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Reactance, Day I: Awareness

Reactance.

Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives.

-- "Reactance (psychology), Wikipedia"

Reactance.

It's a damnable thing, a real thing, a useful thing to know of, and yet far too few people know of it.

What is this Freedom thing, anyway?

On Aesop

People sure like to talk about it. It's usually used as an applause light, that is, something where the meaning isn't that important, it's just used as a signal that you should agree with the speaker.

Sometimes people make a distinction between "positive" and "negative" liberties or rights. Positive and negative aren't used in the sense of good or bad, more akin to the psychological sense of positive and negative reinforcement. Negative liberties are ones where in order to exercise them all you need is that nobody stop you from doing it, like freedom of speech, and positive rights are ones that require other people or society to help you exercise them, like the right to healthcare.

I don't think that distinction makes much sense. I'm unusual in that I think that a lot of the reason that countries like America seem so much freer than countries like the USSR (not to argue that they're not freer, just that the degree is exaggerated) is because in America a distinction is (nominally) drawn between governmental power and economic power, and for some reason we only consider misuse of governmental power to count as infringing on freedom. In the USSR or China or any other country with a very powerful government that is actively involved in the planning of the economy, the economic and governmental powers are obviously controlled by the same entity, so when somebody gets censored by the state-run media for advocating laissez faire capitalism, that's considered censorship. Contrast with in the USA, where the economic and political power are ostensibly separated and for whatever reason we only care about abuses of political power: you certainly don't see people advocating for hardcore Maoism here. You don't even really see anybody advocating for things that are very uncontroversial in rather similar countries, like single payer universal healthcare. There are definitely people who want these things, and want to advocate them in big public ways, but cannot, because the economic powers that be deny them the platform to do that. And this is not considered censorship.

I think that caring about whether something should be considered censorship, or a violation of X or Y right, is kind of a silly, outmoded way of thinking. Rights and liberties are not Aristotelian categories fallen from the heavens where it is Bad to do a thing that is a violation of a right, but if you can come up with a good enough argument for why it doesn't count as actually violating that right, then all of a sudden it's Good. That's ridiculous. What matters is whether or not the person was able to do the thing, not whether it was forbidden in a way that fits into your arcane rules about how to forbid things.

I have pretty much come around to think that freedom is being able to do what you want, and as a corollary to that, the only real freedom is economic freedom. Well, there are some others, but economic freedom is the most important, and you could argue that the others flow out of it, but that's kind of irrelevant. Now, I want to talk about economic freedom.

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