Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lion Rock 5: Free Will vs. Power Over Others

It's nearly two months now since the Lion Rock Institute (LRI) "Reading Salon 2012" in Hong Kong was over, there is still some sort of discussion "hang over" from some of us participants. The other day, discussion moderator Simon Lee of LRI sent us a message, below. I borrowed the title "Free will vs. power over others" from Simon's message.

After the conference, I further meditated on the subject on the future of the ideological battle, with all the insights shared by you.

The ideological battle has been fought since time immemorial.  I see it as a battle between free will and power over others.  On the one hand, it is the trust and respect of other as individuals with free will.  And on the other, it is our innermost urge to control and harness the power of the collective mass for a predictable and hopefully better outcomes.

The battle lines advance and retreat.  In the first half of the twentieth century, the ideological battle was about totalitarian, corporatist, central planning experiment versus free enterprise.  At the end of the day, objective reality rules.  The system produces more and more efficiently prevails.

After the two world wars, there is a new movement.  A kind of mutation.  Some fractions of the believers of collective powers abandoned their wish to take over the state apparatus.  These believers of collective powers are more pragmatic than they seem.  If they can take over the control over the means of production bypassing the state, they should.  I am not saying they do not rely on the coercive power of the state, but they go beyond simply using legislation and state bureaucracy to achieve their goals.

Who are these mutated new left?  What are their strategies?  Alinsky captures the essence of the action of the new left while Hayden drew the blue print.  

The new left takes actions toward corporation without real clear agenda but to gather the crowd.  After successive assaults sometimes they find the sore points.  This is the Alinsky model simplified.

Tom Hayden laid down the plan to take over the commanding heights of the new morality: media, higher education, and other institutions of the new left movement.  Look at the campuses, and the rent seekers of the so called CSR industry.  The new left has taken a stronghold in these institutions.  They have been defining the new ideological battle and leveraging the resources from free enterpries to propagate their agenda.

There are new left around us and they do not even realise that they are under the spell of the propaganda.  Wordcrafts in our system are inevitably under the spell - HR, PR and CSR so I call the unholy trinity of corporate suicidal impulses.  One of the most important and urgent tasks is to define clearly the functions of these business operations, so businesses can focus on contributing by creating values instead of conforming to the faux-morality put forward by the new left.

Another major battle ahead of us is to counterforce the propaganda coming from both the higher education rent seekers and the media-entertainment industry.  Fortunately, the internet has provided a near ideal platform which is by definition free from bias except of the audience's own.  The question is whether campaigners of our side of the ideological battle are equipped with the right skills and techniques.  Their advantage is quite obvious: they have wordcrafts and discouraged artists.  But what do we have?  Yes, we have entrepreneurs!  I always see the lights of hope.

-- Simon

I like Simon's reflections above. It's a big challenge for us who believe in more individual freedom, more personal responsibility, how the other and much bigger camp, can impose their will on the rest of us. While we believe in voluntary collectivism and diversity, the other camp wants forced collectivism and forced equality, they dislike high diversity and spontaneity among people. That is why they create volumes upon volumes of regulations and restrictions, to "flatten" out the outliers like the super-efficient and super rich on one hand, and the super-inefficient and super lazy among the people.

Below, after dinner food and drinks of Day 1, also hosted by LRI in the same venue, Harbour Plaza Resort Hotel, at the Northern territories. Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute in Delhi replied to Simon's message, below.

The Reading Salon is still alive in my mind. I particularly liked the structure that allowed us to integrate theory and history, to current affairs. My one suggestion would be to have a shorter reading list in future, so that most participants would be able to do the reading before the Salon.

One quick thought on the eternal battle between individual freedom, and collective control. The divide is not always very clear, and sections of the lines may be in flux. For instance, at the moment we are trying to work on the issue of land rights of rural poor. And in that we are trying to approach some on the far left to join our alliance. Particularly, those who may have discarded their ideological aversion to private property. For the past few months I have been going around India speaking about property / land rights of the poor, and meeting quite a few people from the Left who are surprised at my formulation. And a few of them may align with us on this issue. I think we should always look out for tactical alliance!

-- Barun

Barun is an engineer by academic training who shifted career to promoting liberty and freedom for about  two decades now. His insights above somehow shows his engineering training, finding innovative solutions to old problems. Most free marketers would give up reaching out to the far left because of their deep hatred of the free market, of capitalism and the profit system, of private property ownership, but Barun is able to reach out to some guys in the far left in India. Fantastic mind.

Below, after the drinks at the restaurant which closed at past 10pm, we continued the discourse at Barun's room in the hotel, we ended past 12 midnight :-)  Simon is 3rd from right in the upper photo, beside him is Barun. LRI Executive Director Peter Wong is beside me.

On Simon's points, I agree that many civil society organizations (CSOs) have been drastically and generally co-opted by the state. I have been using Andrew Work's term a few times, from NGOs to GFOs or government-funded organizations. Or simply lovers of more government regulations, welfarism and endless subsidies.

One example I can cite, is the recent debate on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill which will soon become a law. This is clearly government-sponsored and taxpayers-funded  population control but the RH camp would never admit it as population control but only "expanding choices" for couples.

Majority of the NGOs, academics, media, other CSOs especially in the health sector, have supported that bill. The main opponent to that bill was the Catholic Church. But there are other smaller camps who opposed that bill other than the religious argument, and these are the small free market groups here including MG Thinkers, the libertarian anarchists, the Ayn Rand/Objectivist group. The main basis of our opposition is that we do not believe that people are liabilities, that multiple government coercion, prohibitions and taxation, along with government failure to promulgate the rule of law, are the real liabilities in society.

On Barun's suggestion to limit the reading list. I support that. In 2005, Atlas sponsored a similar reading salon in Phuket, and we discussed only one book, Friedrich Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty", several chapters. That reading-discussion was very helpful for me, it deepened my understanding about individual liberty and the rule of law, as opposed to the rule of men.

I wish to see LRI continuing the Reading Salon in the coming months and years. Not necessarily involving me  always as there are other bright young minds in the Philippines and Asia who should be given the opportunity to participate in this exercise. 

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