Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Will the Real Freedom Hater Please Stand Up?

Last month Richard Reid – you remember him, the shoe bomber – was sentenced by a US district court Judge William G. Young to 80 years in prison for attempting to blow up an airliner on approach to Miami. In his sentencing speech Judge Young told Mr. Reid that in order to have done such a thing he must hate freedom.


At the risk of losing a few friends and maybe more than one reader I hereby, whole heartedly disagree with Judge Young.

I dare say; No one hates freedom. Not Muslims, Christians or Jews. Not Capitalists, Socialists, Liberals or Conservatives. Not one person on this planet hates freedom. Anyone who would agree with the statement “I hate freedom” is more likely confused than sincere.

The American historian, political commentator and leading authority on terrorism, Walter Zeev Lacqueur once said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Since 9/11 this sentiment has lost much of its popularity. I can understand why, after you have been attacked it’s hard to say your attacker was just standing up for his freedom, but it’s still a lot more accurate than calling all terrorist freedom haters.

When I began this blog several months ago one of my first posts was called, “My Peace Statement”. It’s there in the archives on August 9, 2009 if you want to take a look. In it I stated my position on peace in one sentence;

Peace, Without Justice, is Oppression.

I still hold firmly to that statement. Terrorists are most often oppressed people that resort to violence as a last ditch effort to be heard. Their message is always loud but very rarely understood by their oppressors. All too often the response to terrorism is to redouble efforts at “security”.

We build walls, both metaphorical and physical between “us and them” that serve to create a false peace and ignore the broader issue of justice and oppression.

The world over, hot beds of terrorism are often areas of extreme poverty that are rich in natural resources like oil and diamonds. Those resources are exploited by the powerful and used as tools of the oppression. We vilify the locals calling them terrorist or insurgents when it’s really us who are the more violent oppressors.

When you oppress a local population, steal their resources and force them into abject poverty sooner or later someone is going to stand up and say ENOUGH. Nelson Mandela did it, so did Ghandi. Regardless how they were perceived by their rulers at the time, history has proven both of these men right, they were not terrorists, they were true freedom fighters. There are countless others throughout history, most notably the leaders of the American Revolution, terrorists who destroyed a boat load of tea in the name of freedom.

Do I agree with terrorist methodology? No! Do I think that we should negotiate with terrorists? No!

I do think that we need to take a long hard look at the regions of the world that spawn terrorism and figure out how to engage with the local population. We need to offer them justice so they do not become oppressed and therefore feel they have to resort to violence.

Peace and Justice, like two sides of a coin, cannot be separated. be continued!

Friday, March 12, 2010


Liberty is one of those words that gets bandied about in political debates like some kind of trump card. People at every point along the political spectrum will try to frame their arguments so that they appear to be on the side of liberty. With everyone trying to lay claim to this concept I think it’s time to take a look at what the word actually means.

Merriam-Webster defines liberty as;

the quality or state of being free: the power to do as one pleases, freedom from arbitrary or despotic control, the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges, the power of choice

All good stuff right? But read it again, slowly, and you’ll start to see the beginnings of something possibly quite sinister and ego-centric.

When I read that definition I am struck by what liberty is not. There is no indication of social responsibility or other-centeredness. In fact liberty is an incredibly selfish concept. It’s the power to do as one pleases and enjoy privileges without any thought for the people around you. As a result many people have used the concept of liberty to refuse any submission to authority, including the police or to justify a lack of self control in matters that would benefit the whole of society. I’ve even heard of cases where people have argued constitutional liberty as a defence against a speeding ticket, like it’s somehow a right to drive as fast as you wish without any regard to public safety.

Last week I talked about Immanuel Kant. He saw an overly liberated population as a potential fatal flaw in republican democracy.

In Kant’s time liberty was a rallying cry for people trying to gain that freedom from arbitrary or despotic control. Today the despots are gone but the concept lives on as justification for all kinds of selfishness. Patrick Henry’s cry to “Give me liberty, or give me death.” is no longer a sacrificial life affirming statement but has become a demand for personal fulfillment. The bottom line is that personal fulfillment is not a right.

In a world obsessed with liberty one of the great lies ever told is that if you try hard you will get what you want and be happy. It stands to reason then that if you don’t get what you want it’s your own fault due to laziness. To quote my friend Casey, “that’s just Bat-Shit crazy!”

The fact of the matter is that sometimes no matter how hard you try you will sometimes fail. Failure is not evidence of laziness or of some grand conspiracy to deny you the “right” to happiness. Failure does however compromise your liberty because it can prevent one from doing as one pleases.

So; if personal fulfillment is not a right and failure compromises liberty it stands to reason that liberty is not a right either. Instead the much more noble cause is to promote equality and to choose to release your hold on personal freedoms in the name of communal advancement.

Put another way;

The cure of anarchy is government under which all men agree to lay down this right to all things, and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself. Thomas Hobbes.

Now that's a concept of liberty that makes sense.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Immanuel Kant says we’re Selfish!

Are we too selfish to achieve true world peace? Immanuel Kant seemed to think so. In one of his shorter essays, “Toward a Perpetual Peace (1795)” he said as much.

Now the republican constitution is the only one wholly compatible with the rights of men, but it is also the most difficult to establish and still harder to maintain, so much so that many contend that the republic must be a nation of angels, for men’s self-seeking inclinations make them incapable of adhering to so sublime a form of government.

At the turn of the 19th century modern republican democracy was in its infancy. America was just 19 years old when Kant made that statement. Great Britton’s House of Commons was much less powerful than the nobility’s House of Lords and both houses still largely differed to the will of the king. Napoleon was consolidating power in France and would soon stage a coup convincing the elected senate to install him as emperor. Monarchies were the rule of the day throughout Europe and would hold for the next 100 years in Germany, Austria and Spain to name just a few. America was looked upon with scepticism and even distain as a foolish experiment.

Kant looked at the world around him and made some very astute observations. Imperial governments do not have to listen to the population in the same way that democracies do. They are free to amass wealth and direct it any way they wish. But because imperial leaders are human they generally use their wealth to feed their ego and the more wealth they amass the more likely they are to try and push their agenda not only in their own territory but beyond. In Kant’s time governments were amassing wealth and power through imperialist expansion in Africa and the Far East that put them on a collision course eventually leading to the Napoleonic and other wars.

And so Kant concluded that republican democracy was the only type of government that could come close to achieving lasting peace. By turning government over to the masses, even if only in the form of the occasional referendum, the wealth of the nation had to be focussed on the needs of the people and not the ego of a leader. But therein lies the rub. Kant’s prediction that the selfishness of human nature would be democracies undoing seems more likely today than ever before.

The great paradox of western culture is that all have the right to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, it’s enshrined in constitutions for Pete’s sake, but with millions of us all jockeying for the same thing we are bound to get in each other’s way. My liberty will inevitably encroach on your liberty. My pursuit of happiness may upset yours. Left unchecked liberty will lead to anarchy.

I’ve been accused of being everything from too liberal to too conservative and even a bit skitsophrenic by some of my readers. Quite honestly I don’t know what any of that means. I just look at and comment on the world through the lens of my personal experience and right now I see a very selfish society that is on the path to destruction.

Immanuel Kant was right; our self-seeking inclinations are incompatible with democracy. We’ve got to figure out a way to make it work because the alternatives are inconceivable.

It’s going to take me a while to flesh out all of the implications of this line of thought so stay with me. Many of you will likely disagree with my conclusions, please comment on anything you take issue with. I crave the dialogue, it’s how I learn. I very rarely sensor anything I receive. If you do agree I want to hear from you too. As you know, when all you get is negative feedback you start to wonder if you might be crazy.

Stay tuned, I promise, it’s about to get really interesting....