We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Personal Freedom is Sovereignty

Goals of individuals are same as those of nations: resourceful space, respect, and autonomous decision making.

PART 1 of Threats to individual freedom series:

The modern international state system moved the ancient struggle between vassals/tributaries and lords from national level to the level of the individual. Similar to state vassals of the past, people don't want to pay with tribute or service for the right of personal autonomy.

The 20th century saw a false divide created when it came to the concept of freedom. People endlessly argued over whether it means not being coerced to do an action or whether it means being empowered to do an action. We can now clearly see that these two conceptions are sides of the same coin (like many confusing and false dualities in the modern world: right/left, private/public sphere, government/corporation, etc)

"negative freedom": Not being forced to do what you don't want allows you to do what you want.
"positive freedom" : Being given the resources to do what you want allows you to do what you want.

In the end both supposedly different variants allow you to exert more influence over yourself and your environment. As one of the most observant ancient thinkers, Marcus Cicero, noted, "freedom is participation in power". The more one's thoughts, desires, and action influence the world, the more freedom one has. Of course in the first decade of the 21st century we understand that the person also needs to be autonomous (instead of being told by the clergy or political commissars) in deciding what actions to engage in. The secular internet age increasingly takes away the desire and thought generating powers from the traditional local community and transfers it to the individual. What does it mean to be an autonomous decision maker, to not be constantly coerced by stronger outside forces, and to have enough resources to be able to make your own decisions without perishing? It means to be sovereign. A sovereign entity IS the coin with sides of positive and negative liberty.

So far we've heard the term sovereign only applied to states or monarchical heads of state. Countries go to great lengths and face great hardship to assert their sovereignty. That is because sovereignty, of the type countries are supposed to have on paper (which most don't due to use of force by their former colonial masters), is real freedom. "Real" is but a temporary placeholder since the human race is still evolving, but in so far as entities have a desire to participate in power and autonomous growth, sovereignty is the best type of freedom available.

Ancient Greeks saw freedom as their city state's ability to do exactly what Kurds, Basques, and Palestinians are fighting for. The international situation has provided us with incredible clarity on the meaning of liberty. Ever since the treaty of Westphalia, each state (regardless of its size or wealth) asserted the sovereign right to do what it wants within its borders as well as ability to interact with other sovereigns as it sees fit. Different countries did not waste time debating whether they're now allowed freedom to or from. The mere fact of multilateral respect and recognition was a large leap.

Considering that countries are made up of multitudes of factions and endless struggles between wills, sovereignty brings a welcome breather by reducing direct foreign influence. Mass energies can thus be used to sort out what the society wants to do and how it will develop. The individual human does not get such a breather unless he/she acquired an inheritance which would then allow time for reflection. A man does not get a full chance to engage in clean wholesome inner struggle and self mastery because other people constantly coerce his thoughts, desires, and mode of action.

It seems like an obvious next step to give subnational (think of sovereign European states within EU) sovereign status to individual human beings. Unlike a state, the individual has far fewer internal battles and conflicting interests/points of view. A man also has simpler system complexity and is much more capable of self governance than say, a complex multi-ethnic society which engages in periods of civil war. The relative unity of the individual (and the corresponding stability) appears to be a greater argument for sovereignty than one made by South Ossetia for instance.

Obviously an individual cannot have same status as the Vatican or Haiti (for legal and national security reasons) but the personal qualities of a human being definitely qualify for greater sovereign status within the nation's borders. If Vatican is able to be a country inside Rome, if Indian nations are able to have varying degrees of autonomy within United States, if consular workers are able to have diplomatic immunity, then we definitely see a framework arise for provision of increased sovereignty to human beings.

Very few people have even mentioned applying same courtesy to citizens of countries as given to states inside the whole global system. That is even though a state might be a poor representative of individuals within it and can be hijacked by a murderous or oligarchic faction which can act in its interests rather than the interests of all members inside country's borders. Although the individual can be overcome by one passion or another in a drunken stupor, he always makes the final decision in defense of what is perceived to be in his best interest at the time. The state, in comparison, is a greater artificial construction than a man's "I" (although governments do mimic some biological mode of function).

Today we find individual human beings in the same position that tiny German principalities were in when they were battling over which mode of religious life to have in the 17th century. Only today instead of the Vatican and powerful protestant empires pushing the conflict, there are political factions using entire populations as their personal war zones. Whichever political faction takes over the reigns of power within a state, seems to think it proper to impose its views (on mode of existence) upon everybody.

The tiresome negative versus positive liberty debate has been officially ended on the global scale. Paris doesn't endlessly bicker with Brussels over what rights Belgium should have or what official religion, or how much military support it should receive as a vassal state, etc. This debate just moved on to a lower domestic individual level. Citizens of nations are the new vassals and tributaries.

People want basic things that countries wanted throughout time.

Every individual desires:

1) ownership of a living space without strings attached
2) sufficient supply of resources to physiologically survive at worst and make use of productively at best
3) and ability to interact with others autonomously and without coercion.

Right away questions bubble up. "who will provide the resources!?" "what structure for resource gathering is needed?!" "everybody can't have a living space just like that! there isn't enough land and the land that's there will need to be rented or paid for!"

Recently, in part due to great violence and financial exhaustion, populations of big and small countries have come to an agreement that the sheer presence of the people (within a small country) is an argument for a mutually respected sovereignty. Powerful states extended the same Westphalia born courtesy(that was previously only given to European military equals) to post-colonial societies . France and England didn't ask the people of India or Laos to pay rent for the land they were on. They officially stopped asking for tribute or labor in exchange for autonomous decision making and non-interference. Of course we all know that as a de facto reality, conditions of servitude for small newly independent countries continued for decades after independence ( similar to how freed slaves after American civil war continued their old modes of existence of serving previous masters). The fact remains that sovereignty was granted on paper to most countries regardless of size just because the people there were alive and wanted autonomous self determination. If complex social structures like state governments can be given real freedom on paper, then governments can easily devolve more power to tangible structures such as national citizens.

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  1. I am very interested in the first picture of your blog post.
    Do you remember where you got this one from?

  2. Also interested in the origins of this picture. Essential for references..