Monday, November 21, 2005

Devil's own freedom

Our favourite little Devil is having some trouble understanding different types of freedom.
The ultimate state of freedom is to be able to do what you want, completely. All cultures curb absolute freedom to a degree: I should not be allowed to murder a shopkeeper because I consider his broccoli to be too dear. That impinges on his freedom to charge what he likes for his broccoli.
And has decided to debate with me on the subject. As civil liberties and freedoms are one of the basic rationales of this blog, well, why not post rather than comment?

I think (again) that he's taking a literalist approach to the definition of freedom; he quotes the OED, but effectively ignores all but the 1st definition ("all of the others spring from that definition"). The 3rd, that he quotes, is about freedom from. My original comment:
3) (freedom from) exemption or immunity from.

By their definition, they're fighting for freedom. Freedom 'from' many things, including 'western decadence', unholy behaviour, threats, etc.

What to you (and I, for that matter) is a repressive regime is to them a regime that allows 'true' muslims to worship uninterrupted by women not 'covering their modesty', etc.

Understanding is not condoning. They believe they have a legitimate cause. Sure, the leaders may also seek to repress, etc, but the majority of the foot soldiers believe (brainwashing is such a pejoritive term) that they fight the 'good' fight for freedom, etc.
As usual, I'm not as clear as I could be. I'll learn.

So, non terrorism example. He seeks the freedom to smoke in a pub. I seek the freedom to choose whether I go to a pub that allows it or not. The govt seeks to give the workers in the pub the freedom from smoke. I seek freedom to. The govt wishes to provide freedom from.

My most recent ex enjoys the freedom to wear a skirt that barely covers her arse. But many in society, regardless of religion, would like the freedom from such sights (deluded fools?).

However, he's right in many ways, it is all about power. Most calls to religion when calling people to fight are using it as an excuse, Bush is just as bad as Bin Laden in using 'God' as a tool for other purposes.

However, most of those on the ground genuinely believe that 'western decadence' is damaging their society, and they seek freedom from such influences. Regardless of whether we agree with them, regardless of whether we like it, regardless of whether they are being mis-used, they believe they are fighting for freedom.

In my view, freedom should be an absolute. Unfortunately, it is not. We need to promote the values of civic freedoms, of individual responsibilities within a civic society. But in order to do this, we must understand those that disagree with us, we must be able to assert they are wrong by first understanding what they believe.

The "terrorist / freedom fighter" debate is as old as political rhetoric, and it's still, essentially, a useless argument. The term 'terrorist' is now such a pejorative that it has no real meaning, any fighter against the values of our society gets labeled a terrorist and is thus beyond the pale. History tells us we need to learn and adapt. John Hume won a nobel prize for a reason, he did what many of us could not stomach, and negotiated with a terrorist organisation to bring peace.

We need new peacemakers. Applying pejorative after pejorative onto those who oppose us will never bring peace. To understand is not to condone.
A public friendly to the U.S. would act as its eyes and ears, helping it glean the intelligence that is the key to successful counter-terror. A public hostile to the U.S. sits on its hands, letting the terrorists hide in its midst while
the U.S. searches blindly for them. Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders run free in northwest Pakistan today because the people of that region are militantly anti-America and pro-al-Qaeda. This public forms a friendly sea for al-Qaeda fish to swim in. These dangerous fish could swim no more if the public willed otherwise, as it would if it viewed the U.S. with more approval.
(The fish to swim quote was first used in reference to ETA and Franco, but I'm buggered if I can find it online anywhere in it's more elegent original)

If we're ever going to have peace, we must understand what 'they' want. In some cases, we can give it to them (anyone now object to a Palestinian state of some sort?). In others, those of us on the side of true freedoms (i.e. DK's 1st definition) need to understand that to others, their definition of freedom is different. In my view, their definition is flawed. But if we refuse to acknowledge it exists, we'll simply continue to throw pejoratives around.

In the meantime, the extremists will continue to throw bombs around.

5 comments:

chris said...

But if someone does not want to oogle you ex then they have the freedom to avert their eyes. Because something is possible does not make it mandatory, all you have to do is use your power to choose to choose not to.

PaulJ said...

Ah freedom from/ freedom too. Well, I'm not going to miss an opportunity to quote Kant, so (In reference to freedom to:)

"It means a possibility of acting in a certain way so long as this action does not do any injustice to others. Thus the definition would run as follows: freedom is the possibility of acting in ways which do no injustice to others. That is, we do no injustice to others if we do no injustice to others. Thus the definition is an empty tautology."

Basically, there is only really freedom from, because whatever you're free to do, you're only a step away from somebody stopping you doing it because it's infringing on their freedom.

That's pretty much the smoking argument isn't it? People are free to smoke in public, but not if it annoys anyone else by having an impact on their freedom. If that's the case, then taken to its logical extreme, that means you're only free to smoke as long as nobody objects - not exactly freedom by any normal definition is it?

chris said...

Interesting, I haven't read much Kant so can you point me to which book please? I must say that at this point I am not to impressed with the arguement that the only freedom is the from kind, but mainly because that always seems to just used as an excuse to ban stuff.

PaulJ said...

It's Perpetual Peace. Well, actually, it's a footnote in Perpetual Peace, which means Kant doesn't go into it in great detail because it's not actualyl what he's meant to be talking about.

I guess in a modern context you could look at Deleuze or Foucault in relation to power and freedom. Both would argue that freedom in the modern world is limited by how much pwoer can be exerted on it and from what sources. The concentration would almost certainly be on freedom from rather than freedom to.

The thing with freedom to is that social structures theoretically speaking have always been about giving up the 'perfect' freedom of anarchy to create a more stable environment. This meant giving up certain freedoms for the good of the whole was a founding principle of society. To then turn around and talk of people being free to do whatever they want seems a bit weird - the whole point of society was to reign in those freedoms in order to get along with each other without always thinking someone would stab you in the back - solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short and all that.

The issue with protecting freedoms is taking action when the government fails to use its power wisely. We are free from arbitrary arrest, free from punitive laws, free from harrassment, for example. that's what we signed up for. But society is about people and waht people get from it - if government takes too much power for itself, we must try and do something about it.

Anyway, I've hijacked enough of this thread for the time being, so I'll leave you all in peace...

MatGB said...

Hijacked? No no no. You're saying it much better than me; benefits of paying attention enough in lectures they let you stay on.

Go summarize that for DK; it's possible he'll understand some of it, that expensive education has to have been good for something...