The Types of Freedom Aren’t as Disparate as I’d Thought

Sunni's picture

I find it extremely interesting that two of my dearest friends—neither of whom are going through an upheaval similar to mine—recently wrote me, musing about the intricacies of the different types of freedom. In reading their words, I realized that a choice I made a few years ago has created challenges for me today.

Along with many others, I’ve characterized freedom as having various components, viz., economic, political, and personal liberty. Some time ago I announced that I was moving away from the former two in order to focus more specifically on the latter; to be more specific, my activist efforts were shifting away from the political and economic realms.

But as I myself have said and written numerous times, all freedom is personal freedom. As I withdrew—both online and offline, as my personal issues claimed increasing amounts of my energy—I constricted my community. Don’t misread: I have made friends here and have an even larger circle of acquaintances. However, those circles have been almost completely centered on my dojo; and as people come and go from it, those shifts reverberate. A family with whom we’d become friendly outside of the dojo has become almost impossible to coordinate schedules with since they stopped training, for example. It’s inevitable, but can still be saddening.

Now that I’m out of the environment that commanded so much of my energy, I find myself looking around for people to talk to, people who might have ideas on how to help me find clients and/or work prospects here in town ... and there are very few of them. There are none who share my political views, so the idea of creating free-market exchanges seems a near-impossibility at this point.

I hadn’t intended to become this insulated—and I had no way of predicting that my best friend in town would fall in love and move across the continent in just four months’ time—yet this is where I am today. I write that without judgment; it is neither inherently good nor bad. But I am taking note of it, in hopes of avoiding finding myself in a similar place sometime ahead.

To have economic freedom, one needs others with whom to exchange goods and services. To have political freedom, one needs to give and receive tolerance as a bare start. [While one might argue that being completely alone is complete freedom, I would counter that in such conditions, the concept of freedom is practically meaningless. Yes, one still has choices, most obviously the choice of trying to survive or giving up; but that kind of existential freedom occupies a different plane than what I’m discussing. Freedom is a concept that to me implies relations of some sort among individuals.] And honestly, after thinking it over, personal freedom may not be all that different from political freedom as I see it; both rely on tolerance, at the very least.

The most challenging aspect of freedom today is freedom from the state. Since so many individuals never even question the premises of its existence, it may be virtually impossible to live any semblance of a typical twenty-first-century life without giving in to its tentacles in some fashion or other, particularly given the chokepoints installed in such basics as asserting/verifying one’s identity, traveling efficiently, and monetary transactions. In order to have productive exchanges with others, we liberty-lovers have to make some kinds of concessions. Using a SSN is almost a necessity, as are travel papers. One can wind up far down that slippery slope without even knowing how one got there. As I interact with others these days, though, I hear more grumbling about taxes taking ever-larger bites ... about onerous and ridiculous rules that stifle non-aggressive activities and serve only to create “criminals” ... about how levels of government here in the USSA is increasingly turning citizens against one another, via class, sex, income, race, religion ... and disturbing as all those trends are, it does give me hope that those of us who resist the state’s tentacles wherever and however we can are helping others to pull themselves out of the muck of coercive interactions and into voluntaryism.

I have long eschewed the promotional/marketing practice of networking; as an overt activity it’s one that this introvert finds phony and shallow... not to mention practically impossible to perform. Instead, I want to create my place in a community—people who share mutual regard and enough overlap in principles and goals to be able to work together to achieve things that benefit themselves and possibly others. It truly is by accomplishing this that I will gain increased economic and political freedom, as well as personal freedom.

Community

Building/finding that community is the key, I think. At least it was for me. You can do it. :)

Frith and Freedom

Don't forget that freedom was originally a tribal concept, at least in Anglo-Saxon lands: it was the freedom of our group from thralldom to another group. So the relationship between freedom and community is of the essence.

Community

You will always have a place in my community. And once again, you have succinctly summarized my life. :)

Further Frithful Thoughts

Now that the workday is done, I have more time to share my thoughts. Not that I'm an expert on these matters -- we're all exploring this freedom space together and have a lot to learn.

You seem to assume that you'd need to find people who share your political views in order to establish free-market exchanges. Is that true? Or do you perhaps need to find only people of good character who want to trade? It's not clear to me that political agreement is necessary. However, I haven't explored such local exchanges enough to provide real-world insights. Perhaps Mama Liberty can speak more definitively.

And what is economic freedom? Many people define economic freedom as financial independence: not needing to work in order to live. Yet, as we know, that usually requires working within the system (i.e., dependence of a sort) in order to amass enough resources to then be independent. Another definition might emphasize earning just enough to live, but preferably not so much as to trigger the requirement to file an income tax return. Another definition might involve local trade, mutualism, self-sufficiency, growing your own food, barter, etc. Perhaps there are other definitions, too. But all of them might be separable in many ways from the need to agree with your trading partners about the nature of political freedom.

Your point about tolerance is a good one, I think. One definition of personal freedom is living according to your own lights, having your own way of life without imposing it on others. I tend to think of it philosophically: you might live an Epicurean existence (in the true sense of Epicurus), and your friends or trading partners or fellow community members might be Stoics or gnostics or Christians or Buddhists. However, you can all get along if you tolerate each other, and you can even respect your different philosophies and ways of life as paths that are appropriate for different individuals.

Perhaps this is expecting too much of most people. Perhaps most people want to impose a single way of life on everyone else. I think there's still a lot of that in society, but also a dawning recognition that each individual is unique and that it's just fine for different people to live in different ways as long as they tolerate each other. Maybe I'm just a hopeless optimist, though.

It does get back to community: not superficial networking, but interacting with other people over time and thus building up trust amongst yourselves. That doesn't necessarily need to be local -- after all, you've built a friendly community of your own here online. And in some ways it's harder to build that kind of community in a particular locale these days (as you note, people tend to move around more than they used to). But I would bet that there are not a few people in your town who would be prospects for this kind of initiative. Unfortunately, I don't have tips for how to find them, because I haven't done that kind of outreach where I live, either. That leads me to think it's probably easier to grow this kind of community in a place where the soil has already been prepared to some extent -- I'm thinking especially of free-state kinds of places, such as Wyoming and New Hampshire, but also Alaska and perhaps particular neighborhoods or towns or counties here and there (there's a small town in the state where I live that seems to fit the description, and I observe that certain neighborhoods in the city where I live seem to be more self-sufficient and cooperative than others, with community gardens and such). Once again, that leads to the tribely nature of liberty (yes, they are anagrams), to the frithful basis of freedom.

So, no, I don't have the answers, just more questions...

Ah, frith.

I had meant to say a few things about frith in my original musings, because it is a vital element in this process. I guess my mind is still overfull and racing too much with all the things I need to remember during this transition.

You seem to assume that you'd need to find people who share your political views in order to establish free-market exchanges. Is that true? Or do you perhaps need to find only people of good character who want to trade?

It is somewhat true. It’d be of limited value to find someone interested in a barter exchange if that person insisted upon reporting it as income, for example. Individuals of good character—and to me, a crucial element of that is keen discernment—are the linchpins in the kind of community we’re discussing.

The definition of “economic freedom” I had in mind while writing is “freedom from interference in pursuing noncoercive exchanges”. Right now, I know of no low–risk way to amass sufficient wealth so as to be financially independent without the state’s greedy fingers grabbing what its minions have determined it’s due.

Perhaps this is expecting too much of most people. Perhaps most people want to impose a single way of life on everyone else. I think there’s still a lot of that in society, but also a dawning recognition that each individual is unique and that it’s just fine for different people to live in different ways as long as they tolerate each other. Maybe I’m just a hopeless optimist, though.

That interpretation is a reasonable conclusion to draw based on what’s offered as news in this country, particularly in areas where religious belief still heavily influences electoral politics. In the region I live in, though, there is a lot of tolerance—even conservatives and religious fundamentalists are accepted as long as they don’t attempt to force their preferences on others.

[I]t’s probably easier to grow this kind of community in a place where the soil has already been prepared to some extent—I'm thinking especially of free-state kinds of places, such as Wyoming and New Hampshire, but also Alaska and perhaps particular neighborhoods or towns or counties here and there ...

I disagree with you a little bit here. I don’t think it requires libertarian soil so much as generally tolerant soil, such as I described immediately above. Our town is notably liberal; there seems to be a community pride (if you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism) in its tolerant attitude. Yet even here it’s easy to find those who grumble about federal and state government picking our pockets and unnecessarily regulating aspects of life. Voluntary efforts to help others are strongly preferred over creating new laws and regulations (although there are plenty of people who seek both of those).

I think it’d be much easier to find and/or help create the kind of free-market, frithful community I want in a place like this as compared to a libertarian settlement where the prevailing attitude is something akin to, “I got mine, so screw you guys, you’re on your own.” I’m not implying that all libertarian communities are like that; I know they aren’t. But that faction in the pro–freedom community exists, and it creates real challenges for those who grok that no person can live among others and remain a total island. I’d much rather take my chances with the hippies than among them.

Takes all kinds...

Yes, there are people here who have little interest in being part of any sort of interactive community, those who want everyone to think and act the same, those who are tolerant of any non aggressive behavior, and everything in between.

And yet we all seem to live together without much friction.

I'm much more worried about the control freaks and rent seekers in even the local government than my most intolerant neighbors.

Yes, it does.

But I remain thankful that I don’t have to associate with every kind.

More seriously, wouldn’t it be a fair generalization to say that it is usually the more intolerant individuals who want others to be controlled in some way? It seems to me that disapproval (intolerance) is the foundation for nearly all the “there oughta be a law” thinking going on.

Moreover, it speaks to the power of our institutional conditioning that so many Americans leap from disapproval to coercion without even thinking about whether the disapproved-of thing actually hurts them in some way. I think that highlighting that missing step may be the key to having a chance at changing some attitudes.

You are right...

They do tend to be the same people. And it's easier to see them for who they are when the "rent seekers" are actually in the minority, as they are here. Or at least they seem to be.

I've cast my bread onto the waters for nearly 50 years, and darn little comes back (acknowledgement or evidence of concrete results)... but it went somewhere. :) Lots of attitudes ARE changing, so it seems someone is eating the bread tossed out by some of us.