Friday, June 28, 2013

The allure of freedom

Over at Catallaxy Files, Rafe's blog round up (Rafe’s Roundup 28 June) led me to this post on the UK Libertarian Alliance Blog Living without the state in Britain today: The case of the Irish Travellers.

For various reasons, there have been periods in my life where escape, or at least the capacity to escape from current conditions, to live free, has been very important.  When I was at primary school, one of my all time favourite books was BB's Brendon Chase, the story of three boys who escape difficulty to live in the English woods. Another story from the same childhood period, an adult book from my parents' shelves, was actually set with the Travellers.

A little later, I became very interested through scouts in surviving in the bush. Then there were novels of people who created new identities, novels about prisoners of war on the run or resistance fighters, along with an entire science fiction genre where an authoritarian central power or powers made the capacity to live outside society a condition of survival. A little late still, came the counter culture movement with its visions of an untrammelled life style.

In all this, I actually thought about ways of breaking free, of creating a new identity. How might I do It?  Now you can tell me that these feelings are unrealistic, even unworthy, but the allure remains.

When I was a child or young adult, many of these things still possible. You could still build a hut in the bush, hitchhike, think of acquiring your own block, open a bank account in a new name. Escape was possible, as was survival in an authoritarian society. Where, as in Nazi Europe, there was an omni-present bureaucracy protecting state power, then you had to resort to forgers, you needed some form of organisation. But you could also rely on incompetence and system failure to help you.

Today I wonder. I am not a Libertarian, nor do I think that state action is always a bad thing. But I do worry about and resent state control. I am free, but only as long as I obey the rules, and those rules grow all the time, as do the controls required to enforce them. One of my biggest difficulties today is that I don't actually feel free, just controlled.

I accept that freedom is a relative concept. None of us are really free, nor can we be so since social functioning depends upon rules. And yet the growth of rules and controls, the increasing incapacity to think of even naive and idealistic ways of moving to a new life, creates a sense of loss.     


Legal Eagle said...

I really love books which involve survival or escape as well. My best friend at Primary School and I were talking about how we loved Swallows and Amazons as kids and how we acted it out in her back garden (with the spare shed as the island from which we set sail). I confess I've never thought about why before reading your post, although my husband and I have exclaimed that we both enjoyed that kind of book as children.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "state control"?


Jim Belshaw said...

Ah, LE. I really loved Swallows & Amazons too. My favourite Arthur Ransom book in the end was I didn't mean to go to sea. That sea interest morphed into a liking for Nevil Shute.

I knew that Swallows & Amazons were still popular, but I didn't know that the books had created a tourist industry!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sue. That's a fair question.

I have in mind especially the way in what we might think of as private space is constantly being diminished, ordered, regulated to the point that none of us can properly understand. The way in which tracking and reporting requirements grow ever more onerous. The way in which the inhumane aspects of laws and regulations have become more pronounced.

The way in which the number of police that we need for law enforcement grows faster than the population. The explosion in the size of police stations, the growth in the proportion of the Australian population in jail. The way in which past sins affect future development. We can't run and we can't hide.

Anonymous said...

'Swallows and Amazons' was read - a short passage, with firm voice - by my daughter at her mother's funeral.

And I was going to add that 'I was never so proud of my daughter' - but that wouldn't be true.


Jim Belshaw said...

That's a nice note, kvd. I gather your wife loved the series. And i do identify so much with the proud bit.

Rummuser said...

I used to be a libertarian too till I found out that the playing field is not even. I would still like to be one but the basic necessity for libertarianism to succeed, concern has totally disappeared from the human psyche. Hayek insisted that this would be a prerequisite, but power makes libertarian politicos gang up with those with economic power and that is what has happened to well intentioned libertarian rules.

I have become, like I think you mean you are, a pragmatist, capable of living within the system, but longing for true freedom.

Jim Belshaw said...

All this caused me to look libertarian up, Ramana. The phrase wasn't common when I was growing up. It is clear that I was exposed to libertarian ideas via Rand and Hayek and indeed science fiction and was influenced, but I wouldn't have called myself a libertarian because I saw the state as having a far more extensive role and accepted the need for rules.

I liked you last sentence, although I am less of a pragmatist than you because I still wave my lance against the windmills. I have clearly become more of a libertarian with time because of my perception of the emergence of a rules based society that has narrowed personal space. I find modern society including government harsher and more intrusive, substituting controls for concern.

Evan said...

I do think it is a worry. We live in a country where we can be arrested, questioned without charge and put in prison if we talk about any of it.

Since the Berlin Wall fell the West seems determined to turn itself into what it previously opposed - a police state.

Anonymous said...

Geez. I just read that Irish Traveller's link.

but in addition there is a strong moral basis for their society, known as the Travellers’ Code. Men and women have clearly defined roles; men undertake work outside the home while women have responsibility for the home and children. With sex before marriage frowned upon, most Travellers are expected to marry while they are still teenagers, and divorce is similarly taboo. The birth rate is extremely high, with large extended clans very common, but life expectancy for both children and adults is very low – partly because of genetic and related causes that are brought about by the closed nature of Traveller society, and partly because the nature of Traveller life involves exposure to more than the usual range of accident-based and other risks to life. While Travellers will have recourse to doctors when needed, there is also a strong emphasis on faith healing and self-reliance.

Education usually ends at age sixteen or so if it has continued that far; male Travellers are then needed to work and female Travellers to marry and have children. The nature of male work is invariably of a kind that produces cash in hand results, be it dog or horse trading or scrap metal dealing.

Their example is one that all libertarian theorists should study carefully. Their freedom may in many ways be a dystopian one, but it is freedom nonetheless

Wouldn't presume to ask for your daughters' analysis, so I asked mine.

Unfortunately the response was unprintable, even among close friends.


Jim Belshaw said...

I'm not surprised, kvd. My daughters would be the same! If you look at the comments on that piece, you will find a fascinating mixture of responses including most un-libertarian attitudes.