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On Liberty (1859) [pdf] (mcmaster.ca)
167 points by mrfusion 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 103 comments





One of my more used quotes. Page 35 on the document.

> He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty.


Foundation of the concept of 'Steel-manning'. I'd like to see this idea more wide-spread. Heck, i'd make it mandatory for positions of trust. Ability to see both sides.

Absolutely. It would be amazing to see political debates (and discourse generally) where they're able to steelman each other's position and interact in good faith. That would have a profound effect on our democracy.

Instead we get strawmen, soundbites and kayfabe. Somehow we've got to get away from this.


> Somehow we've got to get away from this.

pssst put down your phone.

Posted from my phone.

Goddammit.


++ for suspending judgement when one doesn't properly understand the arguments on both sides.

We could use some more of that.


I've noticed what may be a pattern in many HN discussions: a particular philosophy, such as stoicism, makes the rounds. (I would expect there is a common cause, such as a popular lecture, but that common cause is not always clear.)

Given that we have many thousands of readers here, I think it is better to have a diversity of philosophical explorations (rather than intense interest only on a few).

For example:

A. There are variations within utilitarianism that Mill lays out but does not resolve. For example, 'rule utilitarianism' or 'act utilitarianism' [1]

B. Another level out, there many theories of political economy that contrast with utilitarianism.

C. Political economy is a fascinating area. Many people already read Milton Friedman, so I often recommend reading Arthur Okun's "Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff" as a counterpoint [2]

D. Go another level out, and you will find many theories of ethics that are worth examining.

  1: https://www.iep.utm.edu/mill-eth/#H5
  2: https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/OKUN_EQUALITY_AND_EFFICIENCY_(AS08).PDF

The dedication to his deceased wife hit me in the feels.

> To the beloved and deplored memory of her who was the inspirer, and in part the author, of all that is best in my writings- the friend and wife whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and whose approbation was my chief reward—I dedicate this volume. Like all that I have written for many years, it belongs as much to her as to me; but the work as it stands has had, in a very insufficient degree, the inestimable advantage of her revision; some of the most important por- tions having been reserved for a more careful re-examination, which they are now never destined to receive. Were I but capable of interpret- ing to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom.


Just a few of the ideas that this seminal text brought to the fore:

    - The Marketplace of Ideas
    - The Harm Principle
    - Utilitarianism as the moral mechanism of social policy
One of my all-time favorite pieces of political philosophy. I wish more people (not just philosophers or political scientists) took the time to read it. Also consider checking out Hobbes' Leviathan[1] and Rousseau's On the Social Contract[2].

[1] https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3207/3207-h/3207-h.htm

[2] https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46333/46333-h/46333-h.htm


> Utilitarianism as the moral mechanism of social policy

Is this a quotation? A phrase from a particular work? Could you share the context?

I do not accept that utilitarianism is "the" moral mechanism of social policy. Yes, many economists use utility maximization in their analyses, but there is a diversity of thought around many things, such as (but not limited to):

(a) what should utility include;

(b) the functional form of utility (the sum/average? the minimum? something else?); and

(c) to what extent reductionist theories of happiness/contentment/whatever are useful tools given that humans exist interdependently, with biological, tribal, social, and intellectual connections.

There is a whole field of thought that digs into these variations.


> Yes, many economists use utility maximization in their analyses

This has nothing to do with economists; the Western legal system is (more or less) based on the weighing of different interests (definitionally: utilitarianism). There are, of course, a few exceptions -- which graze deontology, and even rarer still virtue ethics and (more historically) some divine command theory -- but overall, I'd say that yeah, we're pretty much utilitarian.

> There is a whole field of thought that digs into these variations.

Agreed, ethics is a rich and valuable field.


> This has nothing to do with economists; the Western legal system is (more or less) based on the weighing of different interests (definitionally: utilitarianism). There are, of course, a few exceptions -- which graze deontology, and even rarer still virtue ethics and (more historically) some divine command theory -- but overall, I'd say that yeah, we're pretty much utilitarian.

Would you recommend an essay or book chapter that elaborates a bit on this assessment?


Could you please answer my other question:

>> Utilitarianism as the moral mechanism of social policy

> "Is this a quotation? A phrase from a particular work? Could you share the context?"


Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America said it quite well:

"Democratic laws generally tend to promote the welfare of the greatest possible number; for they emanate from the majority of the citizens, who are subject to error, but who cannot have an interest opposed to their own advantage."

This is, by definition, utilitarianism (greatest amount of good, least amount of bad, and all that).

[1] http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/1_ch14.htm


That's a great quote, but I'd suggest it is mistaken in its last clause. Citizens, including the majority, can and have indeed held interests opposed to their own advantage. This has happened in the past and continues to occur. I'd suggest this is precisely because they "are subject to error" - a fact which few powers have failed to exploit.

I totally agree, and the most obvious example is Julius Caesar (of course!). A charitable interpretation, though, would push us to look at the "average case" (us engineers often solely look at the extremes), where Tocqueville I think has a point.

Let's start here: I don't know what you mean by "moral mechanism" when you say "Utilitarianism as the moral mechanism of social policy".

I'm pretty sure you don't mean "moral mechanism" as used in this article: Davenport, D. Moral Mechanisms. Philos. Technol. 27, 47–60 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-013-0147-2

Regarding de Tocqueville:

> "Democratic laws generally tend to promote the welfare of the greatest possible number; for they emanate from the majority of the citizens, who are subject to error, but who cannot have an interest opposed to their own advantage."

I understand the central argument of the quote. However, I don't think it demonstrates a strong enough connection between utilitarianism and social policy to call it "the" moral mechanism, granting of course, I'm not exactly sure what you mean (see above), but I am thinking it is along the lines of "moral influence" or "moral foundation".

Also, the claim that citizens cannot have an interest opposed to their own advantage is, at least, overly simplistic. Yes, de Tocqueville qualifies it with "Democratic laws tend", but I don't think this is enough of a caveat. Correct me if I'm wrong, but he didn't didn't do an empirical study of legislation nor did he attempt to categorize the effects in a utilitarian framework.

So my responses to dT's claim: First, preference aggregation is non-obvious at best and quite controversial in practice. Second, we have to talk about time scales. Some policies are intended to have long-term benefits with short-term costs, for example. Third, those with political power have the ability to use it in ways that disadvantage others. How often this happens would require a proper research design, which (correct me if I'm wrong) dT did not do. I view his work as valuable but largely as a record of his observations while travelling. He was certainly not a neutral observer.

I'll add a different point: given the phrase "Utilitarianism as the moral mechanism of social policy", do you view it as a metaphor? In what sense are you using it -- trying to identify patterns through history?

When I read philosophy, I actively seek to contextualize it. For example, I ask:

(a) Are the terms clear (admitting it can take work to get the context);

(b) Is it a way of thinking about the world (i.e. a reframing)?;

(c) Does it offer explanatory power?;

(d) Does it offer predictive power?

Another way to capture these four questions is: "To what degree is a particular clear, coherent, and/or interpretable by others? How does it assist in thinking about the issue? Is it testable in some way, not necessarily through a strict scientific method?"

Hopefully this background gives you some context as to why I'm digging into this phrase. For the sake of argument, let me say (and let you respond) that all four lettered questions are hazy to me.

Ok, now a few remarks about the United States and its social policies over time:

In the US, I'd like to highlight some contributing factors to "how we got here" with regards to social policy: (1) the historical moment; namely, perceived injustice by the colonies inflicted by the British; (2) the influence of common law on US legal foundations; (3) the innovation, so to speak, of the US form of government; (4) a long, complex history of social policy in the US, which includes religious influences, shifting awareness and beliefs, a civil war, mobilization of voters, and ensuing legislation, waves of resistance to change, and so on.


“Society should treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice; towards which all institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens should be made in the utmost degree to converge.” —John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, 1861

The origination of social justice initiatives.


I just finished Rousseau's Social Contract and Discourses, and I really recommend reading the Discourses as they paint a harrowing picture of how any government -- including democracies -- can become bent to a particular will and therefore lose its Sovereign mandate: it will sound very much like the modern USA. Whether that is true is best left for another time.

I'm currently reading the book's predecessor, John Locke's works Second Treatise and On Toleration.

I think one thing that is very important to these books on liberties that is missed is finding one with a good introduction that can put it in it's historical (read: dated) place. It is too easy to otherwise miss that Locke is not exactly anti-slavery, for example. Or that the "family debate" and role of the patriarchal family, that left the suffrage of women in doubt, was not addressed. Or that the whole struggle for their times was really a question of how to morally justify rule by people versus rule by monarch (and your suggestion of Hobbes' Leviathan is actually arguing for the monarchy, on the other side of the debate). And this debate was otherwise taken within the cultural context of "Wealthy, Man, Head of household", which may be wrong on all 4 counts today (the culture itself is changing, the discussion is no longer limited to the wealthy, men, nor head-of-household family units).

The "monarchy vs people" debate of their time is not an argument we are exactly having in real life. And what I've found by reading the works of this area is: just as fans of this kind of liberty love to out the onus on the "other side" that they need to consider these points, the fans of this kind of liberty really have an onus on them to need to continue the discussion and update it for the modern world: as I move from Plato to Locke to Rousseau their writing really do faithfully build off one another and so it should be possible today in 2020, and modern writers like Haidt (whose works I have also spent time reading) do not meet this bar, I feel.

Without this, simply reading these authors and saying "see, America, read this and be convinced" keeps giving everyone the burden of catching up on the 300-ish years of criticism of these works and discards those intraveneing years' political philosophy debates. A major setback, in my opinion, as I may have the time and willpower to earnestly become a read person of political philosophy, but that is certainly a luxury of a wealthy individual like me (and the founding fathers of the time) and not everyone can afford that (and economic disparity is also a key factor addressed by people such as Rousseau).


Which translation was it that you enjoyed?

Of Rousseau? ISBN: 9781981974566. Translated with an introduction by G. D. H. Cole.

I did not do much research into different translations of this work nor the translator themselves, before purchasing this book.


This is, of course, an eloquent expression of a vital philosophy. We should be seriously grateful that it gained serious uptake through the 18th and 19th centuries, giving us(1) the democracy and freedom we enjoy today. Everyone should read it.

However, critical thought about how to run a just, fair society should not stop with 1859. Particularly in light of events in the 20th century, and with observations of the failure modes of actual democracies (which have (with some exceptions) only existed since the late 18th century). We should continue to read and reason about how to make our society even fairer, and even better, and how to prevent failure modes and regression to a less free state.

There is too much good material here to cite (it has been the focus of basically all political philosophy from WW2 forward) but relevant to this discussion, I can recommend Popper's "The Open Society and its Enemies", and Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil".

Also of interest are historical treatments of how support of libertarianism in the mid-18th century could coincide with the most brutal zenith of race-based slavery.

I mention these because, I presume, this is being posted and upvoted in the context of the current political discourse. Understanding more _recent_ political philosophy, with more data available, is critical if one actually wants to understand and engage with movements such as (mentioned elsewhere in the comments) "cancel culture", or how to combat massive disinformation which, in the words of Sartre, "seek[s] not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert."

1. does not apply to all skin colors, genders or sexual orientations


Curious why posts like this get downvoted so often. Is there something I am missing? It seems like a reasonable statement, and whether you agree with it or not, it’s worded in a way to encourage discussion

I think it's this bit: "does not apply to all skin colors, genders or sexual orientations"

If he'd said "does not apply to all countries" he'd probably not get downvoted, but the idea that people of different sexes and races don't have equal freedom is a hotly contested political question in many countries.


> giving us(1) the democracy and freedom we enjoy today

I think the point is that not everybody benefitted equally. I don’t think that’s very contentious, we can just look at the civil rights movement or even women’s suffrage, both of which are relatively new things. It would seem that the benefits are very slowly evening out though - every couple of decades there is a noticeable improvement. It’s not as fast as would be ideal, but at light speed compared to most of human history (which has been pretty brutal over all)


And yet the history of the 20th century, there are plenty of cases where a society has _regressed_ along this axis. Sometimes quite suddenly.

European fascism is the obvious example, but it's also really interesting to look at the trajectory of social freedom in places like China, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. Progress is not guaranteed.


> Also of interest are historical treatments of how support of libertarianism in the mid-18th century could coincide with the most brutal zenith of race-based slavery.

The most obvious explanation being that the advocates of human freedom were predominantly the opponents of slavery. There were, after all, two sides to the civil war.


There is some correlation, but less than you'd think. Many of the most fiery defenses of individual liberty were written by people who simultaneously enslaved others.

Understanding how and why that can happen is important for historical context of these movements, and understanding what is happening in our country now.


> Many of the most fiery defenses of individual liberty were written by people who simultaneously enslaved others.

Many of the most fiery defenses of abolition were written by people who simultaneously enslaved others, e.g. Jefferson.

Something something banality of evil. You can know something is wrong, but if you're a farmer and the competing farmers are using slave labor, your primary options are to do the same thing or be uncompetitive in the market and starve to death.

You can argue that they should have chosen starvation over doing the wrong thing even while pushing for the systemic change that would allow them to do the right thing without self-destruction, but that level of unpragmatic selflessness is a lot to expect from real-life imperfect humans.


Also as an epub/azw3 for your ereader at Standard Ebooks: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/john-stuart-mill/on-libert...

There's also an HTML version at https://www.bartleby.com/130/

There can't be enough ways to get this work in front of people.


Jonathan Haidt's org has a nicely illustrated, highly abridged version called "All Minus One" - https://heterodoxacademy.org/library/all-minus-one/

A relevant quote that seems to always be passed over in discussion of this work-

“Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.“

-which of course was intended as an expression of support for the British colonial project in India.


The two things I learned most from On Liberty is:

1. The greatest enemy of liberty is a repressive majority.

2. Truth is the result of two, or more, opposing points of view.

Essentially most people seek agreement, not truth, and will actively suppress truth when agreement is challenged.


> Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no good purpose is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce social obligations from it, every one who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest.

> This conduct consists, first, in not injuring the interests of one another; or rather certain interests, which, either by express legal provision or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered as rights; and secondly, in each person’s bearing his share (to be fixed on some equitable principle) of the labours and sacrifices incurred for defending the society or its members from injury and molestation.

> These conditions society is justified in enforcing, at all costs to those who endeavour to withhold fulfilment. Nor is this all that society may do. The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others, or wanting in due consideration for their welfare, without going to the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law.

> As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion.

> But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person’s conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all such cases, there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.

> It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine to suppose that it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends that human beings have no business with each other’s conduct in life, and that they should not concern themselves about the well-doing or well-being of one another, unless their own interest is involved. Instead of any diminution, there is need of a great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the good of others. But disinterested benevolence can find other instruments to persuade people to their good than whips and scourges, either of the literal or the metaphorical sort. I am the last person to undervalue the self-regarding virtues; they are only second in importance, if even second, to the social.

I cannot imagine what the other people in this thread think he wrote to respond as if it supports their idea of society not having authority over policing harmful conduct.


> Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such ex- treme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compels all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

I think this quote is equally applicable to what is happening with our new cancel culture.


I tried to quote as much as possible because basically every paragraph hedges the former. This is the paragraph that immediately follows yours:

> But though this proposition is not likely to be contested in general terms, the practical question, where to place the limit—how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control— is a subject on which nearly everything remains to be done.

> All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law.

It seems pretty clear that absolute free speech is absolutely off the table. We can agree that the pendulum has swung too far, without spiking it in the other direction.


> It seems pretty clear that absolute free speech is absolutely off the table.

Actually, speech is probably the one area that actually realizes Mill's otherwise unrealistic ideal case for when society should have no jurisdiction over individual action:

"when a person’s conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of understanding)"

Mere speech cannot affect the interests of anyone: words are not magic spells. So by Mill's logic, society should indeed have no jurisdiction over speech--absolute free speech should not be off the table.


That's one interpretation.

Another would be that there are any number of externalities of speech that affect society directly, such as coercion and fraud.


Coercion and fraud are not speech. More generally, verbal statements that are part of other actions, such as negotiations for a market transaction, are not speech. The whole point of "speech" is that it is just expressing the beliefs or opinions of the speaker.

One almost never expresses speech for no ulterior motive. Speech is almost always purposeful, and when it concerns beliefs or policy (and it does more than one may think), it is an action intended to influence the political process, ie, how things are done. Not that I disagree that speech should be free, but I think the distinction that was made is fairly absurd and lacks realism.

> One almost never expresses speech for no ulterior motive.

Depends on what you mean by "ulterior motive". If it's just speech, it is an expression of belief or opinion, as I said, and that is all it is. Everyone who hears it can judge it for themselves solely as an expression of belief or opinion. If it's a belief or opinion about public policy, any honest motive for expressing it will be part of the speech itself, so it won't be an "ulterior" motive in the sense of being hidden.

If it is not evident what a person's motives are for expressing a belief or opinion about public policy, any sane hearer will take that fact into account when judging the speech. If the hearer is not being given the freedom to make such judgments, then we're not talking about speech any more, we're talking about coercion or fraud.

> when it concerns beliefs or policy (and it does more than one may think), it is an action intended to influence the political process

No, it's an action intended to influence other people--but whether it does or not depends on the merits of what is said. Speech by itself can't change the political process; that requires changing the Constitution or laws.

> I think the distinction that was made is fairly absurd and lacks realism.

I think it is absurd and lacks realism to refuse to recognize the distinction between speech and action. The whole point of having the category "speech" at all is to force people to accept the reality that, if you want to live in a free country, you have to be enough of a mature adult to be able to tolerate people expressing beliefs that you think are false and opinions that you abhor. In a free country, the proper response to speech you think is wrong is more speech to refute or rebut the speech you think is wrong. Once the idea takes hold that it's okay to suppress people just because they say things you think are wrong, we no longer have a free country. Talk about "ulterior motives" is really just another way of suppressing people who say things you think are wrong.


It’s also worth noting that cancel culture itself arose because a different “prevailing opinion” was creating different problems. In every case, whichever group ends up in the lead makes things hard for the other groups

..and those who find themselves in the middle, plagued by both sides, grappling with the nuance and context of the thing.

Old ideas about government and liberty are under attack from both the left and the right these days, not to mention the substantial portion of the world living under authoritarianism. I have not read this book yet, so thanks for sharing the link

Can't recommend this essay highly enough. In particular, it gives a thorough defense of the claim that the importance of protecting freedom of speech ought to guide our personal action and community norms; freedom of speech is not just about restrictions on the government like the first amendment, as so often is unwisely argued.

I think that naturally leads to a distinction of positive and negative liberty - having the negative liberty against government censorship is useless is you do not have the positive liberty of expression. This applies just as well to a ton of subjects, and is also I think lacking very severely in pre-modern philosophy and does derived from them. It also personally led me to a total shift in policy when I realized how meek positive liberty is for the vast majority of people.

Why is this trending right now?

Because many people see the prevalence of the cultural phenomenon know as “cancel culture” to be a new means of societal control in opposition to the values of Liberty Mill espouses. That’s my guess at least. Can’t say for sure why anyone upvotes anything.

I upvoted exactly for this.

It was linked in this thread on free speech by the OP:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23633850


Free speech crowd wants another thread to try and convince onlookers that banning people from online communities for people expressing "free speech" is a bad idea.

Perhaps. The free speech crowd isn't responsible for the current cultural shifts that certainly don't lead to better times for anyone.

So you can download a personal copy while you're still allowed to.

Not even Disney can get that copyright extended

[flagged]


I don't know anything in Marxist analysis of society as classes in conflict with each other that is in contradiction with free speech, much to the contrary. It might be interesting to read the ideology you are talking about instead of using fifth hand evidence and talking in idées reçues. In any case I don't know of literally any country in the world that implemented the Marxist idea of libertarian government free of any distinction between ruler and ruled, and I don't quite know how one can argue that Marxism, an ideology that is against the state, and that claims as its mos vital immediate goal to set up direct democracy and small government from politics to economics (indeed, this comes from the Marxist notion of the State that is still the best definition and that stands on my sociology textbook, unsurprisingly as Marx was one of the founders of social science, recognize that the State is defined by the use of violence in the context of a hierarchical class based society, meaning that abolishing the state entirely has as a necessary prerequisite, according to Marx, the abolition of economic classes and such the ownership and control of production by labour) is somehow a proponent of censorship.

A classic everyone should read, especially today. Individual liberty is increasingly disregarded, belittled, and discarded, and I find that extremely dangerous. JSM is one of the handful of pillars of that thinking whose eloquence makes it accessible to all.

>A classic everyone should read, especially today. Individual liberty is increasingly disregarded, belittled, and discarded, and I find that extremely dangerous. JSM is one of the handful of pillars of that thinking whose eloquence makes it accessible to all.

Wow, well I have to voice some public disbelief over this statement. Maybe you just write it as a reflex?

You think personal liberties are at a low point? I must live in a different world.

We are in the age of the greatest emphasis on personal choice, personal satisfaction, and personal decision making in recent history. If anything we are in danger of the opposite -- personal freedoms making us unable to do or support things that are for the communal good.

Everything that is marketed to us, that enters our political discourse, that is stressed in our daily lives (as well as what many people seek to display to others) is about you deciding what you want and not having to put up with someone telling you what to do. "You do your way", "how you want it, when you want it", etc. The ease of finding subcultures and not having to have your individual interests and quirks diluted by a generic community. The ease of creating/joining isolated interest groups and segregating onesself from your neighbors, community, state, country. (This is not a new thesis -- written about extensively such as in "Bowling Alone".)

It's driven by our consumerism, of course, but it leaks into our government and other aspects of societal life very strongly. Note today, even governments almost feel they cannot force people to act in ways that benefit the community, and have to ask politely people to do things like wear masks (for fear of backlash and being voted out for violating people's personal liberties -- or what they believe are their liberties).

JSM was writing in an age where tyranny (or lack of recourse to rebel against tyranny) and material deprivation were common, social mobility was almost non-existent, and the notion that you could have a prosperous life without relying on the rest of society (and its rigid rules) laughable.

If you feel that (at least in the US) personal liberty is at risk, I shudder to think how your head would not explode in a real authoritarian country.


> You think personal liberties are at a low point?

They are again under attack, as is free speech, mostly out of outwardly good intentions such as preserving justice, public safety, or even, ironically, inclusion.

This is a perpetual conflict, though.

> Everything that is marketed to us, that enters our political discourse, ... "You do your way", "how you want it, when you want it", etc

...as long as it's politically correct, and there's no vocal minority which is opposed to your doing that — again, out of some best intentions. Liberty inherently creates conflicts like that, because people are not going to want the same thing. Liberty is when you are allowed to do something that others might not like, and reciprocally must tolerate other people doing something you don't like. A lot of people are uncomfortable with this.

> JSM was writing in an age where tyranny

A tyranny of majority is a thing :( Consider all the minorities who were disenfranchised not by dictators but by majority of local voters back in the day.

> I shudder to think how your head would not explode in a real authoritarian country.

I was born in the USSR. I can compare. I see the vast difference. I also see certain disconcerting similarities.


I think you both have a point.

By and large, supernova is correct I think in that the emphasis is on personal liberty, especially expressions which are not-normative ... more than ever before.

Communitarian ideals of 'duty' (ie 'Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country') feel almost archaic these days. Like an old country song. We do not compel our children towards the community, rather to whatever expression excites them.

The push towards expression I think is mostly rooted in undoing some suppression in things like sexuality, but it extends to everything and as hinted in the OP the underpinning really is consumerism. 'Christmas' is actually a less important holiday than 'Easter' - but you'd never know it ... industry loves Christmas, or at least the parts that are non-controversial, and it wants to suppress everything else. This is the power of commerce. I work in Marketing and it's essentially a golden rule these days that nobody promotes a product based on features, it's promoted based on the basis of aspiration. Car commercials don't generally boast features, they take you on an journey of what driving XYZ car is like. (Think the Saab car, driving across the desert, with the Saab jet flying by, the driver portrayed as 'fighter pilot' - every little boy's dream job).

But nike also has a point - in that where there are sensitivities around minority groups (race, religion), it seems that almost any opinion can be construed as a 'transgression'.

Absent social rules to provide a basis for behaviour (some might say this is 'conformist') then humans I think will just do whatever suits them. We like to think of this in intellectual terms like 'having ideas' or 'avant garde art' - but for the most part it's just 'playing video games and Tweeting'. The 'PC' forces I believe are ideologically bent on a very specific kind of 'equalisation' wherein there's a kind of instinct to see any 'difference' as 'inequality' and therefore 'immoral'.

So I think those are the primary forces: lack of social agreement supported by commercial interest pulling us towards aspiration, and ideological forces promoting their specific version of 'moral equality'.


Googled origin of "Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country". It is from John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address 1961.

We are talking about deeply divided country back then in the middle of civil rights movement. Which happened when large parts of population were not free to speak their minds without very real threat to their safety. It is not change from people free to speak their minds to here. It is change from one group risks lynching, beating and economic consequences to another group risks economic consequences.

It was not only thing that was going on, obviously and it is not that everything is changing for the better. But the way we idealize the communitarian ideals of the past and their impact is mostly nostalgia - remembering good while ignoring bad. We are talking about good days of free speech of the past and then talk about suppression of sexual or racial minorities as if it would be unrelated. Or for that matter free speech of whites who pushed for equality - the consequences for them were could be quite high too.

And I think the push back or just not taking these liberty arguments all that much seriously has something to do with those arguments not being really serious about past either.


I would have assumed that anyone would recognise that quote without having to look it up. It's an interesting generational demarkation I think.

"But the way we idealize the communitarian ideals of the past and their impact is mostly nostalgia "

Not true.

Or rather ... of course we always make the past into 'nostalgia' but there's absolutely decrease in civic participation by almost all measures.

- Participation in local community groups is way down. - Voting participation is way down. - Direct political participation and Union memberships are way down. - Millenials are the first generation in modern times to not consider 'hard work' (which is a kind of contribution) as top 5 'important value' (Greatest, Silent, Baby Boomer, Gen X - all had this as a top 5 value).

Now - we can definitely argue the value of 'community groups, classical political causes and definitely 'self described virtues' ... but it's definitely directional.

At very least it's a function of opportunity: people just have so many choices, young people can literally do anything. Three generations ago one's scope of choice was extremely limited.

People can now chose to participate in a 'political meme' on Twitter instead of joining the local cause. There are obviously many advantages to this, but disadvantages as well, as there is generally less materiality to Twitter wars. That said, when 1/2 nation Tweets, things can change.

Here's literally Google's 'ngram' viewer for the word 'duty' [1]

I don't need external evidence for this because in my own family I have very extended generations and I knew my grandparents generation very well: they were very coherent at the local level. My grandmother knew everyone on the street and must have helped or attended with literally over 100 weddings as it was the 'local ladies groups' that usually catered weddings -> for free (!) back in the day. Among other things. And yes, it was 'ladies' who made sanwiches, never the men.

The clubs my parents belong to are having a hard time attracting members's children into memberships which they have done for generations.

I would go so far as to say the level of local, social cohesion and the hyper local social networks were so strong and specific, that we can't read someone like Mill without understanding it.

The comparison between my grandparents youth, and suburbian 'placelessness' today wherein there aren't really any cultural demarcation points or locally established 'social rules' Mill references ... is really shocking, and that's only across several decades.

[1] https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=duty&year_star...


First half of your comment has zero to do with free speech and even less with freedom in general.

> it was the 'local ladies groups' that usually catered weddings -> for free (!) back in the day

And in between, women ability to earn money and social status by working went way up. We are less economically dependent on knowing everyone on the street, less dependent on hoping people will reciprocate the effort. We also socialize at work more, so we are not so lonely unless we form these organizations. Stay at home women who don't go out of their way to meet others are incredibly isolated and lonely, with all negative consequences, but todays women are dealing with this problem much less.

This has less to do with consumerism and more to do with pragmatical choices. All the socializing and networking that is necessary for all this was looked down at anyway. Despite completely necessary for sanity.

Men were not making sandwitches, because they were the ones who went to work.

> people just have so many choices, young people can literally do anything

Young people do things, they did not ceased to exist. They are even, all in all not that badly behaved - they are less violent, they take less drugs, teenage pregnancies are down.

> The clubs my parents belong to are having a hard time attracting the kids as members which they have done for generations.

Why would club membership was seen as good or bad or had anything to do with freedom or consumerism? It is either leisure activity or business networking activity, both of which moved elsewhere.


> A tyranny of majority is a thing :(

It's a meme for sure. Whether it's a "thing" in the reality of modern American discourse is sort of an open question.

The fact that the people most enthused with the idea of being suppressed by the tyrannical majority are members of the ruling party, dominant gender and most affluent racial demographics sorta makes the logical construction a bit complicated.


A tyranny of the majority is most certainly a thing. You defining that majority based on race and drawing conclusions is your call, not everyone's.

Coming from an Islamic country, minorities such as gay people or non-religious people cannot seek legal action without a strong sense of a chilling effect.

In the US, you have the electoral college as an attempt to amplify small state's voices to not have states with massive populations dictate who's president (at least in spirit, as I understand the implementation is far from perfect) which is understandable, since states are _first-class citizens_. The other thing, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that you have the house and the senate. The senate adheres to that first-class citizenship of states, while the house is a direct representation of citizens (blocks of them), which makes a tyranny of a majority (e.g. one-size-fits-all bill that suits people of California but wouldn't go well with the people of Wyoming) impossible.

So, if you don't feel like there is a tyranny of a majority in the US, you perhaps have to thank your legislative process for that. That sadly, does not map to private entities.


Do you think that racial segregation regulations, anti-gay regulations, long-gone anti-Jewish regulations and fresh anti-immigrant regulations were created against the will of the majority? Often the majority directly voted for them, like city-wide sundown laws.

It takes a rather hard conscious effort to remember that other people freedoms need preserving if you value your own, because you are not always guaranteed be on the side of the majority.


I don't disagree that it's happened as an issue of historical fact. I'm pointing out that the argument is most often deployed in defense of very much unsuppressed voices. And I'm implying strongly that it's being deployed in bad faith.

I'm curious how you're squaring unsuppressed with the "cancel culture" thing whose very purpose appears to be the suppression of those views.

You're also ignoring survivorship bias. It's no surprise that the victims of majoritarian tyranny you hear from are not the weakest in society, because the weakest in society don't have enough power to command the spotlight. That doesn't mean tyranny of the majority doesn't exist or that they are not its victims, only that you won't hear it from them, because you don't hear anything from them, because they don't have enough power to be heard.


> the "cancel culture" thing whose very purpose appears to be the suppression of those views

Because the "cancel culture" thing doesn't work? The whole concept is nearly a complete fabrication. It's about 20% anecdotes of college kids saying dumb things mixed with 80% paranoia fueled by the conservative media. No one actually gets cancelled, certainly not the white republican men we're talking about constantly yelling (loudly, in a rather, let's say "unsuppressed" manner) about their Free Speech rights.


>You think personal liberties are at a low point?

I'm not American but I think the underlying (philosophical) support for the type of liberty (of expression) that Mill is talking about is probably weaker than at some points in the past. I see more comments on Reddit bemoaning the 1st amendment usually indirectly but sometimes explicitly. The spirit of the old quote (usually misattributred to Voltaire) by Evelyn Beatrice Hall - "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" seems to be really out of favour these days.

On top of that, the power that corporations are able to exert over public discourse is probably at an all time high. Newspapers were often/usually owned by elite interests but a lot of the street level debate used to take place in forums they didn't control (i.e. face to face). Now both the newspapers and the discussion platforms themselves are controlled by basically the sets of same people. There's a reflex to say "Well, YouTube banning you isn't censorship, just a private entity making a decision not to host your content" and that's true but it's not quite the full story. If Facebook, Google, Apple, et al all ban you (and particularly if your ISPs refuse to host your content or the payment processors refuse to handle your accounts) then that is not too far from the level of influence governments have when banning things. When people like Alex Jones are "de-platformed" we might chuckle (or cheer) as he's either a huckster or a lunatic (and possibly both) but you don't need much imagination to see that the same thing could happen to anyone else deemed to be too radical/dangerous in the future. Fortunately the internet is still very fragmented and there are probably thousands of hosts I could go to put up my website if I wanted. But if AWS/GCloud/Azure/Alibaba end up dominating the market completely will that alternative exist in the future? And even if it does if everyone is getting their news from Facebook/Twitter then maybe they will delete any mentions of my call for a general strike anyway.

Again, to be clear - that does not mean that there is less liberty today. There is unquestionably more. But the direction of travel in both these areas is concerning.


I generally agree with the comment above. At the same time, I think it is worth remembering this is a charged topic for many people.

Let's try get some more context before we make assumptions about what the earlier commenter meant. What was their context, for example? They might agree with your characterization of modern-day developed countries (if this is what you mean). Let's listen.

I think reasonable, educated people know there have been times in history where individual liberty was trampled upon. Some of the worst examples correspond to a lack of political representation and/or authoritarianism. Many people, for good reason, do not forget these awful moments in history.


I agree with you, but if you exchange personal liberty for personal privacy in OP's comment, it does get a bit closer to reality. We have been giving up privacy on behalf of individualism (for the sake of consumption, as you state), and I guess that down the road it might just bite our personal liberty, one way or another.

I do not write it as a reflex, other than perhaps the desire to see the big thinkers on the topic get more air time.

>We are in the age of the greatest emphasis on personal choice, personal satisfaction, and personal decision making in recent history. If anything we are in danger of the opposite -- personal freedoms making us unable to do or support things that are for the communal good.

First, there are a few different definitions of individualism. One of them is indeed more about the personal habits of individuals who are able to express their individuality in private and public life through means and methods that sometimes buck the popular opinions of the masses. Putting aside the huge amount of manipulation in that arena used to create the illusion of choice in the consumerism you reference later, I would agree with you that in many ways that first definition is doing fairly well for itself...for now...

You see, the other definition is more about the foundational principles of individualism as a political-philosophical bedrock upon which the America was formed, which more broadly are the lessons of the enlightenment and renaissance condensed. This is more about the source of authority of government, the rights of individuals, and the pragmatic power dynamic between the popular opinion of the masses and those who don't align with them. What I would say is that the latter is quite demonstrably under attack in a myriad of ways, often subtle though they may be, and through that we lose sight of the foundation upon which the definition you speak of flourishes. Any structure whose foundation is eroded is in danger, and I argue that because one is threatened so is the other. I will get into this just a bit more, but first, I'm just going to take a moment and point out how amusing it is that in your defense of the state of individualism, you make the comment about the communal good being the thing under attack! The irony is palpable, but it is at the heart of the matter.

>JSM was writing in an age where tyranny (or lack of recourse to rebel against tyranny) and material deprivation were common, social mobility was almost non-existent, and the notion that you could have a prosperous life without relying on the rest of society (and its rigid rules) laughable.

>If you feel that (at least in the US) personal liberty is at risk, I shudder to think how your head would not explode in a real authoritarian country.

The patronizing tone here should be saved for those who you know better.

During my time in the military I have both been the boot of the authoritarianism and witnessed it applied in more than a few countries you would likely fear to walk freely in to this day. I didn't really get my brain back until I got out though, and have spent most of my free time trying to understand the bigger geopolitical and geostrategic issues at play in the world. One could spend a 10 lifetimes and still lack in this department, but one does their best. The thing to remember is I have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, so that is where I come from to give you and other some context.

One of my conclusions in all my truth-seeking is that, yes indeed, individual liberties, are under threat. I'm having a hard time deciding if I should just start listing the ways, or give you the meta...

The meta is that individualism is the basis in theory of power in America. As James Madison, the father of the constitution said, "All power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people." What I see is that principle being undermined and disregarded, as in my original statement, constantly. Before I start listing the ways, instead I will say the why: to get globalism you have to undermine the idea of national sovereignty. To get national sovereignty, you have to undermine the idea of individual sovereignty. That's the why, the details of which I will leave to some other time.

The how:

A lack of focus in the educational system on both types of individualism. I can't tell you how many younger people I've talked to don't even know the difference between positive and negative rights, for example. This used to be taught. It isn't anymore. The principles of Madison and those whom he studied such as Montesquieu are barely even a footnote in texts, if that, which can mostly be laid at the foot of the abuse of... federal aid to undermine more local school systems. In no place is individualism of your definition more undermined, though allowed in superficial ways. Schools are one of the most authoritarian places that exist outside of prisons.

A government completely unrepresentative of the people, a fundamental breakage. Even if we got past K-street and intelligence agency blackmail networks ala Epstein, almost always the retort is "but the people could do/elect X". What that fails to take into account is the absolute pervasiveness of psychological operations and propaganda, largely done through mass manipulation of the media... and before you knee-jerk into the easy position of calling me a conspiracy theorist, just understand this is all established fact for those who care to pay attention. Someone who knows about the Church Committee revelations such as Operation Mockingbird can easily understand the current state of media, while those who don't will tilt at a great many windmills. The divide and conquer tactics the news uses are more than just the organic brown nosing of "journalists" afraid of power or those convinced by it's colloquialisms. It is important here to note that everyone forgets the Y axis of the political spectrum. When many say the overton window has shifted to the right, what they really mean is that it has shifted up into authoritarianism for both parties! Authoritarianism is inherently and by definition the opponent of individual liberty.

That unrepresentative government has then, in turn, passed or allowed all kinds of fundamental abuses of what are rightly considered individual freedoms. For example: the old principle of Habeas Corpus was more or less suspended under the Obama administration with the MCA and NDAA; The right to privacy and against unreasonable searches and seizures by the patriot act and an increasingly totalitarian surveillance system; the TSA and their security theater and actual personal abuses of peoples personal right to not be touched or pictured naked; the freedom not just to speak being under threat by quasi-governmental influence over what are on the surface level private companies, but also the freedom to read what you wilt; a legal system that is completely in service of the rich, while abusing the poor in the worst ways, such as lack of speedy trials, or to trial by a proper jury, (lack of equality under the law); the allowance of executive orders to be treated as law, in violation of the separation of powers, the waging of forever wars unconstitutionally with flimsy AUMF's that abdicate the constitutional responsibility of congress to declare war; the complete dominance of a non-federal entity congress was deviously manipulated into giving the power of coin, the Fed (money printer goes brrr, but wait now the fed wants in on fiscal policy too!); a large movement against second amendment rights under the false or foolish guise of security (the same justification for many of the other abuses)...

I could go on and on. I have a list written down somewhere, where I took the time go through each clause and amendment of the constitution and listed all the violations currently happening to each. The point is that I think it is these fundamental principles, all based on the foundational principles of individual liberty, that have been eroded and are at the heart of the vast majority of our troubles as a nation these days. Black Lives Matter is about the abuse of these rights, for example, though they may fail to articulate it as such, and to their detriment. Many minorities of all types (Women, LGBTQ, Native Americans, atheists, etc) oppressed have found refuge in these principles and have indeed often won the legal battles necessary to create a state of things where the individualism you refer to can flourish.

What I am saying is that I am warning you and all other Americans, that a failure to understand this, and therefor guard against it, will mean both types of individualism shall increasingly fade away. A casual dismissal of the true state of things such as you responded with will fail to encourage the constant vigilance needed, for as Thomas Jefferson said ""eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty". No, the system was never perfect, and the actual implementation even less so, but we are losing our sight of the value of the foundational principles of the constitution, the declaration of independence that enabled it, and the enlightenment and renaissance that enabled them!

So yes, in the halls of true power I see an alarming increase of technocracy, coporatocracy, kleptocracy, inverted totalitarianism (Sheldon Wolin reference for the Chris Hedges readers), neofuedalism, neocolonialism, supranational globalism, bipartisan authoritarianism, totalitarianism, oligarchy, and dystopia, all discussed as the the normal and desired state of things. In the halls of the masses I see a desire to burn the whole thing down having lost all influence on those halls of power.

Both are a threat.

One thing I've said to others is this; just because the pendulum has swung back towards liberty a few times in history, doesn't mean that at some point the revolution of technology won't enable the oligarchs to stop the pendulum dead in it's tracks on their next turn... and it is surely looking to be swinging their way.

I'll leave you with part of the response from the late, great, Christopher Hitchens, when asked if he though America was the greatest nation:

"The American revolution, the one that says 'build your republic on individual rights, not group rights, have a bill of rights that inscribes these, and makes them available and legible to everybody, separate the church from the state, separate the executive, the judicial, and the political branch' do all these things, it doesn't sound like much but it is really a very revolutionary idea, there is hardly a country in the world that wouldn't benefit from adopting those principles. I think that gives the United States a really good claim to be a revolutionary country as well as of course paradoxically it's a very conservative one" and in another response to the same question called America "the last revolution that still stands a chance".

If we lose sight of what makes that so, all the advances in individualism in both senses will be under threat of retrogression, for there is nothing in history that says progress must always be forward. Mark my words well, ye reader.


[flagged]


Please don't use HN for ideological battle. Flamewar tangents like this lead noplace good, and even when someone tried to de-escalate, you re-escalated below. Seriously not cool. We want curious conversation here. This is the opposite.

It looks, in fact, like you're using HN primarily for ideological battle, and that's what we ban accounts for (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...), so please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and use HN as intended.


> For example, a man can wake up one day saying to himself, "Damn, I feel like a woman". If I don't accept that he is, if only for a fleeting moment, a woman, than I'm labeled a bigot.

This comes across as a caricature of a serious issue.

For what it is worth, whether I agree or disagree with you (or anyone), I strive not to mischaracterize your concerns.

I would like to ask a favor. Please read [1] and come back here afterward. Try rephrasing your comment. I hope you are capable of making a good faith attempt at understanding sex (at birth), gender identity, expression, and so on.

1: https://www.adolescenthealth.org/Meetings/Past-Meetings/2017...


[flagged]


> That is the platform of the trans positive groups.

Please include a link to some of these platforms.

> If I don’t use the proper pronoun at the right time for that person, again, I am committing hate speech.

This is a big claim -- please share a reference.

> If I say no one floats across the spectrum like that...

What is your basis for saying this?


I don't think his choice of words is perfectly accurate, but the notion is.

See: Ontario school's 'Gender Unicorn'.

It's essentially now state-sanctioned orthodoxy, and if you don't buy it, you're basically fascist, and very close to legal scrutiny.

I think a lot of the concern over it is really misplaced, and some loud voices are 'true bigots' kind of thing, and I think it has good intentions. But I also reject the orthodoxy of the information, and the lack of rights concerning the role of parents in moral foundation of their children. It should be worthy of debate, but there will be none.

[1] http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/professionals/L...

virmundi 11 days ago [flagged]

I don’t need a basis other than feelings now. However my feeling are invalid because they are not the currently beloved norms.

>>> you: If I say no one floats across the spectrum like that...

>> me: What is your basis for saying this?

> you: I don’t need a basis other than feelings now.

Of course your feelings and experiences matter. However, if you want to (a) have a deeper conversation; (b) help others understand where you are coming from; or (c) possibly convince other people, I suggest you try to unpack your experience.

> However my feeling are invalid because they are not the currently beloved norms.

If I interpret this literally: This is not true. Of course your feelings are valid.

If I interpret it this as sarcasm: I encourage you to rephrase your point; sarcasm is not useful if you want to engage in discussion.

My tentative impression, so far:

1. You seem currently seem focused on a narrow mental framing of this issue. You seem to fixate on a particular part of the debate without much rigor or reflection.

2. I have not seen much of a willingness or skill to engage on a deeper level.

3. It appears to me that you are using HN to vent. Keep in mind that venting or mischaracterizing others does not suit the audience here.

I'm not asking you to change your experience, values, or goals. I'm asking you to put an effort to engage and listen. I'm also asking you to use your strong feelings about the issue to encourage a deeper investigation into the situation; the nuances. At the very least, you can improve on how you present your experience, arguments, philosophy, etc.


Let's put it this way. Trans people are researching the topic of sex and gender through active self-experimentation. They are claiming empiricism, and their direct experience makes them credible experts. They have produced facts backing their empirical claims, and certain of these claims are further backed up by other sources. You are wandering in, denying both facts and expertise and treating it as if it were crackpot theory, a simple matter of "believe whatever you want".

Now, denial of a factual argument is not hate in and of itself, but denying it on the premise of assigning no credit to the messenger, cherry-picking the weakest arguments and calling it "relativism" can be hateful, because it is indicative of a reality that is actively impeding the investigation of truth.


Do you see how any of your ideas (ignoring the prevalence of strawmen) materially manifests in a trans person losing their Liberty?

Is this something you are able to see?


Absurd. Just put a mask on for goodness' sake.

Please aim higher with your comments.

> Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith. - https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Oh but I did. The worse interpretation was that the commenter feels their liberty is constrained by current efforts to combat racism, sexism, sexual assault, etc.. Either way, invoking Mill is philosophical hogwash. Aim higher with your dishonest intellectualism.

> Either way, invoking Mill is philosophical hogwash.

There are more than two reasons that a link about Mill might have been posted. You've only mentioned two very pessimistic interpretations. I will grant that choosing the least pessimistic is a step in the right direction, but I want to point out this: there are many positive reasons why people value Mill. If you ask first, you might find them. You don't have to agree to ask. You can have a conversation without attacking.

So, please don't take this personally -- you can make your points without an attacking tone -- that's what I mean by aim higher. As in, strive to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps the irony here is that I may actually support many of the same causes as you. I've learned that using an abundance of grace when responding to people is not only kinder but leads to better outcomes. So, yes, I want to believe that you are capable of making a better, clearer, more persuasive claim.

For example, you could have written something like this: "Given this moment in the world, with a history of racism and abusive policing, with tragedy after tragedy, with a blatant lack of accountability, with with protests in the US, I am concerned that some people are grabbing onto concepts such as individual liberty without realizing that in the very founding of the US that rights come with responsibilities." You might add some quotes from Mill where he argues against narrowly individualistic misinterpretations of his philosophy.

> Aim higher with your dishonest intellectualism.

One definition of intellectualism is "the exercise of the intellect at the expense of the emotions."

Remember this: you don't know me. You assume a lot without asking questions. These issues are both emotional and intellectual to me. They work together.

All in all, I invite you to have a better conversation.


In all of that nonsense, you didn't actually present any alternative interpretation of why Mill was being discussed other than the two obvious and "pessimistic" ones. Thanks for the large red herring.

Oh, and I don't work in your little corporate world where people value "constructive" feedback. I don't value it because I don't value dishonesty. Aim higher with your connection to reality.


Can old philosophical texts like this be used in legal arguments and affect the outcome of a trial or a court's judgement? Just curious.

Scarcely. IANA(C)L, but you would have to find an area of law that is not very well legislated, and then you would have to exhaust existing areas of national and international law, comparable laws from other countries, constitutional law, jurisprudence, still finding yourself wanting, and even then you would do much better to use contemporary philosophers, some of which might be descended from Mill in their philosophical outlook.

Came here to point out that this was written before economics was considered a science.

This was written by a white man with a white life experience.

A lot of the ideas here are unproven and have no rational basis.


*On Liberty (for white people).


"Mill’s thinking on women’s rights was influenced by his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill (1807-1858). In 1869 Mill published his famous essay 'The Subjection of Women', in favour of equality of the sexes."

https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transforming...

You know what's funny?

He was early in the fight for sex equality, but if he lived today he would probably be qualified as a sexist by the "progressive" mob for wanting equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome.


> He was early in the fight for sex equality, but if he lived today he would probably be qualified as a sexist by the "progressive" mob for wanting equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome.

This "equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome" discussion is a mischaracterization of the position of "the progressive mob" that is misguided at best, dishonest at worst.

Historically, in feminist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist circles, an inequality of outcome, on the basis of race or sex is the best indicator one would have of an inequality of opportunity. This is why the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy V. Ferguson was manifestly unequal: it consistently resulted in unequal outcomes.

Those that hold that certain races or sexes are inferior conclude that these inequalities are due to the natural, inherent superiority of men/whites/westerners/etc rather than an inequality of opportunity. It doesn't take being in the so-called "progressive mob" to reject that line of reasoning.


> an inequality of outcome, on the basis of race or sex is the best indicator one would have of an inequality of opportunity.

It's good if you use it as an indicator, but it's currently used as "evidence" and as a justification to give certain advantages to certain groups under the (almost always unproven) assumption that there's inequality of opportunity. For example: quota laws, and affirmative action in general. Quota laws and affirmative action that are notably pushed by progressive mob that I talk about, so I don't see the mischaracterization.


Inequality "of outcome" is the best evidence one can have of inequality "of opportunity", and again, it was the primary evidence in the Brown v. Board of Education overturn of Plessy v. Ferguson.

The distinction didn't hold water in 1954, and I don't think it holds water in 2020. Consistent inequality on the basis of sex or race is the principle evidence that there is inequality "of opportunity."


> Consistent inequality on the basis of sex or race is the principle evidence that there is inequality "of opportunity."

How so?


definitions: equality of opportunity = x equality of outcome = y

equation: y = f(x, [z1, z2, ...]) where z1, z2, ... are possibly other factors determining y

you seem to say that y = f(x)

You need to prove that z1, z2, ... don't exist and that y = f(x) has a causal relationship

Both can be proved or disproved through numbers. In case the numbers don't exist, one suspends judgement.


> Historically, in feminist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist circles, an inequality of outcome, on the basis of race or sex is the best indicator one would have of an inequality of opportunity.

It's only reasonable to expect equality of outcomes if everything else is the same. If people in different groups still have different parental income levels or cultural norms or diets or religious beliefs or a thousand other things then you wouldn't expect the same outcomes, even if both groups have the same opportunities, because their treatment isn't the only statistical difference between them.

> Those that hold that certain races or sexes are inferior conclude that these inequalities are due to the natural, inherent superiority of men/whites/westerners/etc rather than an inequality of opportunity. It doesn't take being in the so-called "progressive mob" to reject that line of reasoning.

It doesn't take accepting that it's due to inequality of opportunity to reject it either.

If you have two kids and they had the same opportunities but one became an engineer and the other a janitor, it doesn't have to be genetics, it could be that one had parents who encouraged them to become an engineer and the other didn't.


> This "equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome" discussion is a mischaracterization of the position of "the progressive mob" that is misguided at best, dishonest at worst.

It's also misrepresenting Mill, who surely did not argue against the desirability of equal outcomes. He was simply writing in a different environment, where giant glaring differences of opportunity made for easier argument and lower hanging fruit.

I don't see how you get from "Women must have access to the same professions as men" to a person who necessarily agrees with "It's not a problem if chicks aren't paid as much as dudes, there are all these other factors".


Can we have some numbers here?

I could be wrong, but your last sentence seems to be an ideological jab. I say this because you use the phrase 'by the "progressive" mob'. Please clarify if there is something I'm missing.

> Please don't use Hacker News for political or ideological battle. That destroys the curiosity this site exists for. - https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

It is certainly possible to make a variation of your statement without such loaded language.

I'm sorry to have to say this, but you've also made an overly shallow (and uninteresting) characterization of the ethics underlying progressive causes.


If he was alive today he would probably update his views- just as he updated them in his lifetime.

Yes. That is the difference between a good and a bad one. Inconsistent one may say. But that is life. Even for philosopher.

Something as simple as "Pythagoras' theorem" can move forward through time and remain correct, but a complex philosophy that was itself created in response to the conditions of the time can't be seen as "universal" or "timeless".



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