Freedom and liberty
I am always amazed that so many people are intrigued by libertarianism.
In fact, I think of it as something that captures the imagination of those don’t-tred-on-me folks who, when they are very young and idealistic, truly think that it is not only possible, but a desirable social template.
We had an interesting incident here recently that brought this conundrum home to me yet again. Some background is in order, to put this in perspective.
When we decided to move to our town, it was basically to be far from the busiest part of the metropolitan center nearby and still be within reasonable distance of my in-laws who lived on the other side of it. I knew little about it except that it was known for being quiet, safe, and pretty.
I liked the way the house looked, its curb appeal and the neighborhood was flanked by beautiful arroyos and natural vegetation, set high on an old mountain with big sky vistas – rather picturesque.
But, what we found after settling in was that we were now living among people whose views were what I would term a sort of ‘tea-party light’. This has meant being somewhat leery of alienating the neighbors since we are pretty much the exact opposite!
Going along to get along, we were quietly minding our own business, when, a year ago or so a ‘group’ moved into a house down the block that quickly presented a novel dilemma. Firstly, they were loud, angry, lots of unusual individuals coming and going – their lives playing out visibly virtually on the street on a daily basis. Then one day we awoke to a bevy of law enforcement (including animal control – which always brings my heart to my mouth, since I am such an animal lover) surrounding that house, firearms drawn. It was a three hour spectacle the likes of which I had never witnessed in the vicinity of any place I had lived, including NYC. (And, coincidentally in tandem with the Zimmerman trial).
I saw a few neighbors speaking with law enforcement officers and then got the full story in the news, that evening. This very uptight, staid, manicured, righteous homogeneous community now had a drug issue – renters with a history of emotional, social and legal problems.
So, uneasy about the safety of my family and pets, with visions of future shoot-outs prancing in my head, I ventured to contact our PC brigade, otherwise known as the Homeowners Association (the people who had instructed me, shortly after we moved in, to remove my beautiful hand-painted mailbox, tastefully white with delicate frogs on it in subdued colors, that I had based on actual photographs of frogs from National Geographic. I was told to put a plain, white regulation mailbox there immediately, so now my lovingly rendered frogs hold seed packets in my backyard, out of offending sight) to see what the outcome would be, assuming they would be contacting the owners of that home and instructing them to evict the occupants immediately. (The security service was nowhere to be seen, throughout the entire incident or thereafter).
I had to watch my own reaction to all this, as, based on my compassion for people’s problems and my live/let live attitude, I hesitated to be the source of any more trouble for these obviously unfortunate people. Also, given my neighbors, I figured I would not have to be the one to instigate any actions to move these people out. Surely, these ultra-conservative folks would do all that work.
Nope! Not one person had called the HOA to complain. And, I was haughtily informed, the owners could have anyone they wanted in that house and what went on within those walls, was no one’s business. Wow. The sole progressive was the only person who called to inquire as to the outcome of this incident. Having seen the alleged perps caravaned away to the precinct, I thought it was all at an end.
OK, so there are two things here that still astonish me. One, this is the libertarian view, I guess. No governing entity (i.e., the HOA for example, who are empowered supposedly to keep the neighborhood Stepfordy) will intrude on the rights of the homeowner when it comes to meth-heads. This juxtaposed with the right of the homeowner to customize a mailbox. I am still sorting that one out mentally.
If we loosely conceive of this as ‘voluntary associations of free people’, then I think the entire concept is anachronistic. It belongs to the stone age, not to the internet era.
It is simple: there can be no freedom in modern society. The minute humans began to live and work in groups, freedom as such ended and libertarianism became merely an intellectual utopian construct with no empirical value. Libertarianism in modern society would be anarchy at the gross collective level. From a micro perspective at the personal level, it would leave us exposed to the vagaries of other human beings, their selfish interests and their demons.
The neighborhood response of non action is intriguing. After their arraignment and release on bond, the same group (minus some forlorn pitbulls, who, I am thankful to report, were not shot) has re-occupied the house and it remains to be seen whether there are any developments. My tolerant sentiments continue to overrule my distaste for having them nearby, so the wait for another shoe to drop. Meanwhile, the absentee owner apparently has no problem with the tumult caused by the renters, nor does the HOA. Hmmm.
Yet one thin slice of the issue of freedom and its boundaries. Perhaps a future discussion of Ms. Ayn Rand is in order.