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OK, here’s the brain dump I promised – the first one anyways. I am going to try to hold back and not analyze or over examine these – this is just the first collection attempt. I will however try to take a little time to better explain them, so everyone (including myself) knows exactly what I mean.

The truth is sacred. This doesn’t mean that one should never lie – sometimes a power inequity forces one to decide whether to tell the truth and thereby give someone ammunition to use against you or someone you care about, or to lie and protect someone (possibly yourself) from unjust consequences. The classic example which I alluded to recently is the Anne Frank one: if in WWII you were hiding Anne Frank in your house, and a Nazi soldier knocks on the door and asks if she is there, are you obligated to answer honestly? Of course not! Of course, it’s generally preferential to be honest – and it’s mandatory that one be honest with oneself.

Two other consequences of the truth being sacred: one must never claim or pretend to know that which one does not know, and one must also be ready and willing to sacrifice each and every truth one currently holds if evidence or reasoning calls it into doubt. To put another way: Be slow to claim truth, but quick to question – both others and yourself!

Finally, always keep in mind that something isn’t considered true unless all the evidence mandates it. It is never enough to show that something could be true, unless something is shown to be necessarily true believing it isn’t justified.

Pragmatic choices are the most effective. It’s all about results. As they say, spit in one hand and hope in the other, and I will tell you which hand has more in it. This is utterly not to say that we ought to be ruthless, or that we have to give up hope, or that the end justifies the means. This is only to say we need to be realistic, and try to face the world and our choices within it as they really are. It’s all well and good to stand on principle, but what good are we doing those principles if our choices accomplish nothing or worse?

I think it boils down to this: instead of asking whether the choices we make are in line with our desires, it is more practical and more effective to instead ask if the true consequences of our choices are in line with our desires. If not, we need to make different choices.

Our duty to each other is to try to lessen each person’s suffering and increase their wellbeing. This is a reformulation of the idea of Noblesse Oblige, that those who are doing better should take care of those who are doing worse, and act to help them. It means that we need to take whatever steps necessary to make sure people have shelter, food, water, medical support, and a rudimentary quality of life – and that we don’t seek to shame them in the process.

There is nothing wrong with there being super-rich people who bathe in caviar and who drive gold Mercedes provided that the poor, the needy, the wretched, are attended to first. But to have some of us thoughtlessly enjoy a life of privilege while others starve, or remain sick and untreated (emergency rooms do not treat cancer, don’t forget), or are otherwise suffering – that is selfish to the point of monstrosity.

And note that I said “whatever steps necessary”. This means that if private charities are handling the full burden of this duty, great – but if not, we do not shrug our shoulders and say, “Too bad.” No, even though it might be a last resort, if necessary we instruct our government take what is needed from the people who have more than they need to help those who lack the basics.

Responsible Freedom. I want to be crystal clear, this isn’t a la carte here. Freedom alone, without responsibility or any other guiding principles is little more than rampant selfishness. Freedom without respect for the truth, without a practical approach, and especially without compassion and duty to others is a recipe for a “Lord of the Flies” situation, where the morally challenged among us do horrible things to the disempowered masses to gather as much power and money as possible. This is capitalism run amok. Without other guiding principles, this turns any government into a soulless corporatocracy – the like US today. And, to the best of my knowledge, this concept of wild-west no-holds-barred ugly competition is the beating heart of the Randian Libertarians.

But although I do not for one moment embrace that kind of irresponsible freedom where anything goes, make no mistake, the cause of responsible freedom is near and dear to my heart. True freedom is not about making sure that we can evade all the responsibilities we have to one another. It’s about tolerance for all but the intolerant and options for just about everybody.

I embrace the freedom that says that anyone can do whatever they like, so long as they are not infringing on anyone else’s right to do the same, and so long as they are still embrace the other principles above as well. I embrace the freedom that says that anyone can be whoever they like, so long as they do not turn their back on their fellow human in their hour of need. I embrace the freedom that says that we must accept – or at least tolerate – other people’s choices and ways, even if we do not find them palatable, so long as they cause no demonstrable infringement on any non-consenting adult.

The true soul of actual freedom, when you get right down to it, is not about making sure that I am free from others, it’s making sure that others are free from me. It’s not about telling other people to change their behavior to suit me, it’s about all of us embracing our obligation to change our own behavior to not inflict our preferences, choices, or prejudices on others.

The true soul of freedom is our shared duty to each other to tolerate and stay out of each other’s way, not some kind of cudgel we can use to justify any behavior, no matter how selfish.

Freedom is an attractive idea, but like most key concepts, it is used to mean a lot of different things, some of which are truly heinous. Freedom is only earned, however, when used responsibly. Freedom only lives when it’s a duty we work hard to make sure we respect in others and grant to all, rather than a privilege we are trying to grasp just for ourselves.

Alright, that’s all I have for right now. Are there other things needed beyond the above? Or are any of the above better combined into one? Not sure, let’s see where this goes.

  • raane

    Nice, Ben

    • benngrant

      Thanks.