The title is a cliche yet we think about it too little. What is this ‘price’?
Those who turned it into a cliche are the Neocons who insist that the price of freedom is to obliterate yet more of the warrior class in what they call the Greater Middle East. Bomb wedding parties there before we have to bomb wedding parties here.
Bloated military budgets are also sometimes conflated as a price of freedom.
Presumably, in the absence of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen etc. there would no longer be any freedom in the West. Instead we’d be confined to our homes and clad in niqabs by mad theocrats.
And yet, like most cliches, there’s some truth in it. Freedom comes at a hefty price. ‘Freedom’ here includes both legal rights and freedom from restrictive social mores.
No matter how high-trust our societies are, there must be a tradeoff between individual rights and public order. Our previous rights against unlawful searches, arbitrary arrest and unfair trials enabled some criminals to go free. Authoritarian governments that care about public order are sometimes able to use much stronger tactics to achieve very low crime rates. Of course, there is also anarcho-tyranny which gives us the worst of both worlds.
The negative correlation between rights and safety can be overstated. For example, I’m not convinced extreme anti-terror legislation did much to stop terrorism. Most foiled attacks appear to have been instigated by the foilers.
In Japan, talking on the phone while riding the subway is prohibited. The silence is divine.
In Singapore, streets are kept clean by a soft ban on chewing gum and tough penalties for littering.
In much of Asia, the mentally ill and behaviour-disordered are kept away from the general public.
In Melbourne, once one of the freest places in the world, the train is a cacophony of profane phone conversations in a babel of languages, the streets are not spotless and there are frequently madmen causing a ruckus in public places.
In the even freer Philippines, people burn off rubbish whenever they feel like it and sing karaoke at 6am. Roosters crow and dogs bark constantly throughout every town and village. There are technically restrictions on these things but they are not enforced.
These are costs of freedom. If you want a perfectly clean, quiet, peaceful society, you must pay for it with some loss of liberty.
As I discussed in Who won the Covids, the only way of controlling a highly infectious disease is through extremely strict border closures, and even then only temporarily. It will get through sooner or later.
Do you think the citizens of your country ought to have the right to come and go as they please, without hindrance? Then every pandemic will quickly reach your shores. Control the borders and you can put it off for a few months.
As for all those other restrictions, none seems like a genuine tradeoff as they don’t work much at all.
The more personal freedom individuals and groups are allowed, the more disgusting stuff that will go on. You can’t get around it.
Much of the decline of the West has been due to sexual liberation in ways much discussed here and elsewhere. Family formation is at an all-time low. Similar easing of social restrictions in North Asia has had a similar result.
As a one-time libertine I hate to admit it, but there’s no such thing as a society with both non-judgmental values and replacement-level birthrates. Now we know why all those old civilizations were so stodgy.
A society is immensely strong when everyone is pulling in the same direction. This is why freedom of expression is often curtailed during wartime. A free society is one in which troublemakers sow discontent, protests rage and rival interests clash. Perfect harmony can only reign under the yoke of a totalitarian government or an inflexible social order.
There’s an apocryphal story of a Chinese father-son business team who bought up all the garlic in their province to achieve a monopoly and sell it at a massive mark-up. Unfortunately they knew nothing about how to store garlic and it went off. The province suffered a massive shortage, the men were arrested and charged with Gross Stupidity.
In a free society, we cannot arrest people merely for acts of gross stupidity like insisting they are the opposite sex or for spouting nonsense online. In Anglo-Saxon custom, laws only proscribe harmful acts, not merely being wrong. You can rant and rave about the lizard men as much as you like and no one can stop you.
I’ve probably missed some other prices of freedom but you get the gist.
Every society must weigh the good of freedom against all these other goods that do not sit easily alongside it.
I’m in the pro-freedom camp. Most readers will have an in-between stance, preferring some freedoms but thinking others should be done away with.
I accept I’ve lost the battle in Australia. Freedom is toast. However, there’s still a solution to this problem and it is state sovereignty/federation.
Let a thousand flowers bloom. If you want the freedom to jabber away on the phone like an annoying dick, don’t go to Japan. If you’re a drinker, avoid Saudi Arabia. If you don’t like wearing a facemask – is there a place where that’s not required?
I yearn to breathe free, literally and figuratively, but I respect that others don’t. We could avoid a fight if we could each find like-minded communities. Mine will all die of Covid, yours will all suffocate, and everybody’s happy.
Diversity + proximity = conflict, and this is true ideologically, culturally and temperamentally as much as it is ethnically.
I don’t see any reason to piously defend the rights of Chinese to protest, nor of Indians to fornicate. They can do their own thing. I only seek my own freedom. Most others don’t want it anyway.