Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fear of Freedom

Some years ago in a debate about fundamentalism it occurred to several of us that one of its appeals was the avoidance of freedom. It is often suggested that there is a type of ease within authoritarian systems - you don't have to make many decisions, just play by the rules.

I am unable to relate to this. My basic character is one of rebellion against anything that makes no sense to me, and because for the most part I have been free to question everything, after half a century it is not just nature but ingrained.

It seems to me that the desire to just follow rules is a lazy way of thinking, but I don't like where it leads to, which is why I speak out against it rather than just shrug it off as somebody else's way of doing things. The key problem, obviously, is that these people want to the rest of us to follow their rules. That's not on.

You can't have missed the fact that a right-wing extremism has invaded the American Republican party. This used to be a very decent, respectable political party, but now it is a freak show of extremists with weird agendas. Unfortunately it is supported by a large number of Americans, which means that quite often it gets power at local and state level, and of course it would like to have power at a national level. It has failed in the last two Presidential elections but it'll keep trying.

Obviously there have been many times in history when authoritarian regimes have won power, one way or another. But it's when they are elected in that it's the most bizarre. When the people choose to be ruled in this way. The strangest of all has to be what happened in Germany in 1932. And you don't need me to tell you why it happened either.

Since then, we have been semi-alert to the risks of giving power to those who may may take a bit (or a lot) more as a result, lesson learned, sort of thing. It has even been over-used, such as in Godwin's law (q.v.).

Never mind all that, the fact remains that there are a lot of people who are so poor at coming to rational decisions that they wish to hand their power over to a leadership that will do it for them. They will happily elect a leader who lays down draconian rules, even totally inhumane rules, to avoid having to help work towards real solutions. Final solutions are so much easier.

If you've ever listened to these folk "discuss" major social issues, they're all about quick, simple, and inhumane. "Send 'em all back where they came from." "Just blow it all up." "Hang the lot of 'em."

Any objection to these suggestions will lead to you being insulted. An ad hominem attack. This is the usual, first (often last) tactic of those with no real argument. Here's that list again.

It simply proves their lazy thinking, their preference for authoritarian methods, and their fear of freedom. Right there. They cannot be bothered to consider any alternative.

So, I have asked for a book for Christmas. Erich Fromm wrote "Fear of Freedom" in 1941 (you may know it as "Escape From Freedom") As a German Jew who had made an early decision to get out and settle in the US before WWII, he was well aware of authoritarianism, but the book is not about his own experience. It's about a much earlier period in history where the lack of freedom brought mostly ease and comfort, despite hardships. I am looking forward to reading this, and you can be sure I'll report back.

What I think happens, at any time in history, is a false memory of a bygone age where everything was easier, safer, more comfortable, and it is this that people wish to return to. Even the desire (often voiced!) to return to childhood, with all of its rules. Children are in so many ways oppressed, and don't object very much.

It might also explain why some women seem to appear quite contented to be dominated by a man. And indeed why some men seem so happy to be dominated by women.

So, one could argue that it's personal choice, except it isn't. Because it almost always involves domination over others who do not wish it. And even those who are really very happy not to be leaders do not necessarily wish to have leaders who are cruel.

Obviously if your personal choice is to live under a strict set of rules, that's an option you should be free to make (hmmm....) The military might be a good fit, or clergy. What I rail against is when you decide that I need your rules too. Thankfully, I'm not alone.

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