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Balancing our rights with responsibility
Neither personal freedom nor collective benefit can exist without the other. This tension creates the balance that our world depends on.
Happy Tuesday everyone. Welcome to the Stuff They Never Told You. I’m very excited to be coming to you today after a few weeks off.
This week’s Stuff is an examination of rights and freedom and their reciprocal forces of duty and the responsibility that we all have toward the collective. This is a recurring theme here but it is especially important right now. As vaccine mandates loom and many people become even more entrenched in their places on either side of the issue, we need to remember that a balance of duty and freedom is what makes our world possible. Let’s get into it!
FROM THE AGES
“Every man should be responsible to others, nor should anyone be allowed to do just as he pleases; for where absolute freedom is allowed there is nothing to restrain the evil which is inherent in every man.”
“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
— Viktor Frankl
The pandemic, aside from all of its public health implications, has brought an age-old debate into our everyday lives. Right now we are seeing an especially potent form of the timeless debate between collectivism and individual freedom. While the present-day particulars are troubling, the conflict between these seemingly opposing values is nothing new. This tension lies at the heart of Western democracy.
We all have a natural tendency to lean toward one side or the other based on both our unique disposition and the life experiences that surround us. But beyond our individual tastes, we must always remember that both sides require the other. Cultural stability and prosperity only come when we as individuals freely choose to direct our actions toward collective benefit over our self-interest, at least at times. Similarly, vast personal freedoms are only possible under a system that takes a bit from each person to create an open playing field on which to flex those rights. Neither side can exist without the other.
As we see above, Viktor Frankl understood that freedom is not possible without an equally strong commitment to responsibility. These are the twin pillars that stabilize our society and allow the other to express its true power. This is why he argued for a sister symbol to the Statue of Liberty—a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. The movement to build such a statue persists today. (Ryan Holiday gives an entertaining and thorough telling of this idea in this piece for The Economist).
Neither personal freedom nor maximal collective benefit is possible without the other. But further, neither feels so sweet without equal energy spent in support of the other. If you focus on your individual rights above all else, you can easily become a selfish asshole. Focus only on fairness and collectivism and you’ll eventually be tempted to trample at least some freedoms granted to some people. The two articles below represent the two balancing forces.
What Exactly Are Your Rights? (6 min read)
We often argue over what our rights are without ever considering where they come from or what makes them possible. This is a look at the historical intent behind the idea of individual rights and an examination of the critical distinction between the concepts of a positive right and a negative right. A healthy society needs both, but more importantly, we need to understand where the power to grant a right comes from.
Finding Sacred in a Busy Highway (4 min read)
As humans, we can be of two minds—either an individualist seeking only to optimize our self-interest or a collectivist motivated to direct our actions for communal good. For society to function we need to activate what psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “the hive shift.” This approach is much more than mere individual sacrifice for collective benefit. Moments of hyper-connectedness with others, especially in large groups, bring us joyful states of individual consciousness that are not available any other way.
What’s up with us?
Shane’s forthcoming book, Setting the Bar has entered early release. I could not recommend it more but you can now see for yourself with a free early copy. Check out his post from last week for all the details.
Shane also had an awesome article published on Quillette a few weeks ago. Remedial Education for All
On a personal note, Marika and I have been settling back into our native CA quite well. Our rent is up but so is our time with close friends and family. We have very little furniture and home goods from our last few years of travel. As we outfit our new place, we are trying to be very intentional about the things that we bring into our lives and create as much of it as possible. One of my best friends shaped me a new surfboard a few weeks ago and last night was our first night on a homemade bed frame. It’s slow going to create everything, but it makes each piece extra special.
Thank you for being with me today and remember, life is too short to be normal!