Archives for posts with tag: Liberty

“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

Ayn Rand

OK, she borrowed this idea from Adam Smith, without mentioning him… let bygones be bygones…

A more interesting endeavor would be to learn something from all this.

‘Abundance was not created by public sacrifices’.
Makes a lot of sense. In a free market everybody gets what they are offered, ideally in close accord to what each of them had brought to the market.

‘Abundance was created by the productive genius of free people who pursued their own personal interest and the making of their own private fortunes’.
Now, whose ‘productive genius’ are we speaking about here?

About Ford’s, for instance, or about that of his workers?

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.

Tim Worstall, Forbes Magazine

Anyway you look at it, both Ford and his workers were acting as ‘rational economic agents’. Ford was paying them the going rates in the industry and they were putting in as little effort as they could afford to.

That went on until Ford came up with a ‘new idea’. “It can indeed be cheaper to pay workers more but to reduce the turnover of them and those associated training costs.” “The point is not so as to be paying a “decent wage” or anything of that sort: it is to be paying a higher wage than other employers. That gets your workforce thinking they’ve got a good deal (for the clear reason that they have got a good deal) and if the workers think they’ve got a good deal then they’re more likely to turn up on time, sober, and work diligently.”

Again, a very reasonable attitude displayed by both parties.
An attitude made possible by the fact that both the car and workforce markets were free.
Ford could hire anybody/sell his cars to whomever had enough money to buy them while his workers were free to leave their previous workplaces and accept Ford’s offer. Or leave him if they found a better one.

And let’s not forget the fact that Ford was not alone, at that time. At the turn of the XX-th century there were hundreds of automobile producers in the US alone and this was one of the reasons for which the workers could afford to be so ‘picky’ – specially those who had some experience.

In this situation – where the market was really free, each party taking good care of their own interest yielded excellent results.
Ford had became one of the leading car manufacturing corporations.
The diligent workers continuously improved their living standards.
The society, as a whole, prospered. And learned, or should have had, the long term benefits of commitment and mutual respect.

What happened after the market was no longer free?

Meaning that instead of hundreds of car manufacturers competing for the best available workers we had for a considerable number of years only three corporations more interested in short term profiteering rather than improving their products?
And instead of diligent workers striving to improve their skills we had union members more interested in their week-end barbecues?

“The U.S. government bailout of the auto industry lasted from January 2009 to December 2013. The Big Three automakers approached Congress in November 2008. They warned that, without the bailout, GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the loss of one million jobs. Ford didn’t need the funds, since it had already cut costs. But it asked to be included so it wouldn’t suffer by competing with subsidized companies.

The Treasury Department invested $80.7 billion from the $700 billion authorized by EESA. It recouped all but $10.2 billion…”

Kimberly Amadeo, thebalance.com

Some of you might tell me that the Japanese car manufacturers operate along more or less the same guide-lines. ‘Cradle to grave’ employment for the workers, a rather opaque management never held accountable until too late…
A very correct observation.
Only there is a huge difference between the Japanese work-ethos and ‘the American Dream’. The Japanese have a long history of being told to ‘fit in’ while most Americans have gradually convinced themselves that ‘getting rich’ is the only possible solution for all their problems…

Considering that both Japan and America seem to have reached two different cul-de-sacs it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that both are doing something wrong.

For almost 30 years now Japan has been running in circles. She hasn’t completely lost her edge but hasn’t performed as it used to.
The most worrying indicator – for me, at least, being the fact that they have given up ‘making’ children. As if the present generation doesn’t have much hope for/expectations from the future.
For almost 30 years now the American people has allowed a huge trench to grow larger and larger in their mist. The haves on one side, the have-nots on the other and the rift so wide that they are no longer able hear each-other. A present day Henry Ford would have no idea about how much to pay his workers in order to obtain similar results to those achieved at the start of the XX-th century…

Is there a ‘common cause’ that might explain what’s going on on both sides of the Pacific?
How about both cultural and economic spaces experiencing a somewhat similar decrease in individual liberty, the phenomenon having rather different causes in each of the two cases?

First of all, ‘dedication to duty’ can take you only that far. It is very useful for those wishing to ‘close a gap’ but acts similarly to an ankle weight for those who are in the position to attempt to ‘take the lead’. ‘Dedication to duty’ focuses the attention of the team to ‘obeying the rules’ while ‘taking the lead’ means leaving the ‘straight and narrow’ and venturing into the unknown.
These two situations imply completely different mind frames.

Secondly, those who venture outside the ‘safety of the perimeter’ need to follow a simple rule.

“Leave no man behind”.

” “When you have a conscript army and you can always replenish it just by adding more people, you don’t really have to care about whether they’re happy with what they’re doing,” Springer said.

Now the military had to care about its soldiers as individuals, and the idea that it would never leave them behind became something of a familial bond.

“It’s kind of a contract with the service,” Springer said. “You promise to serve us, we promise not to leave you.” “

 

You see, time and time again history has hinted to us that freer societies fared better, ceteris paribus, compared to ‘tighter knit’ ones.
For example, subjected to the same communist knut, Poland came out differently than my native Romania.

And while most people agree about Poland being in a better shape than Romania, there is very little agreement about a possible explanation.
Just as most people agree about ‘liberty is good’ while each of those people derive different meanings from the very concept of freedom.

Since it is so hard to coordinate ourselves about the meaning of a ‘simple’ word, how about taking the liberty to ‘agree to disagree’ and turn our attention to another concept?

Mutual respect.

Just think about what liberty would mean without mutual respect.

Can you imagine the liberty of someone driving a M1 Abrams tank on a highway?
Can you imagine what would happen if the driver of the tank wouldn’t treat the others with utmost respect? What would happen if the outraged others would band together and wait for the ‘mad’ driver to burn through his last drop of fuel?

You see, people who have more respect for the rules than they have for each-other end up belonging to a society so tightly knit that it has immense troubles whenever it has to cope with unforeseen situations. Adapt to change.  Confront a catastrophe…
For example, the Soviet Union, Japan and the US have a considerable number of nuclear power plants and have experienced a number of failures. The tightly knit Soviet Union and Japan have displayed commendable individual acts of heroism in the aftermath of such incidents but it was the more individualistic US who has somehow ‘ducked’ any serious experience of this kind.

On the other hand, I see potential trouble when I hear people stating that “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”.
On the face of it, this sounds perfectly reasonable.
Only the whole thing absolutely depends on both individuals involved in it having comparable reach. Do you really think that a guy with twice the ‘wing-span’ of his opponent would continue to stick to this rule if the by-standers would not band together to stuff it down his throat?

My point being that no ‘market’ is really free if its freedom relies primarily on a set of rules instead of depending on a healthy dose of sincerely upheld mutual respect among the participants to that market.
In this instance ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ are perfectly interchangeable with functional/sustainable.

The communist centrally planned economies had failed abysmally  simply because the powerfuls of the day had nothing but contempt for those under their rule.
Japan’s strict set of rules about what constitutes proper behavior in each situation seems to act as a brake whenever decisive action is needed.
America’s new mantra, ‘greed is good’, has time and time again produced speculative bubbles which have inevitably ended up badly. Under its spell, the market actually looses every shred of liberty. Exactly as a hypnotized group of people think of themselves as being free while sheepishly obeying the orders of their herder.
I gather you all know what ‘herd behavior’ means…

Compare Ayn Rand’s words to Adam’s Smith original idea.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

See what I mean?

Smith sees all ‘market goers’ as equals who freely address each other while Rand applauds “the productive genius of free men” who, in pursuit of “their own private fortunes” had the magnanimity to bestow upon “the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance”.

I, for one, fail to detect any shred of actual respect towards “the people” in the behavior so laudatory described by Rand.
And I’ll let you be the judge whether her description fits the current ‘state of the nation’.
Anywhere on the planet, not only in the US.

“and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

jobless men keep going

 

Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus for the English speaking world) was a man who cherished his ‘libertad’.
He did what he had to do in order to fulfill his dream – finding a new way to the treasures of India.
The mere fact that he discovered a completely different India than the one he was looking for doesn’t change anything about the relationship between he and the concept of freedom.

Yet one of the first things he did when he reached the shores of South America was to catch some parrots, which he eventually brought home with him.

I’m not going to argue here about the fate of the people ‘discovered’ by Columbus nor about that of the black slaves brought later to work on the islands and continents discovered by him. I’ll refrain myself to the fate of the parrots of this world.

Two of them are permanent, even if unwitting, guests of Casa de Colon – a lodging Columbus has used during his stop overs in Gran Canaria.

As we entered the patio the pair was climbing back into their enclosure, after being ‘encouraged’ (squirted with water) by a janitor.

back to your cage

‘Now tell me, do we really deserve something like this?’

chiar asa

During the half hour or so that I spent there they ‘escaped’

La plimbare

at least four times,

here we go again

only to be either unceremoniously carried

papagal pe bat

or even herded back to their ‘playing pen’,

inapoi mars

where their only entertainment was to engage the visitors with their antics

balet pe sarma

or to ‘shave’ wood from their ‘feeding tables’.

wood shaving

feeding station

Now, really, is this the proper way to treat a ‘mocking bird’?

what kind of life is

We figured out how to make an egg stand on its head and we can’t yet understand that there will be no real liberty for any of us until all of us will be ‘free as a bird’?

oul lui Columb

Very few notions are simultaneously evident and hard to grasp. Liberty is one of them.

If we look around it is self evident that some things are freer than others.
For instance wheel-chairs can be moved a lot easier than table chairs on a flat surface but are harder to be carried up and down the stairs or on rugged terrain. Or, on a different level of discussion, chained dogs are less free than stray ones.
Yet nobody in his right mind wastes a thought on whether wheel chairs might be concerned about their lack of ‘upward mobility’ while some of us, but not so many, do think about how come the vast majority of chained dogs usually come back after having accidentally been set free and wonder about why dogs which have grown up on their own can indeed become good companions but would never accept to be tied down for very long.

So what is this ‘liberty’?

Is it objective – a fact that exists irrespective of our will or wish – or nothing but a construct of our busy minds?
And how many kinds of liberty are there? After all the freedom ‘enjoyed’ by the wheel-chairs surely is a lot more different from that enjoyed by dogs than the latter is from that experienced by us, conscious people, right?
I’ll come back to this at the end of my post.

Three definitions of freedom are currently in fashion.

– Being free means being able to do whatever my (fucking) mind/imagination comes up with!
“Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.” (William Allen White)
“Freedom is the consciousness of necessity” (Karl Marx)

You’ll notice very easily that they all have some things in common yet each of them is slightly slanted towards the central pillar of the philosophical school it belongs to.

The commonalities are there precisely because all three definitions are about the same thing while the different slants come from the different scopes of those philosophical schools – each of them, or more precisely the figure head of each school, having their ulterior motives behind the apparent explanation/definition.

Hence different uses.

Yes, liberty has uses. Otherwise why bother? Without our ability to consciously use our freedom there would be no difference between us and the dogs I mentioned earlier!

So what could be those different uses?
Nietzsche – you recognized his ‘ghost’ behind the first definition, didn’t you? – used the notion of freedom to explain the reasons for which he coined the concept of the Uebermensch. He went berserk afterwards, maybe after realizing that what he did was nothing but giving theoretical explanations about why the likes of Genghis Han and Pol Pot did what they did throughout the entire human history. Simply because there was no one to stop them. For the moment at least.
Most of the libertarians continue the natural trend that was so brilliantly described and then completely misunderstood by Marx – that human history is nothing else but the story of how the individual human being became progressively more and more autonomous from the community to which it belongs and how the entire community becomes more and more viable exactly because of this process.
And finally the totalitarians, of all ‘flavors’, use the concept of ‘assumed necessity’ to cloak the fact that all their teachings are nothing but ‘propaganda’.

OK, let me keep my promise and come back to ‘what is liberty’.
Since I couldn’t find a philosophical explanation to suit my ‘necessities’ I’ll try a different tack.

“You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief. But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.”
(Kahlil Gibran)

Am I trying to convince you that liberty is something that has a simple psychological explanation? Believe in it and that’s sufficient cause for it to exist?

Yes and no.

Individual liberty has indeed an important personal/psychological component. Until a person understands what liberty is and assumes for itself that ‘state of grace’ that person cannot be free.

Yet no individual can be free by itself. Besides the primordial condition of having to be born first, in order for an individual to become a consciously free person it needs to be raised into a fully functional adult with a reasonable understanding of the world around it. It needs to learn at least a language which he/she will use both to communicate with its peers AND to think, about freedom amongst other things. It also needs to learn the necessary skills for survival – from how to walk, eat and drink to how to earn its keep. Only after these ‘prerequisites’ – or, in Gibran’s terms, ‘cares’, ‘wants’ and ‘griefs’ – are met, the individual may try to ‘rise above them naked and unbound’.
And even then it would be extremely helpful if it had an example to follow. Spartacus, for instance, tried to become free precisely because he was in close contact with people who considered themselves to be free – his master, for one. Now consider the state of those third or fourth generation of African slaves who toiled the ground in the deep South, born in a barn to a slave mother, who came in contact exclusively with fellow slaves and with some white ‘supervisors’, half drunk most of the time and who from time to time sexually assaulted their mothers. Or even the situation of the modern children who come to this Earth only because their parents want to get free housing and some more food stamps from the government.

The way I see it ‘liberty’ is something that has two ‘parents’. On one side there is the ‘community’, the environment into which each individual is born and where it is raised. On the other side it’s the individual itself who, at some point of its becoming of age and if the circumstances provided by the community are right, understands what freedom is and decides to ‘declare’ its personhood/freedom.
Personal contribution is indeed huge. In particular circumstances that declaration might be made ‘in petto’ (for itself only) or, contrastingly, in plain knowledge that it would lead to that person losing its life.
I’m thinking now of the free spirits of the Antiquity – for instance of Epictetus, who had freed his mind long before he was ‘freed’ from slave-hood – and also of the freedom fighters who streaked the skies of human history: the early Christians who professed their creed even though they knew that it would lead to they being fed to the lions to the lonely Chinese man who single-handedly stopped, for a while, the tanks charging the Tienanmen Square in 1989.

In any case both conditions must be met simultaneously. The individual itself must reach first a certain level of ‘intellectual sophistication’, with the help and in the environment provided by the community to which that individual belongs, and then that individual must do its part: ‘open its wings and start flying on its own’. No further than the ‘natural limits specific for that community’, of course, but nevertheless bearing full responsibility for the outcome of its acts.

Or, in a different spelling, freedom – just as language and consciousness – cannot be achieved by any individual on itself nor be maintained/developed without the willing and ‘jealous’ diligence of all those involved.

And the sooner we understand, individually and collectively, that the well being of both individual members of the community and of the community itself depend on each of us developing its own liberty and on each of us respecting the liberty of all the others, the brighter our future will be.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1563915/Freedom-and-Necessity

wind back history

Humankind is a vast and extremely diverse collection of human individuals grouped in various ‘nations’.
Each of these nations have evolved in certain geographical and historical circumstances and, because of that, is different from all others.

Still, there is one thing all of them have in common, one thing that has happened, in various degrees, to all surviving nations.

Statistically, individual members of all nations have constantly grown more and more autonomous.

True, this was not a linear development. Actually it was not even consistent, from time to time some nations have reverted, for longer or shorter periods, to states where individual autonomy was curtailed but on the whole personal autonomy has constantly increased.
And another thing. Those instances when the ‘march’ towards more individual autonomy was halted or reversed coincided with historical hiccups: civil wars, economic hardships, natural disasters, external aggression… things like that. Never in the entire history of man has this process been halted without that stop being caused by some forceful event, just because an individual or a collection of individuals have decided so.

Franco transformed Spain into a dictatorship only after being helped by external military forces.
Hitler became ‘Fuehrer’ in the special set of circumstances created by the inept way in which the allies treated Germany after WWI combined with the Great Depression.
Lenin transformed Russia into the biggest gulag on Earth helped by circumstances produced by the same WWI while Mao rose to power in the aftermath of WWII.

In our days Putin has been able to tighten, again, the screws on Russia mainly because of the corruption and greed that sapped from within the Russian society while the ‘Western World’ has become, almost overnight and completely against the natural course of nature, an immense Big Brother set only after some nuts declared war on the civilized world under the pretext of Islam.

What is going on now in Hong Kong is a first. An entire community, and not a small or insignificant one, is having its freedoms curtailed simply because some people gathered around a table have decided so.

Some recent developments (I’ll list a few at the end of this post) brought me back to this subject.

So what is freedom?

Consider a lump of dirt someplace in the middle of nowhere, so far from any galaxy that it is under no gravitational pull whatsoever. In theory it would be able to go anywhere, right? With almost no ‘energy costs’… But it has none available … it’s nothing but an lump of dirt…
How about replacing that hypothetical lump of dirt with the most sophisticated spaceship you can imagine and add to it an inexhaustible energy source. This would be ‘free’ for sure, no? But where would it go?
Now add to it a human being. But mind you, one that not only knows how to drive a spaceship but also that can hold his own in absolute solitude. Can you find such a human being? Can you even imagine one?

So, again, what is freedom? Or liberty, if you prefer this word?

So, real, effective liberty is something that has to be perceived and has to be implementable. It’s not enough for an individual to think himself as being free, that individual also needs to be able to exert his freedom. I don’t have any doubt that Stephen Hawking, one of the brightest minds alive, is one of the freest spirits on this Earth but I’m afraid that he is also one of the individuals who depend heaviest on those around him.

And, in fact, all of us are in almost the same situation as he is. OK, most of us can move on our own. But before even thinking about liberty each of us has to become aware of himself, to develop his consciousness. Only we cannot do that on our own. As Humberto Maturana amply demonstrated human conscience has developed, slowly, in time. It was a process that could take place because by some genetic mutation or accident our brains had suddenly grown close to the present dimension but that was not enough. We needed another 70 or so thousand years after we learned to speak (by doing so we were able to exchange ideas and think about concepts) to become what we are today. In Maturana’s words people are not only conscious, they are conscious of their consciousness.

I believe you already have an inkling about what I have in mind.

Liberty is nothing but a concept, one that has been refined by human thinking along our entire history. It was us who defined the notion of ‘degrees of liberty’ which is used extensively not only in statistics  but in many other scientific domains.
And it was still us who came up with such a social arrangement that allowed for free people not only to coexist with slaves but also to own them.

So what is freedom? An absolute (divine) ‘human right’ or a social construct? Both?

The point I’m trying to make is that we should never forget that freedom hasn’t been given to us on a silver plate. All along human history there have been enough people who tried hard to dominate as many as they could and too many who accepted to be dominated. And invariably the societies/communities where social relations were based on authoritarianism have eventually failed while the more egalitarian, the ones where individuals enjoyed a higher degree of freedom coped better and usually survived.

My conclusion of all this? There is no such thing as ‘liberty/freedom’ against all others. The only liberty that can survive long term is liberty with the others. While the first is nothing but a synonym for the ‘Law of the jungle’ (another human concept, the jungle doesn’t have any laws) the second is the foundation for any civilized nation. And when we’ll be able to extend the notion for all peoples (usually the slaves came from outside the people of the slave-owners)  we’ll have lasting peace.

What prompted me to write this? Which of the following do you think is a proper way of exerting one’s liberty? Or free will, which includes proper/professional behavior in every conceivable circumstance?
‘Rights’ are to be exerted no matter what or with great consideration? Tradition/order has to be upheld/maintained at all costs or only as long as it makes sense? ‘Makes sense’ to whom?

teen Jesus     cops student

 

 

women peshmerga    IS police

 

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