Freedom and Neighborliness

A good friend who wished to remain anonymous sent this along to me.

Anyone who subscribes to a philosophy of personal freedom has accepted that individuals have a right to their persons and property, and that so long as their actions do not infringe on the rights of others they should be free to pursue happiness in the manner they see fit.

If this broad approach to human relationships were adopted, it would clear up a great number of problems that exist in our society today.  It is a failure to follow the libertarian Golden Rule that causes most problems; redistribution of wealth, for example, actually violates the right of one person to the ownership of his income — albeit for allegedly beneficial purposes — causing resentment and a sense of entitlement, and often encouraging irresponsible behavior.

If I have a right to my property, then whatever I do with that property short of infringing on your right to do what you wish with your property should be acceptable under the law — even if it completely alienates those around me.

But does a free society have to be an unneighborly society?

Often it is argued that just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it should be illegal. This is most assuredly correct.

We should also accept then that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is necessarily good.  For example, if I run a business and demand that anyone who enters my store shout “Heil Hitler” upon entering, this is my right. If they do not comply I can tell them to leave.  I understand that in a free society people can choose to not frequent my store; I likewise understand that market forces will likely be sufficient to end this silly requirement — people won’t do business with me, and I’ll go under. What I’m driving at here is not whether I have the right to this behavior, or whether others have a right to avoid me, but rather, in the course of demanding my rights, am I being a good neighbor?

My wife and I like to ride mopeds around Portsmouth, Rye and Newcastle. These wonderful communities are perfect for such outings. By law we’re allowed to park on city sidewalks, provided we don’t block pedestrian traffic. Some spots around Portsmouth, however, are narrow, making it difficult to facilitate both of these ends (I’m aware that this is a failure of government).

One afternoon we wanted to have a drink, but it was a particularly nice day and there were lots of people out walking around town.  So rather than take up space on the sidewalk we moved around to what could best be described as a “dead spot” on someone’s private property — space that simply couldn’t be and isn’t used for anything, thereby not blocking pedestrian traffic or in any way preventing foot traffic.  In short, we thought we were being good neighbors by parking in an unobtrusive place.

After a couple of drinks we returned to our mopeds.  As I was unlocking them someone shouted out a window, “Hey, you can’t park there!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Why not?” I asked.

“The owner has a right to not let you park there,” she said. “If you do it again he’ll call the police.”

Here is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Of course the owner of that establishment has this right! And I told her that. “But,” I added, “that doesn’t mean he isn’t being an idiot”.  I don’t think she got my point. I understand that in losing patience with this person I was not taking my own advice.

We expend a great deal of energy, and rightfully so, demanding that government get off our backs, out of our bedrooms, out of our pockets, and generally out of our lives. This is a just and noble goal. Yet we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of being a good neighbor, and asking others to do the same. Just because someone has the right to do something doesn’t make it a good idea. Insisting on one’s right to certain behavior, especially socially unacceptable behavior, while the High Road of libertarian political ethics, is likely a Dead End when it comes to fostering good relationships with those around us.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by john Anderson on June 7, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Define “redistribution of wealth”.

    Taxes are the personal financial responsibility of citizen for their fair share of the common expenses to fund a government to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of the overall society.

    Thomas Jefferson supported the concept that those who receive the most benefit should contribute the most to the common good. i.e. a progressive tax.

    The Libertarian “Totally Free Man” is an idealistic construct similar to the ‘Noble Savage”. From prehistory, man has always been a social animal existing ing in a tribal/social context with proscribed standards of behavior and social responsibility.
    Game was shared with the whole tribe in exchange for other goods and services. As the tribes grew the rules became formalized and governments were formed.

    The mantra of ” the government which governs least ,governs best ” is falacious in the absurd. The least government is no government (anarchy) eat dog! The issue is what level of government provides for life, liberty and the pursuit of hapiness for all citizens with the least, and equal, amount of restriction on each individual citizen.

    Governmental laws and regulations establish the boundaries of socially enforceable behavior. …the playing field. How the game is actually played is framed by the social mores and morals of the various groups/teams on the field.
    Each team/social group has a different culture and frame of referrence and consequent etiquette. New Yorkers aren’t even aware there is an etiquette for who has the right of way on a one lane hill in the winter.

    Communities grow by tolerating new comers and educating them in the prevailing culture. New comers grow in grace by accepting the local etiquette when there is no moral conflict and living, without affront, by their own moral standards when there is a conflict.


    • It’s not about the redistribution of wealth, it’s not about what is moral, it’s not about what is right. It’s about what is accurate and effective. We want systems that have information that is accurate, feedback that is fast, and data that is relevant and has context to the user of that data. Taxes on production (that is, income, investments, or sales), and regulations, distort these three things, by hiding or lying about valuable information that helps us determine what people want in relation to how much there is and how willing people are to create it.

      For the record, Thomas Jefferson was actually and eventually for land value taxation as a single tax, not a progressive direct tax. When he said “progressive”, he meant “scaled to the amount of use” not “scaled to the amount produced”. We should be taxing bad things, not good things.

      I object to this idea that this is at all a game. There is reality, and there is a best way to get what each person wants in that reality. Individuals have more information about their wants AND their context than anyone else does. As was discussed in Tuesday’s speaker series, it’s not about eliminating all government, it’s about making it as local “as possible”. “As possible” means that, when it is no longer efficient to do it at that level, then we can look at bumping it up a notch.


    • For the most part I agree with John. Culture and community are containers for individualism. I tend to avoid the use of extremes as well. But I believe strongly that the libertarian emphasis, even the anarchist contributions today are important because we need to yank society abruptly in a less collectivist/less government direction.

      I am concerned that the element of choice is being eroded. When that happens people start to get really pissed off and that is what we are seeing.


  2. *yawn* another day, another socialist! Sorry John if you are not happy with the way our Constitution was written may I suggest you move to CUBA where everyone is ‘equal’? I doubt you’ll act on my suggestion, but…


    • Posted by john Anderson on June 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Re” redistribution of wealth , for example, actually violates the the right of one person to the ownership of his income “, (per KK above)
      With rights come responsibility, if you want the benefits of a society based on laws then a contribution to the common welfare is a citizen’s responsibility.
      The individual’s security and well being is protected by the organizations we voluntarily form for our common welfare and protection.

      Re: taxes on production (income, investment or sales) as the cause of distorted information about individual wants relative to demand and supply.
      These taxes are applied after the transaction takes place and are a surcharge added to compensate for the indirect costs of production.These indirect costs include things like transportation systems, clean air ,clean water, water systems, power systems, police and fire, educated workers and the list goes on…..if you want your spring water in a disposable, petroleum based plastic bottle then pay for its disposal.

      Note: I object to the taxes in unearned income from investment, which increases geometrically without limits, being less than that on earned income from wages, which increase arithmetically and with limits. Romney @ 15% ?

      Re: distortion of information
      The distortion is not caused by the taxes but by the manipulation of demand created by advertising and group think in a mass society. We survived many years without Facebook which is destroying face-to-face community.

      Re: Jefferson and progressive taxes
      Hold..Am looking for my copy of the Federalist Papers…

      Re: Agree this is no game
      This is a terminal exercise and we will all suffer the consequences. The key is not doing the wrong thing excellently but doing the right thing well. Solve the problems and implement the solutions at the lowest level possible. Our individual “levels of influence” are limited but by joining with others we can solve major problems and match our “level of concern”. Hence community and government

      The ” ad hominum argument”…look it up
      I have earned my right to bitch
      As a volunteer Army officer with 2 Bronze Stars from the Vietnam era I took seriously my oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. Nothing to yawn about as far as I am concerned.
      I suggest you read it. We can discuss our interpretations over a beer ….on me.



  3. Great post Kevin.

    I agree that neighborliness is hard to find. I go out of my way to meet and know my neighbors. One of my favorite anecdotes is from a friend who was lighting off fireworks at his house. The police came buy and said “someone called in a complaint about the noise”. It turns out it was his next door neighbor.

    Why couldn’t that neighbor just come outside and ask them politely to stop? Why did the state need to get involved as a FIRST step?


    • The content came from a friend. But I agree with the essentials. We have been conditioned by the Borg to triangulate in professionals and third parties. And that is not accidental. It gives them more status and funds.


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