Freedom and Equality; Choose One

It’s not a nice thought, it’s not a pleasant truth, but it’s a simple fact that the ideals of freedom and those of equality cannot coexist without contradiction.  The easiest way to highlight this is to demonstrate that an ethical system derived from freedom is in large part the converse of a system defined by equality.  There are those who would condemn me for such a statement, mostly my fellow Americans who happen to be cursed with the fundy bug.  They are in the interesting position of being able to believe in a fantasy just because they want to.  Reality doesn’t work that way.

Here’s the pitch.  If you think freedom is important, you want to give as many people as many rights as possible. This means that different people in different circumstances are free to be different, free to act differently, free to do anything they might want to do from making a massive fortune to euthanasia. Equality, on the other hand, requires that you try to make those in “poorer” circumstances have better ones, and at the same time you reduce the desirability of the upper strata. I think everyone can agree with me on those two points, since it’s a matter of definition.

You just gave me the contradiction. Just to make this explanation a little clearer, I’ll focus strictly on economic equality for now.  In order to elevate the poor in a situation of limited resources it is necessary to take from those who have an abundance. If it’s voluntary, there is nothing wrong with this in any sense. However, if the person holding the resources doesn’t want to part with them then you are forced to violate their right to freedom and property in order to have equality.  And if you try to weasel out by thinking “OK, then we just have to make everyone want to help his fellow man” then you’re attempting thought control which, while brutally effective, is a huge violation of the victims’ freedom of thought. Yet, at the same time, if you allow anyone to do what they want they may choose to do self-destructive things like use drugs.  This can easily reduce them to a state of poverty. At the same time, freedom allows a lucky few and a competent few to become incredibly, disgustingly, wealthy. Not exactly equal.

This applies equally well to social inequality, racial inequality, or any other type as well.  In order to have an individual or group be placed in a superior position, someone else must be reduced through propaganda, laws, whatever. This next sentence will ignite a massive conflagration.  Don’t worry, it will make sense soon.  Unfortunately, freedom necessarily entails the freedom to be discriminatory.  This is the classic free speech argument.  Should people be allowed to publish hate material?  In order to have equality, you must infringe on freedom.  In order to have freedom, you sacrifice equality.

So I have defined the problem to satisfaction. However, I refuse to end there since by doing so I get nothing done. But I usually don’t make a distinction between critical elements like these- you could easily acknowledge the problem of freedom and equality but disagree with me over its significance and its solution. I’ll point out things like that one time and then take as given that my readers will see such things thereafter.

Anyway, on to the solution. I lied.  There is no direct logical contradiction. The contradiction arises from a misrepresentation of reality in our minds. Equality necessarily causes an infringement on freedom because enforced equality requires direct  and unilateral action. And just to cover my semantic bases, even if you try weaseling out with “what about unenforced equality?” then I fall on you like Neptune.  So basically you’re saying you can just declare “alright everyone, we are going to be equal.  Cool.  We are now equal.”  So basically you’re living in a fantasy world.  Anyway, back on track, since enforced equality by definition directly necessitates an immediate destruction of freedom, that won’t work.

Now regarding freedom the chain of events is not so simple. Sure it’s a pretty direct line from freedom to inequality. But when is inequality truly unequal? What if truly everything was equal, so everyone got exactly the same of everything. Where’s the line between where equality is good and where equality is bad? Whenever this sort of issue occurs, it means you’re missing some fundamental point. My thoughts on the matter run in my usual your-mind-is-flawed fashion. The condition that most people refer to as “inequality” is really a condition of insufficiency.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that anyone who cites inequality as a reason for redistribution is really operating from a position where they don’t think they have enough of whatever is considered unequal.  It’s a fact that after a certain threshold somewhere around solid “middle class”, having more money does not actually make you happier.  But if you’re poor, money means health, food, a place to stay, and a few luxuries. Freedom, on the other hand, is the power to control your own future, your own condition.  No matter your circumstances you are always free to control yourself, but that doesn’t necessarily extend to your body, your world, your property, or anything else that matters to you.  Freedom should always cover everything, but the argument of equality is quite alluring to many discontented people.

This idea that “more money is better” is very profitable for a capitalist society to foster because the more money you have, the more stuff you can buy.  But the vendors are the ones who are really lying- buying their stuff won’t make you happy.  Earning the money with which to buy their stuff won’t make you happy either- in fact it might be downright unpleasant.  It is your responsibility as an individual to control yourself, your future, and the pursuit of your own happiness. Take back your freedom, and use it to make yourself equal in the important senses of enjoyment, self-actualization, and happiness. Who cares if you can’t have a private jet?  You only want a private jet because society pressures you to. Disconnect and just stop wanting the jet- it’s far easier than breaking your back at the grindstone to earn something you don’t want, just so the man selling the jet makes a killing.

It is absolutely critical, however, that you treat this pursuit with utmost care. Control it yourself, and never, ever, allow someone else- even me, though I have your interests and the truth at heart- to dictate to you that poverty is a virtue.  Every fucking time that’s nothing but an excuse to rob you, and then delude you into thinking you’re contented despite the fact that you’re starving while your rulers feast on food you grew that they financed with the money they stole from you. Your lord and master bending you to task  out on the fief with hired whips.

Have you noticed a similarity with the capitalist example? In both cases you’re sacrificing yourself, your time, your energy, and then even your payment into the hands of those prepared to take it. The man selling the jet and the man ruling your fief are one and the same.  I name them the Elites, in contrast to Plato’s Remnant.  The battle between them in the world, and within each of us, is only human conflict of consequence. The conflict from which all others rise.  Power and virtue.  Sophists and Socrates.  To them, the truth is relative and malleable.  They are enlightened just enough to weave convincing lies, or to game the human system for personal gain. But they’re not enlightened enough to get past the drives that push the people they manipulate, and those are the drives they’re trying to satisfy.  Though they’re great at it, it doesn’t work because their method is flawed. You can never get rid of a drive by its satisfaction.  You’re just going to want more, and then you’re going to have more work to do when you have to backtrack.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t want anything- of course not.  However, I am saying that you should want what you want, instead of what someone else is trying to make you want. In all probability, that equates to each person reading this to discard more or less everything that they think they currently want and really think seriously about what they need to be happy. I doubt any of you will, but you have been informed and now it’s your call.  The problem of misinformation no longer applies to you- the gate is open and you have to choose: to leave, or to remain a sheep. It’s so much easier to just want what everyone else wants, to let the cheap charades of celebrities, advertisers, and politicians wash into comforting messages flush with significance.  But now, on some level, you’ll know they have an ulterior motive and are carefully crafting their messages to achieve exactly that effect knowing full well that nobody will take the hard road and think for themselves.  Freedom in individualism is the first step- we lost that somewhere.

I may also take flak for this, but I think it is vitally important to learn anything and everything available, especially from our mistakes.  The greater the mistake, the more vitally important it is for us to learn from it. Countless times in history our fellows have imprisoned and persecuted one another, from ancient times to right now, today, from the United States.  The Holocaust is the most-cited example. Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning presents a cutting history of it but more importantly it thoroughly demonstrates that the human spirit is indeed invincible when exercised. Despite the worst possible circumstances. Strength and honor.

“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.”  – Marcus Aurelius


18 Responses to “Freedom and Equality; Choose One”

  1. PinPoint Printing Says:

    |= 1 12 5 7` 1!1

  2. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    When you speak of “rights”, what you mean are “privileges”. And when you speak of “liberty” and “freedom”, what you mean is “license”.

  3. thenewg Says:

    When I asked an airforce pilot how he felt about Americans who burned the flag, he said the reason he was fighting for his country men and women was so that they could have the right to burn it. Is this an analagous “Freedom or Equality” example?

  4. fitnessfortheoccasion Says:

    On place the issue of equality contradicting freedom arises when one person’s freedom infringes on another. It is a commonly held precept that freedom shouldn’t include the ability to infringe on the rights of others.

    Another interesting thought is that of practical freedom. Sure we all have the right to travel were we please. But do we all have the practical means to do so? Freedom is often confused with the notion of “leaving people alone to do what they want”. But what if they are unable to do what they want? Are they still free?

  5. totaltransformation Says:

    “There are those who would condemn me for such a statement, mostly my fellow Americans who happen to be cursed with the fundy bug”

    As a self-described “fundy” I don’t don’t disagree with your foundational statement.

  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    That was quite a read!
    It’s the conclusion that is the most interesting for me. Essentially in the North American society, there is so much choice to do what our spirit asks us to do. That’s what I call my life work. For me it’s the creative arts and painting.
    Our society continually bombards us with advertising so that we “want” and “need” things we really don’t need. We sometimes buy those things that have been created as needs through advertising, thereby drawing us away from our own purposes. We don’t need all that stuff out there. We have a dreadfully wasteful society as a result. Incredible how much stuff we throw away or worse, that we keep even though we will never use it.
    So much stuff that we purchase is only interesting because of the context it was sitting in in a store. Once we get it home, it’s out of context and it’s lost its appeal. More than that, we waste an incredible amount of time in store looking and finding or not finding – it doesn’t matter really. The wast e of time takes one away from their true purpose, whatever the individual has chosen for their path, their life work.
    Thanks for posting.
    I enjoyed the Marc Aurelius quote too. It’s really amazing that the most relevant and meaningful things in our lives haven’t changed in a thousand years or so. Maybe even more.

  7. loopyloo350 Says:

    there’s always been a fine line between the two but if you truly believe things are better the way they are beginning to be, then you don’t really understand what you are giving up. If you think we can trust our Government to always make the right decisions you effectively saying you don’t really care who does what as long as it doesn’t touch you personally.

  8. goldenapples Says:

    You can’t have an argument and debate without first defining freedom and equality as they have various definitions; otherwise the talk would lead to nothing but circles. The post woud be more useful if you cited reliable sources.

    Still, here’s a few replies:

    “If you think freedom is important, you want to give as many people as many rights as possible.” Only partly true. If this was your premise than many points are invalid and unsound.

    “Unfortunately, freedom necessarily entails the freedom to be discriminatory.” Thank goodness! Fortunately, not any lazy bum can attend Harvard, UC – Berkeley, or Stanford. The freedom to make distinctions is of utmost importance.

    To answer to previous, “But what if they are unable to do what they want? Are they still free?” No, of course they’re not. They have no choice. But your question is vague. For example, they may still hold freedom of the mind; that is if they were educated on how to think.

    one of the members at

  9. tmulcahy Says:

    There’s something basically wrong with this: “In order to elevate the poor in a situation of limited resources it is necessary to take from those who have an abundance.” It is not necessary to elevate the poor if you don’t take form them in the first place. Not being paid a just amount for your work is theft, for one thing. Having the poor and lowere middle class pay for things like municipla water, lighting, streets, fire and police protection, and then paying less fees (taxes) for those services though taxshelters, tax evasion and legal manipulations of tax ememptions is also theft. THe rich rarely pay anywhere near their fair share for what they get, not do they distribute the accumated wealth according to who does the most work. If that was done, there would only be poor people because they didn’t work. So enforcing economic equality may infringe on the assumed right to acquire unlimited wealth, but that freedom is as bogus as the freedom to kill, main, or steal.
    A just society curtails only those freedoms that would infringe on another’s freedoms. It is not easy to work out, but the rich cannot have freedoms denied to people who make that wealth, but do not share in it. A just society would look at the contrinbution of people to creating wealth, and reward accordingly. At present, the rich have much more freedom, in terms of what they can do because of their wealth, so curtailing their freedom to accumaulate wealth on the backs of the poor serves the cause of equality and freedom for all.

  10. Straw Poll Results « Fighting Windmills Says:

    […] Freedom and Equality; Choose One […]

  11. jack ulrey Says:

    Freedom allows me to have equality. No freedom, no equality.

  12. blueollie Says:

    I think that many of us who say we want “equality” mean that we want “equality of opportunity”.

    Obviously, there are those who have better “luck”, better “talent” and those who do more with what they are given.

  13. Evan Jensen Says:

    Two points struck me as very interesting. The first is the “freedom to do what you want” idea. It depends entirely upon the context, mostly on whether the what is inwardly or outwardly directed. For example, if you wanted to draw that’s an inwardly directed act. If you “can’t draw” then you are stopping yourself, and nobody else is. If it’s outwardly directed- i.e. getting into Harvard, reality is going to have an issue if it’s just not going to happen. If you want to flap your arms and fly, that’s cool, but reality has a way of dealing with that sort of thing.

    Secondly, where in that post did I say I trusted the government? I don’t. I trust that the government’s incentives line up with its actions almost perfectly. And its incentives produce extremely negative behaviors on the part of anyone in it and everyone connected to it, most commonly from the trillions of “pie in the sky” dollars that everyone wants to get a piece of.

    Regarding redistribution, I never said that the current system was intended to produce equality. Despite the fact that the whole idea is broken, it doesn’t even match up to a plan that won’t get the job done anyway. The rich are indeed getting off scot-free, so have all the money and power, and that’s why they’re getting off scot-free. Sure it’s circular and ridiculous, but who said life was reasonable? However, that said, there is no way to create additional resources from nothing, so anything you give the poor- including a living wage- must come from somewhere.

  14. gregor Says:

    The problem is, you miss it at the begining: Equality does not mean egality. All equal, all different.
    Equality means all people are treated in equal ways, regardless to their social, racial, economical … positions. All have equal rights.
    On the other hand freedom does not mean you can do what you want: it means you have the rigth to choose, knowing the consequences. Your freedom is by definition also always limited to others people freedom.
    If you have the right definitions, there’s no contradiction at all.
    However, I this does not mean, that it actually works in every society.

  15. Best Books of the 20th Century: Non-Fiction » Blog Archive » Freedom and Equality; Choose One Says:

    […] Freedom and Equality; Choose OneBy Evan JensenThis is the classic free speech argument. Should people be allowed to publish hate material? In order to have equality, you must infringe on freedom. In order to have freedom, you sacrifice equality. …The Zen Stoic – […]

  16. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    I notice that no where in this discussion is responsibility and accountibility for the peptide production of our own hypothalumus claimed. For those of us unaware, when these peptides flood the cells of our system, we call it ‘feeling’.

    A bunch of the arguments against ‘freedom of speech’ involve License, not Liberty. BLAME for hard feelings is not vested with the one experiencing them. Which is a sham of License, not Liberty.

    Individual emotional coping skills, are individual’s responsibility.

  17. Evan Jensen Says:

    Conceptually, your point is perfect. Individuals are the ultimate end controllers of their own feelings, thoughts, reactions, and actions. Saying “this person did X and that forced me to do Y” is simple stupidity. You always choose to. Perfect.

    That said, it’s not actually peptides. Peptides are linear strings of amino acids constructed serially by ribosomes. Multiple peptides can be combined and folded together to make proteins. Feelings are a complex cocktail of signals from the amygdala (hypothalamus is hunger and similar reactions) and from spindle neurons around the brain. Still, your point was not a scientific one so your error is irrelevant.

  18. fightingwindmills Says:

    EJ, Thank you for sparking this discussion.

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