miss_s_b: (Mood: Liberal)
I can't help but notice, these days, that many people do not have an understanding of what Liberalism is. Others often have their understanding altered by the USian usage of the word, which is more akin to what we in the UK would call socialism. So I asked on twitter this morning whether people would welcome a series of blog posts on the very basic tenets... And was met with a resounding yes.

Because this is me, these pieces are going to be conversational rather than academic in tone, and posted sporadically rather than to a schedule; hopefully that won't put off too many people. It's also, obviously, going to be just my take on it. Your mileage may vary. Other people may have equally valid viewpoints. And all the other stuff one puts in the standard Liberal disclaimer.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was John Stuart Mill*

I have deliberately chosen a religious form of words for that heading, because that what it felt like to me. I was in my second year of university, having studied various philosophers from the age of 15**, when I took a module called State, Self and Society. It had one set text, and that set text was this.

At the time, all I knew of JS Mill was that he had a line in the Drunken Philosophers Song***. I was at the time rather fond of Kant, but knew that a lot of philosophy could be rather dry****, so I wasn't particularly looking forward to reading On Liberty. And then I read it.

It was - still is - the closest thing to a religious experience I have ever had.

Now, for those of you who don't have the time or the inclination to read Mill and Taylor's beautifully constructed, logical and passionate prose, and want a Cliff's Notes version... Well, I feel sad for you, but I can understand. If you do get the time, sit down and read the whole thing, it's not long and it is gorgeous. But the bit we are going to concentrate on today is...

The Harm Principle

The Harm Principle, exactly as stated in On Liberty, goes like this:
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.
Now, rather like SEFS*****, people will quite often quote the first clause of this without bearing in mind the most important bit. In my view the pivotal part is His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant - pivotal because it leads onto the bit about the opinions of others. Many people read the first part of the harm prinicple and think that it means you can't do anything that might upset other people because you would be harming them by upsetting them; this is why the second, emphasising, sentence is so important. If you are upsetting someone else by harming yourself, they still do not have the right to force you to stop******.

This is the bedrock of Liberalism, as far as I am concerned

You should be able to do what you want, as long as you're not hurting anyone else. Nobody should be able to force you to stop doing something because they disapprove of it, or because they find it distasteful. The only reason you should be stopped from performing any action is to prevent you from harming somebody else.

There are, of course, other principles which Liberals hold dear, and which apply in many or most situations, but for me the Harm Principle is the absolute basic test that everything must pass. Thus, I am in favour of the legalisation of all drugs. I have no problem with any person having whatever relationship structures they wish to have, so long as everyone involved is fully informed and consenting. I am in favour of assisted dying, because anyone denying you your right to die at a time and place of your choosing is doing you far more harm than you are doing them by asking them to help you*******.

...And I am looking forward to having spirited discussions about those three, and any other examples people wish to come up with in the comments, because I'm a Liberal and we love to debate :)

Coming Soon (not necessarily in this order):

  • Free Speech: what it is and what it isn't
  • The Liberal approach to Education, and why Education is fundamental to Liberalism
  • Non-Conformity, and why celebrating it rather than just tolerating it matters to Liberals
  • Why Liberalism is Intrinsically feminist, anti-racist, pro-LGBT+-rights, etc.
  • The Liberal Approach to the Elimination of Poverty********
  • The Rule of Law, or why Liberalism is not Anarchism
  • Bodily Autonomy and Consent: not just about sex.
  • Weatherwaxian Liberalism: "Treating People As Things" as a Root of Social Evil
  • Solving The UNIT Dating Controversy: or why Liberalism Appeals to Geeks and Why Most of Us Are Obsessed With Scifi

* And, of course, Harriet Taylor, but to go too deeply into her contributions in this post would be to go off on one tangent too many, even for me. Lets put it this way: there is a pretty solid and compelling view that Harriet did as much of the stuff Mill is credited with as he did, and was only not credited herself due to overwhelming patriarchy, patriarchy which Mill himself abhorred.
** thank you Mr Rushton for including the Ethical Theory and Practical Ethics modules in A-level RE :)
*** Clearly dear old JS was only poorly after half a pint of shandy because they'd watered his beer down with nasty lemonade.
**** especially philosophy written by English lawyers and politicians, having tried and failed many times to get through more than a page of HLA Hart's The Concept of Law without falling asleep.
***** Stronger economy, Fairer Society ENABLING EVERYONE TO GET ON IN LIFE
****** Mill and Taylor do, of course, make some exceptions for those not capable of self-determination due to mental incapacity or youth, but even then, argue that these people should be allowed to self-determine in so far as is possible within the limits of safety.
******* although of course, you only have the right to ask; the person you are asking absolutely has the right to say no, particularly under the current law where helping someone to die could result in you going to prison for murder, which is a pretty serious potential harm to yourself.
******** NB: this is different from Vlad the Impaler's approach to the elimination of poverty, which was to put all the poor people in a barn, lock the doors, and set fire to it.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
Note to readership: I have been having a very bad brain day today. This blog post came out in fits and starts over about 6 hours. Normally something like this would take about 15 minutes. So please understand if I am not as quick to respond to comments as usual. Thanks.

Much is often made* of the fact that our politics in this country is done by the privileged, not just in terms of race and gender, but class; that you need to have money to get anywhere; and that our journalists are from similarly privileged backgrounds and do a bad job of scrutinising the politicians. We need to break down the elites that govern us to truly have a fairer society in which everyone can get on in life**, we are told. Just as an example, there's this piece on Scarlet Standard which I read earlier.

There is certainly an argument to be made that there are too many people in parliament/journalism who haven't the first clue what it's like to be poor, and it's also true that being privately educated means that your parents had some money when you were a kid. But because there is an overlap between those two groups does not mean that they are the same thing***.

The problem I have with attacking people for being privately educated is that people don't fit into neat little boxes with interchangeable labels. Compare and contrast the following two examples:
  1. A privately educated, able-bodied, cis white person, with post graduate law degree, and family in positions of power/privilege including running a radio station, a famous artist, and headmaster of a school

  2. A bisexual single mother from a family of socialist activists who abandoned the Labour party after Clause Four was removed, who has never had a job paying much more than minimum wage, and who has often gone without food to pay the rent or feed her child?
Both of those are, of course, descriptions of me. But in the extremely unlikely event I were to become an MP, which of those descriptors would be chosen for me by the people who think we should have class warfare? You can bet a lot of people, especially in the Labour party, would pick the first set, and bemoan yet another privately educated white lawyer getting into parliament****.

I don't particularly resent that; the Labour party is as the Labour party does, and it's not for me to tell the opposition what they can and can't attack me on*****. But me personally? I think every politician is an individual, whatever their educational status, or gender, or race, or whatever, and we should be critiquing what they do, or how ill-informed they are on a topic, not where they come from. If they are unfairly legislating against the poor (or women, or immigrants, or whatever), or if they show breathtaking lack of knowledge on a topic, then attack them for THAT, not for the choices their parents made for them when they were young.

I do, however, object to the lack of diversity in parliament and journalism. Not because it's unfair (although it is) or because it's unrepresentative (although it is), but because the homogeneity of person going into parliament/journalism leads to a homogeneity of thinking, and that leads to poorer parliament and poorer journalism. Study after study shows that diversity increases success in business and in other fields, so it should definitely be encouraged. But the problem would be the same if parliament were entirely composed of poor women, rather than being largely composed of rich men as it is now. The problem is the homogeneity, not the attributes of the homogenous people. That's why we ought to look to achieving diversity, not promote more of one type of person or another.

Acheiving diversity is very difficult, though, which I think is why many try to reduce it to a box-ticking exercise. You don't achieve diversity by having x percentage of people possessing y attributes in a given field and then it's done and you don't have to worry about it any more. Which attributes do you pick for that anyway? Race, gender expression, sexuality, mental health status, physical health status, whether you're a parent or not...? The list is potentially endless. Increasing the number of women in parliament won't achieve diversity if they are all rich; increasing the number of poor people in parliament will not achieve diversity if they are all white; etc. etc..

To achieve diversity, powerful elites need to consciously look outside their comfort zones, and purposefully seek out people who think differently in order to learn from them. Otherwise you end up with recruitment processes like this:

... where no matter how many boxes are ticked, nepotism still holds sway.

*regularly by me, it must be said
**on message, in volume, over time, that's me.
***and even if it did, there is nothing to stop a rich person from truly empathising with the poor, just as there's nothing to stop the poor from reading the Daily Mail and moaning about scroungers.
*****While I do, of course, reserve the right to respond in whatever way I see fit.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
Sometimes something happens which reminds me how broad a church our party is. Not talking about the left-right axis here; everyone knows we cover the full range of that and have the factions to prove it. I'm looking at the vertical axis.

There are people in the Lib Dems who are liberals. Then there are Liberals. Then there are LIBERAL!!!!1!eleventy!!'s*. Then there are people who joined up because they thought we were cuddly and nice and want to compromise on everything; or because they wanted something equidistant from labour and the tories on the left-right axis and hadn't considered the vertical axis at all.

I don't think those in that last group and I will EVER fully understand each other.

*For the avoidance of doubt, I'm definitely in the multiple-exclamation-mark cadre.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
So this lunchtime I had an interesting conversation with a Green on Twitter. I have a lot of time for Greens; I agree with a lot (if not all) of their aims and I think there are many areas in which Greens and LDs could work together. But I'm not, and never will be a Green.

If you're a Green your main aim is saving the planet. This is a laudable aim, and not in my view one that any sensible person could oppose. But it's not the be-all and end-all of my politics. The Green I was talking to told me that a good third of his personal politics were staunch Liberalism, and expressed surprise when I said 100% of mine were. Where Greens want to save the planet full stop, I want to save the planet because that will enhance and increase personal freedom.

All the policy aims I support, I support because they will enhance and increase personal freedom.
  • I support the educational policies I support because they will enable people to make informed decisions and thus increase personal freedom.

  • I support the reduction of poverty and wealth inequality because you can't be free if you can't afford to eat.

  • I support a lot of green aims because you can't be free if you don't have a safe planet to be free ON.

  • I support freedom of movement within the EU because you can't be free if you're restricted as to where you can travel.
I could go on, but you get the idea.

Now I may disagree with other Liberals on the best way to achieve any or all of these aims, or even whether these aims would increase personal freedom. But that's OK. I'm a Liberal, and am happy to have discussions, or even stand-up rows, in the cause of freedom. I'm also willing to look at evidence and change my mind if necessary, that one or other of my aims might not increase personal freedom. But at the end of the day, it all goes back to that.

What matters is that we should all be as free as humanly possible*. That's why I'm a Liberal. If you're one too, do join up. You'd be welcome.

* within the strictures of The Harm Principle, obvs. You can't be free if someone else is restricting you by harming you physically or mentally, after all ;)
miss_s_b: (Default)

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Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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