Is Freedom Compatible with Human Nature?

People are attracted to the communist ideal, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  The idea that we can all contribute to a common stockpile and then take what it is that we need has this appeal that continues to draw people in.  As Christians, we are supposed to share what we have with the less fortunate.  As humanitarians, we don’t want to see our human brethren suffer from poverty and hunger.  We see that some live in abundance while others barely squeak by, and there is something in our soul that doesn’t want to see other humans languish.   Perhaps this is why the idea of sharing everything is so appealing.

The problem with communism isn’t that sharing is wrong.  The problem with communism is that it does not work with human nature.  While humans are generally empathetic to suffering, we are also driven by our own self-interest.  If we don’t see what is in it for us, it is hard to get us motivated.

As I was reflecting on this reality the other day, it occurred to me that the reason we can’t hold on to freedom is that perhaps it isn’t compatible with human nature either.  Libertarians are a very small bunch, and they have trouble attracting more people to the freedom philosophies they hold dear.  I wondered if maybe freedom just wasn’t that important to most people.

I’ve been listening to Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton the last couple weeks.  He wrote about how we have these competing desires.  It hit me that our desire for security is in competition with our desire for freedom.  Most of us don’t like arbitrary limits, so pushing for more freedom might seem like a good way to bring people into the libertarian movement.  What we often encounter is that the libertarian ideas about freedom are too extreme for most people.

Why is it too extreme?  Why is it such a hard sell?  Is it because people have grown up in a society where everything is so strictly regimented?  Is it because people lack the imagination to see beyond the vast regulations and restrictions?  Or could it be that people have a certain desire for the security that they believe the state and government afford them?  I think it is probably a combination of factors, but I think the desire for security is most certainly one of the factors.

If people desire security, and they believe the state provides that for them, then libertarians would be wise to make real world arguments to address how security can be achieved in ways that don’t involve the state.  Libertarians could also show how the state can create instability versus security, such as destroying the currency.

I think Chesterton is right, that we do have desires that need to be balanced.  I also think ideas govern the world, so we need to embrace the ideas that give us all the best chance to thrive.  Libertarians may be able to help their case for liberty being the best condition for humans to prosper if they keep in mind that people also desire security, and that freedom without security does not seem all the appealing.

The Importance of Language and Thought

In the Liberty Classroom lecture titled What a Piece of Work is Man, Casey makes the point that language and the capacity for embracing ideas led not only to social cooperation at a level not seen in any other part of the animal kingdom, but also to large scale warfare.  It isn’t that man is inherently violent, it is that he can communicate, embrace ideas, and act in concert with other humans based on those ideas.

I’m currently reading For Causes & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson. The author went through about 25,000 letters from Civil War soldiers to attempt an understanding at their motivations for fighting.  Practically none of them were fighting because they were brutes.  Many noted how the men that were bullies at home, tended to be the most fearful of soldiers.  The bravest tended to be the men who had the most ideological motives. There was also social pressure the soldiers put on one another, basically being that a real man doesn’t shirk his duty in battle.  However, it seems to me that even that was based in the ideological notion of going to battle out of devotion to a nation.  Of course the motivations are mixed and complex, but overall, you can see that to risk one’s life in battle comes from devotion to various ideas.

To gain peace and harmony, the ideas people embrace need to reflect a devotion to peace.  This is why promoting liberty is so important.  It is important to help people gain an understanding of how cooperation leads to peace while coercion leads to violence and wars.  It is also important that we look upon all mankind as neither inferior or superior to one another.  For instance there is a current line of thought going around that “You can’t trust the Iranians.”  Like there is something inherently wrong with Iranians.  You may not be able to trust them, but it isn’t because they are Iranian.  You can’t even trust your own government, so of course it is logical that you wouldn’t trust the Iranian government either.  It is naive to believe that your government is going to protect you from them and that they are some how different than you, that leads to the us versus them mentality that perpetuates the division of mankind.

I realize people will think me naive to suppose that we can get along by changing the way people think.  It is true that as long as some people believe that violence is the way to accomplish their goals, that the rest of us are at risk of being victims of violence.  The way I see it, that is just a risk of life, that you might become someone’s victim.  In my opinion, people that act peacefully are far less likely to become victims than those who are belligerent.  Live by the sword, die by the sword.  You are going to die at some point anyway, be it disease, accident or violence.  Wouldn’t we rather strive to live in peace during our time on earth than trying to convert others at gunpoint, thus continuing the cycle of violence?



Reason Mag asks “Are the Unvaccinated Legally Responsible?”

A woman tragically dies from a measles infection which leads Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine to ask “What legal responsibility should the unvaccinated individuals (or more likely their parents who refused inoculation) bear in these cases?”  What Mr Bailey appears to want us to consider, when thinking about this question, is the large number of people infected and the number of deaths before the measles vaccine was licensed.

This seems to me to look at the issue through the wrong lens.  It is a collective lens.   Mr. Bailey is encouraging us to look at vaccination through the frame work of how many people have not suffered through measles and death as a result of the vaccine.  It seems he wants us to consider that since vaccines have helped prevent so many people from getting sick, that somehow justifies compulsion.  Although, he isn’t outright calling for compulsion, if people are to be legally culpable for spreading disease by declining to vaccinate, that threat would be a form of legal compulsion.  Yet people (in general) do not vaccinate to prevent other people from getting sick. They vaccinate to prevent those diseases for themselves and their children.   If large swaths of people getting vaccinated does prevent the spread of those diseases, it does not mean that an individual is liable for another’s contraction of the disease if they happened to abstain from the vaccination. It simply means that the spread of disease can be reduced and it can be done so through voluntary action of individuals that choose to vaccinate because they want the benefits vaccines offer.

The question about legal repercussions is one based on collectivism, not individual rights.  By collectivism, I am referring to the idea that everyone should be vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease, and you could be held liable if you do not comply and get vaccinated and a disease is traced back to you.    Which means, Mr. Bailey’s question isn’t about the liberty of the individual.  His question is about if the collective should be able to force individuals to assimilate, although it speciously appeals to the individual based on a sad and unfortunate death.

I find this idea of the collective coercing individuals with the threat of legal repercussions to vaccinate to be at odds with personal liberty.  If people have a right to life, they therefore have a right to control what they do with their body.  Someone else’s right to life is independent of what you do to your body.  If someone else can be at fault for not preventing their own illness, and thus responsible for others contracting it, that means that there is no individual right to your own body.  If you have to take a medication for someone else’s benefit, you do not own your body.  The collective owns it.

I submit that there is no legal responsibility on the part of people that choose not to vaccinate.  The collective does not own an individual’s body.