Thursday, December 4, 2008

Individual Freedom of Opportunity

The concept of individual freedom of opportunity is often diametrically opposed to the security of welfare. Because we are individuals, we often think of the world circling around our own specific sphere of interests and concerns. We want what is best for us. It is the individual freedoms that much of America was built on. However, any collection of individuals, whether it is a sorority, a nation, or mankind (global species survival) often puts aside what is best for one person and focuses on what is best for the group. How does one reconcile these two very different needs?

First, history has shown that, in the extreme, both of these constructs can have negative, catastrophic consequences. The recent economic crisis has shown what can happen when individual opportunity and greed overtakes concern for the greater good. At the other extreme, Marxism and the socialist system have many laudable ideals. However, a completely socialist system kills individual creativity and initiative and has not survived in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. 

Thus one can argue that we need both constructs in place. The question remains: is one more important? It seems that enlightened individuals can move society forward, such as Abraham Lincoln (and, hopefully, Barack Obama). Unfortunately, other individuals, such as Adolf Hitler, can create atrocities that are inexcusable. A system built only on individual freedoms leaves too much at risk. The wrong individual could start a nuclear holocaust. Societies, and societal systems, can protect the individuals that live within those systems. The "greater good" should prevail. The challenge of any group is to encourage individual freedoms. The enlightened society will do this. The security of welfare, and, therefore, societies, are more likely to move the individual forward and mankind, in general, than the reverse. 


Cal said...

1) Why do we have to value the "group?" Groups, such as a nation or even a sorority are socially constructed. According to Sigmund Freud, the society is only constructed to protect man from what he fears most: death. The natural world is uncaring and harsh; we find safety in numbers because that is the system that produced us (sounds like Foucault). These "values" are of only perspective importance it seems, because not everyone views them with the same appreciation.
2)Are there no "mediums" that can arise from giving the individual power? Not everyone has to be a Hitler or a Mother Teresa, there are definitely "average joes" that are happily trudging through life without care and are mainly interesting in keeping a status quo.
3) I think the security of welfare is necessary, because it is a group (taxpaers) effort to help those individuals (who are a subset of the larger group: the human species) so they can eventually re-enter what most consider a "productive" life, one in which they hold a job and pay taxes so other receive the same benefits that they once did. If the group is committed to a "greater good," I believe one of these greater goods is helping those less fortunate temporarily until (under extreme circumstances) they can rejoin the workforce. That being said the current welfare system needs much stricter acceptance rate and better execution to make sure there are no leechers in the system.

Paul Bendor-Samuel said...

The individual is more important. The greater good allows for the lowest common denominator to live more comfortably, but it smothers progress. It is true that the individual can be either a Hitler or a Lincoln, but in both cases great strides were taken albeit terrible in the case of Hitler. In this case the more risk taken the more progress potentially gained. There are no shortage of movies and novels that warn us of what will happen if we peruse our ambitions with out caution, but in all of those warning incredible progress has been made. In conclusion, if we want to remain roughly where we are now and want take small steps into the future we should focus on the “greater good”. However, if we focus on progress we will take large strides into the future.

leecbryant said...

But what is the rush of moving forward? Life right now, at least in America, is quite convenient with our iPhones, blue-tooth headsets, Tom-Toms, and what not. Are we in that big of a rush to figure out the next "big thing?" And yes, more progress is made when focusing on the individual but that progress is not felt everywhere. I don't think focusing on the group necessarily smothers progress. I think it offers progress to a greater number of people. And is that really all the terrible?

kip geddes said...

The individual is an entity that must be protected and given ample resources to grow and flourish, however, once there are so many individuals they begin to infringe on each other's opportunities, freedoms and so forth. Valuing the rights of the individual is important, but so is guarding other individuals from being negatively affected by one individual's expression of his or herself. Everyone has the same rights, but there are instances where one person exercising their rights and freedoms can impose on another individuals freedoms. This is where balancing what is best for the whole and what is best for the individual gets tricky.

matt jacobs said...

I agree that it is very difficult to have both the greater good while protecting everyone’s individual freedoms. I remember in high school, we were discussing The Republic, in which Plato argues that there are three types of good government and three types of bad, and democracy is the worst form of good government. I think it illustrates an interesting point, that democracy might not be the best form of government, and there are better ways to govern large societies.

Most forms of government, such as democracy and communism, would work perfectly on a small scale. They would be easy to run, and if people in the small community agreed with them, it would run smoothly. This, however, is not practical, as many societies would have to exile themselves and form communities of similar people with similar ideals, and be exclusive to other who are different or believe differently. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what it’s about.