Cultural Freedom

Kevin Michael Grace, who must have time on his hands, reminds me of a rant I published in the comments section of an ill-conceived article he wrote three years ago criticizing Reason for covering culture as if it has something to do with freedom. You might need to suffer through it for context. Anyway, I had forgotten about these comments, and I would like to re-associate myself with them.

Will Wilkinson — Jan. 24, 04 at 05:23 AM

Look…. Freedom from state coercion is just one, very limited, notion of freedom. It’s the strictly political notion, and Reason has had the good sense to become more than a merely political magazine.

There is also a cultural notion of freedom that is not identical with political freedom and is deeply important to people. If we lived in a libertarian wonderland of minimal government, yet where social norms were so stringent that any woman who dared aspire to a career, or any man who dared love another man, or anyone who dared to deny God, would be faced with ferocious social ostracism, isolation, and exclusion, then we would have to say that all people in our society are not free in a very morally deep sense.

Coercion is just an extreme among the various forms of psychological manipulation to produce conformity. That these other forms are not a strictly political matter does not make them irrelevant to our freedom to discover for ourselves the best kind of life, given who we are, and does not necessarily make them less morally objectionable.

People who help open up avenues of identity and self-expression do expand the scope of our freedom, whether or not these avenues are worth exploring. I do not approve of people using their political freedom to publicly promote Nazi ideals, say, but I value anyone who helps to make this possible, because it also makes much that is good possible. Similarly, I do not necessarily approve of people who use their cultural freedom to spiral into dissolution, but those who open they way also open other ways well worth traveling.

So stop being a scold. Get over your pinched and neurotically ideological notion of freedom, and start paying attention to the further freedoms that matter much to people actually trying to live their own singular lives.

No, Dennis Rodman is not a worthy role model. Nor is a man, such as Thomas Jefferson, who was so irresponsibly prodigal that he allowed his self-imposed financial ruin to override his acknowledged moral duty to release his slaves from bondage. Yet despite a flaw far deeper and more grievous than any Dennis Rodman could conceive in his fevered dreams, we can see fit to give him his due.

Lord knows it feels so good to be so right about so much. But instead of rote, ham-handed, moralizing ideology why not try a bit of actual moral discernment, instead? I think you’ll find it quite suitable for adults.

I was like a whole different person three years ago. A whole different person I agree with!