The False Dichotomy

 

Back in the nineties I used to work with a zealous right-winger named Jim. We argued a lot, but got along pretty well. He came in one morning all excited and approached me with this question: If you had to choose only one, would you choose freedom or security?

Anyone asking that question, or phrasing it in terms of “security over freedom,” reveals a gross misunderstanding. The question is absurd. Like most either-or propositions, it has no meaning because freedom and security are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they’re mutually dependent; one cannot exist without the other. They’re integral parts of a whole. To illustrate the absurdity, let’s assume they are mutually exclusive. As such, they are extremes—pure, absolute abstractions with no overlap.

Absolute Freedom does away with the old saying, “The freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose.” The one who freely swings his fist will soon encounter another who freely swings his fist, and so on. You end up with a world where might makes right, where the bully reigns until he encounters a bigger bully—in other words, a world with neither freedom nor security.

Absolute Security eventually arrives at the same destination. Assume you have absolutely no freedom, but all the security you need—comfortable shelter, plenty of food, good medical care. Keep in mind, you’re forbidden to travel or speak freely. You live in a totalitarian state. Paranoia reigns. Should you question the authorities, or even arouse suspicion, you would live in fear of arrest and imprisonment, or even execution—in other words, a world with neither security nor freedom.

Freedom and security can only be achieved in a relative sense. The abstract is brought down to the concrete. There’s a word that sums it up—compromise—a concept despised by purists of the right or left. Put simply, you need the security of food, shelter, and health to exercise the choices of freedom. You need the freedom from fear and want to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with security.

All of this pertains to political freedom. I believe an optimal balance of security and freedom can be attained by compromise between reasonable people. That would allow freedom for the many. But it turns out that Jim, who fancied himself a libertarian, was speaking of economic freedom—a horse of a different purity.

Freedom to him was the right for business to make as much money as possible without any government “interference.” By interference he meant regulation to protect consumers and workers, and to prevent monopoly. I told him that allowing business free reign would lead (if we haven’t already arrived) to freedom for the wealthy few. Jim assured me this would not happen because the “invisible hand” of the market, unfettered by regulation, would provide freedom and security for all. I think this is rubbish based on faith. It’s the flip side of Marxist faith in the paradise of communism. It never occurred to Jim that the invisible hand would pick his pocket.

 

Back in the nineties I used to work with a zealous right-winger named Jim. We argued a lot, but got along pretty well. He came in one morning all excited and approached me with this question: If you had to choose only one, would you choose freedom or security?

Anyone asking that question, or phrasing it in terms of “security over freedom,” reveals a gross misunderstanding. The question is absurd. Like most either-or propositions, it has no meaning because freedom and security are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they’re mutually dependent; one cannot exist without the other. They’re integral parts of a whole. To illustrate the absurdity, let’s assume they are mutually exclusive. As such, they are extremes—pure, absolute abstractions with no overlap.

Absolute Freedom does away with the old saying, “The freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose.” The one who freely swings his fist will soon encounter another who freely swings his fist, and so on. You end up with a world where might makes right, where the bully reigns until he encounters a bigger bully—in other words, a world with neither freedom nor security.

Absolute Security eventually arrives at the same destination. Assume you have absolutely no freedom, but all the security you need—comfortable shelter, plenty of food, good medical care. Keep in mind, you’re forbidden to travel or speak freely. You live in a totalitarian state. Paranoia reigns. Should you question the authorities, or even arouse suspicion, you would live in fear of arrest and imprisonment, or even execution—in other words, a world with neither security nor freedom.

Freedom and security can only be achieved in a relative sense. The abstract is brought down to the concrete. There’s a word that sums it up—compromise—a concept despised by purists of the right or left. Put simply, you need the security of food, shelter, and health to exercise the choices of freedom. You need the freedom from fear and want to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with security.

All of this pertains to political freedom. I believe an optimal balance of security and freedom can be attained by compromise between reasonable people. That would allow freedom for the many. But it turns out that Jim, who fancied himself a libertarian, was speaking of economic freedom—a horse of a different purity.

Freedom to him was the right for business to make as much money as possible without any government “interference.” By interference he meant regulation to protect consumers and workers, and to prevent monopoly. I told him that allowing business free reign would lead (if we haven’t already arrived) to freedom for the wealthy few. Jim assured me this would not happen because the “invisible hand” of the market, unfettered by regulation, would provide freedom and security for all. I think this is rubbish based on faith. It’s the flip side of Marxist faith in the paradise of communism. It never occurred to Jim that the invisible hand would pick his pocket.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s