Thoughts on Freedom, Coercion and ControlSubmitted by Menschken on Tue, 01/21/2014 - 21:43
What do we mean by freedom? One standard definition that is widely accepted is that freedom is the absence of coercion in the life of the individual and in the society as a whole.
Coercion is usually defined as physical force. An implicit threat, even if not everyone realizes the presence of the threat, is still coercion. In this definition, freedom is the total absence of any threat or hint of threat that physical harm would be used to render a decision from another person.
A question I wonder about is whether most people can really be "free," and that is what brings me to wonder about definitions.
Is that really the proper definition of freedom? Often we hear talk of people as "sheep" and followers for adopting mainstream opinions and attitudes from popular culture, media and education. Their characteristics as sheep are a matter of behavior, separate from any sense of being coerced or fear of physical harm.
Suppose for a thought experiment that all threat of force was removed from the equation, and the government simply used social pressure, the power of exclusion from its network and its privileges, and propaganda to get people to pay taxes. Suppose the government imposed and collected taxes, but never used any violent enforcement mechanism to force anyone to pay, and used the proceeds collected voluntarily to bestow benefits on members who paid. Banks, corporations, etc. would get the public currency and supposed benefits of the state umbrella, and taxpayers were provided public services. The government used its bully pulpit and social ostracism against individuals and private concerns who opted out and "free rode."
Suppose the government was able to exist and operate more or less successfully without ever using actual violence in tax enforcement. Would we call such a government legitimate or such people free?
What if the people still supported wars we consider unjust or backed politicians we considered scoundrels? What if they still supported nationalism and some measure of voluntary socialism in their institutions? Would we consider the people free simply because there was no coercive taxation apparatus?
What about other laws besides taxation? Most people who refrain from theft and murder and other crimes don't do so just because there is a threat of coercion against them. Are people not free because there exists an explicit and implicit threat of coercion against committing these kinds of crimes?
Is it legitimate for a community to have laws in a territory against crimes? If so, what provides the legitimacy? A majority vote? If one person refuses to agree to the wishes of the other 999, is the law not legitimate?
Suppose all members of a community in a specific defined territory agree in a public forum not to allow access to the territory by people outside the territory, and one person does allow access via their property, is the community justified to punish the offender? If yes, are there limits to the punishment? Can they merely expel him from membership and withhold benefits and protections, or can they also expropriate property, physically expel, imprison or execute? How is legitimacy determined?
Suppose the principle is simply non violence except in self defense. How do you define self defense in that case? Does it have to be direct and immediate defense from physical attack? What about preemptive defensive measures against an impending and organized attack? Is it a hard and fast principle or is it situational?
Does the self defense principle mean anyone who witnesses violence is then a legitimate co-enforcer of the principle, even if they weren't attacked directly, or does the defense have to come from the offended or attacked party?
If anyone can be the enforcer, does that mean a group can go around attacking any aggressor around the world as long as the group is self funded and doesn't use coercion against innocents to fund itself?
Would the US military be a legitimate policemen of the world if it only funded itself from the spoils of vanquished enemies who were the initial aggressors in conflicts?
But how determine the aggressor in a two sided dispute, and where does the legitimacy come from to arbitrate the conflict?
If there is a dispute over a piece of property or a territory, who is the valid judge of the dispute? If there is no valid judge, then the dispute would have to be decided by violence. So the aggressor in such a dispute is just enforcing his own claim to the property, since there is no third party with the right to decide.
If an individual or voluntary group makes a claim to a specific territory, and imposes a law on it, and then people voluntarily flock to that territory, don't they implicitly grant legitimacy to the law?
Are children born into that law bound by it, despite not being consensual contracting parties? If not, then how change the law from one generation to the next if majority vote is illegitimate?
Is parental coercion legitimate? If yes, on what grounds, to what age? Who decides, and what is the determining principle?
Is the principle dependency? The dependent party is subject to the rule of the patronizing party?
Is the principle the child's lack of culpability for actions?
In either principle, how does that impact the mentally handicapped and economically dependent? Do they become rightful wards in a client/patron relationship in a society free of coercion?
Finally, what's so special about physical coercion? Isn't physical coercion of comparatively small significance in human affairs when set aside economic pressure and propaganda/education?
Suppose all physical coercion was absent, and economic power was concentrated among the most economically successful, and propaganda power concentrated along with it, so that the majority of people were smoothly managed and controlled without ever needing resort to physical coercion?.
Suppose that the people were led into a voluntary slavery in a dystopic future of genetic engineering, chemical control and psychological manipulation.
Suppose then some minority revolutionary cadre used physical violence to disrupt or attack the system of control. If the sole principle is non violence, wouldn't the rebel cadre be in the wrong? If not, then is there a higher principle than non violence and a higher meaning of freedom than absence of coercion?