Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Necessary Freedoms

This morning I was reading a highly thought-provoking column by David Brooks asking whether the success of China as an economic power validates the collectivist social model as a viable alternative to the West's individualistic model.

Coincidentally, this afternoon at work an argument broke out between myself and a couple co-workers about China's system of government. One argued that China's government is acceptable since it works for the majority of its people, while another conceded that China's model had successfully been able to create economic growth and generally make life better for its people.

While I certainly have my beef with China's authoritarian system of government and the methods by which they have enforced their rule, my biggest problem is that they deny their people the liberal freedoms that I believe are integral and the right of every person to enjoy. Regardless of China's economic productivity and the increasing standards of living their people are enjoying, they are an illiberal society that represses the individual.

It's the same problem I have with North Korea, Putin's Russia, and Iran. It's not a problem unique to autocracies and totalitarian regimes either--take Singapore for example, which is what Fareed Zakaria once termed an "illiberal democracy"...

I've never read East of Eden but I've long been familiar with and loved a quote from that book which perfectly encapsulates my viewpoint:
"This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about."
-- JOHN STEINBECK

The most precious thing we have as humans is the space between our left ear and our right ear--we have control over our thoughts. No external physical force can limit or alter them. So it should not be a goal of government, even for the sake of stability, to try and repress the individual.

We in the U.S. don't live in a perfect society, but we've done a relatively good job at balancing the welfare of society and the rights of the individual. The rights we enjoy--things like free speech, an independent and vibrant press, etc.--stem from our culture's commitment to freedom of belief. It is that freedom which makes our society better, because it enables us each to more completely express our humanity.

1 comment:

phil said...

That nytimes article is interesting but kind of hokey in the way Brooks summarizes a lot of social science (without citation) and uses the summary to dichotomize every society without qualification.

I think your statements are a little too black and white as well. Everyone in the world has choice--they just encounter different kinds of choices. Our environments and the choices they present influence what we think about, and therefore we don't truly have full control over our thoughts.