2012-02-22

On Average, We Oppose Everything

Last night I had a good discussion with a couple of friends regarding the value and gradual decline of essential liberty.

"The More Freedom People Have, The Less Trouble They Get Into"
The discussion kicked off when one of us, RD, was reminiscing about the local music scene. He remarked that in the good old days, music acts would come into town during a tour, fill up one of the big local venues, and the entire venue would be full of marijuana smoke. Now, my friend's point was not to extol the virtues of doing drugs, but rather to point out that in simpler times when crime rates were lower, people had a better ability to do such things.

My other friend, CB, remarked that it is because a few kids took things too far that they ruined it for everyone else; but of course RD was quick to point out that the more freedom people have, the less trouble they get into. This was his core point. Whatever the dangers of drug use, the more freedom we have, the less inclined we feel to take things too far.

Naturally, anyone who has grown up in a socially repressed society (such as Mormon Utah) knows this all too well. The less freedom we all have, the further to the extreme social deviants will push things.

That's the first point.

Why Don't People Stand Up For Freedom?
The second point grew out of the ensuing discussion about freedom. We all tossed around a few of our favorite conspiracy theories, predictably, but at last CB asked why we thought freedom has disappeared and the overreach of Gub has become so prevalent. What I told him was this:

For every one act of government people oppose, there are ten acts of government they support. Therefore, there is no consistent, all-encompassing philosophy of freedom.

To a great extent, it becomes a governmental Paradox of the Heap. What I mean is that nearly everyone agrees that the US War in Iraq was wrong; some people think the US War in Afghanistan was wrong; few people think that US involvement in Libya was wrong; a smattering of people object to the TSA and its use of scare tactics and body scanners; most people willingly submit to seatbelt laws; and nearly everyone believes that anti-cellphone laws are a boon to society.

In other words, people don't really believe in freedom. What they believe in is an arbitrary subset of their own personal preferences. On the one hand, this is actually very natural and predictable. But on the other hand, our society seems to have crossed a threshold beyond which we oppose more things than we support.

Take any set of eleven issues: If I'm correct, then each one of us will oppose ten and favor - or at least not oppose - one of them. Which ten issues we each happen to oppose will vary by the individual. But on average all eleven of the issues will be opposed by most people.

This is the phenomenon I believe we're witnessing in our society. Some of us oppose drug use, some oppose gay marriage, some oppose free markets, some oppose immigration, and so on... But on average, we are all opposed to every freedom enjoyed by all of us in general.

Arguing about the virtues of one particular issue is largely irrelevant. Does it really matter how many different ways I prove that socialized medicine is bad for human health? There will always be someone who insists that the government must take control of it. And that is true of every issue. There will always be someone who thinks the government should take control of "it," whatever "it" happens to be today or tomorrow.

So the only way out of this vicious spiral is to stop talking about issues and start talking about freedom. We need to get back to the point where society favors more freedoms than it opposes. For that, we need to become a knee-jerk anti-government society at large.

For those of you who assume I am simply preaching anarchy, remember that on average someone opposes whatever freedom we're talking about. We are a long way from anarchy. We are a long way from free markets or minarchy. We live in a world in which we basically oppose everything except a vague concept of "free speech" and "non-judgementalism." But these ideas are vague and certainly not so all-encompassing as to account for the majority of our freedoms, or even a significant portion of them.