Why the freedom argument is hot garbage

Michael Nabert
4 min readFeb 7, 2021

Don’t treat it as an absolute, look for the Goldilocks Zone.

Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash

“Moderation is best in all things” wrote the Greek poet Hesiod in 700 BC. Later writers have added variations on “except in moderation itself” or “especially in moderation itself” depending upon their personal philosophy. Moderation is a big concept. It reminds us that you can have too much of a good thing. A glass of wine nightly with dinner can reduce your blood pressure. A magnum of wine nightly with dinner can ruin your liver. You need enough salt in your diet, but not too much. If we could apply this concept more broadly, our world wouldn’t be nearly so big a mess.

Polarization drives us to think ever more in absolute black and white extremes. Extremism is about zero percent and 100%. It doesn’t recognize any Goldilocks Zone somewhere in between. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than when people talk about Freedom. Give me liberty or give me death is as binary as it gets.

In “On Liberty,” John Stuart Mill wrote that it means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.” The clause the right omits is “as long as what we do does not harm them.” We can say that “Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my jaw begins,” but a lot of us don’t take it seriously. They also seem to have a real problem with “subject to such consequences as may follow.” Actions have consequences, and no philosophy can free you from them.

Inflicting violence is so much one of America’s dominant traits that if America has a love language, violence is it. It is not coincidental that most of the world sees America as the greatest threat to global peace. Feeling license to harm is intrinsic to the national character. It is particularly central to the toxic masculinity, manufactured aggrievement culture, and hair trigger reactionary nature primary to the angry right wing. Literally no one should have been surprised to see the concept that helping to reduce the spread of a deadly virus was weaponized by this contingent into yet another thing that they lash out over. Lashing out is their weltanschauung.

Michael Nabert

Researching a road map from our imperilled world into one with a livable future with as much good humour as I can muster along the way.