Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Freedom of the Absurd

Would you rather be the homeless beggar without hope of escaping his condition, or the person in a ClubFed prison?


It's the subject of Lakoff's latest book.  Preserving it is the very reason for the existence of government.  And yet, freedom is what Lakoff calls a "contested concept": i.e., different people mean different things when they say the word.  When people of differing ideologies talk about "freedom", they often talk right past one another.  Arguments between the two sides accomplish nothing, as each side talks about presumably common ideas, but use words that carry vastly different meanings to each of them.

But there is a way of resolving such dilemmas.  It is a method that has been used since at least Greco-Roman times, and carries the name Reductio ad Absurdum.

From Wikipedia:

Reductio ad absurdum (Latin for "reduction to the absurd", traceable back to the Greek ἡ εις άτοπον απαγωγη (hi eis átopon apagogi), "reduction to the impossible", often used by Aristotle), also known as an apagogical argument or reductio ad impossibile, is a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument, arrives at an absurd result, and then concludes that the original assumption must have been wrong, since it led to this absurd result. This is also known as proof by contradiction. It makes use of the law of non-contradiction--a statement cannot be both true and false. In some cases it may also make use of the law of excluded middle--a statement which cannot be false, must then be true.

One such example of this would be:

Person #1: Opinions are like assholes.  Everybody's got one.  And each is entitled to his own.

Person #2: And if you said the sky was green, and I said it was blue, would that be just two more opinions that each was entitled to?

It's an incredibly effective technique.

And it is the key to blowing apart the Republican vision of "freedom".


You see, conservatism in general (and I don't equate them with the GOP here, because the GOP is perfectly content to regulate your bedroom) views all regulation as a detriment to freedom.  And, certainly, anyone who has experienced an IRS audit or a 35 MPH speed trap on a highway can understand the feeling.

Even the public school system is viewed as a detriment to freedom.  As Trevino stated in his post about the Overton Window (which I turned into a diary):

Let's say, for example, that you want to make education as free and choice-based as it can possibly be. Let's start by developing a continuum of educational states, from the desired extreme of total freedom, to the undesirable extreme of total statism. It might look something like this:

[#1]--No government involvement in education.

In other words, not having a regulated public education system is, to a conservative, the very ideal of freedom.

A liberal, on the other hand, understands that freedom lies in what one is capable of doing, rather than what one is possibly restricted from doing.  A liberal understands that having the ability to receive a good education regardless of circumstances is a net increase to his/her freedom--even if it comes bundled with school taxes, truancy laws, etc.


How to resolve this intractable problem, then?  By taking each ideology to its logical extension.

Conservatives love to equate socialism with prison: just see here or here:

Today that liberty and that republic are under assault here at home yet the majority of our fellow Americans seem content to stand by and allow the Marxists and the elitist environmentalists and the United Nations globalists zealots drag them into the socialist prison camp they want America to become.

And, under certain circumstances associated with absolute socialism, this analogy holds up: strict regulations on what can be achieved, acquired and innovated can lead to conditions resembling that of incarceration, except by a "benevolent" state.

Nevertheless, however, it MUST be noted that even the strictest socialism does not limit much freedom of movement--only freedom of certain actions.  At best, a ClubFed prison would be by far a better analogy.


Conservatives, however, have a problem: taken to its logical extreme conclusion, the ideology of conservatism doesn't look much better.

That's because the ultimate analogy of the conservative ideal is destitute homelessness.

After all, a homeless person doesn't have the obligation to pay rent.  Or taxes.  Or a car payment.  Or go to a job.

A homeless person is completely free of all bonds and burdens.

The problem, of course, is that a homeless person is hardly free.  A homeless person doesn't have the freedom to have shelther during a storm, or food when they are hungry.  A homeless person is not at liberty to do most things that you or I take for granted.

Prison, meanwhile, secures a person guaranteed shelter, clothing, exercise, reading material, and three meals a day.


And this is, fundamentally, what it comes down to.  The extreme position on the conservative side is one of national homelessness, while the extreme position on the liberal side is one approaching national incarceration.  How a person answers this fundamental question will tell you a great deal about which side of the intellectual divide they natural fall on.


It is my belief that most people--given the choice between permanent homelessness without the chance of improving their condition, or mild incarceration that prohibits not where they can go, but rather what they can do--would take the latter.  Almost ANYONE would rather get three meals a day and clothing and a roof over their head--especially if their freedom of movement were only marginally restricted--than experience the "freedom" of homelessness.

And that is why Liberalism--as an ideology--will ALWAYS win on the most fundamental, visceral and subconscious level.  But only when, of course, the alternative is sharply drawn (such as, for instance, in Armando's famous Politics of Contrast).

Their vision of "freedom" is absurd--and they apply it with extremism.  Our vision is not--and we don't apply ours with the extremism they apply theirs.  Increasing people's ability to do things they want to do, at the expense of mild regulation, is ALWAYS better than eliminating that regulation at the expense of capabilities.  We should be winners of this ideological divide hands down.

The fact that we haven't already laid this debate to rest is only proof that our politicians don't understand this distinction on the most fundamental level.

And it's time to Crash the Gate and clean them out--because at this point, American politics American politics ITSELF is absurd.

[Front-paged on the Booman Tribune, and cross-posted on the DailyKos]


Blogger UCR Notes said...

I support what your saying, but your equivocating positive freedom and negative freedom. It's a really difficult concept, but the freedom to from suffering through bad weather, is a different sort of freedom than the freedom to do what you want with your money (not pay re-distributive taxes). If you want to read a really good argument for liberalism, read a theory of justice by Rawls. He argues for why any given freedom should be thought of as more valuable than another freedom, and comes to very liberal conclusions about it.

4:44 PM  

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