Thursday, March 31, 2011

Resource Economy vs. Freedom

Freedom Force International makes an analysis of the Zeitgeist movies. This analysis boils down to identifying the resource based economy suggested by the Zeitgeist movement as a collective or communist system that is in contrast to the individual freedom. It sees two opposing forces that cannot be unified: resource based economy and freedom. As Freedom Force International is a strict defender of freedom it rejects the Zeitgeist approach.

I am bit like Dustin who wrote a comment on the analysis. I like both freedom and the Zeitgeist vision. Dustin chose the title "The profit motive has to go" (source). The freedom concept is easy to understand. Most people like freedom. Most freedom and libertarian definitions include a phrase like "I have a right to protect myself from harm" (source). The difficult part is being able to see and agree on what actions harm others. My freedom ends where the freedom of the other begins. In order to preserve freedom one must not harm others. In today's world:

  • What happens to the individual who pollutes the air? It could be the neighbor with his lawn mower or a corporation like Shell burning off millions of tons of gases in places like Nigeria.
  • What happens to the individual who pollutes the water? It could be the neighbor who throws a plastic bag into the ocean or a corporation like BP who spills millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.
  • What happens to nuclear reactors? There are clearly risks and many people get harmed (Tokio kids drinking tab water). What happens to the corporations that build and run them?
  • What happens to the corporation who genetically pollute? What happens to genetically modified seeds of corn, soy, wheat, etc. that spread out of control? I have the right not to buy GM food. Fine. But the problem is that GM seeds are carried by wind, birds, trucks, and many other means from place to place and after more than a decade of use of GM seeds, GM seeds show up where one does not suspect them. Ecological farmers have found them on the land. GM corn seeds have been found in far away and insulated valleys in Mexico. Organic food is polluted and tainted by GM crops. Who protects the organic farmer and the consumer of their products from harm?

In the definition of freedom Freedom Force Intl says "one of the primary functions of a just state is to protect each individual from the greed and passion of the majority". I feel that today the vast majority of people needs protection from a few greedy individuals/corporations. Millions get exploited and live in unhealthy conditions exclusively because of the greed of a few driven by the insatiable profit and hoarding motive. Billions of people are being harmed by polluted water, by polluted soil, and by polluted air. This includes all the "developed" world countries like the US and Europe. Just to give an example: We all have plastic molecules in our blood. Pesticides are found in the breast milk in many countries around the globe.

Where is my freedom on all these issues? How do I protect myself from being harmed in respect to these issues?

I believe that many corporations in today's government controlled society have far too many "freedoms". Their "freedom" infringes on my individual freedoms and harms me. Deep sea oil exploration, nuclear energy and GM food all have one thing in common: They carry a very high risk, an unnecessary risk as their output can be achieved through safer means (e.g. energy savings, reduced energy consumption, alternative energy sources, conventional or organic food). They have done and will do harm to people and hence violate personal freedoms. Why are these projects being implemented then? I'd say because of the profit thinking. They exist because of the greed of a few and for the profit of a few.

I see some common ground between freedom and the resource-based economy. I can use both to justify the elimination of pollution (air, water, soil, food, ...). I also see that both "ideologies" are basing themselves on equality. One of the three commandments of freedom is "equality under law" (source). The basic promise of communism (including the Zeitgeist Movement) is equality. Often I feel that special interest groups (governments, corporations) have more rights than I. Both, the implementation of true freedom as well as the resource based economy would eliminate (or at least try to eliminate) these special interest groups.

The governments would look quite differently according to the two systems. The freedom movement would reduce the government to a minimum, to only the freedom-protection functions. The Zeitgeist movement would on one hand reduce government, but on the other hand take on new massive roles like resource management and resource distribution.

Ownership also plays a big role. Who is the owner of what? Zeitgeist takes a communist approach. We are one world, one planet, one people, we should use the resources for the good of all, for the good of the common. The freedom movement also talks clearly about ownership and property. But what happens to the resources. Oil created through millenniums is found under the ground of some country whose existence is defined by some lines drawn on a map. That country might only exist for a few decades as political borders have changed frequently in the last century. Does that make the government of this country owner of the oil? I am not so sure. What about an underground lake of oil that stretched into two bordering countries? Who is the owner of the oil? The country who pumps it faster? Who is the owner of the rain water? The owner of the wind? Clouds form over the ocean. The oil was in existence way before countries were created and populated. So, who's the owner? Doesn't it make sense that we are all the owners? Shouldn't we strive for a common solution and a common use?

But what is the bottom line? What's better? Freedom or a resource-based economy? Can we have both? Are they mutually exclusive? I believe that in a complete implementation both movements are incompatible and mutually exclusive. In a society where freedom overrides everything we will not be able to build a resource based economy. The same on the other side. In a society where the common good of the resource based economy overrides everything we will not find full individual freedom. There are some common grounds between these two though as I have indicated above. Both also share some objectives. Both systems want to eliminate the current control held over us by financial institutions, corrupt governments, and industrial exploitation of people around the globe. Since we cannot have both, shall we look for a compromise? But the core values of both movements are unshakable and hence uncompromisable. Sounds like a compromise is out of the question, at least for the hard core defenders of these two "ideologies".

On an emotional level, I feel that the profit thinking often (but not always) goes against the good of the common. I feel that we should seek and would benefit immensely from common solutions. I am also a believer in freedom and choices. Yet, I wonder if in a purely freedom-based system we wouldn't come to a grinding and halting deadlock. Nearly any action we perform does harm to someone. At least in today's world. If you drive a car who harm someone due to air pollution or noise. Nearly all manufacturing processes pollute either air, water or soil. Certainly all agroindustry today pollutes soil and food and thereby harms people and generations to come. In short, all production (energy, food, consumer goods) and all distribution do some harm to someone. In a pure extreme freedom system they would all have to be outlawed. They would all have to be pollution free. Who defines pollution free? How about noise pollution, light pollution, visual impacts and so forth? Oversimplified, when one builds a nuclear facility across the road from my home, it harms me and (according to the freedom laws) I should be able to defend myself from these harms and the governments role should be to defend me as an individual. How does the freedom system avoid this complete system shut down because everything does some harm to someone? I don't know. In reality, countries then used the excuse "for the common good" to allow certain polluting corporations, violating the freedom rules.

The resource based economy would take away our freedom. And the freedom system would shut most of current infrastructure and production facilities down. We are in a dilemma. Neither system is perfect, both systems have their problems. Maybe a compromise is still in order? We use a little bit of this and a little bit of that? Or maybe we implement both systems in parallel and give the people the choice. Do you want to join a) the freedom system or b) the resource-based economy? Of course, the compromise as well as the parallel implementation of both lead to new problems and even more questions. More thinking is needed. Certainly for me.

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