Wednesday, April 23, 2008


One would think that after 299 posts, I would have said something that provoked more than a casual glance. With the exception of a discussion that was carried over to to this blog, nothing I have written has garnered much comment - and from the number of people that subscribe to the feed, it hasn't garnered much interest either.

BUT! I didn't start this blog to build a readership. I built it because after reading a lot, I have to have a writing outlet. I have a directory on my computer that is titled: Essays. It is over a gig and nothing there is much bigger than 100k. I like to write. But, frankly, I will probably never get paid to.

I am still not worried or interested in building a readership but I am going to change up how and what I post. In the past I have seldom linked to other sites, that will not change, generally. I am going to begin quoting - in some cases extensively - from the works of others and then comment on the items. In some cases it will be other bloggers, but more likely it will be written works.

I am going to start off this change by looking at On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Enjoy.

From Chapter 1:
The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right...The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
I found this while looking for the last four words of this paragraph. I had seen them before and from a political and philosophical point of view, was just blown away. As a foundation stone for the United States, those 4 words capture the entirety of WHY America exists.
The individual is sovereign.
Think of this. Our government gets it's power because we give it to it. My life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is inherently MINE, not because of some grant or law or bequest. I am a monarch in and of myself. As you are. We co-exist based on a choice to recognize that inherent completeness in each other.

Society however, is not the result of monarchs reaching a consensus on what is acceptable to is peer pressure on hyper-steroids. Mill had something to say about that also:
In political speculations 'the tyranny of the majority' is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard. Society.... practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression,... 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.
Society is not, nor should not be, the arbiter of what is acceptable behavior on an individual level. IF the individual is sovereign, then society needs to limit it's apparent willingness to interfere or be reigned in by those monarchs that recognize the folly or oppression.

(I almost hate that last comment. Oppression is a dangerous word that is too often misused by those that fail, or wantonly choose, to defy some community standard. If that sounds like I am in favor of society imposing some standards, or a community doing so, blame my inability to be clear. Society, a community, should have a means to stop the idiot that decides to walk down the street naked. While Mill would suggest that the action does no harm, I would wager that Mills sense of responsibility and respect would treat such a person with scorn and ridicule. That is not oppression, nor is it "tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling". It is an acknowledgment that while I am sovereign, I must respect the fact, FACT, that so is the next individual. Respect is not just acceptance, or allowance. It is an understanding that with sovereignty, comes responsibility, to oneself, and to others. Mill does not expound on this because it was inherent in the demeanor of the average 19th century adult. It is something we have obviously lost in the general society, I think, because we have abdicated our responsibility to personally judge the behavior of those around us. Society is unable to 'police' people, and our reliance on it to do it for us has led to a coarsening of general society that Mills would just not accept.

I must respect the right of the sovereign to behave as s/he sees fit. However, I can, and should, call a kettle black when I see one. If a person prefers to smoke cigarettes, I am certainly not suggesting that I have any right to deny them their vice - however, I can and should point out, in the normal course of our interactions, that such behavior is stupid, dangerous to them and self-defeating. And, in my sphere - my home, my office - such stupid behavior will not be tolerated as it limits my enjoyment.

The idea that I should join with many others and BAN such behavior fails to acknowledge the sovereignty of the individual and it encourages the tyranny of the 'majority'.

So, for the first time, I think I have a philosophical foundation for Tracyism's first rule:

Always act in your own best interest.

We'll see.

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