Friday, September 10, 2021

Individuals and groups are not free: Societies are

You know, after thinking about the libertarian version of "freedom" for a while, I have concluded that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of American freedom.

I think many Americans largely assign the concept of freedom to individual rights to do what the individual thinks is best. Thus, we get individuals' gun rights assigned to mentally ill people, and COVID anti-vax rights assigned to severely confused and misled people.

But real freedom is not based in the individual, but in the group of people willing to adhere to certain norms and rules in common. That group is unbounded in size, and is self-selecting based on willingness to adhere to the certain norms and rules.

That's a lesson of history. From 1515 to 1714, millions of people died because of their personal beliefs ... which some baron or king didn't agree with. Some knight came riding along with certain beliefs and asked you about your beliefs: If you gave the wrong answer, off with your head on the spot. Another knight comes riding along with the opposing beliefs ... wrong answer: off with your head. This went on for two hundred years.

Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor
Negotiated the Peace of Westphalia
Then, with the Peace of Westphalia, all the kings agreed to have some tolerance of different belief systems. Suddenly, the wars ended. And people began settling their differences by discussion and debate, using what eventually evolved into scientific method.

Scientific method and civil discourse are not based on any one individual's beliefs, but on knowledge developed by many individuals attached to a social network, following certain norms and rules.

The same process is necessary to create any real knowledge: individuals in a society with its norms and rules. Without a credible process to arrive at common knowledge, we must resolve disputes with force and war.

Less strict norms and rules (than scientific method) are used by journalists to establish credible information. The more strict the norms and rules, the more reliable the knowledge: scientific knowledge.

For the individual to have "freedom," the one must adhere to the common norms and rules of the society. Freedom – as we know and live it – is actually much larger than any individual or group: It is a societal value developed by a social network. It is shared by anyone who takes responsibility for the norms and rules inherent to its existence as a creation of the social network.