The fact remains that we are all currently still enslaved. Enslaved by our own conception of practicality, democracy and justice. Most of all we are enslaved by the current conception of what freedom is and, more importantly what freedom is not. We are told that freedom is not freedom from interference in our own personal affairs or our own personal needs. The only freedom that is unconditionally protected by the current system of power is the freedom to acquire and seek to acquire any permutation of relevant human capital.
“There is also in the world at large an increasing inclination to stretch unduly the powers of society over the individual both by the force of opinion and even by that of legislation.” Mill says this in an age when capital acquisition and extraction was reaching a new level of urgency and fanaticism. The “invisible hand” was pushing the world ever closer to a threshold whereupon general human concerns of self-preservation and comfort were superseded and ignored in favor of the conception that the individual who could most efficiently manipulate human weakness deserved to pursue his ends at any cost. We have now arrived at the culmination of what Mill (and Marx) most feared: human beings are now merely tools to be manipulated in the pursuit of power and capital at the hands of other human beings.
Individuality on extends as far as the individuals ability to protect himself against other individuals who have tipped the scales in their own favor. Make no mistake: Unhindered Capitalism is no simple process of the strong overcoming the weak. On the contrary it is the weak (the individual) who overcomes the strong (the community of individuals) by means of manipulation and by appealing to a falsely enshrined set of beliefs that state whatsoever I can possess I should and will possess. Capitalism is no longer just an economic theory: it is a self-perpetuating philosophy of acquiring power over other human beings. Example: a lump of gold is essentially worthless outside of being a relatively handsome mineral, but through years of mutual compromise and manipulation Gold has acquired a value beyond its mere nature. It cannot be eaten, but many will exchange foodstuffs for it. Thus gold achieves the status of commodity and can be used to leverage power in the immediate form of wealth over others in the community. If it is decided that wealth brings possessions and sustenance (a proposition that seems at the moment to be admittedly unavoidable) then the wealthy individual inevitably procures for himself a measure of control over the substances, institutions, and supporting systems that bring happiness and health to a society. The obvious question presents itself: is the human mind so easily enthralled by shiny and attractive substances? Do millions live in poverty and squalor because some half-witted BCE era men found gold to be a particularly valuable bauble? This depressing notion will have to wait for another better mind to explore it further. What can be said in surety is that Human Beings are animals, albeit extraordinary, who by the very nature of existence itself require and deserve the ability for as many individuals to prosper as is conceivably possible. It is by denying this fact that we are put into a most excruciating bondage. How then can we achieve a measure of freedom? Indeed what is the freedom that we seek?
It is necessary to answer the latter before addressing the former. The best way that I see to address the problem of what freedom means in this 21st Century is to use contemporary examples. Thus I will explore three areas where the concerns of freedom are at the fore in our society. The first of these areas is the pursuit of the freedom to exist equally within the confines of a supposedly equal society. The freedom to codify and legitimize conjugal relationships and to access the benefits offered to these relationships is one chief controversy that faces our “American Society”.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution purports to codify in law equality of all “citizens” subscribing to member ship in the society at large. Such is the current plight of Homosexuals in the United States and in many if not most regions around the world. The American state of California became the latest to succumb to anti-homosexual fear and paranoia. This fear is backed up for many by some ancient attitudes to homosexuality as described in the Old Testament. Of course this Biblical justification is just that of course: justification for irrational fear that is based on the human predisposition to fear that which is different or difficult to understand. Cultural morality derives in most part from a fear that arose at some point in the past. Fear is of course subjective, but it is also a contagion that spreads down through societies generation by generation until those who are fearful cannot for the life of them remember why in the world they are so afraid. But that is a matter for another time.
Whatever the reason for their disapproval it led to law that banned homosexual (and all other “non-traditional” forms of) marriage from being recognized or performed within the State. This has the affect of barring homosexual couples from receiving over 1,000 state and federal government benefits bestowed upon married heterosexuals. This “free and democratic process” reveals an obvious truth: democracy is in no measure absolutely conducive to individual freedom. Much like the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution Section 7a of the California State Constitution says that “A person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or denied equal protection of the laws”. On its face then Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California violates the Constitution of the same. This ridicules state of affairs is only possible in a system that values the fearful and the powerful over the basic rights and needs of the relatively powerless. Note that those violated by the concept of the capitalistic acquisition power can be a minority or a majority group as the situation dictates.
In either case the concerns of a group of fearful individuals manipulating the fears of a larger group can lead to tragedy for another group. The question must also be asked: what do those who voted yes on Proposition 8 gain by their electoral victory? At the most they can claim to have protected the traditions of the society. More likely they gain a moment of calm in the face of inevitable change. This existential acquisition pales in comparison to the very real loss suffered by same-sex couples (it is an inconvenient fact that acquisition for one leads to loss for many others). They lose the right to be make medical decisions for each other, and they lose access to various tax and entitlement benefits. But, most significant, homosexuals lose their equality under the law.
Once a claim to a basic human right emerges it is only a matter of time before that right is granted by the society at large. This was most recently and relevantly illustrated in the United States by the African-American Civil Rights movement of the second half of the 20th century. Much like the it is with the oceans the tides of human rights cannot be halted or denied. Some decry as fatuous or even racist the comparison between the current struggle by Homosexuals for equal protection under the to the Civil Rights movement. The nay sayers are right to have problems with this comparison… but only half right. The Civil Rights movement sought for African-Americans all rights denied to them. American Homosexuals seek only the right to marry and have access to the benefits thereof. The problem with the comparison is thus only one of degree and not substance as claimed by the detractors. In the United States one of the most revered concepts is the concept of universal equality. Those who hold power in the Nation by the use of Capitalistic Power acquisition would no long hold the authority that they do if the concept were as revered in practice as it is in concept. Therefore the happiness and rights of Homosexual Americans are enslaved by the more pressing right of those who have acquired power to wield it unhindered to bring about whatever state of affairs that they desire. This is an unjust state of affairs. We must ask ourselves what is more important: the momentary existential discomfort of one segment of the power structure or the bestowal of basic human rights and dignity to a relatively powerless minority?