Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sociology of Freedom

Freedom (or the lack of it) does not come to each of us evenly and all at once.  This is explained in Harry Browne's classic, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.  That book is a nicely crafted restatement of a libertarian theory earlier expressed by Skye d'Aureous and Natalee Hall in "What if They Gave a Millennium and Nobody Came?"  (Libertarian Connection #13, reprinted in the 1981 Loompanics Main Catalog and in Loompanics Greatest Hits, 1984). 
          Harry Browne examined 14 common Traps that we allow ourselves to fall into, from family to job, to taxation, and including "Burning Issues" and "Rights."  Browne advocated a rational (logical and dispassionate) examination of each limitation on your own freedom.  You must recognize that for each gain, you must pay a price, in order to reap the reward. 
        Skye d'Aureous and Natalee Hall were at once broader and more concise. "An overall decrease in freedom for the general population does not mean an overall decrease in freedom for you, unless your actions are necessarily the same as the general population."  ...  "You will not suddenly become 100% free." They made 15 other points to elucidate the same principles. 
       In fact, these truths coincide with known perspectives from sociology.  Sociology looks at the variability in human cultural experiences and posits axioms of subjectivism.  C. Wright Mills coined the phrase "sociological imagination" which has taken on wider meanings than he intended.  Sociological imagination is the ability to see beyond your own social context to understand that of other people.  The Thomas Theorem says, "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."   Those perspectives support the suggestions of Browne and others that you do not need to become enmeshed in the social world you happen to inhabit.  In fact, we all inhabit many such spheres of life simultaneously. 
     In particular, it is a general prediction that anyone who calls themself a Republican, libertarian, or Objectivist probably has set aside some savings in gold and silver coins that protect those savings against the ravages of inflation.  Wider still, Browne would point out that a job with a fixed salary gives you less freedom to adjust your wages.  Moreover, some would also suggest that actually working for the government might be one way to stay ahead of inflation by participating in its cause.  On the other hand, even the best-paid government employee, a GS-15 (depending in the locale), will top out at about $100,000 to $120,000 per year, confortable, but not wealthy -- and certainly not capable of going to $250,000. 
     Among the wealthiest suburbs in America, measured by household income, are four around Washington DC (Forbes here).  If you want the flexibility of private employment tied to government spending, work for a think tank or a lobbyist.  Of course, for you that might be like being paid to go to prison.  Money isn't everything.  
       Therefore, Browne generally recommends being self-employed at whatever you do best, or at least working at a regular day job that rewards you for your efforts, such as sales.  Of course, that may not be for you.  Your happiness may depend on other choices you make -- and you will pay different prices for different kinds of freedom.  But that freedom is out there.
      What people believe to be true is true in its consequences. This is also dramatized in Atlas Shrugged as industrialist Hank Rearden's legal problems with the Washington planners only reflect his personal life. Even his surrender of Rearden Metal to preserve Dagny Taggart's reputation was a result of that.  If you find yourself trapped by circumstances, then you need to create your own social reality. 

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