A rather garbled essay I read yesterday – Liberalism doesn’t respect a nation’s sovereignty – set me thinking about property ownership and nation states and progress. Sample statements from the essay:
A nation’s sovereignty means that the residents in a land possess the ultimate authority over that land,…
Liberalism is instead dominated by the concept of the individual’s right to property, which is the fundamental right in liberalism, upon which all other rights are (in traditional liberalism) based…
Progressivism means something totally different than either liberalism or conservatism: it is the belief not in “natural law” nor in any “God’s Law,” but instead in natural worth: Worth inheres in any sentient being, because it is sentient and can therefore experience joy (positive) and/or misery (negative).
What on earth does that mean? I couldn’t make head or tail of what the author was driving at, and so I asked myself what I thought about them.
And that brought me back to the conceptual system of Idle Theory, in which people (and in fact all living things) are seen as alternating between busy and idle states. Here’s somebody who’s 33% idle:
Progress, as far as I’m concerned, means growth in idleness. Human progress means life getting easier for people. Progress means more people having more idle time to do what they want, rather than do what they must. Progress means increasing freedom. And progress is principally achieved through technological innovation: roads, railways, cars, trucks, houses, telephones, computers.
Progressives are people who believe in progress. They want more progress. In this narrow sense I am myself a progressive. I’m in favour of idleness-increasing progress.
Unfortunately, a lot of modern “progressives” seem to think that progress just happens of its own accord, automatically, and that tomorrow is always better than yesterday. I don’t share this optimistic view. I think that progress can and does often go into reverse, and that life can become harder for people, as their idleness decreases. It’s what’s just happened to a lot of people on islands in the Caribbean, after the passage of a couple of hurricanes.
Greens are people who don’t believe in progress. They think that technological innovation just fills the atmosphere with smoke, and poisons the seas and rivers. They believe, or some of them seem to believe, that we would all be better off if we’d stayed living in the Stone Age, with stone tools.
Liberals (before the word was corrupted to mean something like its opposite) are people who place high value on freedom. And people are only free to the extent that they have the idle time in which to freely do as they like.
Libertarians are the same as Liberals. It’s just that they’ve had to find a new word to describe themselves since “liberals” became illiberal.
Conservatives are people who like things the way they used to be, usually about a century ago. In this sense, Greens are ultra-conservatives who’d like things to still be the way they were 10 million years ago. I’m a conservative in that I think that life was much better before the UK smoking ban than after it, and I think the ban cost me a great deal of freedom.
Communists are people who believe in the communal ownership of property – roads, railways, cars, trucks, houses. Communists believe that goods should be held shared in common with everybody else. Communists also believe in state planning. They regard society as a whole as more important than individual people.
Private property is property for the exclusive use of its owner. I am myself an owner of private property, in the form of the flat I own, and all the contents inside it. I’m also a car owner. The advantage of private property to its owner is that he can immediately use it whenever he likes. When I want to do something – like buy food – I can jump in my car, and go and buy my food with my money. If I didn’t own a car, I’d have to hire a taxi, or catch a bus, or walk to the shops. And it would take a lot longer to do my shopping. So privately owning a car increases my idleness. And it doesn’t decrease anyone else’s.
Home ownership also increases idleness. In my privately-owned flat, I have exclusive use of its kitchen and bathroom and bedroom. I don’t have to wait for someone else to stop cooking before I can cook something for myself. And having a roof over my head also increases my idleness: I’m not cold and wet all the time, as I would be if I didn’t have one.
Simply being “at home” means living an easier, idler life. I know where everything is in my home. The sense of relief that one has on arriving home is one of re-entering a familiar environment in which everything is in its place, and in which there are no dangers. There is nothing that needs to be explored. Not being at home means always being in an unknown, unfamiliar environment, and having to keep an eye out for dangers of one sort or other. Just being away from home means being busier in countless small ways.
And a nation state is the private property of the people who live in that state. They may arrange it as they like, build roads and railways and houses wherever they like, and enact whatever laws they like, and speak whatever language they like. There is a considerable increase in idleness attendant upon a people all fluently speaking the same language. All transactions – like shopping – can be done more rapidly. It also speeds transactions if the goods in shops, and the books in libraries, all have descriptions and contents that are written in the same language. It helps me a lot – makes my life idler – that when I go shopping the shop assistants speak English, and the goods in the shops have English names, and the newspapers on sale are written in English. But the same would also apply in France and Germany and Spain, with their own languages.
It’s much easier for the French to live in France, where everyone speaks French, and everything is written in French, than it is for them to live in England or Germany or Spain. And life in these countries gets harder the more people who arrive who don’t speak the national language.
And so the benefits of belonging to a nation state are the same benefits that attend upon home ownership and private property: there is an increase in idleness. Life is easier for everyone who is a citizen of a nation state.
Much the same applies to customs and beliefs. If everyone behaves in customary ways, or believes the same things, there is little conflict between people. And conflict is work. Having shared values increases idleness.
And that, very roughly, is how all these things look from the viewpoint of Idle Theory. A single measure – idleness – is used throughout to define and explain and justify Progress, Liberalism, Private Property, and Nation States. If words aren’t carefully defined, they can mean more or less anything. And increasingly words like “liberal” and “progressive” now mean more or less the opposite of what they used to mean. And rational debate becomes impossible, or futile. And that also entails a loss of idleness.