We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

One of the least-read but most important sections of Nineteen Eighty-Four is the appendix which outlines ‘The principles of Newspeak’ – how the regime rewrote and redefined the English language to suit its ends.

Take the priceless word ‘free’. This word, writes Orwell, ‘still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as “The dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free”, since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts.’

That redefinition of free to mean the restrictive ‘freedom from’ rather than the liberating ‘freedom to’ is a feature of modern political discourse. A few years ago, when the UK authorities were pushing for the ban on smoking in public places, I wrote about the public-health crusaders’ new slogan ‘smokefree’ as a classic example of Orwell’s Newspeak – a made-up word that turns the concept of freedom into a real denial of the freedom to smoke. A ban on public smoking might be good for public health, I noted then, but the twisting of language being used to justify it would prove unhealthy for public debate.

Mick Hume

71 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mmm. I think the analysis fails. (Not Orwell’s statement, but rather Mr. Hume’s conclusions from it.)

    After all, the point of libertarianism is for all of us to be free from unwarranted intrusions on our autonomy.

    But this, of course, does entail a ban on, a prohibition of, unwarrantedly intrusive behavior by others.

    (Indeed, in 1984 it would constitute a rather massive restriction on the behaviour of Big Brother.)

    .

    As far as restriction goes, we agree, do we not, that private parties have a right to prohibit X on their own property?

    And if you take the view that there are places maintained by The Gov on behalf of their rightful owners, namely the people themselves (as individuals, not as a single lump of human-ish flesh), then it’s within the purview of the Gov to make rules about the usages of the common space. After all, the public roads are supposed to be drunk-driver-free zones.

    .

    It depends on what is being restricted or banned, and where, and why, and by whom.

  • Lee Moore

    I agree with Julie. The concepts “free” and “freedom” represent an absence not a presence.

    The absence being, in the political / moral context, the absence of control or coercion by somebody else, typically the State. But in the dog and field contexts, the absence of lice or weeds. That’s why, politically, it’s a negative concept, and why “positive rights” are not freedom, but impositions on somebody else’s freedom. “Freedom to” as opposed to “freedom from” gets us onto dangerous continental turf, away from the solid ground of “Anyone may do anything, except what is explicitly forbidden.”

    The point about smoking is that smoking does actually emit pollutants into the atmosphere that others breathe, and so there is an argument that the polluters really are infringing nearby breathers freedom from third party interference with their air supply. Likewise polluting factories. Thus the question becomes one of degree – how much pollution of the common resource “air” is too trivial to warrant reasonable complaint. And practically speaking, as far as smoking is concerned, its effects on the air in unconfined spaces is indeed too trivial to bother with, and its effects in confined spaces apply in 99% of cases, to people who have volunteered to be in those spaces, and so can be dealt with straightforwardly on the principle of “My house, my rules.”

    Volcanoes also bugger up the surrounding air, and so we can speak – non politically – of the air near a volcano being either free or not free from noxious gases. But politically, there is not blameable agent.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Lee — A very good way to put it.

  • In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Margaret Atwood has the evil ‘Aunt’ indoctrinator assuring the women they will have ‘freedom from’ and should not regret the necessarily-associated absence of ‘freedom to’. Atwood may have got this idea from Orwell.

    This factoid could be used if arguing for ‘freedom to’ with a PCer.

    (Unlike Orwell’s 1984, the appendix in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has many revealing flaws. The main part of the book is competently written and in the ‘night’ soliloquy scenes I’d say there was talent.)

    As regards Julie’s and Lee’s semantic point above:

    1) Orwell was (I think) making a grammatical point – part of the Newspeak grammar would be that it would be bad grammar and sound wrong to combine ‘freedom’ with ‘to’ in a grammatical sense – and noting how this would block many constructions. (In UK English, it sounds wrong to say ‘different than’. It struck me as bizarre the first time I met it in a US-written manual.)

    2) Is ‘Freedom to’ is a much smaller step than ‘Freedom from’. Yes, we’d all want freedom from big brother but in 1984 that would be a huge, unimaginable or scary thing to think, let alone say, whereas just wanting ‘freedom to’ do some in-itself minor (though ruthlessly forbidden) thing might seem more natural.

    3) That said, I think if you could say ‘the dog is free from lice’ then I think you could say ‘the room is free from a viewscreen’.

  • Roué le Jour

    My reaction was, why would Big Brother keep “free” at all? “This dog has no lice” etc. is fine. “Free” as a word is redundant, there is no approved use of it that couldn’t be rephrased without it. (Complimentary beer?) It could only be retained because it was intended to be used in some distorted sense.

  • A somewhat perplexing example of “free” was Visa’s “Cashfree and proud” campaign in 2016:
    https://www.atmmarketplace.com/articles/cashfree-and-proud-of-what/

    From the press release: “The campaign, which runs in the UK from March to May, recognises and harnesses that sense of achievement people feel when they begin to use contactless and realise that they need no longer be dependent on cash for everyday purchases.”

    Hmm, so “freedom” in one sense, perhaps, but not in another.

  • neonsnake

    That redefinition of free to mean the restrictive ‘freedom from’ rather than the liberating ‘freedom to’ is a feature of modern political discourse.

    Huh? It seems to be that he has it exactly backwards, and “free” has been defined as “freedom from” for centuries and centuries. Whilst not explicitly in those terms, 2,500 years ago Chinese philosophers were defining superior leaders as those who interfered the least in the lives of their subjects, and freedom was defined (again, not in so many words) as absence of onerous interference by the state and its bureaucrats. Presumably the Greeks came to the same conclusion.

    I am only “free to” walk around the local town because I am “free from” people arbitrarily preventing me to do so.

    I think he might be confusing “able to” with “free to” – I am also “able to”, because I am healthy and have the use of my legs etc, but that’s an entirely different thing.

    It feels like the author of the piece is making the same mistake he’s purporting to criticise.

  • pete

    Smokefree is a useful word to describe places which are free of smoke, just as pubs, restaurants and offices now are.

    People are still free to smoke, but not to inflict their smoke on others.

    Anyone who has a problem with that is selfish.

  • Mr Ecks

    Pete–bullshit.

    Free to smoke but nowhere outside your home and the cunts are trying to close in on that. Selfish? Only for morons who buy the second hand smoke cockrot.

    Thin end of a very nasty wedge–well we know that is true.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I am with Julie, Lee Moore, and neonsnake. In fact, i was going to make a comment along those lines.

    You might also want to read this essay by Quentin Skinner.
    Quoting from the end of the 2nd page/top of 3rd page:

    [Isaiah Berlin] begins by suggesting that, whereas negative liberty is freedom from constraint, positive liberty is freedom to follow a certain form of life.

    (Emphasis in the original.)
    That is only the beginning of what Skinner has to say on Berlin’s essay (Two Concepts of Liberty), so you might want to read the rest. Or you might want to go back to Berlin’s original essay: I keep re-reading it and forgetting it again!

  • Snorri Godhi

    Never mind whether there are health hazards from passive smoking: just remembering what my sweater used to smell like after a night at the pub, makes me happy about bans on smoking.

    I don’t want smoking to be banned altogether, though; if nothing else, because the looming pension crisis would get worse.

  • Mr Ed

    Gluten-free, joy-free, pain-free, alcohol-free.

    I can see Big Brother wanting to keep ‘free‘ as it inevitably has implicit positive connotations, so twisting and corrupting it is far better than trying to eliminate it. ‘You have freedom Winston, you are free from want, from need, and from liberty‘.

    The usual Leftist tactic when freedom is raised is ‘whataboutery’ saying ‘Never mind that, we want freedom from x, y and z‘ rather than outright saying ‘freedom is bad‘, as in their hearts, they know what is good and what is not, and they know that what they want is bad.

  • Snorri Godhi

    A quibble with Julie, Lee Moore, and neonsnake. As Skinner argues in the linked essay when he is finished discussing Berlin, there are actually 2 forms of freedom-from: freedom from coercion and freedom from power (of coercion).
    Julie and Lee Moore clearly have in mind the former.
    Julie:

    After all, the point of libertarianism is for all of us to be free from unwarranted intrusions on our autonomy.

    Lee:

    there is an argument that the polluters really are infringing nearby breathers freedom from third party interference with their air supply.

    Now, i have nothing against freedom from coercion, but i think that freedom from power is preferable, since it implies freedom from coercion, not only now, but also in the foreseeable future.

    Consider also neonsnake’s statement:

    Whilst not explicitly in those terms, 2,500 years ago Chinese philosophers were defining superior leaders as those who interfered the least in the lives of their subjects, and freedom was defined (again, not in so many words) as absence of onerous interference by the state and its bureaucrats. Presumably the Greeks came to the same conclusion.

    Absence of onerous interference is freedom from coercion; but “the state and its bureaucrats” retain power of coercion even if they do not use it.

    Not sure about the ancient Greeks, but Skinner convincingly argues that the ancient Romans viewed freedom (libertas) as freedom from power (hence their eagerness to kill anybody who might get unchecked power over them, down to Caesar). Skinner further argues that the revival of this understanding of freedom led to the English Civil War and ultimately to the American Revolution and the US Constitution.

  • neonsnake

    Selfish? Only for morons who buy the second hand smoke cockrot.

    Regardless of the second hand smoke argument, if I light up and Pete or Snorri are two feet downwind of me, they have every right to ask me to move away. Even as a smoker, I understand that forcing them to breathe my smoke might be pretty disgusting for them, and that shouldn’t be the ones to move.

    I personally don’t think we should have a law against me smoking outside, but that’s mainly because doing so will be an admittance that as society we’re a bunch of selfish “cunts” who can’t be relied on to show a bit of common decency when someone asks me not to smoke near them, and instead they’re forced to legislate against it.

  • People are still free to smoke, but not to inflict their smoke on others. Anyone who has a problem with that is selfish.

    Not very keen on the idea of private property, eh? Seems rather selfish to demand private property owners be forced to prohibit smoking just because you don’t like smoke. Back in more tolerant times, we had smoking & non-smoking areas (BTW I personally loath cigarettes but back in the day I didn’t demand entire pubs ban it to accommodate my dislike of fag-smoke)

  • Lee Moore

    I’m afraid I got bored after a few pages of Skinner, so I may have missed some words of wisdom later on. In any event, what I did read seemed to be mush.

    ‘Real freedom’, according to Green, ‘consists in the whole man having found his object.’

    To speak of the freedom of a man is to speak of ‘the state in which he shall have realized his ideal of himself ’. Freedom is, in short, the name of an end-state; as Green concludes, it is ‘in some sense the goal of moral endeavour’.

    Well, Grasshopper, why not call it self realization or some such, rather call it by a name that is already doing good service meaning something entirely different ?

    A man can bask in freedom sitting on his sofa eating pot noodles, watching snooker and scratching his backside. The fact that he may have failed to realize an ideal of himself has nothing to do with it. Sure, it may be that it’s hard to realize an ideal of yourself if you’re working on a chain gang, but if so that makes freedom a necessary pre-condition to self realization, not the same idea. Here’s a plan – if you have two different concepts, why not use different words to describe them ?

    As [Berlin] rather grandly summarises, we find ourselves confronting ‘not two different interpretations of a single concept, but two profoundly divergent and irreconcilable attitudes to the ends of life’

    Just as we would if we chose to use the word “freedom” to describe not just negative liberty, but also toothache. We would have two quite different concepts co-habiting within the same word. But the problem would arise not from any philosophical difficulty in identifying a single coherent concept of freedom, but from somebody’s curious enthusiasm for using the word “freedom” to describe both freedom, and toothache.

    Call a spade a spade, and a bucket and a bucket, and you save a lot of philosophical ink.

  • Lee Moore

    I personally don’t think we should have a law against me smoking outside, but that’s mainly because doing so will be an admittance that as society we’re a bunch of selfish “cunts” who can’t be relied on to show a bit of common decency when someone asks me not to smoke near them, and instead they’re forced to legislate against it.

    Wherever you stand, there’ll be some activistas seeking you out so they can stand beside you, so as to complain about your smoke and demand that your smoking be made illegal.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Personally, I don’t smoke — neither the Authoritarian’s bad kind (tobacco) nor the Authoritarian’s good kind (marijuana). But when I walk into a bar in Abu Dhabi and see people smoking, I feel vicariously liberated by their freedom. Yes, I have to share their smoke at second hand, but I get to share their freedom at first hand. It is a great feeling! And as for the smell of smoke that lingers on my clothes — that is why the Good Lord gave us the washing machine.

    The fact that, these days, if you want to be in a place where Authoritarians are not dictating your every move, you have to go to a solidly Muslim country (where the overflow crowds from Friday mosques end up praying in the streets) if you want to have a cigarette while you drink your beer — well, that just shows how complicated the concept of “freedom” really is.

  • bobby b

    “Anyone who has a problem with that is selfish.”

    “Selfish” is good. Worked hard for a good result for yourself? You’re “self-ish.” Charged people for your time even though they need your help? “Self-ish.”

    (Insert long Ayn Rand monologue here.)

    If a bar owner wishes to allow smoking, patrons who object have many other venue choices. It’s arrogant to insist that all venue choices must conform to your own desires.

  • neonsnake

    Absence of onerous interference is freedom from coercion; but “the state and its bureaucrats” retain power of coercion even if they do not use it.

    Snorri – I’m not sure I fully understand the distinction. In my head I’m reading it as “power of coercion” means threat of coercion, but I’m not sure that’s what you mean.

    Can you elaborate (or point to the page in the essay which mentions it)?

  • Lee Moore

    The essay meanders around in a confused fashion, so I’m not sure you could point to a single page that explains this “power” or “dependence” business. But so far as I understand it, it goes roughly like this :

    1. you can’t be free if another man is your master, ie he can order you about arbitrarily
    2. even if at the moment he is choosing to leave you be
    3. thus if the King can subject you to his will, you are not free
    4. for King, you may now read “The Blob” or “The Swamp”

    Which seems to me (a) true, (b) banal, and (c) not even slightly inconsistent with the single coherent sense of freedom summarised by “absence of coercion.”

    “Absence of coercion” obviously encompasses not merely its temporary and contingent absence occasioned by somebody who has authority over you being too busy on other matters to coerce you, but also your right to insist on your freedom from coercion against all comers. And “freedom of coercion” does not mean “freedom from coercion except by State apparatchiks.”

    So being a dependant, or having a master, or living in a State with an unconstrained government apparat does not seem to me to be some separate and conflicting concept of negative liberty, but falls squarely within the unambiguous original concept – mind your own business, and leave mine to me.

  • neonsnake

    Which seems to me (a) true, (b) banal, and (c) not even slightly inconsistent with the single coherent sense of freedom summarised by “absence of coercion.”

    Agreed.

    It’s possibly worth pointing out that the Chinese philosophers I was paraphrasing earlier did not (and possibly could not) actually conceive that a state would ever exist without coercion in their lifetime, due to the period that they were living through, the Warring States Period.

    The most they could envision was minimal interference by a benevolent (but still all-powerful) ruler. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think they envisioned anything like a constitution that would prevent a ruler from using coercion – so the “power of coercion” would always exist – they just believe that a just ruler “should not” use coercion; they didn’t envision a “could not” use coercion.*

    And if the ruler was not benevolent, and interfered too much by raising heavy taxes, and meddling in people’s lives – well, that’s when you did the 500BC version of taking yourself off-grid and refusing to pay your TV licence, by going and living up a mountain with your mates, drinking wine, composing poems and tending to your own well-being and no-one else’s.

    *That’s my understanding, at least, although I’d need to look deeper into the rival school of Mohism (Legalism – a strict structure of rules and laws which the ruler was compelled to follow, regardless of his personal beliefs) to be 100% positive.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “This word, writes Orwell, ‘still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in such statements as “The dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” It could not be used in its old sense of “politically free” or “intellectually free”, since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts.’”

    War is Peace – Freedom is Slavery – Ignorance is Strength.

    Freedom from lice is slavery…?

    “As far as restriction goes, we agree, do we not, that private parties have a right to prohibit X on their own property?”

    If the prohibition does no (unconsented) harm to others?

    “The point about smoking is that smoking does actually emit pollutants into the atmosphere that others breathe, and so there is an argument that the polluters really are infringing nearby breathers freedom from third party interference with their air supply. Likewise polluting factories.”

    Likewise strong perfume or aftershave. Likewise body odours. Likewise smelly foods or drinks. Likewise cooking smells. Likewise farmers muck-spreading. Likewise the smell of paint, or cleaning fluids. Scented candles. Flowers. Likewise – extending the metaphor a little – annoying levels of noise; children, dogs, loud music, etc. There’s an important distinction between ’causes annoyance’, which we all do, and ’causes harm’.

    If someone expresses annoying opinions in my hearing, polluting the air with their noxious beliefs, do I have a right to ask them to move away, out of my ‘safe space’? Or off my property? Or off my social media platform? (I’d say so, but I thought it possible some might disagree. Where do we set the boundaries?) Is it annoying and inconsiderate for people to be asked to move away? Which is more socially obnoxious – being annoying, or getting annoyed?

    If someone advocates banning stuff that annoys them, is it OK for me to ban them from expressing their opinion to that effect within range of my hearing, on the grounds that we need to make them live by their own rule book? 🙂

  • I’m with Perry de Havilland (London, June 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm) on the smoking ban. It violates freedom of association that a smoking pub owner cannot recruit smoke-happy bar staff and invite in a smoke-tolerant clientele via a clear notice on the door – and forgo those patrons who therefore choose not to go there. Or have a smoking room with smoking jackets and a notice on that room’s door.

    I would not patronise that pub, or that room – but there are a lot of things I’d not patronise, yet not want to see banned. Respect for private and semi-private property creates room for my freedom from smoke and their freedom to smoke to coexist.

  • Snorri Godhi

    This thread is becoming quite intellectually challenging. I am most interested in discussing Skinner. However, i’ll start with a short reply to Perry:

    Seems rather selfish to demand private property owners be forced to prohibit smoking just because you don’t like smoke. Back in more tolerant times, we had smoking & non-smoking areas (BTW I personally loath cigarettes but back in the day I didn’t demand entire pubs ban it to accommodate my dislike of fag-smoke)

    In principle, i emphatically agree with Perry. I’ll go further and insist that, in principle, pub landlords should not be forced to have both smoking and non-smoking areas: they should be allowed to have either or both, whatever they like. (Or neither, though i cannot see a scenario in which that is financially viable 🙂 )

    In practice, however, i seem to remember that very few pubs had non-smoking areas in the early 1990s, and it was difficult to find seating in those areas.
    I don’t know why this market failure occurred: i’d like to blame it on government, but i cannot figure out how.
    When i say that i am happy about smoking bans, what i mean is that they made my life a bit more pleasant: in no way do i approve of them in principle.

    Gavin:

    Personally, I don’t smoke — neither the Authoritarian’s bad kind (tobacco) nor the Authoritarian’s good kind (marijuana).

    It made me smirk that you (correctly) say that authoritarians disapprove of legal smoke (tobacco) and approve of illegal smoke (marijiuana).

  • neonsnake

    In practice, however, i seem to remember that very few pubs had non-smoking areas in the early 1990s, and it was difficult to find seating in those areas.
    I don’t know why this market failure occurred

    And not just pubs, it’s nightclubs as well. Whilst pubs and restaurants may have had non-smoking areas (which of course, my cigarette smoke obediently stayed away from), clubs tended not to, so you’d always come home smelling of smoke, smoker or not. And I’m thinking of the late 90s and early 2000s, so the early 90s would presumably have been worse.

    Niall’s smoking room idea is fine (and my local pub indeed had two separated rooms, half the pub being smoking and the other half non-smoking), but that’s fairly unusual, and most pubs or restaurants with a non-smoking area were just simply different parts of the same “open” area.

    As to why…well, there was widespread fear when the ban came in that pubs would lose business. So, I’d imagine that they didn’t think the market for non-smokers was worth the risk?

    As much as I enjoy being able to smoke in bars in the Far East and other places, I have sympathy for those non-smokers who don’t miss the days of indoor smoking in the UK – regardless of any political implications.

    Of course landlords etc should have the choice; but I doubt the law will be changed now. But believing in choice doesn’t mean we should deny the validity of the opinions who don’t want to have to go home reeking of my cigarettes when they don’t smoke themselves.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Lee Moore provides quite a good summary of Quentin Skinner’s third concept of freedom:

    1. you can’t be free if another man is your master, ie he can order you about arbitrarily
    2. even if at the moment he is choosing to leave you be

    (His points 3 and 4 are not essential, though they help to clarify the concept.)

    I certainly cannot blame Lee for failing to see how revolutionary this is, since it took me months, if not years, to see the implications; but i’ll try to explain why i see it as revolutionary. (Or reactionary, if you prefer, since we are going back to the thinking of the early Roman Republic.)

    Lee Moore comments:

    “Absence of coercion” obviously encompasses not merely its temporary and contingent absence occasioned by somebody who has authority over you being too busy on other matters to coerce you, but also your right to insist on your freedom from coercion against all comers.

    That is a highly misleading proposition.
    It is true that
    (1) somebody who has power over you not coercing you –> absence of coercion;
    (2) nobody having power over you –> absence of coercion.

    It is also true that
    (2a) nobody having power over you –> absence of power of coercion.

    It is blatantly wrong to say that
    (1a) somebody who has power over you not coercing you –> absence of power of coercion.

    Let’s take a couple of historical examples.

    Victorian Britain: perhaps the State-level society most free from coercion. And yet, was it free from power of coercion? Hardly so. The ruling class (the minority who had most of the power of coercion) had a lot of arbitrary power; they were wise enough not to use it.

    The USA: perhaps never as free from coercion as Victorian Britain. (At least, that is what Mancur Olson claimed.) And yet, even today, after constitutional constraints have been eroded, US citizens are arguably more free from power of coercion than people were in Victorian Britain.

    I’ll add more comments tomorrow, time permitting.
    I am keen to explain how this helps to understand Viking Iceland.
    I also want to comment on why Skinner is blatantly wrong* in taking his third concept of liberty as a justification for socialism.

    * and that is not something to say thoughtlessly about a former Regius Professor of History.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Lee Moore paraphrased: “… you can’t be free if another man is your master, ie he can order you about arbitrarily”

    Most of us who work for a living have had the experience of a boss or (worse!) a client who orders us about arbitrarily on occasion.

    OK, we took the job/client voluntarily. We can quit (subject to contractual terms which we agreed to, generally under the compulsion of having to agree to those terms as a condition of taking the job/client). And then we can think about where our next meal is going to come from. Or we can do what most of us do most of the time, which is ultimately to comply with the arbitrary direction from our “master”.

    By that definition of free, almost no-one is free — except maybe the wealthy far-left inheritors of capitalist fortunes. But at the same time, most of us in the West today would consider ourselves “free”. Are we like animals who have grown comfortable with living within the boundaries of our cages?

    The first reasonable libertarian I ever met asserted we are free to do what we want, within the constraint of having no impact on anyone else’s freedom to do what they want to do. And he emphasized, that is a very, very stringent limitation on each individual’s freedom.

    Bottom line — freedom is a rather complicated concept.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “As to why…well, there was widespread fear when the ban came in that pubs would lose business. So, I’d imagine that they didn’t think the market for non-smokers was worth the risk?”

    There’s an interesting graph at the top of the post here:
    https://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2017/01/snooker-and-smoking-ban.html

    Although do note that the left hand axis doesn’t start from zero.

  • neonsnake

    I recall an article that said that only the pubs that rebranded as restaurants really thrived after the ban. Which is a fine example of adaptation and so forth, but having a meal is an entirely different proposition to a few pints and a game of pool.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Late in the day (for me), i find that neonsnake’s comment @5:38 pm has a lot of overlap with mine. It would be nice to have some more info/links/references about the relevant Chinese political thinking.

  • bobby b

    Allow me to throw into this mix – re: smoking and bars – the idea that it is wrong to “force” workers to place themselves in danger in order to remain employed. The fact that bar employees breath second-hand smoke was the primary impetus (in the USA, at least) of the smoking ban in public accommodations.

    On the theory that offering harmful working conditions was a form of coercion, it was decided that even allowing workers to opt out of certain positions and locations was an unfair pressure on an employee – that people would make choices they otherwise wouldn’t make and thus put themselves at risk in order to remain employed.

    So, just as an employer can not allow workers to forgo a safety harness while up high, a bar owner cannot let his employees decide to put themselves at risk by working in a smoky bar. (Yes, many workers would opt not to wear a harness. They’re uncomfortable and impede movement.)

    Thus, you can thank worker protection law for your smokeless pubcrawling.

    (This idea should be considered apart from the fact that the health danger of second-hand smoke was completely overblown.)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “… a bar owner cannot let his employees decide to put themselves at risk by working in a smoky bar.”

    Hence the Western phenomenon of the bartender nipping out the back for an occasional fag. 🙂

  • I don’t know why this market failure occurred

    Market failure? I stopped going to pubs in the 1980s as they were nasty smoke-filled shit holes with bad beer & started going to cocktail bars, which were more likely to have non-smoking sections. Market works just fine for me 😉

  • Julie near Chicago

    From over here, there was an anti-smoking movement that became quite powerful because the effects of smoking and especially the claims of disastrous second-hand smoke were yelled through bullhorns in every Middlesex village and farm. The Surgeon General had made warnings on cigarette packs mandatory some decades earlier; now there were anti-smoking commercials on TV.

    People who’d thought smoking beyond the pale all along were encouraged to express their disapproval. People were emboldened to declare their homes smoke-free (that phrase again!) zones. It had always been good manners to ask one’s host or hostess, “Mind if I smoke?” But it had also been socially acceptable to respond, “Please don’t,” although many and maybe most people went along to get along. The tide changed; it began to safer socially to assume a home or office was off limits, unless there were clear signs to the contrary. And in restaurants, there began to be no-smoking areas.

    There is no law that I know of against smoking in public parks at least. On public sidewalks I’m not sure, but of course littering’s a no-no. You can’t smoke on the subway, or on busses. There was once a lot of talk in some states about making it against state law to smoke in a car carrying children, though I don’t know whether some states now have such laws.

    And eventually taxes on fags went sky-high. In 2005, a carton of cigarettes cost north of $ 40. THAT was a huge incentive to quit, at least if you were interested in eating and paying the mortgage.

    As late as the early 2000s, many smokers were saying, rather wistfully, that “at least, the French [and the Japanese] will never stop smoking.”

    Ha!

    Personally, I started wondering about the logic of legally banning cigarettes since it came up in the late ’60s or the ’70s. Would The Gov want to lose all that tax revenue?

    So, now we have sky-high cigarette taxes, there are still some who smoke so The Gov does still get some revenue that way, and there’s a burgeoning black market in cigarettes, profitable enough I understand that some gangs (including I think MS-13) are into relieving truckers of their cargo.

    The preponderance of sales and service venues outright ban smoking indoors and sometimes within x-million miles of the property. And helpful snitches who are waiting for a ride on the sidewalk near the hospital, for instance, are quick to point out to staff the small group some 50 yards from the doors, but also on the sidewalk, wherein one member is smoking. “No Smoking on the Hospital Campus” or some such thing.

    What this is, is a story of social pressure encouraged and to some extent created by government. So, yes, “market forces” have resulted in largely smoking-banned venues such as restaurants, bars, and many other places. It has become not just unfashionable, but downright anti-social to smoke in the presence of others.

    So … individuals’ wants and goals are not the only drivers of market forces. Social pressure and public opinion are there big-time, and indeed these things are a large influence on what people want and what they set as goals.

    .

    ETA: bobby, just above (8:48 p.m.): good points.

  • bobby b

    “That redefinition of free to mean the restrictive ‘freedom from’ rather than the liberating ‘freedom to’ is a feature of modern political”

    When you speak of freedom, both phrases – “freedom from . . .” and “freedom to . . . ” – really ought to be meaningless in a perfect libertarian world.

    There’s an old joke – two fish swimming around, a third fish swims by and says “how’s the water?” – first fish says to second fish “what’s “water”?”

    Whether you’re saying “freedom from” or “freedom to”, you’re speaking of limitations of freedom. You can be free of some bad things – which implies you’re not free from others – or you can be free to do some things – which implies you’re not free to do some other things.

    “Freedom”, in a perfect world, should no longer be required as a word, just like fish don’t need to know about water.

  • bobby b

    “And eventually taxes on fags went sky-high. In 2005, a carton of cigarettes cost north of $ 40.”

    The good old days. Last time I was in NYC, a carton was $140.

    “There is no law that I know of against smoking in public parks at least.”

    Lot of states now do this, including MN. In Hawaii, you simply cannot smoke anywhere near a public park, beach, sidewalk, parking lot, or open-to-the-public facility.

    There are (at least) ten states that ban smoking with kids in the car. In many states, if you are already under the supervision of CPS (child protective services, or your local variant), smoking at home is prima facia evidence of endangerment.

    And most of these measures came about when the EPA released its science-free conclusion that second-hand smoke was deadly.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    There is a distinct possibility that the health dangers of moderate smoking have been severely over-stated. Statistics can be very difficult to interpret over periods of decades in which many factors are changing. It is thus quite possible that the anti-smoking campaign was the first successful exercise of Junk Science by the usual suspects. They have since replicated that success quite regularly — anti-DDT, anti-nuclear power, the AIDS scare, anti-GMO food, and the crowning achievement of Junk Science — the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam.

    As citizens, we should be much more skeptical when the usual suspects tell us they need to shut something down for our own good. Maybe in some cases they might even be right — but they certainly do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

  • Lee Moore

    I’m going to keep disagreeing with Snorri (I think.)

    Freedom in its political sense represents a description of formal social relations, or if you prefer, legal rights. Thus if someone has the authority to coerce me, he has that authority whether he exercises it or not. Consequently I am not free, as a matter of formal social relations, because someone else has the authority to command me. In practice of course, if my master never does command me, and never shows any inclination to, then I can go about my business as if I were formally free, because the authority held over me is, in practice, never exercised.

    “Power to coerce” is a different beastie, and none of us can ever be free of it. Any fellow with a pistol has the power to coerce you, if you are unarmed or if you are taken unawares. “Power to coerce” belongs to the world of practical reality, not formal social relations.

    Where we seem to be getting the confusion is on the line between formal structure and practical reality. A polity in which we all have legal freedom from coercion, including an absence of persons in authority over us, but in which criminals with pistols rule the roost and coerce us all day in and day out, is a polity whose practical reality fails to match its title.

    Likewise a polity in which we all formally have a master, who in practice never exercises his authority except to arrest all the criminals with pistols, so that we can go about our occasions unmolested is another polity whose practical reality does not match its title. This time in a good way.

  • Lee Moore

    Most of us who work for a living have had the experience of a boss or (worse!) a client who orders us about arbitrarily on occasion.

    OK, we took the job/client voluntarily. We can quit (subject to contractual terms which we agreed to, generally under the compulsion of having to agree to those terms as a condition of taking the job/client). And then we can think about where our next meal is going to come from. Or we can do what most of us do most of the time, which is ultimately to comply with the arbitrary direction from our “master”

    You’ve answered your own question – you took the job voluntarily and you can quit it. The power to enter into legal contracts is part of your freedom of association, not a detraction from it.

    The need to eat, which may command you to seek an employer, is indeed a brutal tyranny. But it is not the tyranny of a human master with authority over you, it is the tyranny of Nature. From that Mistress there is no escape.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Lee, another very good comment. And it goes to the reason why, in a relatively free country, not everything that is immoral is illegal. For instance, transactions in which the seller is taking advantage of the buyer’s ignorance to ‘make a killing’ in a way that is not fraudulent and not illegal — nor should it be.

    You wrote,

    “A polity in which we all have legal freedom from coercion, including an absence of persons in authority over us, but in which criminals with pistols rule the roost and coerce us all day in and day out, is a polity whose practical reality fails to match its title.

    Likewise a polity in which we all formally have a master, who in practice never exercises his authority except to arrest all the criminals with pistols, so that we can go about our occasions unmolested is another polity whose practical reality does not match its title. This time in a good way.”

    Which sums up the point of your distinction in a way that brings to mind this story:

    There was a woman I knew who sold antiques. One day at one of huge family-party affairs that my Honey’s aunt used to hold, this woman was bragging to everyone that she had scored a big one: She’d visited a garage sale and found there a necklace or bracelet. She bought it for $ 25, and sold it for $ 800. Now by me that is sharp practice, and actually unethical, even though both parties felt they had gained by the transaction, but I don’t think it should be illegal. Certainly not. Now if she’d told the seller that it was only worth, say, $30, that would be fraud (even if difficult to prove).

    Of course, it’s possible that the person who bought it for $800 was an idiot and assumed that was a fair price for something that was in fact only really “worth” $ 30 on the open market. But in that case the dealer shouldn’t have been asking $800 in the first place. And if he’d inquired as to its market value and she told him $ 800, while knowing that was untrue, that would be fraud and illegal. (Though it might be hard to prove.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Lee — I was referring to yours at 2:12. But your next one, just before mine, is also excellent.

    I think it is within an employer’s rights (moral rights that is) to require that his employees refrain from X, Y, Z when in public, even if they’re not on the job. He may be nuts, and he may find it impossible to find people to work for him under that stricture at a price he can afford, but he still has the right to do so.

    However, this raises issues where there is possible disagreement. What if the P&A (the Great Pacific and Atlantic Tea Company) barred its employees from shopping at another grocery store? What if there’s no other store, it’s a company town, so you have to buy from the Company Store, which charges outrageous prices but lets you buy “on credit” as long as you work for them?

    It is said that such practices were among the reasons for the violence in some of the West Virginia coal-mining towns. It is also said that another reason is that the unions resorted to leg-breaking and worse in order to encourage the mining companies to hire only union workers, at union-set wages, and that at least in some cases the companies were already paying very good, competitive wages. I imagine there were somewhat different circumstances in different mining areas; but this not my area of expertise. (Don ‘t ask. *g*)

  • Lee Moore

    Julie

    1. the antique dealer : stipulating the absence of actual lies, I don’t think caveat emptor and caveat vendor are bad starting points. If your acquaintance was just exploiting her superior knowledge of antiques to buy something valuable cheaply from someone who did not appreciate its value, I don’t see that as unethical. Obviously for businesses doing repeat business, scoring a big win from an ignorant punter may be bad business, as other punters may then think you are a bit sharp, and they may choose to take their trinkets to Honest John down the road. But we can’t get away from the fact that information is a valuable commodity, and if we try to discourage people from exploiting the value of their superior knowledge, we increase the incentives to ignorance. And the Lord knows, we surely have a glut of that commodity.

    2. company towns : yup, the company in a company town has a lot of power. But in the context of 19th century West Virginia, it may be better than the alternatives. We pampered 21st century Westerners tend to overlook the fact that we are a rare exception for whom fine china and organic hummus are routine. But for the rest of the world, and for the rest of human existence, Nature has made life something of a struggle. We bemoan the brutal and harsh conditions in the factories of Victorian England and overlook the reason why the factory towns nevertheless attracted workers….the countryside offered an even tougher life. So long as the company in the company town isn’t stopping you from leaving, to go and starve in the wilderness, you’re a free man. But that doesn’t mean you get a forty hour week, health insurance and a free cable subscription. That’s the traditional socialist confusion. “Down with the capitalist oppressors, whom have expropriated the value of our labour !” Well, they don’t always offer a great deal. So go and make a better one with Mother Nature. Good luck with that.

  • neonsnake

    It would be nice to have some more info/links/references about the relevant Chinese political thinking.

    The thinkers I’m talking about are the early Daoists – particularly Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching (note; he may not have existed, and the book may be a collection of other works), Chuang Tzu (famous for the “am I butterfly dreaming of being a man, or a man dreaming of being a butterfly”), and Lieh Tzu, who is less well-known.

    There are dozens more, but those are enough to get the gist, without veering off into mystic feng-shui and numerology.

    As a caution – firstly, we’re talking about ideas from a very different culture, and from a very different time. I will certainly have misunderstood some of it! Secondly, it doesn’t map well to western ideas, so I’m wary of trying to say “it’s a bit like libertarianism”, or “it’s like a mix of stoicism and epicurianism”, or some such.

    The general idea (ignoring mysticism) is a hardcore individualism and living in harmony with nature (Tao can be loosely translated as The Way), with a desire to not be interfered with by others, nor interfering with others yourselves. Others also includes nature – a master legendary taoist would ride a horse effortlessly without need of whip or spurs, which would constitute interference.

    I’ll put some thought into some resources if what I’ve said above piques your interest, Snorri (likewise, I’m curious about the couple of times you’ve mentioned the Vikings, in return).

    For those wondering what on earth I’m babbling about and what it has to do with libertarian ideals: this is what Wiki has to say on Yang Zhu.

    Yang Zhu (described in the parable by a disciple) said that he would not give a single strand of his hair to help the world, nor a tiny piece of flesh to gain 10,000 gold. Further questioned, he asked how many strands of hair made a scalp, and whether you’d give your scalp? Or whether you’d give a limb to own a kingdom?

    The argument is that the “selfless Confucianist” would sacrifice himself for the greater benefit of humanity, while the “selfish Taoist” would not. Yang-Chu says that this is a misunderstanding, and that sacrifice would not actually help, and that if we weren’t so eager to sacrifice ourselves, then things could be left alone to run their course, and the world would have fewer problems; that in thinking our efforts would make a difference, we often mess things up worse than before.

    It’s NOT libertarianism – but libertarianism is the only political system I’m aware of under which one could practice Daoism. That said, there’s many issues where I take a sharp turn in a different direction (I’m more likely to be eco-friendly than your average libertarian, for instance).

  • neonsnake

    Now by me that is sharp practice, and actually unethical

    *teasing*

    Ayn Rand would disagree.

    If the seller were happy with her $25, and the buyer were never to see them again (eg. risking the wrath of “you ripped me off!”), then what’s the problem?

    If the buyer were gloating over the $800, and how they’d successfully swindled the seller, I would however feel that they were very unpleasant, if not necessarily unethical.

    EDIT: or, saving myself some time: “I agree wiv wot Lee said.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    “If the buyer were gloating over the $800, and how they’d successfully swindled the seller, I would however feel that they were very unpleasant, if not necessarily unethical.”

    Well, she was certainly gloating, and her manner and the tone of the gloat — and the very fact that it did come across as a gloat — indicate to me that she knew very well she’d put one over on the seller.

    If A.R. wouldn’t indite that as sharp practice at least, then she needs to rethink her values. And actually, I think she’d be solidly against taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

    Driving a hard bargain is one thing. Taking advantage of everyday people’s lack of knowledge to the extent of taking a 3200% markup when it would still have been more honest to make even $ 400 on the buy really is unethical (barring any unknown mitigating factors). And who helps his own reputation and therefore his business when, say, you take your car in for repairs and the guy charges a fair price and then says, By the way, your water pump was about to go so I put in a refurbished one we had lying aroun. –Nah, no charge.

    This from a reputable Chrysler dealer and garage with a sterling reputation of this sort going back 30 or 40 years. Unlike the Dodge dealer, who’d fix whatever he said he’d fix, but nothing else.

    Everybody can come out ahead on a deal by his own lights; but when your end of the bargain tends to show that the other took real advantage of your lack of knowledge of a specialty market, I can’t see that as ethical, even though I insist it shouldn’t be illegal.

  • neonsnake

    Well, she was certainly gloating, and her manner and the tone of the gloat — and the very fact that it did come across as a gloat — indicate to me that she knew very well she’d put one over on the seller.

    I wonder if, on reflection, I contradicted myself by saying “unpleasant but not nessarily unethical”, in a practical sense.

    I can’t say that I’d act the same. If I bought something for £25 and sold it for £800, assuming I wasn’t aware that I could get £800, I’d hope I’d be decent enough to pass at least some of it back to the original owner. The happiness I’d get for making them happy would be worth it.

    …at least, I’d hope that’s what I’d do 😉

    Separately…

    I’ve just recalled how loaded a term “eco-friendly” can be. My eco-friendly is about (eg) attempting to waste as little as possible. It is emphatically NOT about (eg) trying to stop people in the UK from buying Peruvian asparagus.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thank you neonsnake for the comment on Daoism. Your request about the Vikings, Lee’s replies to me, and Skinner’s sympathy for socialism, are issues that should be dealt with together, but first i need to clear the air. (And not from 2nd-hand smoke!)

    Lee writes:

    Freedom in its political sense represents a description of formal social relations, or if you prefer, legal rights. Thus if someone has the authority to coerce me, he has that authority whether he exercises it or not.

    That is correct: if someone has the authority to coerce you, then you are not free from power of coercion.

    Consequently I am not free, as a matter of formal social relations, because someone else has the authority to command me.

    Not exactly: if the person with authority over you chooses not to use their power over you, then you are not free from power of coercion — but at least you are free from coercion.

    With that qualification, Lee is saying the same that Skinner has been saying for a long time, but seems to think that it is something different.

    Lee is muddying the water somewhat (pardon me for the mixing of metaphors) by talking of legal authority. For someone to have power of coercion over you, that person has to have effective authority, which might or might not be the same as legal authority, depending on one’s social status, country of residence, etc.

    See also David D. Friedman‘s distinction between legal rights, moral rights, and positive (ie effective) rights. That is one reason why i think the Skinner dichotomy important: because it helps to understand Friedman’s concept of positive right. Every positive/effective right can be seen as freedom from some power of coercion. EG owning a gun gives you a positive right to repel home invasion, which is the same as freedom from the power of home invaders.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Following up on my comment above:
    The Skinner dichotomy also helps to understand the difference between absolutism and totalitarianism. (This comment is inspired by Samuel Finer’s magnus opus.)

    Absolutism can be defined as absence of procedural constraints on government: no division of powers, no checks+balances, no powers delegated to lower levels of government. The people have no freedom from power of coercion by an absolute ruler; but they still enjoy freedom from actual coercion, IF the ruler decides to stand by a piece of paper that specifies substantive constraints on the ruler, such as a Bill of Rights.

    Totalitarian government, by contrast, is government in which the people enjoy no freedom from coercion, and there are no substantive constraints, not even on paper.
    (There might be procedural constraints, however: it seems to me that ancient Sparta was totalitarian, but due to its constitution, there were procedural constraints on government.)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Lee M began “you can’t be free if another man is your master, ie he can order you about arbitrarily” and then qualified that by agreeing “you took the job voluntarily and you can quit it.”

    Which is a roundabout way of saying that we have the freedom to seek another master if we don’t like the master we already serve. But since we end up having a master, we are (by Lee’s definition) not free. But, but since we can seek another master, we must be free … until we find that new master. And let’s not even broach the question of freedom for the person with a spouse. 🙂

    Unfortunately, a lot of libertarian discussion is premised on rather theoretical worlds. In the real world, freedom is rather like pornography — very difficult to define, but we know it when we see it. And just like pornography, individuals differ on where to draw the line between free and not free.

    Theoretical models can be useful. But they can also be distractions which prevent us from seeing the world as it really is.

  • neonsnake

    which might or might not be the same as legal authority,

    Snorri, Gavin made a point earlier about having to obey your boss (which I think most of us can empathise with).

    Would that be an example of what you mean here?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thank you neonsnake for your question: after 2 rambling comments, i needed encouragement to go on. And your question happens to lead me to what i wanted to write anyway.

    Gavin wrote, yesterday @7:35pm:

    Most of us who work for a living have had the experience of a boss or (worse!) a client who orders us about arbitrarily on occasion.

    There are degrees of freedom, of course. An experienced programmer in Silicon Valley can easily change boss. A rootless cosmopolitan like myself can easily move to another country. A taxi driver has little to lose by kicking out an obnoxious client.
    But yes, as long as you need to earn money, people have some power of coercion over you.

    Which brings me to the Vikings: i believe that is the reason why, in Viking times, a freeman (bondi) was a man who owned enough land and/or milch cows to live on. Such a man need not take any shit from any other man … as long as he is able to defend himself from physical violence, of course.
    And I believe that is why there were freemen, but no free women: women having about half the upper-body strength of men (on average), they had no positive right (see my comment above) to life, liberty, and estate (before the development of guns). Or more precisely, these rights depended on men taking their defense; and if you read the Sagas, you’ll find that Icelandic women could be quite clever at manipulating men: they had to be.

    Of course, a man cannot defend himself against a gang of other men. That is why the Icelanders had a network of godhars (singular: godhi). The godhars collectively made the laws and individually enforced them when one of their supporters was wronged. That did not give them much power of coercion over their supporters, however, because any freeman was free to switch support to a different godhi, even one from the opposite end of Iceland, to get a better deal.

    Perhaps Viking polytheism helped to shape this mentality: a pagan is free to sacrifice to a different god or goddess, if not satisfied with the support of his favorite god. (Interestingly, Catholics can similarly switch to a different patron saint.)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Snorri G: “Which brings me to the Vikings”

    Strong recommendation for Prof. Kenneth Harl’s “Great Courses” series of 36 lectures on The Vikings. Next time you have a long drive ahead of you, take the CDs along.

    Interesting to see the Vikings come up in a discussion on freedom — because the Vikings were for centuries some of the most violent & vicious slave traders the world has ever seen. Indeed, the very word “slave” derives from the Slavic people of eastern Europe whom the Vikings enslaved and drove to the slave markets of Byzantium and the Arab world. Being efficient slave masters, those Scandinavians made the poor Slavs carry trade goods (furs, etc) on their backs on the way to the slave market. The Vikings who headed off to Iceland & Greenland would stop off in Scotland & Ireland to grab reluctant women to help them populate their new world.

    The Vikings secured their own freedom by taking away the freedom of many of the people they ran into.

  • neonsnake

    needed encouragement to go on

    Keep going. It’s a Thursday, so I need a little time to properly examine and respond, but this is all very interesting.

    If my encouragement means anything, I’m finding this very interesting.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Gavin: you raise an important issue there.
    Allow me to go back to the basic principle that a person is free-from-power only if nobody has power over him/her.

    The obvious implication (at least, it seems obvious to me) is that freedom granted by the State cannot possibly be freedom-from-power: any freedom that the State gives you, the State can take away. Freedom-from-power is something that you have to earn for yourself; not only by lifting weights, practicing martial arts, buying an arsenal and learning how to use it: also by making friends who will stand by your side when you need them. (For the Vikings, it was also important to have as many burly sons as possible.)

    Now, if freedom-from-power is something that everybody has to earn for themselves, it follows that there is no obligation to abolish slavery: slaves have to earn their freedom for themselves.

    That is not a view that i endorse, mind you, but it is important to understand why pagans such as the Greeks, Romans, and Germanic people were so fond of their own freedom, without feeling any guilt about keeping slaves.

    I myself think that we should act according to pagan values towards people over whom we have no unchecked power, and according to Judeo-Christian values towards people over whom we have unchecked power.

    –A less important point: there are degrees of moral turpitude. In the early Roman Republic, slave-owners labored side-by-side with their slaves. Tacitus wrote that the Germanic people of his time did the same, and that was also generally the case in Viking Iceland: there was no room for idle people in Iceland.

    At the opposite extreme, we have the case of slavery in the Caribbeans, or in the Congo “Free” State, or in Communist and Nazi labor camps.

    PS: in my previous comment, i wrote “godhars” when i should have written “godhar”. The plural of “godhi” is “godhar”.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Snorri G: “Allow me to go back to the basic principle that a person is free-from-power only if nobody has power over him/her.”

    Consider the possibility that principle is an invalid starting point — the wrong axiom, as Nullius might say. I am trying to remember the source of the quotation (maybe Graham Greene?) — A man alone does not stand a chance.

    It was probably rather obvious to the average Viking that his survival depended on being accepted into the biggest, baddest group of Vikings who would take him. That meant proving his worth to the group, and complying with the group’s standards of behavior. The only individual freedom the average Viking had was in trying to worm his way into the alpha group.

    Perhaps the real basic principle is that individual freedom is extremely limited, and most of what we call freedom is in fact our willing compliance with the social norms of the group to which we seek to belong.

  • bobby b

    Apropo of nothing:

    RIP Justin Raimondo.

  • neonsnake

    The obvious implication (at least, it seems obvious to me) is that freedom granted by the State cannot possibly be freedom-from-power: any freedom that the State gives you, the State can take away. Freedom-from-power is something that you have to earn for yourself; not only by lifting weights, practicing martial arts, buying an arsenal and learning how to use it: also by making friends who will stand by your side when you need them. (For the Vikings, it was also important to have as many burly sons as possible.)

    Agreed. So: we (like the Daoists) cannot conceive of a state where freedom from coercion (or from power of coercion) can exist (at least on a permanent basis). A state or country can have a constitution which prevents governments from exercising power of coercion, but we agree that this can never reliably be a permanent solution. What if they get invaded? What if a tyrant rips up the constitution? And so on and so forth.

    But for now, let us pretend that we live in countries where we have a constitution that does enshrine the right of “freedom from coercion”, and that we’re confident in the continuation of that freedom for the foreseeable future.

    That still doesn’t prevent situations where authorities abuse their position (Gavin’s point earlier re. bosses), and although people legally are not allowed to wander up and smack me in the face, our prisons still house violent offenders. I might not be free from hunger, poverty or violence.

    So we need a slightly different definition, which for now I will call “capacity”. In order to make the most of my state-granted freedom, I also need the capacity to exercise it – I need to be able to defend myself, I need to be in reasonable shape and healthy; I’ll add to your list the ability to earn a wage (and therefore house, cloth and feed myself), and preferably to be able to quit my job with reasonable expectations of finding another one if my boss turns out to be an unpleasant piece of work.

    But all of those are on me – the state can only provide me the freedom to pursue those things. It cannot (should not) stop me, but equally shouldn’t guarantee them. It’s up to me to gain the capacity to exercise my freedoms. As my mum used to say to me when I said I wanted to do something unrealistic and beyond my abilities…”Well, go on then if you think you can – no-one’s stopping you.”

    Which brings us back to Daoism – the paragraph that I quoted from Snorri fits very neatly with Daoism, it emphasises self-reliance, so that if a state or other person attempts to harm you (in whatever way), you have the necessary skills to avoid the harm. It’s not really any different from self-realisation, as Lee Moore termed it a little way upthread.

    Questions!

    What are godhar? Is that a word meaning tribe, or more like a council?

    And then, you say we should act according to pagan values towards those over whom we have no unchecked power. I get the Judeo-Christian bit, but I’m not totally sure I’ve understood the pagan bit – what would that mean?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Neonsnake: i have a few quibbles with your latest comment, but i’ll just mention my main disagreement, which is about terminology:

    So we need a slightly different definition, which for now I will call “capacity”. In order to make the most of my state-granted freedom, I also need the capacity to exercise it – I need to be able to defend myself, I need to be in reasonable shape and healthy; I’ll add to your list the ability to earn a wage (and therefore house, cloth and feed myself), and preferably to be able to quit my job with reasonable expectations of finding another one if my boss turns out to be an unpleasant piece of work.

    I agree on the above, and i would add at least another item: being able to leave the country taking enough of my wealth with me before TSHTF.

    My disagreement is about the term: capacity. To me, it is just another word for: freedom from power. You point out that all of the above does not give complete freedom from power, and that is true; but then, nobody ever had complete freedom from power. We are talking about degrees of freedom here.

    You got me very interested in the Tao Te Ching. I see that Wikipedia links to several translations. I am keen to read more Chinese philosophy, following up on Sun Tzu.

    — About your questions:

    What are godhar? Is that a word meaning tribe, or more like a council?

    Godhar were a sort of council, since they met once a year at the Althing for various business, together with all freemen. (Freemen who did not attend had to pay a small fine to their godhi.)

    But basically a godhi was a man who held a godhord, meaning a title. This title has been translated as “priesthood” or “chieftaincy”; i would prefer “lordship”, with the qualification that freemen could choose their lord (but dependents and thralls had to follow their freeman — though i suppose that dependents could choose another employer/freeman, if any was willing to take them).

    A godhord was personal property: it could be loaned, sold, or gifted to any freeman. The number of godhar was of course limited by the need for acceptance as such by other godhar.

    And then, you say we should act according to pagan values towards those over whom we have no unchecked power. I get the Judeo-Christian bit, but I’m not totally sure I’ve understood the pagan bit – what would that mean?

    The pagan part is about keeping free from power, just as the Judeo-Christian part is about leaving other people free from coercion.
    Anybody (let’s call him John Smith) has a (pagan) responsibility to keep himself free from power, as far as possible; failing that, anybody who has power over John Smith has a (Judeo-Christian) responsibility not to coerce John Smith.
    Mind you, this is not something which i have completely worked out!

    — And now i must listen again to Quentin Skinner, so that i can argue against his socialist sympathies!

  • neonsnake

    You got me very interested in the Tao Te Ching. I see that Wikipedia links to several translations. I am keen to read more Chinese philosophy, following up on Sun Tzu.

    *nods*

    If you’ve read Sun Tzu, then you’ll understand the Tao Te Ching. I don’t want to say to much more, for fear of being unbearingly patronising (!), and I’d rather you came at it fresh and then we discussed it after!!

    One thing: I went through a stage of reading lots of different translations. After some time, I slapped myself in the face and told myself not to read anymore. My favourite is DC Lau, only because it’s the first I read. I’ve read Stephen Mitchell (apparently the best), Tam C Gibbs and even Ursula S Guin. I liken it to reading many different recipes for ragu alla bolgonese – at some point, you need to stop reading, and just cook the fucking dinner, right?

    Read one, come back and question and argue me, and then we’ll go from there, brother!

    If it appeals, I would recommend the Chaung Tzu and the Lieh Tzu. I’m paraphrasing – Lao Tzu speaks from a podium. Chuang-Tzu is drunk and “chuckles to himself” whilst telling us what he thinks (He’s an anarchist). Lieh-Tzu speaks to the human experience.

    I’ve gone beyond, into the mystical, and I don’t think it’s worthwhile. I have more knowledge of the I Ching than the helrunar, but I’m not unfamiliar with either. Let me know how you get on, brother.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Neonsnake: good to hear from you, so that i can do an analysis of Skinner’s lecture in the hope that somebody will be interested! (Although, deep inside, i know that my motivation is to put my thoughts in order.)

    To summarize the 1st half of the video (up to somewhere between 44:00 and 44:30), Skinner introduces several concepts of liberty/freedom:

    * freedom-from physical constraint: the only sensible concept of freedom according to Hobbes;

    * freedom-from coercion, ie from threats of punishment if the “wrong” choices are made;

    * freedom-from “passions”, “inauthenticity”, and “false consciousness”, ie the ability to make “rational” choices rather than choices dictated by impulse, social conventions, or the morality imposed by the ruling class;

    * freedom-TO realize one’s “true nature”; and our true nature has been taken to be either Christian or Platonic/Aristotelian (and i note that Ayn Rand falls into the Aristotelian camp).

    — Now, the first thing to do when considering a political philosophy, is to ask: in what way can this be used by a ruling class (not necessarily the current ruling class) to legitimize itself?

    It seems to me that there are only 2 concepts of freedom, in the above list, which cannot easily be used by a ruling class: freedom-from constraint and freedom-from coercion.

    (NB: Hobbes made use of the concept of freedom-from constraint to argue for absolutism, but his argument was not that absolutism GIVES freedom-from constraint, but simply that absolutism does not take it away. It was not a legitimization of absolutism, it was just a fig-leaf.)

    Even the concept of freedom-from false consciousness, though potentially useful to clever people such as myself and all the good folk at Samizdata, is liable to be used by a ruling class to implant false consciousness in the ruled classes.

    — So far, i have not criticized Skinner: in the 1st half of the video, he does not say anything objectionable (to me); although he does report on philosophies objectionable to me.
    I’ll write a separate comment on the 2nd half of the video.

  • neonsnake

    My disagreement is about the term: capacity. To me, it is just another word for: freedom from power. You point out that all of the above does not give complete freedom from power, and that is true; but then, nobody ever had complete freedom from power. We are talking about degrees of freedom here.

    I don’t disagree with your disagreement – I was struggling to find words to define the difference between state-sanctioned freedom (what an oxymoron) and broader freedoms in the sense of being able to achieve things with your life, and of being free from oppressions like having a boss who treats you like dirt.

  • Snorri Godhi

    state-sanctioned freedom (what an oxymoron)

    This phrase is a good starting point for my fisking of the 2nd half of the Skinner lecture (plus question period).
    The State can, and (in modern “democracies”, and then to an increasingly limited extent) does, give some freedom from coercion. For example, coercion from organized crime. Most importantly, coercion from another State threatening to bomb us back to the Stone Age if we don’t behave.

    What the State cannot give, is freedom from power (of coercion).
    Actually, the State could give firearms to anybody fulfilling course requirements in how to use them (and something of the sort happens in Switzerland). But other than that, i do not see what the State could do.

    Freedom of speech? if the State is allowing free speech, that means that the State has the power to repress it.

    Land redistribution, so that everybody has the means to make a living? if the State can take land from the Duke of Westminster and give it to you, then it can also take it away from you: you do not really own the means to make a living.

    Employment laws? the State can forbid your employer firing you, but if the State does that, then effectively the State becomes your employer: the State has the power of getting you fired.

    Welfare? if the State gives you welfare payments and “free” health care, then it can reduce these benefits, or take them away altogether.

    Similar considerations apply to laws against discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    — That is the central problem of the 2nd part of Skinner’s lecture: Skinner starts with the implicit assumption that the State can give us freedom-from power.

    (Or from dependence, as Skinner prefers to put it. Or from domination, as Skinner’s pal, Philip Pettit (who is equally delusional about the power of the State to give freedom-from power) prefers to put it.)

    Further, in a departure from the neutral stance of the 1st half of the lecture, Skinner clearly implies that the State should give us freedom-from power.
    For instance, Skinner says that you do not have freedom-from power if your boss has arbitrary power to fire you. That is a tautology, but the good people here at Samizdata will immediately see the problem in this line of reasoning: the amount of power of a boss over an employee depends on the employee’s ability to find another job; and if it is hard to find jobs, then the State is almost always to blame: the State is giving power to your employer. The State is not the solution to this problem: the State is the problem.
    (See also my remark above, about the State becoming effectively your employer.)

    — I started with the idea of doing a proper fisking, but i got carried away discussing Skinner’s implicit assumption. I’ll watch again the 2nd half of the lecture and maybe i’ll say something more.

    Meanwhile, a closing thought: if for no other reason, we must understand the concept of freedom-from power in order to prevent people like Skinner and Pettit from turning it into ruling-class propaganda.

  • neonsnake

    It seems to me that there are only 2 concepts of freedom, in the above list, which cannot easily be used by a ruling class: freedom-from constraint and freedom-from coercion.

    I think I agree, and also with the four freedoms you listed above. I’m unsure if I think they are exhaustive; however, I think most other “freedoms” could be folded into the last two, so I’d say they’re probably good enough to work with.

    Then you talk about a ruling class – which you’ve talked about before, I’m sure, and you do not mean the ostensible rulers (ie. the government) – I’m not certain I understand what you mean here?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Listening to Skinner in the 2nd half of his lecture, and even more in question period, nauseates me.

    What is nauseating is the fact that he spews out so much bullshit without pushback from the audience — though i note that the audience is from Stanford: some of them are members of the ruling class, almost all the others are tools of the ruling class, the rest are too afraid to speak out.

    I’ll just mention one more reason (in addition to the reason i gave yesterday) why i am nauseated: the Rousseauvian delusion.
    Which i define as: the delusion that we are free if we are subject to the tyranny of the majority.

    — I’ll add a provisional list of political thinkers who strongly influenced me, and at the same time i find deeply flawed:
    Plato
    Aristotle
    Ibn Khaldun
    Hobbes
    Quentin Skinner

    Samuel Finer might be added, but since it is only his value judgements that i object to, and they are a minor part of his writings, i’ll give him a pass.

  • neonsnake

    the Rousseauvian delusion.

    I’m not familiar with it – is it easily searchable? I have only a vague idea of “noble savage” in mind when you say that.

    I’ll add a provisional list of political thinkers who strongly influenced me, and at the same time i find deeply flawed:

    Ha! What a fascinating exercise!

    I agree with Plato, Aristotle and Hobbes. I know not enough of the others to comment.

    I’ll add (and one day, you might too) – Confucius, Mencius, Mozi and Hzun Tzu. And then, from a more Western perspective, Orwell and Marx.

    I’ll undoubtedly articulate this badly, but all of the aforementioned correctly identified problems, and fluffed the solutions, or (this is the bit I’ll screw up) correctly identified what people perceived as being problems, and fluffed the chance to correct them. I hope that last bit comes across properly

    🙂

  • Snorri Godhi

    Hi neonsnake! I was not going to add any more comments, but since you are here …

    I don’t know about the Chinese thinkers, except Sun Tzu, whom i consider a guide to life, including politics. In his book, he did not say anything objectionable; but probably he committed what today we would consider war crimes.
    Others that i find only mildly flawed include, but are not limited to: Machiavelli, Locke, Gaetano Mosca, Hayek, and David Friedman.

    Orwell and Marx: Animal Farm and the Commie Manifesto are very much worth reading: They just did not influence me as much as the other authors i listed. Of course, i consider anybody whose main influence is Marxist, even if indirectly, as a fool.

    The Rousseauvian delusion is a term that i made up.

    –Since i am at it, i’ll comment on a 3rd major flaw in Skinner’s theory.

    According to Skinner, freedom is best understood as freedom-from arbitrary power (of coercion). That seems reasonable: if it’s not arbitrary, ie if people coercing you cannot decide to act differently, then it is not power of coercion: it is not in their power whether they coerce you or not.

    And yet, consider the example of ancient Sparta that i mentioned above. Never mind women and helots: free-born men were killed at birth if born with deformities; they had to live in barracks until 30 years old, and only then were they allowed to marry; and for the rest of their life had to have communal meals anyway. Few people would consider such men to be free men.

    But there was no arbitrary power involved: nobody had the power to decide whether to enforce those rules or not; and Lycurgus could not change the rules, since he was dead. So, according to Skinner, the Spartans were indeed free men!

    (A similar point could be made about theocratic societies.)

  • neonsnake

    I don’t know about the Chinese thinkers, except Sun Tzu, whom i consider a guide to life, including politics. In his book, he did not say anything objectionable; but probably he committed what today we would consider war crimes.

    No disagreement from me, with the caveat (which you’ve already covered) that “it was a different time”. I apply the same to my beloved Daoists.

    Orwell and Marx: Animal Farm and the Commie Manifesto are very much worth reading

    Most of his stuff is worth reading – we did Animal Farm and 1984 as part of our school curriculum. I’ve since read the rest. He recognises problems that I feel sometimes “we” deny actually exist, which I see no value in doing. Again, product of its time, but still. I don’t strictly agree with his conclusions, but I do agree with his perceptions of problems.

    I remain curious about your stance on “ruling class”. Ignorantly, I wonder if this may cross over with my anti-“tyranny of the majority” stance.

  • neonsnake

    I’m also curious to get Gavin Longmuir’s input, as someone who has consistently articulated “tyranny” as defined as “tyranny by bosses” very well.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    I’m sorry to disappoint, Neonsnake, but this thread drifted off in a direction which seemed rather esoteric to me — the limits of my small mind, I am afraid. The finer points about discussions on freedom tend to leave me cold. We human beings are social animals, rather like ants — although we have taken specialization (and concomitant inter-dependence) to a much higher level than ants. An ant can have complete freedom outside the ant-hill … but it will not live for very long. The analogy holds for human beings, and freedom has to be understood within the constrained environment of our great inter-dependence on other human beings. I am still looking for the source of the quotation — “A man alone does not stand a chance.”

  • neonsnake

    the limits of my small mind, I am afraid.

    I could not disagree more, Gavin! What you say is a small mind is what I say is a broad mind!

    Sure, Snorri and I went a bit esoteric. *blush*

    We have a romantic idea of Individualism. You, rightly, point out that humanity is increasingly specialised. I don’t disagree. It’s a point of tension for me – how much can I be self-sufficient, vs how much do I have to rely on others.

    and freedom has to be understood within the constrained environment of our great inter-dependence

    I could not agree more! This is interesting to me to explore.

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