What is liberty after all?

The notion that liberty is hypothetical opportunity ignores the existence of consequences and complexity. Sure, any one can rob a bank; any one can become a first tier telecommunications company. Except that, when taken in context, they cannot.

There are real social and economic consequences to the choices that people make, even small ones. Robbing banks is not without social and economic consequences for whole societies. The actions of individuals causes ripples far beyond their circle of acquaintances.

There are complexities which require more than an individual can manage. Corporations are collectives that live in cooperation, and potential conflict, with other collectives, and each of these collectives is comprised of potentially divergent individuals. Becoming a first tier telecommunications company requires webs of agreements and cooperations reaching far beyond the boundary of a single office, let alone the boundaries of a corporate campus.

Liberty is a socially constructed framework. It’s not a lawless state of frictionless movement without complexity or consequences. Liberty exists because the matrix of relationships between individuals and collectives is dynamic. The only reason the individual in isolation appears to have liberty is because of the elasticity of the natural world in response to isolated changes, but this is an illusion of scale. Liberty is a social phenomenon not a function of individualism, though paradoxically it makes individualism possible within society. (And, hence, the greatest fiction of individualism is that it can occur in isolation.)

The notion of checks and balances is essential to this liberty. Liberty cannot be preserved or protected by a linear authoritarian leadership, but is protected by a dynamic check and balance. There is no last bastion that protects liberty. There are no elements of society that are able to act without taint of self-interest and bias. Protecting liberty is a role of the whole system, though nodes of the system will take on more or less of that shared responsibility dynamically.

The branches of government are part of the equation, but there is also the necessary presence of engaged individuals. True to this, most advances in liberties appear in response to popular movements, sometimes radical. If the people are quiet, they will not be well served by governments.

Collectives, whether that means the collective of a corporation or of a group of workers, will work for the benefit they can see. They are unlikely to work for the benefit they cannot see or for the benefit of others, unless the collective is helped to see or can hear.

In an article about a recent study it was found that monkey culture included social facilitation, an element of society that kept the peace so that social interaction could occur. Without this element of safety, social groups did not cross thresholds to engage with others outside their group.

Each element of society can act as the peacemaker between others. The law, the legislature, industry and the people are all parts of a complex dynamic relationship. No one element of this web is the final champion of the social, economic fluidity called liberty.

In the conflict between the Federalists and the diverse, fractious semi-collective labeled Anti-Federalists, it was the radical populist threat that made the adoption of the Bill of Rights possible. It was, however, a compromise, socially negotiated.

The courts have been party to the abuse of the 14th amendment to fabricate the notion that corporations are individuals, that the collective has rights, while at the same time those corporate collectives deny that workers can have collectives.

Corporations will externalize. Human rights and quality of life are market inefficiencies, only to be included in the cost of doing business if market forces demand that be so, or corporate leadership is able to graft social responsibility to the only morality inherent in capitalism: profit.

Individuals, and I am not immune either, tend to have myopic notions of maximizing benefit and advantage unless they are confronted by and have their eyes opened to injustice and inequity.

There is no element in the web that is a true, pure witness and protector of liberty and the notion that this might be so is an opportunity for misuse of power and corruption. The responsibility to protect liberty is a collective responsibility. That responsibility is also dynamic. When some element of the social web cannot or will not take notice of and responsibility for the consequences and complexities of their actions, it is necessary for the remaining elements of that social web to give voice and become champions of liberty.