Parenting is another hierarchy which is not only based on the imagination (there is really no such thing as a “parent”) but also entails drastic inequality. The child, by his mere child status, is deemed to have no rights of his own, and has little actual protection against abuse. The end result is that millions of children ever year are beaten, verbally abused, sexually abused, kidnapped, ritually mutilated, have their free time controlled, told what to wear and what to say, and indoctrinated into bizarre belief systems which narrow their capacity to understand the world in later years, to give just these examples. Any single one of these abuses of human rights would be considered absolutely unacceptable if they were performed on adults; parenting necessarily relies on ageism, more specifically the hatred of the young, in order to justify its abuses of human rights. It is often claimed that parenting exists out of love, but it is hard to understand how a system geared towards near-total control of an individual indicates love for that individual. In no other field would we use such twisted reasoning; one rarely hears of fascism or state communism, for instance, as paradigms of love in politics, even though they put a heavy emphasis on controlling the individual.
The influence of inequality on our freedom even extends to our mental freedom, such as the freedom to construct our own sense of identity. Through the media, and its far-reaching influence on public opinion, we are bombarded with archetypes and categories within which all individuals are filed and from which they are evaluated, such as gender roles, ageist targeted marketing and race stereotypes. The laws also provide a whole panoply of these (“criminals,” “drug users,” “sex offenders,” “immigration,” married, and so on).
I think I’ve discussed enough examples for the general principle to be obvious: systemic inequality entails generalized loss of freedom, and vice-versa. We can also safely say that the more profound the inequality, the more profound the loss of freedom. And although I did not really discuss the opposite movements, I believe we can also say that structural equality entails a generalized gain in freedom, and vice-versa.
While these principles also apply to the individual’s own adherence to this or that system (i.e. when we are part of egalitarian systems, we are more free, and when we feel more free, we seek out egalitarian systems), they apply more directly to society as a whole. Individuals can only be free in an egalitarian society, and an egalitarian society can only be a society where individuals are free. Individual autonomy and social freedom, self-determination and social organization, free will and order, are linked together and follow each other. Any ideology which only resolves one part of the equation has failed to grasp the nature of what it was trying to resolve. Eliminating some inequalities, but keeping others, will generally not improve the state of society as a whole.
To understand why, you must understand that natural rights, no matter how many people deny their existence, do exist, and what’s more they exist necessarily. All rights are claimed by someone or some group; the less rights claimed by the individual, the more rights are claimed by others. Unless the individual is able to regain control, his rights are open for the taking by any other hierarchy that persists in his society. Eliminating capitalism alone would merely open the door for greater statist controls over work and life as a whole. Eliminating the State alone would merely open the door for more corporate economics-based control of behaviour. Likewise, the near-elimination of religion from Western societies has merely delegated various forms of norm enforcement (such as sexual norms) and psychological comfort (such as the fear of death or failure) to the political and economic realms.
The statist will no doubt reply that complete individual autonomy is not only a surefire recipe for chaos, but that it cannot lead to equality because every individual will seek his own advantage over everyone else. On his side, the classical liberal (of which so-called American “Libertarians” are merely a branch) will reply that social freedom is an attack on the individual’s property rights and that these are the source of autonomy above everything else, that property rights are the foundation of all rights, and that without property everyone is at the mercy of “society” (i.e. that from which they, the atomistic individualists, feel they are excluded).
To answer the statist, one merely needs to note two things: that the State itself is a major and profound source of inequality, as I’ve already described, making his own proposed solutions complete dead-ends, and that we have nothing to fear from people seeking their own advantage within a society whose institutions are structured in an egalitarian manner. Obviously, where power is less concentrated, we have less reason to be concerned about people wreaking havoc than when the most power is given to a few individuals at the expense of everyone else. Also, and this is a side issue, it’s been shown many times that people who are given a certain level of autonomy over a given area, or simply seize that autonomy by themselves, will tend to establish egalitarian structures over it (the Argentinian self-managed businesses being the latest example of this).
To answer the classical liberal, one may argue that property rights are not at all a necessary foundation for all other rights, and that making property rights the foundation of all rights results in some major paradoxes, as established by Block’s Corollary, the child renter argument, and other similar arguments. In fact, property rights perhaps have the distinction of being the worst supposed right to use as a foundation for rights. The charge that ending the concept of property endangers autonomy is more serious, but we can give basically the same answer that we gave to the statist: it is a society plagued with hierarchical institutions which tries to control the individual, not an egalitarian society. State Communism did not, and cannot, work, because giving control of ownership to a State is the recipe for ultimate tyranny. But an egalitarian system of ownership, founded on the concept that individuals must deal with each other as equals, act only on the basis of agreement, and have equal access to society’s production, can only enhance individual autonomy. The concept of property rights, on the other hand, only ensures autonomy to those few who can afford it.
Both positions are rooted in the belief that man is innately evil and that we need some kind of control mechanism to counter-balance a state of total individual autonomy or total social freedom. Their objections also assume a hierarchical society, insofar as they assume that controlling others on the long term is always viable (obviously I’m not talking about, say, someone mugging someone else, or any other a form of control that is always possible in any system). In any hierarchical society, such extremes are purely theoretical, since hierarchies necessarily represent an attack on individual autonomy and social freedom to begin with. A society that is both hierarchical and free/egalitarian is a pure logical and organizational impossibility.
There is also a whole body of propaganda that says we are already all equal and all free; it is manufactured and constantly added to by scientists, economists, philosophers, scriptwriters, and various other members of the academia or the media. Their main goal is to hide the motivations and actions of the class of people which controls the apparatus of production and prices, the apparatus of violence, our own preferences (through the gigantic machine of marketing, more than a trillion dollars’ worth), law-making, the options we’re given at the voting booth, and so on. None of it is worth anything except as an exploration of the mindset of its believers.
We are taught that we are free because we have the right to choose our masters, and the right to complain when they don’t fulfill their promises. These two conditions are really all that is needed for people to believe that they are free. We also have the freedom to consume within our limited wages, and the freedom to have as many children as we want so they can repeat the cycle. These, no one objects to. Rights are granted so that the individual may be a better worker and a better citizen. Freedom of thought does not exist, which also entails that free will cannot exist. The concept of a “marketplace of ideas” is as vacuous and fictional as that of the “free market” presented to us by propaganda. It is just another concept designed to hide the fact that our beliefs and preferences are constantly molded and reinforced by forces wholly outside of our individual control.