How much Freedom should we Trade for our Security?

15th Aug 2002

 

Synopsis

 

The question is a moral one. Morality falls into two broad categories - individualism and altruism. On political, economic, social, technological, commercial and environmental issues, these two systems clash. Altruism and individualism have different views of justice, the first accepting the concept of social justice, the second individual justice. Altruism would limit political donations while individualism encourages them. Altruism is against immigration while individualism is for it. Altruism is for the euro while individualism is against it. Altruism is more open to corruption than individualism. Altruism limits free trade while individualism demands it. Altruism insists on pre-empting people's choices with regulation while individualism allows them. Altruism resists genetic technology while individualism encourages it. Altruism believes in determinism while individualism believes in freewill. Altruism does not resist foreign threats while individualism does. Altruism combines with environmentalism to suppress the individual on all fronts. Yet without individualism, altruism would not be possible, since it relies on the goods produced by individuals of their own freewill in order to have something to give away. Therefore individualism is the proper moral system while altruism is its parasite. To make ourselves more secure and free we must stop compromising ourselves and eliminate altruist ideas from our thinking.

 

Essay

 

How much freedom should we trade for our security? As with all moral questions, the answer turns upon whether one is an altruist or an individualist. Both points of view are held by people in the West, but only one has the power to save it, from terrorists and from itself. By addressing various issues from both sides it will be clear which one that is.

 

Social freedom. To an individualist, there is only one type of freedom which he must surrender to society: the right to self-defence. This he knows to be in his long term interest even if he would immediately like to retaliate when harmed or robbed. By ceding his right of self-defence to a central legal system, he expects to gain objective, deterring justice, and protection from future attacks by his assailant. He sees that the alternative is anarchy. In all other matters in which he interacts with other members of society, he sees no reason for any kind of legal restraint provided he does not attack or rob anyone himself.

 

Altruists would disagree. They believe not in individual justice but social justice. To them 'a hungry man is not free' and therefore rich men must be forced by the government to surrender some of their wealth. The government redistributes the wealth not only to the hungry, but also the homeless, jobless, husbandless, disabled and poor. To altruists this is justice, and by means of state provided payments, healthcare and pensions it brings security to society as a whole. To individualists a government acting in such a way is obviously a threat to the security of their wealth.

 

Political freedom. In today's Western world, it would seem that everyone agrees in the principle of free speech. However a split between altruists and individualists does occur in regard to party political funding. An individualist expects to be allowed to give as much money as he likes to the party of his choice - the party acts as an extension of his own political views which he is free to express. But altruists argue that no individual should be allowed to make large donations since it gives him too much influence.

 

This disagreement points to a more fundamental one. Individualists believe men should rely on the government only as an agent of their own self-defence. Altruists rely on it to support the needy through taxation. Therefore, under an altruist system, politicians have a lot of money and a lot of power to decide who is taxed and who is supported. To allow any individual to control such power through exorbitant political funding would encourage corruption and so be wrong. Individualists would agree, but point out that the problem is of the altruists' own making.

 

Altruists' ability to help the needy does have limits. An obvious one is the political border. They actively discourage immigration because it is unfair to dilute the contributions of natives who have paid into the welfare system for their whole working lives. Individualists, having no such system, welcome immigrants knowing that the more productive people there are in the country, the higher the standard of living will become. Depending on one's moral code, political security is either strengthened or threatened by an influx of outsiders. This has become a major source of debate regarding enlargement of the EU.

 

The more power the EU acquires, the more issues it becomes involved with that require moral decisions. Its main type of power is economic. To individualists, the euro is just an extension of central banking from the state to the super-state. For them, central banking as such is immoral, since it prohibits the freedom of individuals to own and operate private banks. They would also prefer a return to the gold standard and therefore an objective standard of value for money.

 

Altruists on the other hand, welcome the euro. Since their goal is to support others, the larger the economic influence the state has, the more people it can support. Tax can be collected in euros from hundreds of millions of people and redistributed in euros to the tens of millions that need it. This is much more efficient than separate states collecting the money at different tax rates and then having to convert it at varying exchange rates before it can be used. Altruists also prefer deficit spending to balanced budgets, since they put immediate need before long term fiscal prudence. The establishment of a European-wide currency prevents individual states from threatening each other with sounder money on the foreign exchange markets.

 

One economic issue that individualists and altruists do agree on is the removal of trade barriers in the EU. Both sides welcome the growth in trade that this enables - individualists because it raises their own standard of living, altruists because it raises others' through increased tax revenue. But the single trade zone has brought threats which each moral party reacts differently to. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with its controls and subsidies, is a threat to individualists who believe in each person making his own profits without help and without restrictions from the government, whatever his business. But the CAP is supported by altruists because it secures poor farmers in their jobs and enables the state to control the quantity and type of food grown. It also allows them to secure the European landscape. This control, they argue, is required to prevent food shortages and to secure the countryside for future generations. However, until the EU is extended to cover the whole world, there will always be some kind of border, and for this reason the same issues mentioned above in relation to immigration still apply.

 

Just as the free trade of people across borders threatens altruists, so does the free trade of other goods,. Hence the EU's insistence on tariffs, and customs duties. Altruists think that this is a protection of their own citizens. Individualists think it is a restriction on the freedom to trade, and in fear of going bankrupt thanks to foreign cheaper competition, they often move their operations outside the EU, to countries where tariffs are less.

 

A related issue of regulation arises in almost every industry. Who is to ensure good product quality, proper pricing and decent labour treatment by business? Altruists would say, 'the government' : because it is impartial - individual bosses would necessarily be selfish and produce expensive, shoddy goods and harm their employees, all so as to increase their own profits. Individualists would say that the market of intelligent consumers and workers can make up their own minds about the quality, price and conditions concerning each company. To them commercial freedom is threatened by regulation. To altruists commercial security requires it.

 

One industry that is facing a total ban thanks to regulation is GM Food production. Again, for individualists, there is a straightforward argument: let it succeed or fail, like any other technology, based on the consumer's free choice. For altruists though, there is a conundrum. On the one hand, they suspect selfish businessmen of trying to make a profit while callously causing unseen damage to future generations and the environment. On the other hand, GM Food offers the potential to feed starving millions at a fraction of today's costs, thanks to increased pest resistance and a higher yield.

 

Cloning of human spare parts raises similar issues: should some people be able to prolong their lives by buying spare body parts, while other, poorer people are limited to a normal lifespan? The answer depends on one's own moral code, but suffice it to say the preferred altruist solution would be to distribute such treatment to everyone through state healthcare.

 

The cloning of individuals is more philosophical: are people's lives determined by their genes, or by their freewill? Altruists believe that most individuals are inherently incapable of surviving without the enforced help of others. They are determinists because they deny that people earn their wealth by dint of their own chosen effort which would give them a right to keep it. To altruists, wealth is just easier for some people to come by than others. So to ensure secure lives and social justice for everyone, the only safe course they think is to compel almost everyone to contribute their wealth to the state distribution system. That successful people can choose to help the needy does not seem possible or practical to them.

 

High technology weapons present another divisive question: should they be accumulated to deter aggression and used to secure lives and property, or should they be de-commissioned and replaced with diplomacy? Individualists say the first, and altruists the second. The altruists are fundamentally anti-selfish, and therefore do not place a high value on individual life. If some foreign power destroys us or takes us over, they argue, it doesn't matter. It would be more wrong of us to use force against them, and so in all cases we must turn the other cheek. Just as they are prepared to surrender individuals' liberty to others, so they are prepared to surrender a whole country to another. For altruists being selfish is the ultimate crime; for individualists self-sacrifice is. Hence the differing general reactions to the Middle East crisis: the more selfish Americans demand their own security, while the more altruist Europeans think themselves so unimportant, they prefer to live under the threat.

 

Finally, and most revealingly, comes the issue of environmentalism. In this arena, all the preceding arguments are coalesced. Altruists are pro-environmentalism because: it raises the collective over the individual in the form of future generations; it opposes selfish business exploitation - industrialisation may have unseen side-effects that destroy the climate; it creates global controls; and it devalues the individual as far as possible by elevating trees and rocks. Individualists are against it because: it stops them producing and using goods as they see fit; it reduces profit; it reduces the quality of human life (imagine it without cars or fertilizer); and it threatens to remove havens of low regulation. In sum it acts against the Industrial Revolution. To them environmentalism is a threat to our security on earth; to altruists it is a means of saving the earth from us.

 

From the above it can be seen that altruism and individualism offer very different kinds of freedom and security. Altruism offers security against poverty, ill-health, old age, exploitative businesses and environmental change. But it sacrifices the freedom to spend one's own wealth, support one's party, hire immigrants, run a bank or other business as one sees fit, to trade across borders and to choose whom to help, except to the degrees allowed by the state - which is not freedom. Individualism does offer those freedoms and also the security to fully protect one's life and wealth. It does not offer to secure people against the reality of their choices or their bad luck.

 

Without individualism, altruism would not survive. Altruism can only redistribute what has already been produced - it does not encourage or create wealth. It is essentially a negative force. Terrorists and agressor nations similarly have no power of their own. Both these threats are only empowered by the sanction of individuals ready to fund them or appease them - individualists who are part-time altruists. Therefore the greatest and only serious threat to our freedom and security is the continued acceptance and spread of altruist ideas. Let the people of the West be made aware of this subversion, so that the benefits of individualism and capitalism may be spread throughout the world.

 

- Henry Afton