Active Thinking Topic 14 - When Does Free Mean Selfish?

Monday 13 September 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide (You must buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the space for 2 hours)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. "Greed is Good" - . Well, what's your view?

2. Free? Freedom to do what, when, where, to whom, and under what conditions?

3. Australia is a "free country" (whatever that means). What are your interpersonal, community and national responsibilities in the social contract?

4. Amongst individuals, in communities, and in national cultures there are very different ideas about the best balance between personal liberty and wider social and political obligations. How can these differences be best resolved, especially in a country as multicultural as Australia?

5. Do you have more freedom in an individualistic culture? Is individualism selfish? Individualistic cultures (e.g. American) and group oriented cultures are often compared to favour or disfavour one of those preferences. However, stereotypes of how individualism/group orientation actually play out in real life are often misleading. What are some of these stereotypes, and what are some real world examples? [see Thor May (2001) "Individualism or the Group:" at ]

6. What social and political boundaries do you accept? Do libertarians and anarchists have a common agenda? A paradox of personal freedom is that there is often a greater sense of freedom within accepted boundaries, as opposed to a "cowboy wild west" where anything goes. If you are confident of not being shot or ruined at some idiot's whim, you have more freedom to live a care free life.

7. What political system can best marry the energy of self-interest with the long term stability and prosperity of working for a common interest? Self interest is a powerful engine for action. Communist experiments in the abolition of common property and private enterprise (e.g. previously the Soviet Union, and the PRC) showed conclusively that where personal reward was missing, mass apathy followed. On the other hand, a system of pure greed (e.g. unrestrained capitalism) leads to mass exploitation, impoverishment of ordinary people, crime, and ultimately revolution.

8. What do you think of this generalization: a) Young adults may "love humankind" idealistically but most of them are actually relentlessly self-absorbed and even personally selfish. b) with age, many (not all) people become more politically conservative, but often also more personally generous (e.g. they frequently volunteer). If this is true, what is going on ?

9. Do you feel that you have become less selfish or more selfish with life experience? What has changed you? If you have changed, has the change given you a feeling of being less free, or more free? Why?

10 . The Covid-19 pandemic has shown up dramatic cultural (and political) differences between countries in managing infectious disease. Do these outcomes have any lessons for understanding the tension between 'free' and 'selfish'? What is your own attitude here?

Extra Reading

Chris Vedelago and Erin Pearson (August 22, 2021) "Police consider shutting down transport system for future protests - Victoria Police will consider the unprecedented step of shutting down public transport to counter future anti-lockdown protests, and said they would once again use new paramilitary anti-riot teams if needed to confront increasingly violent demonstrations". The Age @  [Quote: "More than 4000 protesters defied public health orders to march, the largest demonstration since government-ordered lockdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19 began in March 2020. In Sydney, police smothered planned protests by having 1400 officers set up checkpoints around the city, stopping 38,000 vehicles in what NSW Police Minister David Elliot described as a “temporary stop to the freedom of movement”. They also laid scores of charges and fined more than 260 people. In Melbourne, the protests were marked by wild, running clashes with police that left nine officers injured. It remains unclear how many demonstrators were hurt. More than 200 arrests were made. Victoria Police deployed a series of new anti-riot measures — including the pepper pellets and hard squash-like balls — in response to what they said were elements in the crowd throwing bottles, marbles and flares".]

Matthew Knott (August 12, 2021) "America had a chance to crush COVID but blew it". Brisbane Times @  [Quote: "After plummeting for months, the seven-day average of new cases appeared poised to drop below 10,000 for the first time since March 2020. That day never came. Instead, cases began rising and have been going up ever since. ... 30 per cent of the adult population has declined to get vaccinated - a far higher level of resistance than comparable countries such as Canada, the UK and, based on current trends, Australia. ... Some of the hold-outs were ideologically opposed conservatives; others were lazy, apathetic or worried about potential side effects. What they all had in common was that they perceived getting vaccinated as an entirely personal decision about what they put into their bodies. There was no sense that they had a role to play in a shared, nationwide effort to prevent the spread of the virus and prevent people from dying. The dark side of American individualism and liberty is selfishness and a lack of empathy".]

Amanda Holpuch (Fri 13 August 2021) "Tax on billionaires’ Covid windfall could vaccinate every adult on Earth - Analysis finds 99% levy on pandemic wealth rise could also pay all unemployed $20,000 – and still leave super-rich $55bn richer". The Guardian @ 

Drew Harwell and Jeremy Merrill (August 25, 2021) "‘A shot to restore our freedoms’: vaccine campaigns target conservatives". Brisbane Times @  [Quote: "In an ad shown to people that Facebook thinks are college-educated conservatives in Oklahoma, coronavirus vaccination is touted as “trusted by the U.S. military . . . and by our Greatest Generation”. In another, Facebook users interested in the Catholic Church are told that Pope Francis says getting vaccinated is the “moral choice”. Still, another tells fans of beer and country music: “It’s okay to question. Now get the facts on coronavirus vaccines.”"]

Thor May (2001) "Individualism or the Group:" at  [Quote: "A typical naive set of assumptions about "group oriented" cultures it that the participants within them are basically altruistic, self-effacing, self-sacrificing and sociable. A society of such individuals should exhibit the very best of human civilization working in equitable, democratic communities. By contrast, those from individualistic cultures should be cold, grasping, selfish, egotistical and almost incapable of the cooperation demanded by a civil society. Indeed, a society of individualists, by this stereotype would be a dog eat dog affair, dedicated to conflict, riven with disloyalty and betrayal, forever failing to build a stable and humanistic community. Now let’s take a plane trip and look at the real world. Better, like me, let’s work for a while in location where there is a fair sampling of both supposed archetypes of culture. What do we find? We find that the real social content behind those supposedly individualistic and group-oriented labels is drastically at variance with the stereotypes". ]

Thor May (2015) "Fuzzy Degrees of Freedom – When is the Law a Burden?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "Citizens, you and I, we live with the ever multiplying, ever more obscure barrage of laws and regulations which emerge from the political contest. The simple things, like not killing the bus driver, we try to get right most of the time. Beyond the clarity what Christian types call the Ten Commandments, for better or for worse we exercise our judgement as wise men and women, and hope for the best". ]

Thor May (2014) "Some Uses and Misuses of Reason" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "When the sun rises each morning we may say the reason is that the earth on its elliptical orbit spins so that one point faces that star. Or we may say that the Sun God has mounted his chariot. Or we may say, after Ptolemy and the Christian elders until a few centuries ago, that the sun is moving around the earth. Take your pick. They have all seemed good reasons from reasonable men in their time. Our acceptance of what passes for reasoned argument has a great deal to do with the company we keep. Perhaps for most people, the word of accepted authority is the ultimate parameter on where those reasoned arguments may venture". ]

Thor May (2014) "Crime without Punishment – the journey from means to ends." The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "In the real world of events, as opposed to philosophical statements of “should”, decisions about ends and means always come down to who, if anybody, is responsible for consequences. Where consequences are not clear for actors, and especially if consequences are not personal, almost any ends can be argued for, and almost any means might be rationalized".]

Thor May (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "Ideologies are going to be with us forever. The question is how seriously the herd takes them, and who become the high priests for interpreting them to the unwashed masses. The 20th Century gave us some pretty horrible examples of ideologies used as vehicles for mass extinction while claiming to be vehicles for mass progress. There is no particular reason to expect that the 21st Century will be more enlightened in this regard amongst those people who always form the bulk of ideological foot soldiers. It is true that there are more formally educated people on the planet than ever before, and more available tools for critical thinking, especially in the online world. Yet it is also true that the tools for mass mobilization are more powerful than they have ever been, while their control passes with increasing rapidity to compromised governments, corporations and secretive elites. This secrecy makes a considered response to genuine threats especially difficult".]

Thor May (2010) "Cultural Operating Systems". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "To those who wish to keep their "cultural operating systems", like the Korean or Russian or Thai or French, "pure", closed, proprietary, without outside influence, I say you are in great danger. Maybe your closed cultural system was elegant and refined. Maybe it has a glorious past history. But it ultimately comes from an earlier human civilization of small, savage tribal groups. Now we humans are many, crowded on a small planet, and communicating with everyone instantly. We need a different design, and that has to be an Open System".]

Thor May (2001) "Dead or Alive?" The Passionate Skeptic website @ The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "At this moment I looked around the carriage [in Busan, South Korea], and a chill went through my body. Of all those passengers, not a single one showed the slightest signal that one of their number had collapsed, and might be in mortal danger. The bodies remained lax, the eyes unfocussed, the woman on the floor invisible to their attention. It was surreal. My disbelief gave way to outrage, and throwing decorum to the winds, in a loud voice I demanded in English, "SOMEBODY CALL A DOCTOR". Nobody looked at me, but an uneasy twitch rippled through the crowd..."]



When Does Free Mean Selfish? (c) Thor May 2021 

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