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The pluralism of liberty

by BrainPolice

The concept of individual liberty, consistently applied, would seem to have pluralistic implications. For it leaves room for anyone to act as they please within the context of voluntary interpersonal relations, and by its very nature a society consists of a plurality of different types of people with a plurality of traits and preferences. Individualism, when applied to an entire society of people, recognises the high degree of diversity among individuals, that each individual is fundamentally different from the other in some way. On the other hand, collectivism and the fallacy of holism that is often present in sociological analysis views a society as if it were a singular autonomous individual or as if it is unanimous, hence failing to recognise the inherently plural nature of human interpersonal relations. The abstractions of group identities obscures the individual and the diversity within a given group and creates false dichotomies that pits each respective group against the other.

While all human beings share some fundamental features that define them as human beings, when one looks beyond these fundamental features one finds extreme complexity and variation. Noone's traits, preferences and desires are entirely identical to anyone else's. This is especially true with respect to aesthetic experience and taste. What type of food tastes the best, what kind of music or art is the most pleasing to the eye or ear, which fiction books are the most interesting, which person is the most attractive? These are all questions that each individual may very well have a completely different answer to. There is no real "objective" answer to such questions, and by "objective" I mean universally true irrespective of time or place or context or perspective. Such preferences are inherently not universal and they always change over time. Neither do I think that there is any moral imperative to choose one such preference over any other. Noone has an obligation to choose Bach over Debussy or Robert Heinline over Isaac Asimov.

Considering the extreme diversity among the personal preferences of human beings, some important questions arise. Does this imply that everyone must inherently conflict with each other? The short answer is no. The fact that Joe prefers X and Jack prefers Y does not inherently imply that either Joe must enforce their preference on Jack or vice versa. It is perfectly possible for both Joe and Jack to each get what they want for themselves, especially if each of them has to can produce or obtain what the other wants and make a voluntary exchange of values. Or each of them can individually pursue and obtain what they want. The only way in which this can occur, of course, is in the context of voluntary interpersonal relations. One must recognise the liberty of the individual to pursue their own personally preferences and happiness without infringement by others and without infringing on the like liberty of anyone else to do the same. Equality of liberty. Once this basic principle is established, everything else has total free reign, and the outcome will inherently be highly pluralistic in light of the vast diversity between human beings.

What kind of system makes the most sense in consideration of the conflicts of personal preference between people? A properly formed answer to this question must question one of it's premises in the first place, I.E. the alleged "need" for a singular or universal system. No singular system or central plan can take such a diversity into account. The only thing that can take such diversity into account is a process by which people can voluntarily choose or not choose systems. So the answer does not lie in a particular system but within the broader context of an overall framework in which systems can be experimented with. In short, the answer to the question is: the free market and anarchism, which are essentially the same thing in a certain context. "The free market" and "anarchism" is not a system but a process and framework by which systems are chosen. The idea is that each individual may voluntarily choose what type of associations and organisations they wish to participate in and patronise. Noone may legitimately force their particular preferred kind of association or organisation onto anyone else. The moment that one proposes a singular system or plan for an entire society or the entire world, equality of liberty has been breached and the plural nature of humanity isn't properly being taken into account.

If a particular preference truly is superior, it will prove itself to be superior, not by force but as consequence of competing on the basis of its own merits. The use of force in such matters to universally coerce an entire society into a given system is the choice of cowards who are not willing to genuinely put their own ideas and preferences to the test. If someone genuinely thinks that their preferred system is optimal, then they should feel no need to resort to coercion to implement their system. The fact that someone wishes to coercively enforce their system onto others would seem to indicate some degree of uncertainty on their own part, a lack of genuine confidence and a reversion to childish means of getting what they want. It also demonstrates a lack of tolerance for the fact that there are other people who disagree, who have different preferences. Those who think that the only option is either coercively imposing their preferences onto others or having other people do the same to them have set up a false dichotomy that ignores the option to simply "live and let live", to allow each individual the liberty to pursue their personal preferences and possibly mutually obtain them. There is no reason why all parties cannot win.

Unless everyone magically became entirely identical or unanimous, which blatantly goes against how individuals actually are and/or work, individual liberty is inherently pluralistic in its implications. Competition and monopoly are opposed in principle. One cannot survive without the elimination of the other. Perhaps what really scares people about individual liberty is the fact that in a free society they indeed would have to be tolerant of the coexistence of people with different preferences and who participate in different kinds of associations and different forms of organisation. "Capitalists" are uncomfortable with the prospect of people forming cooperatives or communes, "communists" are uncomfortable with the prospect of people working for wages or engaging in trade for profit, "racists" are uncomfortable with the prospect of people from different races interacting and mixing, and so on and so forth. The true proponent of liberty is perfectly fine with all of it so long as it is within the context of voluntary choice, with equality of liberty. If they are truly are confident in the inefficiency of a particular preference or mode of organisation, they won't think it can possibly survive the competition in the long run anyways.

Subcategories of anarchism such as "anarcho-capitalism", "anarcho-syndicalism", "anarcho-primitivism", and so on, are only genuinely anarchic if the adjectives placed after the "anarcho" are viewed as personal preferences, perhaps that the individual thinks are ultimately the most efficient and sustainable, that they will survive the competition. But the moment that any such adjectives are proposed as universal systems or central plans, the moment that one advocates them as something that everyone must choose or live under, it ceases to be anarchism and reduces to the proposal for a new state. This is why I consider pluralism to be such an important principle with respect to anarchism. The truly consistent proponent of liberty is a pluralist in that they have no problem with the peaceful coexistence of people with different preferences, the coexistence of various associations and organisations or organisational forms. They are keenly aware of the diversity among human beings and have no desire to force them all into a single mould. They support the ability of everyone to foster their own individuality without coercive restraints. In short, they are aware of the pluralism of liberty.

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