be true.  Any attempts to safeguard freedom end up constituting it as a privilege, to be bestowed or relinquished as its repository sees fit. 

Of course, we must do away with certain myths of the modern era.  Freedom does not mean comfort.  It will not mean happiness, or fairness, or equality.  In fact, freedom, as I describe it here, is nothing but hostile to the existing order (whichever existing order) and thus can never be the foundation of a society.  Yet, at the same time, society brings into being, by forcing people into certain roles, through the creation of identities and projects designed to turn free humans into something else.  Ironically, freedom and society coexist as antagonistic partners.

But freedom means change.  Real change, the possibility of denying yesterday, of denying the power of others, of resistance and of possibility of the pursuit of our chosen dreams and desires.  It cannot promise anything, except the promise of having a chance of finding what you want.  But that has to be better than what we have now.




Note: I know this does not explain the thinking behind it very well.  Hence there will be an exposition, in TFY,S.  Also, I am indebted to Sergei Prozorov and Foucault for reorientating my perspective on this somewhat.

Bebek Sincap Ratatosk

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2008, 06:30:37 pm »
Brilliant. A damn fine argument that comes close to arguing for Rational Anarchism.... or something like it ;-)
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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2008, 06:43:39 pm »
Wow.

Cain, that was really well thought out.  In a way, it's troubling, but that's probably me reacting to the last few paragraphs ("Freedom does not mean fairness or equality"); even though as you explain it it makes sense, it gives me a weird feeling in my gut.

More things to think about....

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2008, 06:51:46 pm »
 :mittens:

Very thoughtful and intellectually provocative, Cain. I'm going to Insightful Post Dump this.

It's interesting hearing a definition of freedom that works from a point of reduction of political and philosophical principles, rather than by basing itself off of them. It seems like the appropriate next step from the age-old individualist-collectivist loop that liberty theorists seem to get trapped in all the time.

The narrator in me would like to know how such a freedom could be expressed in actual individuals on a collective scale, but I'm not sure if I have the creativity or imagination to conceive of it.
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Cramulus

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2008, 06:52:30 pm »
yes, very thought provoking piece. I think the folks at Revleft would enjoy it quite a bit.

It reminds me of the discussion of freedom/free will in the Art of Memetics. The authors discuss agency, that is - the view that a human being is just a vehicle for all these bits of Shrapnel (as we'd call it here). How can we understand Free Will, when a human being is just a complex of competing drives?

They go on to define Freedom as "one's ability to move within a network or system," which I think is very close to what you've outlined here.

Elder Iptuous

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2008, 08:02:43 pm »
Quote
In fact, freedom, as I describe it here, is nothing but hostile to the existing order (whichever existing order) and thus can never be the foundation of a society.  Yet, at the same time, society brings into being, by forcing people into certain roles, through the creation of identities and projects designed to turn free humans into something else.  Ironically, freedom and society coexist as antagonistic partners.
I've been fighting this notion bubbling up in my own head, as well.
it gives rise to a little voice in the back of my head that tells me that i should be working towards personal privilege, rather than pissing in the wind about 'freedom for all' that most don't seem inclined to fight for...
that voice shakes hands with the voice that tells me that the primary motivation in life is the biological imperative.
Plus i've been reading that '48 laws of power' and it makes me want to go into politics for personal gain.  :oops:

LMNO

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2008, 08:10:11 pm »
That's true.

A very good case for an inclination towards selfishness can be made from this.  I think I've been trained/schooled/learned away from that, which is probably why it makes me feel funny... It's well-reasoned, and accurate, and focuses hard on the individual, while if not disparaging, at least puts all other people (society) at odds with the individual.


Wow, I am so not explaining this right...

Elder Iptuous

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2008, 08:21:17 pm »
That's true.

A very good case for an inclination towards selfishness can be made from this.  I think I've been trained/schooled/learned away from that, which is probably why it makes me feel funny... It's well-reasoned, and accurate, and focuses hard on the individual, while if not disparaging, at least puts all other people (society) at odds with the individual.

Wow, I am so not explaining this right...

I wouldn't use the term 'disparaging', but i know what you mean.
It makes me feel funny too. like when i killed my virginity (out of wedlock), or when i smoked pot for the first time, or any other wrong/bad thing which i have embraced in the past...

Cain

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2008, 08:31:09 pm »
Brilliant. A damn fine argument that comes close to arguing for Rational Anarchism.... or something like it ;-)

Not really.  While it may seem superificially similar to various kinds of Anarchism, that particular political philosophy has a very clear view of human identity...and thus the deployment of power against dissidents slips in via the back door.  Heinlein is assuming rationality in his subjects, a naturalized system of law and morals which, in practice, could end up being just as repressive as the theocracy in Iran, or anywhere else mob rule and those who claim to speak on behalf of The People, or Natural Laws, or the Market, or God, can be found.

At least, as far as my understanding of the philosophy extends.

Cain

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2008, 08:36:12 pm »
yes, very thought provoking piece. I think the folks at Revleft would enjoy it quite a bit.

It reminds me of the discussion of freedom/free will in the Art of Memetics. The authors discuss agency, that is - the view that a human being is just a vehicle for all these bits of Shrapnel (as we'd call it here). How can we understand Free Will, when a human being is just a complex of competing drives?

They go on to define Freedom as "one's ability to move within a network or system," which I think is very close to what you've outlined here.

Indeed this is very similar.  Foucault doesn't believe people actually need a reason to resist or revolt, just that people do sometimes, and that is good enough for him.  He is also skeptical of the idea of a self-defined individual, who can rationally make choices, and indeed that the act of freedom, while universally available, can only be practiced in the particular moment.

I'll touch on this more in my exposition, since explaining it would cut very close to the elements of the BIP I wanted to explore from this viewpoint of Foucault's.

I also think those on RevLeft would disagree, for the reasons I gave more or less in my answer to Ratatosk.  They have their projects, their grand schemes, their rational actors...this would quite likely annoy them no end.

LMNO

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2008, 08:36:55 pm »
So, If an individual chooses to live in a society, they have to give up some of their freedoms.

So is the next step how to choose which freedoms to give up if you want to be part of a society?

Cain

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2008, 08:42:48 pm »
Quote
In fact, freedom, as I describe it here, is nothing but hostile to the existing order (whichever existing order) and thus can never be the foundation of a society.  Yet, at the same time, society brings into being, by forcing people into certain roles, through the creation of identities and projects designed to turn free humans into something else.  Ironically, freedom and society coexist as antagonistic partners.
I've been fighting this notion bubbling up in my own head, as well.
it gives rise to a little voice in the back of my head that tells me that i should be working towards personal privilege, rather than pissing in the wind about 'freedom for all' that most don't seem inclined to fight for...
that voice shakes hands with the voice that tells me that the primary motivation in life is the biological imperative.
Plus i've been reading that '48 laws of power' and it makes me want to go into politics for personal gain.  :oops:

In a way, I agree.

There is a universality to this theory, but only in the sense that this act of freedom is equally open to everyone.  Perhaps the best thing that could be done is to illustrate how, and let them figure out the details.  Here is a quote from one of the books where the idea was presented to me:

Quote
As a potentiality, freedom is not only available to all without any possibility for discrimination, but it is also available to all equally: in asserting one’s freedom one is always already wholly free, irrespectively of the positive degree of autonomy that one thereby achieves. In such a sense, a practice of freedom functions as an affirmation of human universality and is therefore unthinkable in terms of a narcissistic individualism.

And another

Quote
As long as one gives a positive answer to the question of ‘what must a free subject be (do, say, desire)’, freedom is in peril. The discourse on freedom must thus necessarily take the form of circularities and tautologies: the form of practicing freedom must always be decided on freely. The closest we shall get to a definition of freedom in this book is a statement that freedom has the ontological status of potentiality.

Hopefully that is of help in clarifying the elements of thinking in this.

Elder Iptuous

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #12 on: December 04, 2008, 08:48:44 pm »
LMNO:  not all people in a society give up the same set of 'rights'.

Cain: that seems to jive with my belief that the only 'natural right' or 'freedom' is the right/freedom to struggle.

Cain

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #13 on: December 04, 2008, 08:48:44 pm »
So, If an individual chooses to live in a society, they have to give up some of their freedoms.

So is the next step how to choose which freedoms to give up if you want to be part of a society?

No, because that is slipping back into politics.  The point is you are going to be living in a society of some sort anyway, else there would be no reason to strive for freedom.  The question is what acts to put into play in order to ignore or resist the dictates of the ruling order.  Of course, you don't have to do anything, if you don't want.  However, that would be terribly dull, and a poor use of the potential at hand.

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Re: No strings attached freedom
« Reply #14 on: December 04, 2008, 08:52:07 pm »
Sorry to get semantic on this, but I gotta be me.

It sounds a bit like there are two things being described by "freedom" here.

1) The ability to act as one sees fit.
2) A relative marker of "positive degree of autonomy": That is, one is more-or-less "free" depending on the degree of autonomy.

That is to say, while one can be Free1 by attempting to do as they see fit, that may not mean they are allowed to carry it out, due to Freedom2.

Does that make any sense?