In college, I took a poli-sci class called “Utopia/Dystopia”. In it, we read Thomas More, Edward Bellamy, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and many others. Included in our reading list “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. If you haven’t read or reread it recently I’d recommend it.
For those that don’t remember or haven’t read it, a major part of this dystopian(?) world is that humans are genetically engineered in artificial wombs and indoctrination programs. Before birth, each person has their job determined for them and they are genetically modified to enjoy that job. Adding to the pleasure of the world is the availability of soma, a drug that sounds a lot like MDMA. A happy world, but hardly a free one.
While discussing this book one of my classmates bravely spoke up and said, “I don’t think this is a bad place. Wouldn’t we all like to be happy and fulfilled? Who cares if the genetics were modified if we enjoy our lives?” At the time I kind of internally freaked out.
HOW COULD THIS PERSON SACRIFICE FREEDOM FOR COMFORT?
I didn’t actually say anything but I became pretty riled up. I was in the early stages of libertarianisms where I had read enough to feel like I was a contrarian but really didn’t have any philosophical foundation. I think what bothered me most about my classmate’s query (and in some respects still does today) is that I don’t really have a good answer.
What they were really contesting was the idea that freedom is an intrinsic good. That even if the results of a free society cause pain, suffering, or whatever we should pursue it because it is good in and of itself.
To be honest, I don’t know if I believe that. I think it is possible, or even likely, that freedom is an effective tool to create a better world but in and of itself it has no value. A person on a deserted island is pretty free but that freedom isn’t necessarily good. It might not be bad and I think being free is generally better than being unfree, but that is because I think freedom brings about the best results for the most number of people.
Would I rather live in a less-free country if I had better access to healthcare and more time for leisure? Probably.
How much of my freedom I’d be willing to give up in exchange for a more secure and satisfying life is difficult to say. Measuring freedom is not objective and where I would be willing to, say, give up my freedom to own a rifle with a 200 round drum in exchange for a free gym membership, for others that rifle is very valuable. And I’m sure many people would give up their freedom to put MDMA in their body for a small price because that drug doesn’t have value to them, but it would be a very high price for me to give that up.
Regardless, just having freedom because it is good to have freedom doesn’t really play into life for me. So maybe my fellow student was right, maybe part of the world outlined in “Brave New World” is utopian. If I could lay down tonight, plug something into my brain, and wake up tomorrow and absolutely LOVE running then I would do that.
But would I do the same thing if I would wake up tomorrow and absolutely LOVE cleaning shit out of porta-potties? Right now I don’t think I would, but who knows? If it was the only way to feel a joyous and satisfying life and I would feel no discomfort or harm then maybe I would. Anything degrading about that work is a social construct and we should fight against such things.
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”