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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

(Post updated)

In my earlier post on this theme, I expressed my opposition to using coercive legal means to advance social goals and my moral abhorrence for laws which censor expression, ban consensual behavior or limit freedom of association. I wrote:

Any rational system of morality that makes the basic libertarian distinction between the personal and the political must conclude that laws [which restrict individual liberty] are immoral.

To give another side of the issue, I am also surprised when people think that it is ‘unlibertarian’ to attempt to modify other people’s behavior — for good or bad — through non-coercive means. A controlling husband who does not want his wife to dance with other men, a guy who ‘makes’  his girlfriend eat healthy foods, a friend who tries to emotionally pressurize you to give up smoking or a lover who makes you give up something you love as a precondition of being with you are not in any way violating the non-aggression principle. Such behavior can be sensible or irrational, helpful or counter-productive but as long as they do not involve actual coercion, they are neither libertarian nor unlibertarian.

Let me focus on the cases when the controlling behavior is generally seen as bad or unfair. In those examples, the offending party may not often act in an understanding or considerate manner. However they certainly have the right to be inconsiderate. I most definitely have the right to demand that my partner do things in a certain way. The partner also has the right to refuse. At that point, each of us has the right to suggest a compromise, let the other’s wish prevail or end the relationship. As a general principle, I think such controlling behavior is a terrible idea because even if the other person acts as you wish, she will usually resent it and if you do it often enough, end the relationship with you. However, simply because an idea is terrible does not mean it violates another’s liberty. When private, consensual relationships are involved, everyone has the right to stay in it strictly on their terms.

For instance I would never date a deeply religious person. I would also prefer that my partner’s tastes and convictions are compatible with mine. I might attempt to persuade her to do things in a certain way if they are important to me, even if those things are essentially her personal matter. If the matter is core and non-negotiable, I would even make it clear that we cannot be together if she does not change. These actions may or may not be the best thing for the relationship but they certainly are a natural consequence of my liberty to live my life (which includes my associations and relationships) on the exact terms I wish.

Libertarianism deals with the legal and the political. The meme that it also governs one’s behavior in a purely social or personal setting  is misguided and display a lack of understanding of the underlying philosophical principles. That is not to say that social and personal behavior is not important or that the pros and cons of a particular kind of behavior should not be discussed; merely that such discussions (or any ethics/principles underlying it) are distinct from the principles that underlie individual liberty. Using pressure and emotional leverage to make a friend change his behavior is fundamentally different from having a law that mandates this behavior change. Social pressure is on an entirely different plane from legal coercion. Friendships, marriages and relationships can be ended by either party for any reason, rational or irrational; an oppressive law can never be escaped from.

The personal is not the political. Period.

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Rummaging through my old emails, I found this passage, from an email I wrote to someone three years and six months ago.

There are so many things that are close to you at some point of time. People who were important in your life or just friends ; and then there are surroundings and places. They become part of your everyday existence — in a way sharing your joys and sorrows, and then when you move to a different place, or circumstances change, or maybe you stop loving someone, all of these people and things diminish in importance. You get new friends, new surroundings, and though you might keep in contact with your old friends, its not the same really, is it?

I suppose it is all very natural and obvious — to be happy one needs to do precisely this — move on when necessary. It is inevitable that things change and indeed I have never really bothered about that fact. But just now, as I was reading my French textbook, one of my office-mates started playing these old Hindi songs on the computer, and you know how associations are — they made me think about India and people I have left behind, people who were so important to me at one point of time, *****, *******, ********* … ISI, Bangalore, Calcutta, home; and then for a second it struck as something unbelievably monstrous that such things too can change!

Change is such a weird thing! It is beautiful, wonderful, exciting; and it is certainly irresistible and inevitable. But five minutes ago it seemed to me, for those fleeting seconds, as something tragic, something purely and unbelievably tragic.

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