Friday, October 31, 2008

The Myth of Freedom

Shots Across the Bow has a great post up asking "Are you a citizen or a subject?" He argues very persuasively (not that I needed much persuading) that a government that promises to give you everything is subjugating you, rather than liberating you. Money quote:

If a man owns your house, your bank account, your job, and your health care, he owns you. Period. Just ask a coal miner from West Virginia about the company store.

"You load 16 tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don't call me cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store."

The whole post is prime cut libertarian red meat. But I'd like to take this problem in another direction.

At the age of seventeen as a young and overly confident political philosopher, I was one day pontificating to my father about the virtue of freedom. My much wiser father's response was simply "There's no such thing as freedom. You're always a slave to someone."

At the time, I did not understand him, but within a few years I did more than I would care to. I learned a simple truth: everyone is a slave to their employer. If your financial safety is dependent upon some other person or company, that person or company owns you. Your boss at work has the power of financial life and death over you and your future.

Thus our lives may be filled with a hundred petty tyrants who hold sway over us. Now not every boss shall be a tyrant, but all have the power to be tyrants. And as Harry Browne once said, "The problem is not the abuse of power; the problem is the power to abuse."

Unless you're financially independent, you'll always live under a dictator. Possibly and usually a benevolent one, but not necessarily so. Get used to your chains.

HT: Instapundit

10 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

Then how does one become financially independent?

I'd suggest two possible ways. One is to accumulate more and more and more. Have plenty of stuff and wealth. And plenty of places to store all that stuff and wealth. And plenty of security to guard all that stuff and wealth.

I'd suggest this is the typical Western approach to "independence" and it is, itself, a form of slavery. One becomes a slave to one's wealth. I think this is one reason there are repeated warnings within the pages of the Bible - "woe to you who are wealthy!" "It is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." "The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil." and so on and so on.

I believe the other way is found in being downwardly mobile and wealthy in friends, community and simplicity. The person who is content with whatever he or she has is the person who has a measure of independence and freedom. The person who can live simply has a larger measure of freedom.

That, to me, is the better solution to "financial independence."

Jeff the Baptist said...

If your financial safety is dependent upon some other person or company, that person or company owns you.

Only to a certain extent. You aren't a serf and are free to leave and go somewhere else. You may have to relocate or do something else, but you are still in the drivers seat. You are more like the servant of many masters than their property.

I think this is one reason there are repeated warnings within the pages of the Bible - "woe to you who are wealthy!"

Perhaps, but Solomon regularly points out that it is better to be rich than poor in Proverbs. A rich man who makes a bad decision or has bad luck will no longer be rich. A poor man who experiences the same will starve to death.

Jesus doesn't say it is bad to be rich. He says it is bad to be greedy and miserly. It also hard to balance investments in the world with investments in eternity. It makes for many traps. There is definitely a happy medium of wealth where you have enough money to meet your needs, but not enough to own you.

John said...

If I had to choose -- and had the opportunity to -- I'd rather be a slave to my wealth than a slave to my employer. Although I cannot always rely on myself to demonstrate good sense to myself, I can always rely on myself to act out of sheer malice to myself.

But Biblically speaking, you're mostly right. And through Christ we may lose our spiritual chains. But somehow it's hard to say that that's enough when our earthly chains are crushing us.

John said...

Jeff wrote:

Only to a certain extent. You aren't a serf and are free to leave and go somewhere else. You may have to relocate or do something else, but you are still in the drivers seat. You are more like the servant of many masters than their property.

Only if you had the good sense to major in engineering. The more marketable you are, the more freedom you have, and vice versa. Those of us who were dumb enough to be liberal arts majors can rarely afford such audacity.

Steven Manskar said...

Your father's wise comment reminded me of one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. It's one of his first gospel songs titled, "Gotta Serve Somebody." You can read the lyrics here: http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/gotta-serve-somebody

I think the point is that we are we're free to choose who we will serve.

Rich said...

As Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

(Apparently written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster)

As I understand it, Christ never promised freedom in the sense of not having a master. Rather, Christ said that you cannot have two masters. Either Christ is your master, or someone/something else is (e.g., money).

bob said...

Much of freedom is based on decisions we make and our education.
The problem with the original idea of the government giving us what we need is two fold. First that leaves it up to some politician what I need. Secondly it leads to a reliance on government that keeps us from making the decisions that allow us to better our selves.

Larry B said...

No matter whether you have financial freedom or not, we all eventually realize (some sooner than others) that we serve one indiscriminating master and that is death. How we choose to deal with that question determines how free we live.

the reverend mommy said...

I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently. Perhaps you have been reading my postings recently -- I've been thinking quite a bit about financial management, particularly.

I would suggest that some of our own chains are of our own making: that is, we aren't working to make a living, but to service our credit cards.

In a sense, freedom will come about when we no longer are serving those revolving credit accounts.

John said...

As Steve says, we have the ability to choose whom we serve. To a limited extent, of course.

That was a good Dylan song.