The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'freedom'
Continuing the Margaret Thatcher Memorial Season on this blog: why the Left gets neoliberalism wrong, by political scientist Corey Robin. It turns out that the thing about rugged individualism is (once one gets beyond the pulp novels of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein, not exactly founts of academic rigour) a red herring, and the true atom of the neoliberal world view is traditional, vaguely feudal, hierarchical structures of authority: patriarchial families, and enterprises with owners and chains of fealty:
For all their individualist bluster, libertarians—particularly those market-oriented libertarians who are rightly viewed as the leading theoreticians of neoliberalism—often make the same claim. When these libertarians look out at society, they don’t always see isolated or autonomous individuals; they’re just as likely to see private hierarchies like the family or the workplace, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees. And that, I suspect (though further research is certainly necessary), is what they think of and like about society: that it’s an archipelago of private governments.
What often gets lost in these debates is what I think is the real, or at least a main, thrust of neoliberalism, according to some of its most interesting and important theoreticians (and its actual practice): not to liberate the individual or to deregulate the marketplace, but to shift power from government (or at least those sectors of government like the legislature that make some claim to or pretense of democratic legitimacy; at a later point I plan to talk about Hayek’s brief on behalf of an unelected, unaccountable judiciary, which bears all the trappings of medieval judges applying the common law, similar to the “belated feudalism” of the 19th century American state, so brilliantly analyzed by Karen Orren here) to the private authority of fathers and owners.By this analysis, while neoliberalism may wield the rhetoric of atomised individualism, it is more like a counter-enlightenment of sorts. If civilisation was the process of climbing up from the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short, and establishing structures (such as states, legal systems, and shared infrastructure) that damp some of the wild swings of fortune, neoliberalism would be an attempt to roll back the last few steps of this, the ones that usurped the rightful power of hierarchical structures (be they noble families, private enterprises or churches), spread bits of it to the unworthy serfs, and called that “democracy”.
On a related note, a piece from Lars Trägårdh (a Swedish historian and advisor to Sweden's centre-right—i.e., slightly left of New Labour—government) arguing that an interventionist state is not the opposite of individual freedom but an essential precondition for it:
The linchpin of the Swedish model is an alliance between the state and the individual that contrasts sharply with Anglo-Saxon suspicion of the state and preference for family- and civil society-based solutions to welfare. In Sweden, a high-trust society, the state is viewed more as friend than foe. Indeed, it is welcomed as a liberator from traditional, unequal forms of community, including the family, charities and churches.
At the heart of this social compact lies what I like to call a Swedish theory of love: authentic human relationships are possible only between autonomous and equal individuals. This is, of course, shocking news to many non-Swedes, who believe that interdependency is the very stuff of love.
Be that as it may; in Sweden this ethos informs society as a whole. Despite its traditional image as a collectivist social democracy, comparative data from the World Values Survey suggests that Sweden is the most individualistic society in the world. Individual taxation of spouses has promoted female labour participation; universal daycare makes it possible for all parents – read women – to work; student loans are offered to everyone without means-testing; a strong emphasis on children's rights have given children a more independent status; the elderly do not depend on the goodwill of children.So, by this token, Scandinavian “socialism” would seem to be the most advanced implementation of individual autonomy and human potential yet achieved in the history of civilisation whereas Anglocapitalism, with its ethos of “creative destruction”, is a vaguely Downtonian throwback to feudalism.
The Guardian has an article on the lengths to which the police went to persecute homosexuals in Britain before 1967, when homosexuality was decriminalised:
But his memories of the period are precise. In the early days, they tell me, living together was a dangerous business. When a drunk coach driver crashed into their car outside their house in the night, 'the first thing we had to do was make up the spare bed. We knew from experience that if you called the police and they suspected you were homosexual, they would ignore the original crime and concentrate on the homosexuality.'
For all that the law was draconian, it was also unenforceable. As a result, arrests often seemed to have an arbitrary, random quality. When Allan Horsfall became a Bolton councillor in 1958, he discovered that a public lavatory used for cottaging was well known to police and magistrates, yet there hadn't been a conviction in 30 years. On the other hand, there would be intermittent trawls through address books of suspected homosexuals, with the result that up to 20 men at a time would appear in the dock, accused of being a 'homosexual ring', even though many of them might never have met many of the others.Of course, whilst homosexuality was legalised in 1967, the age of consent was set to 21, and actually meeting other men for sex were still crimes, as "procuring" or "soliciting", up until 2003:
We shouldn't think this provision was quietly ignored either. In 1989, during the Conservative campaign for family values, more than 2,000 men were prosecuted for gross indecency, as many as during the 1950s and nearly three times the numbers in the mid-Sixties.
Blog of the day: Architectures Of Control. Written by an industrial designer, it looks at how products or systems are designed to control the behaviour of their users, explicitly or implicitly. It has posts covering everything from public seating designed to discourage sleeping or lingering to the way that packaged food portion sizes subliminally influence how much people eat to interactive museum exhibits subtly forcing people to learn things embedded in the context of a game, to deliberately incompatible light sockets which require compact fluorescent bulbs, and of course, the DRM/"trusted computing" debate. For some reason or other, this blog is blocked in China.
(via Boing Boing)
Police in Italy have seized a toilet which plays the Italian national anthem when flushed from the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art. A court will now decide whether the museum is guilty of causing offence to the nation; the case for the prosecution is strengthened by a decree by the authoritarian Berlusconi government earlier this year defining the national anthem as an emblem and the property of the state.
Reporters Sans Frontières has published its 2006 Press Freedom Index, ranking the world's countries in where they stand in press freedom. There's little change at the top (mostly Nordic countries, with the notable absence of Denmark due to the cartoons row; the poll counts incidents of violence, harrassment and intimidation against journalists, not instances of the defense of press freedom, so any boat-rocking will look bad), nor at the bottom, with North Korea still being world champion of repression, and the likes of Iran, Cuba, Burma and Turkmenistan (whose eccentric dictator, ironically, has just opened a book-shaped building dedicated to the media and "free creativity"; perhaps they can put the cells where journalists are tortured inside it?) being not much better.
The United States has fallen nine places, thanks to uses of national-security laws against journalists critical of the "war on terror" (if it's any consolation, this was done in the name of freedom), and the jailing of blogger Josh Wolf, and France's position has also continued to decline. Meanwhile, Australia has dropped a few points (which is attributed to "anti-terrorist laws").
A recent study at the John F. Kennedy School of Government claims to disprove the often cited anecdotal connection between poverty and terrorism. According to the report, a nation's poverty has little effect on the occurrence of terrorism in that nation; however, levels of political freedom strongly influence terrorism. Countries with high levels of freedom and strictly controlled autocracies are both less susceptible to terrorism than countries with intermediate levels of freedom (this can be seen in Iraq and Russia). Perhaps it has to do with the intermediate countries not having cultural institutions which evolved with their recently gained freedom, or having insufficient freedom to provide peaceful outlets for grievances whilst insufficient control to effectively clamp down on violent ones.
Another factor which increases a country's frequency of terrorism is apparently geography, with mountainous terrain, jungle and similar features offering safe havens to rogue groups, as well as sources of narcotics-related income. (via bOING bOING)
RSF (that's Reporters Sans Frontières, not the I'm Too Sexy mob) release the first worldwide press freedom index. Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands share the first place, while the world's least free press is, unsurprisingly, in North Korea. Australia is at #12, alongside Belgium, and ahead of the US (#17) which is ahead of the UK (#21, jointly with Benin and Uruguay). Italy has the worst ranking in the EU (#40), mostly thanks to the Berlusconi government doing to the state-run media what Alston could only dream of doing to the ABC. (via 1.0)
The Onion is back in full form, with pieces like Freedoms Curtailed In Defense of Liberty:
"Now is not the time for such divisive, destructive things as dialogue and debate," McCain said. "Now is not the time for, 'My opinion is just as valid as yours,' and 'What are my country's leaders doing and why?' and 'I have a question, Mr. President.' Now is the time for one thing and one thing only: The defense of the American democratic ideal. Any and all who disagree with this directive, or who have different ideas about how it should be accomplished, should learn to shut their mouths."
And Everybody Browsing At Video Store Saying Stupid Things is quite good too.