Freedom: what is it?

Doug “Borderland” has another thoughtful and thought-provoking post, this time on start-of-the-year “class management” problems, also called emergence…

To be brutal, I didn’t understand much of it, but I enjoyed the T-shirt, I mean the comments, especially Stephen Downes’, where he discussed the meaning of freedom.

  1. I recently read The Road to Serfdom by Austrian economist F.A. Hayek, originally written in 1944. The Amazon reviews give a good gist of the book (the statement that Hayek influenced Reagan and Thatcher should neither put off the inquisitive reader nor pre-dispose her to agree or disagree). Freedom is only one of several themes in this book, but it presented ideas I had not come across before, in particular the warning that the ideals of socialism (fairness, spreading the wealth, etc) often blind believers to the strong possibility that centralized government control will lead to totalitarianism. At the time, Britain had long adopted many of the laws and concepts of centralised government and a planned economy; Hayek indicated that Nazi Germany was merely a decade or two further along the same road. Very short book, worth a read.
  2. Jon Rappoport’s work somewhat supports Hayek’s thesis that centrally planned and organized government is ripe for abuse by what he terms “cartels”, which aim to gain ever increasing amounts of control over an ever increasing number of areas of human activity, consequently limiting the personal and creative freedom of those humans. The solution, or antithesis, he proposes is for individuals to make full use of their power to desire, to imagine and to realize (make real) what they imagine and desire – the creative force, if you will. He sees cartels as being essentially groups of psychopathic individuals who are in fact unwittingly trying to alienate individuals from their creative power, their freedom, because individuals who have been so alienated are easier to manipulate and control. Freedom, therefore, is something we create for ourselves, using our power to imagine and create what we most deeply desire. It is the antithesis of the desire to control others and demonstrates itself as a refusal to be controlled by others. I connect the desire and power to control, in ever increasing degrees, to centralisation (something Rappoport hints at if I remember, but perhaps I’m projecting). Centralisation – the transfer of power from the many to the few – allows cartels to accelerate their grab for power and control, and is therefore antithetical to true freedom. (Click here for an interview with Rappoport: tho it’s ostensibly about his plans for an arts centre, he essentially lays out his philosophy concerning creative power and freedom).

Hayek also connects centralised planning with the homogenization of thought (leading to suppression of individual thought and dissent), e.g. this quote from E.H. Carr:

It is significant that the nationalisation of thought has proceeded everywhere pari passu with the nationalisation of industry.

Disclaimer: I’m not advocating here the ideas of either Hayek or Rappoport. They are merely two writers whose work has prompted in me a re-think of my understanding of freedom. Click the links and read at your own risk, etc, etc.

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