Monday, December 12, 2005

Freedom, Security, and Survival

Freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression are the foundation of a civilization that respects the dignity of each individual, as well as the health of a just social order. These liberties weren’t born of idle arm-chair reflection but put forth in the aftermath of the immense slaughter wrought by the religious wars of the early 17th century. During the Thirty Years War, military victory led to forced religious conversion, in a war that plunged Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists in a savage conflict that ultimately weakened religion’s authority and gave rise to the secular nation-state.

Religions only multiplied towards the end of the 17th century; and consequently, religion became a personal matter. Locke, Spinoza, Bayle, and other men of letters, provided compelling arguments for the advancement of toleration and freedom of conscience. Later, Kant and Mill offered additional arguments. Some, like Locke, argued on the basis of the importance and potency of the individual’s reasoning faculty. Others based their arguments on skepticism, logical formalism, or mere utility—but in doing so undercut the power of the argument.

If we accept, as Locke does, that freedom of thought and speech are not fringe benefits, mere requirements for logical completeness, or mere utilitarian conveniences, but part and parcel of the core liberties required to develop the abilities to conquer the challenges of life, than constriction of such liberties have dire consequences for both the individual and society. Ayn Rand also argues this point forcefully: “Man's mind is his basic tool of survival.” Deny a man the freedom of his mind and you deny him the right to his life. What could be more egregious?

Today, freedom of speech is under attack. In several countries it is illegal to criticize belief systems of a religious nature (or so-called identities of demographic groups.) While this infection has yet to hit the UK or America in the form of a law, our universities cultivate an atmosphere where speech is severely limited; thus, producing graduates who will find such restrictions normal in daily life and ultimately as law. As this taboo permeates society we become blinded to the threats that cloak themselves in religious grab. Denied our sight we can see no evil, denied avenues of expression we hear few warnings, denied the crucial knowledge to secure survival, we are at risk even as the threat grows in plain view.

Laws against freedom of speech—such as those in France and Italy, or those being considered in the UK—are not minor inconveniences but grave setbacks hindering a public dialog that’s required if we are to consider, judge, and act to insure our survival. No thesis should be ruled out prior to discussion. This is particularly true when new ideas—at least to our culture—require study and debate. And when the evidence suggests something loathsome, then one must speak one’s conscience. In Australia, a man of conscience, convicted of religious vilification, is willing to go to jail before betraying his beliefs.

It’s worth emphasizing that trying to short-circuit debate to produce a predefined “understanding” will neither produce understanding nor end the debate. People will only discuss the issues in private without the benefit of public feedback and intelligent leadership. This creates a self-fulfilling prophesy: a grass-roots emotionally-charged backlash leading to crude group-vilification—a reaction one hoped to avoid. Instead of the criticism of ideas and ideology, instead of the precise identification of serious threats, and instead of the adjudication of individual perpetrators of evil, one gets an indiscriminate lawless response.

Once again, consider what is happening in Australia: here, here and here. Is this surprising? Not to readers of this website. Bat Ye’or warned of such a reaction. The over-reaction will necessarily follow from the idyllic portrayal of Islam that contradicts the texts, history, and daily events of the so-called religion of peace. Such lies lead to disillusionment, contempt, and cynicism. And this leads to reaction. If we are to face the problem and develop intelligent plans, we must have an open debate. No debate, no peace!

8 Comments:

Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Interesting that you bring up Rand in a discussion of "freedom". Hard core materialist Rand who also fully accepted the outmoded labor theory of value was very close to Marxism but she merely wished to switch politburos.

I'm surprised you're still passing that gas.

12/13/05, 11:52 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

She is not a materialist. Materialism is one form of naturalism but not the only one. The labor theory of value holds that muscle—not the mind—creates value. This is the opposite of Rand’s approach. Her quote above notes that the mind is man’s main tool of survival.

12/13/05, 12:11 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

This is a little confusing. She's not a materialist but she is some form of "naturalist".

Are you using "naturalism" in the sense of American authors such as Stephen Crane and Frank Norris? Their form of naturalism wasn't too friendly to Rand either.

Labor preceeds capital...always.

12/13/05, 12:49 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Naturalism is the doctrine that natural, as opposed to supernatural, explanations suffice. Materialism, a particular form of naturalism, holds that consciousness can be reduced to mechanical motion. It necessarily views human nature as deterministic.

Materialism, in modern times, starts with Hobbes and was influence by those that took Newtonian Mechanics as a “Theory of Everything.” In Ancient Greece, Democritus advocated a materialist philosophy. Aristotle, a naturalist, accepted teleological behavior as eminently natural. Rand follows Aristotle’s tradition, which you already know.

Naturalism, in literature, is another question altogether and Rand certainly wasn’t a naturalist in the literary sense.

12/13/05, 1:18 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Sorry Jason, naturalism doesn't really take a position against supernatural forces. Mysticism and naturalism can coexist.

Materialism is a more hard core varient that only accepts the existence of matter and matters interaction. Gets into a little trouble with quantum mechanics as all Randoids know.

I think there is a small technical problem with your definiton of naturalism. Since Rand is at heart a Marxist who differed from him primarily in not accepting the structural problems of capitalism and not having any faith in the proletariat (she wasn't completely wrong there but she wasn't completely correct) I think we can safetly say she was no naturalist

She wasn't an original or important thinker either.

I got a kick out of her objection to ornamentation in The Fountainhead. She was a real modernist and that was strictly a leftist movement.

12/13/05, 1:49 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Since contemporary naturalists tend towards materialism, their definition often slips into the latter (for example this); but still the author clearly understands how Aristotle may be considered a naturalist in ethics. Or consider this. Or this fellow. Finally, the Columbia Encyclopedia agrees with my usage. All in all, my usage is a mainstream, if not universal, usage. And it is … well … a natural and fundamental distinction to make.

12/13/05, 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Bilwick said...

Rand accepted the Marxist labor theory of value? That would be odd, considering she endorsed free-amrket economists such as Von Mises, who repudiated that theory. Where did you see this in Rand's writings, Ducky? I know it's difficult to recall exact references off-hand, but scholar that you are, Ducky, I'm sure that it shouldn't be difficult to come up with at least a book title--especially since we all know just how conversant with Rand's writings, and pro-freedom literature in general.

12/13/05, 3:42 PM  
Blogger beakerkin said...

These laws never seem to work both ways. The Koran is far more hateful then anything written in the Pride and the Rage.

12/13/05, 5:07 PM  

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