Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Liberty Means Responsibility. That Is Why Most Men Dread It

In what is for once a remarkably shrewd move on the part of the government, calls by Liam Donaldson to charge alcohol per unit have been rejected. Gordon Brown has realised belatedly that such a move on the heels of massive taxpayer liability for bank bailouts - from which it has in no way benefitted - would be the equivalent of coating himself in liver and diving into a pool of mastiffs. Various papers and internet fora are ponderously discussing how to be 'responsible' about drinking, as if it were that easy.
We always do things arse-about-face these days. Someone shoots up a school? Ban guns. Kids drink too much? Hike the price of alcohol. Rather than examining just why people are so unhappy, the powers-that-be believe that their censor-all curtail-all approach is going to make people happier, healthier and wealthier despite glaring evidence to the contrary.
The culprit is not just big government, however much we would like to pin 100% of the blame upon them. One would have to go back a hundred and fifty, two hundred years to locate the source of the problem. The first is that a universal franchise is prohibitive to freedom, has marginalized intellectual, moral and economic efforts and elevated the 'norm' to excellence: we are not getting better every day, but, on the contrary, more average. As the economist and political theoretician JA Schumpeter put it: 

'The democratic method is that institutional arrangement which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will... However, when we move still farther away from the private concerns of the family and the business office into those regions of national and international affairs that lack a direct and unmistakable link to those private concerns, individual volition, command of facts and method of inference soon cease to fulfill the requirements of the classical doctrine.' 

In other words, the reality of the 'real' world lived by the majority of citizens and that of philosopher kings in rapt contemplation of the Beautiful are so far removed that an across-the-board understanding of major events is well-nigh impossible. Moreover, the idea of a universal franchise is not one shared by all, contrary to idealistic theories of Utopia. Universal franchise becomes even less appealing in the face of mass immigration; and, in a bizarre twist, the native population in a reversion to the kind of feudalism of the aristocracy practised before 1832 rears its head and asserts its rights to its own land above that of any o(O)ther. Even those of the lower working class would wish to become honorary esquires, espousing their property rights; class barriers can never be broken down whilst there exist different tribes throughout the world; the statist flat-earth dream will never be realised as long as humanity persists.
The second great difficulty in overcoming the collectivist mindset is that people cannot determine their own fate if a) they do not know what or who they are because they have never been taught to think freely and b) hence do not have the capacity to envisage what that fate might be. There is no will of the voter that cannot be manipulated; politicians no longer stand on the soap boxes, they sell us the soap. Political decisions become the most aggressive of marketing campaigns, a mishmash of bar graphs and voter preference charts; the politicians and their policies cannot be separated out, so that one either votes for the 'popular choice' - the Diet Coke celebrity endorser, if you will - or stays silent. Still, it is small wonder that such a cynical attitude is taken towards matters literally of life and death when the standard business mantra is 'sell yourself', 'sell yourself' - kill your spirit, kill your spirit.
Our society is overdeveloped; there is too much crowding in upon us, too many ways to turn, and too much machinery in place to stifle any expression that cannot be fitted within a specific matrix. Everything is a 'brand', nothing has reality in itself and for itself: a style-over-content-world poised perilously on the crest of the wave. And that is why people drink and drink: they're not happy; their bodies are free, their minds are chained; and what on earth is there for them to look forward to? What is there for them to live for, save servitude?
Proudhon, one of the architects of anarchical libertarianism, feared the kind of world that was to come. Speaking of the impending onslaught of Fascism and Stalinism, he saw that the major threat lay in a 'compact democracy having the appearance of being founded on the dictatorship of the masses, but in which the masses have no more power than is necessary to ensure a general serfdom in accordance with the following precepts and principles borrowed from the old absolutism: indivisibility of public power, all-consuming centralization, systematic destruction of all individual, corporative and regional thought (regarded as disrupted), inquisitorial police...'
How familiar the words: how familiar the concepts. And a debate over 'responsible drinking', smugly moral as it may appear to those earnestly debating within the narrow framework allowed them by a government who wishes to give them the illusion of freedom, will no more create a healthy society than a sane one. 

3 comments:

  1. This was all a set up, Mara, to make Snotty look good. The idea was born of a PR flirtation taken from the SNP mentioning of this subject.

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  2. "...would be the equivalent of coating himself in liver and diving into a pool of mastiffs"

    Quote of the day.

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  3. Vladimir says:

    "Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries."

    Between birth and death we wait. So I'll have a drink with or without the neo-puritan's permission.

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Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison