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  • Mateusz Mazurkiewicz


This text was originally posted on LessWrong.

Freedom is the ability to act on a goal, a desire, to not be constrained by the world one lives in. One could formulate freedoms to life, to property, to information, to expression. Universal Declaration of Human Rights highlights 30 articles detailing rights that should at no circumstances be infringed upon.

The multitude and variety of human desires and aspirations create a flood of possible freedoms, some contradictory to each other. The rule often employed to resolve those contradictions is "one person's freedom ends where another's freedom begins." However, for that to produce a unique solution to the problem, all freedoms would have to be given their utility or order of importance. A case illustrating that might be the freedom to oppress others against freedom to not be oppressed. It is as obvious as it gets that society should assert the freedom to not be oppressed over the other, but this does not immediately result from the rule outlined above. Without first granting the right to not be oppressed, the right to the oppression of others does not infringe on others' rights. Since this particular example has an answer that appears self-evident and would be argued only either as a theoretical example (as here) or in bad faith, let us proceed to something more likely to create a conflict.

Some people have an abundance of food, whereas others hunger. There is a case for the freedom of ownership of that abundance. The owners have worked hard to obtain it, living frugally and often skipping meals to amass a supply for worse times. The others feasted and entertained their minds with games rather than thoughts about the future. There, of course, is also a case for the hungry. Some lived even more frugally and thought more about the future than the former but were struck by a disaster independent of their actions. There is even a case that those hungry that are in distress because of no reasons other than their actions should be given sustenance as well. There is plenty of food. If we shared, none would suffer. Should the freedom to food, or, by extension, freedom to life if the scarcity of food is dire, be conditioned on a person being able to prove they tried their best, or that they will contribute to society if given a chance? One can certainly imagine many pathologies, edge cases that slip through the smallest cracks in the system, causing innocent children to hunger.

What we agreed as a society is to sacrifice a bit of both freedoms. Looking at the nation's level, we have taxes and welfare, the state claims only a fraction of fruits of our labor, and grants basic sustenance in most cases. Freedom to private property is infringed on but not by a lot, and some people still go hungry, but worst poverty is mitigated. Looking globally, the problem is worse. People live without shelter, without running water, at a threat of injury or death, and it certainly is not because humanity is physically incapable of solving those. The amount of resources allocated by the wealthy states to help those in the worst conditions show that freedoms of their citizens are favored to basic rights of those outside their jurisdiction. There are rational reasons for such arrangements, for example attempts at more fairness with mechanisms of redistribution of wealth aimed to benefit taxpayers' communities (locally managed welfare systems).

Nevertheless, is the current arrangement the best possible way humanity could organize itself to grant most freedom? Are the fundamental assumptions leading to global optima? Or is humanity capable of a different, more just, fairer system? Could we restructure society in such a way that would increase the total freedom within it?

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