Is Freedom Really Free? II: Exodus, Research Time, 13/07/2017

Is it really freedom if your only choices are between a cruel, abusive, barely-subsistence, dangerous job and starving to death?

The doctrinaire libertarian perspective states that this is freedom. When I say doctrinaire, I’m talking about the libertarian shock troops – the ordinary folks who provide the street and online activist core of the libertarian right wing as a political movement.

Demand better. One of a series of old posters from when we
thought the fight would be easier than it is now.
If a free market is only offering you barely-subsistence wages under terrible conditions or poverty and starvation, then that’s the choice you can freely make. Freedom is the right of exit from any negotiation before the promise is made.*

* Yes, I know there are many other dimensions of freedom as a concept in libertarian thinking, but I’m just sticking to this one for now! It’s a blog – I’m not going more than 800 or so words at a shot with this.

But is there an additional path to follow? Jokingly, in my reviews and posts about that show, I’ve described this ethical argument against the libertarian decision between two bad choices as Doctor Who ethics. When the system you live in offers you two unbearable choices, you break the system.

This is where I see the anarchist-leaning left providing a corrective to the libertarian right. Think of it as a helping hand. The libertarian, as I’ve described them, sticks with the choices you’re given. But you can also upend the table.

Milton Friedman called the right to walk away from a bad deal the right of exit. As he unfolded the concept, it was left with that vulnerability – You could walk away from any shit deal, even if your only alternative was an even more shit deal. You were still free.

The problem of following Friedman is that you may always be stuck with some kind of shit deal. Antonio Negri takes the right of exit farther than the libertarian model – literally an exodus.

One most brutal and blatant commodification of humanity was the institution of black slavery in the Americas. Labour was literally bought and sold, and there was a continual urge in the black population to escape. Negri makes this a starting point for the human drive to liberation.

Friedman stays at the level of the bad job offer – walk away and find something better. Negri carries this principle farther, as far as it can go and where the concept itself would actually lead you if you follow its logic to the end. The human drive for freedom is expressed in the act of walking away to find or create something better.

You keep moving until you can't go any farther. But you still have to.
You’re walking away from any form of exploitation, brutality, or generally horrible conditions of life. You could be walking into a much worse deal. One example. Ask any of the South Asian or African immigrants who come to work in the Saudi Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates.

Thousands once sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. Millions now move across Asia. And that’s just counting the economic migrants – the job seekers. The war refugees throughout the world are millions more.

But there’s also the people who leave their home countries – overpopulated, crushed by climate disaster, autocratic, or still stricken with grotesque inequality – and come to places like Toronto. People like some of my students who come to Canada in search of a better deal.

The best of them are coming here not just to ask for a better deal, but to build one for themselves. That’s the human desire for freedom – don’t just choose the lesser of two evils, but walk away and make the good.

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