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Greed Vs. Freedom

(The following is a Chivalry-Now commentary concerning the BBS documentary The Trap, directed by Adam Curtis. You can see this documentary by clicking here.)

Mathematician John Forbes Nash, subject of the movie, Beautiful Mind, developed a mathematical process called Game Theory, where variables interact like players in a game, each modifying strategies according to the opponent's situational response. By using this theory, it was proposed that reliable predictions about human behavior could be made.
    His original premise, and the conclusion that followed, was that if everyone limited themselves to pursuing their own interests, society, both economic and social, would run just fine. Each person should view everyone else as competitors for wealth and/or power. A mutual balance of selfishness, or greed, would provide an understandable rationale that would create a reliably predictable formula for stable, harmonious coexistence.
    This fit in well with the economic models developed by economist Friedrich von Hayek, who actually went so far as to decry such variables as altruism or a concern for fairness. Economist James M. Buchanan carried the idea to its logical conclusion. Businesses should choose managers who are motivated by self-interest alone. Qualities like compassion or job loyalty are not only meaningless, but problematic. Greed is easier to define and manipulate.
    This theory has spread its influence into politics and everyday relationships as well, trying to push self-interest ahead of patriotism, friendship and love. Its influence feeds into the growing culture of greed on which consumerism is based.
    Philosopher Isaiah Berlin contributed to this by describing two types of freedom. The first he called negative freedom, which means, quite simply, a lack of outside coercion. He defined positive freedom as something more directed, the opportunity to fulfill one's potential. Berlin concluded something similar to that of Nash and von Hayek. He decided that negative freedom was sociologically safer than positive, because it avoided violent insurgency. He identified positive freedom as the cause of such atrocities as the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions. Negative freedom was envisioned to be more like laisser-faire capitalism, which would control people through market forces.
    Chivalry-Now suggests something very different. Positive freedom is reflective of very real human drives that produce thoughtful, independent choices, creativity, and authentic living. It should be protected and not suppressed or sedated by market forces. The ability to fulfill one's own potential must always be an obvious goal of being free. Negative freedom, on the other hand, which amounts to little else than social license, purposely leaves individuals prey to non-coercive, yet still very effective, social manipulation. Negative freedom eventually produces a highly stratified society in which a minority of powerful people gain economic and political control over the masses. We see these results very much in evidence today. It produces a very different kind of oppression and violence, one perpetrated by corporations and military engagements for economic reasons.
    In the light of Chivalry-Now, freedom is recognized as an essential element of human nature that allows what is best in that nature to blossom. It is freedom with purpose, in that it alls upon the individual to find that purpose, not the State, and certainly not corporations. Whatever revolution happens is personal. For this kind of freedom to thrive, it needs traits of both positive and negative freedoms. Government controls should be minimized, as negative freedom claims, but for reasons of allowing people to grow on their own, which is positive freedom. For this to happen, however, people must resist being brainwashed by heavy-handed marketing machines as well as government.
    Berlin's obvious mistake was to identify positive freedom as something that could only be imposed by maniacally despotic leaders, such as Robespierre and Joseph Stalin. This imposition is the very opposite of freedom. Berlin failed to see that the American Revolution provided a unique and workable example of positive and negative freedoms, because it was based on Age of Enlightenment ideals, the rational growth of human virtue.
    A Scottish psychologist named Ronald David Laing, used Nash's Game Theory to show how reliable social interactions can be harmoniously controlled by basing them on greed. He considered all human interaction, including love, to be forms of asserting one's power over someone else in order to get what is wanted. If all people do this, and he concluded that they do, certain ground-rules apply that construct a viable continuum based on greed. Human behavior was being reduced to something that social scientists could mathematically understand.
    When all this comes into play in society, freedom loses its positivistic elements, which include a certain amount of moral responsibility. This underscores the steady rise in power of faceless corporations, risky deregulation of financial markets, the increase of national and personal debt, and using the military to maintain the global interests of civilian investors.
    When we surrender to these dynamics, placing self-interest before everything else, we buy into the idea that self-interest explains the totality of who we are. The question remains: has something of our humanity been sacrificed in this trade-off?
    In the meantime, idealism (and that includes chivalry) has become synonymous with naiveté. The result? A cold, dreary and pointless life steering away from ideals that would inspire it. We are condemning ourselves to a perpetual state of strategizing for greater wealth and position, courting envy, counting profits with Scrooge-like fanaticism, hoarding possessions, allowing the market to shape our values, voting for candidates for all the wrong reasons. As negative freedom prescribes, the coercion is not there, but therein lies the subtle poison. It does not have to be. Lacking personal inspiration, we surrender something of our own volition. We become slaves to carefully crafted, dehumanizing conformity within ourselves.
    If we believe that greed is something good, something that establishes ideal ground rules for social interactions, if we believe that everyone is greedy by nature, and our values should predicate that idea, if we conclude that mutual distrust produces a stasis of competition similar to trust, and that love, benevolence, altruism, and even patriotism, are dangerously unpredictable, then it is time to look into the mirror and see who we really are — no more illusions.
    We need to ask ourselves what human beings become when the exceptionality of moral conscience is replaced by greed. Will the world be a better place because of it? Or does the primacy of self-interest, and the forces that cater to it, open doors to all kinds of abuse - psychological, economic, political, environmental, and domestic? Are we sacrificing the spontaneity of human life for the convenience of consumerism? Are we losing authenticity for the homogenized, lab rat predictability of classical conditioning, ruled by the marketplace?
    The Golden Age envisioned by ancient philosophers, and perennially resurrected in our own hopes and dreams, is being replaced by another Gilded Age, where self-interest, wealth and power have become self-perpetuating. Social Darwinism is alive and well.
    The question then becomes: is it to late to turn this around?
    When the nation suffers from a deficit, and huge tax breaks are recommended for the wealthiest citizens, who invest most of their money overseas, the masses nod in thoughtless agreement. When pundits judge politicians on strategy and self-interest, rather than deeper issues of morality, patriotism and competence, we go along with them. When clergy teach us that God rewards people with monetary windfalls, we casually discard quotes of scripture that teach the very opposite. When political leaders listen more to corporate CEOs than the will of the people, contradicting what democracy is all about, we shrug it off as politics as usual. Consider the blind faith we had in market forces, despite all rational considerations. When the economy fell apart like a house of cards, our blind faith is shattered, and we have no idea how to fix it.
    So, what is the answer?
    Our best and brightest developed simplistic models of human motivation that ignore the complexities of our behavior.
    Their idea of negative freedom was incomplete, void of visionary concepts that have always driven humanity forward. Its implementation through market forces brings violence of its own, and institutional hierarchies that negate freedom for masses.
    Their conclusion that positive freedom inevitably leads to mass violence was based in historical violence instigated by fanatical, half-crazed leaders and their duped followers in vast revolutionary movements. That is not positive freedom, which is something quiet and personal, and cannot be imposed by leaders, but only inspired one-by-one by each person who aspires to find authenticity. Berlin's version of positive freedom is not freedom at all.
    Chivalry-Now speaks to us in very different terms. Yes, freedom is best achieved in a state free from coercion, but certainly there is more. It involves personal growth and development of one's potential. It includes virtues that are humane, already part of us, that must be liberated for freedom to be complete.
    Chivalry-Now rejects the follower mentality that leads to detours and violence. It places its faith in no one outside of each individual in relationship with the world.
    Maximizing freedom does not come from maximizing dependency and minimizing independent thought.
    While abhorring the violence of various revolutionary movements, which led to mass murder and oppression, the above economists and philosophers failed to recognize the successful lessons gleaned from the American Revolution, that were inspired by Age of Reason philosophers. Liberty was achieved and sustained without governmental impositions. Negative freedom was balanced by positive, humanistic ideals.
    Although much of that enthusiasm has been lost in the United States, replaced by subtle politics and herd-like consumerism, its initial success speaks volumes for us to learn from. The founders put limits on their own powers, leaving freedom to the people to decide. But this was not freedom void of ideals. Their articulated idea of "pursuit of happiness" included the pursuit of virtue as well. Without virtue, there could be no happiness.
    All this may sound good, but is it too philosophical, and not grounded in our every day lives? Can we approach it in more tangible terms?
    The answer is yes. We can approach it by contemplating the 12 Trusts, or just approaching life itself as a personal quest. Listen to the stirrings of your heart, and learn from them. Dedicate yourself to truth, and to the greater good, and always, always, think for yourself.
    Make your presence known in the world as a person of honor and integrity. Confront the evils of the world not with anger, but with wisdom and forgiveness. Follow no one, but work side-by-side with everyone.


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