Friday, March 31, 2006

I Will Follow

Walter Williams says that “a caged canary is safe but not free”. To me, the message from that quotation is obvious – but there are many people who are clearly willing to live like a caged canary, placing safety above all other concerns. The desire to be led is just as strong as the urge to lead. In this excellent piece, Crispin Sartwell makes what should be an obvious point (but strangely isn’t): modern society expects the government to insure us against any hardship that might befall us, to protect us from all harm, and make our decisions for us. And most people seem more than willing to accept this position at the expense of personal liberty. The kicker comes right at the end:

Our submission is absolute: We want to be operated like puppets and provided for like pets. The terrorists hate our freedom. But we should be comfortable with that. We hate our freedom, too.

As Radley Balko points out, this line of thinking continues observations made by George Mason economics professor James Buchanan and Reason’s Julian Sanchez. Nobel Prize winner Buchanan puts it this way:

[Economists and political theorists] have assumed that, other things being equal, persons want to be at liberty to make their own choices, to be free from coercion by others, including indirect coercion through means of persuasion. They have failed to emphasize sufficiently, and to examine the implications of, the fact that liberty carries with it responsibility. And it seems evident that many persons do not want to shoulder the final responsibility for their own actions..[They] want to be told what to do and when to do it; they seek order rather than uncertainty, and order comes at an opportunity cost they seem willing to bear.

He refers to this growing mentality as “parentalism”. Julian concludes an excellent essay on this topic - the trend towards everyone wanting to be saved from themselves - in the following manner:

[Classical liberals] have been less adept at explaining why—at least past a certain point—people ought to want that freedom, which when genuine is always at least a little frightening. In the face of the parentalist impulse, we may need to develop the case that our bad choices, the choices that make us unhappy, are as vital and precious as the ones that bring us joy.

Personally, I’m optimistic that we will eventually discover that having the state-as-parent leaves our lives less fulfilling, less satisfying, and less dynamic than when we are free to choose our own paths. But how do those of us with an urge for personal freedom best tolerate the impediments to it being put in front of us at seemingly every turn? One thing is clear: we need to shift the discussion away from the argument that open markets promote freedom, wealth, and happiness (which we have generally done a good job with) and towards explaining how self-determination is part of what it means to be human, and when we outsource that decision-making to a third party (i.e. the government), we lose some of ourselves in the process.


At 1:08 PM, Blogger Molly said...

A+. Splendid points, compellingly argued, and eloquently written. : )

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Scott McC said...

There's a good discussion about this going on at Hit & Run today. One of the interesting ideas brought up is that people like their own freedom just fine - it's OTHER people's they have a problem with.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Molly said...

I like the following post on Hit & Run (made by John at 12:28 pm (sounds like I'm quoting the bible but I'm . . . not . . . )): " The problem is . . . that people are less willing to put up with the social problems that go with freedom. Here in Texas the state has decided to start arresting drunks in bars because even if they are not hurting someone they could decide to drive a car or hurt someone. I don't like the social costs that are associated with drinking anymore than these nitwits do. The difference is that I understand that they are ineveitable in a free society and would rather live with the risk of being killed by a drunk driver or pay higher taxes to pay for the costs of drinking than loose my freedom to drink in peace. The nitwits behind this and other policies just can't accept the fact that life is not utopia and some problems can't be fixed without a cure that is worse than the problem."


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