There is no plan for human behavior / People do what they do.

Sometimes all motion stops: it’s just you, the individual, the raging world receding like a storm or flood or whirlpool that wants to suck you in and down to defeat. The “bad world” isn’t going away; the money, the rules, the nasty people, the corrupt justice system, the racism, the predators, the lies, the deception, the incompetence.

Why is Life a mess? Because there is no plan.

I wonder at times, How does it all get done? How do governments, businesses, cities and towns, industries and agriculture, communications and banking happen? I think most people assume that there’s a plan written down somewhere; a right way to be; a blueprint for cultures, societies, nations: order exists somewhere, but there is no plan; no rule book, no one watching. There only are individuals “doing things.” Civilization is individuals “doing things” – that’s all.

The scary part is that if people stop to think about this, they fear that society might go flying off into anarchy; fear is one force that keeps people doing what they do.  But we don’t know that chaos would be the outcome; earth’s systems, such as climate and weather, can be quite chaotic because the number of inputs is so complex, and yet, we could not exist without chaotic systems. Looking at earth geologically, earth is a survivor, not a stable, fixed entity. We would not recognize our planet for 99.99 % of its history. We are products of earth as it is now – has been for mere thousands of years. It’s our function is to fulfill being human in the way that a pine tree is a pine tree, a tiger a tiger.

What if individuals began changing what they’re doing? Today you obey; tomorrow you question, the next day you do something different. Perhaps your job is to “facilitate” applications for a service. You secretly love being that member of bureaucratic civilization that blocks, delays, and frustrates the people you are supposedly serving. You do this because you believe that your job is the opposite of what it is; you turn your own anger and frustration into the definition of your job. You make other people pay for your personal gripes. We all have gripes and even serious complaints about how we’re “handled” by society. If this is the basis for human-human interaction we’re doomed. The stress of “Who can be the most obnoxious, hurtful  ‘blood clot’ in other people’s arteries?” cannot be sustained.  Right now the “doing” of civilization is a non-stop competition to be the most obnoxious person possible – but how many individuals are “doing” something that will sustain society, not destroy it? Shouldn’t we all be contributing to a healthy civilization?

Instead of setting out tomorrow to “screw” other people, just stop. Try changing what you do. Be brave. Take a chance. Aspergers individuals supposedly lack empathy, but guess what? We care about equality and justice and not socially insincere “blah, blah, blah.” We care every day about people we don’t know, who do nothing for us, just because that’s our way, our “doing.”  This blog is what I do: a self-assigned challenge to a society that rejects me, and people like me, and which persists in abusing perfectly okay humans.

We don’t have to accept society’s plans for us. There are no plans, blueprints, or lists of who counts and who doesn’t; these are human ideas. There are only individuals doing what they do.


Asperger Smarts / How not to deal with a predator

Do not make eye contact with a predator; this allows it to pick you out of the herd. Even worse is to RUN AWAY. This triggers the chase and kill instinct. Do not run.

The Chase: an instinct that is not going extinct.

The Chase: an instinct that is not going extinct.

I have thought quite a bit about socially dictated “rules” of eye contact that help define Aspergers as “developmentally disordered.” But – these rules are culturally subjective and diverse. I think it’s the instinctive response between animals that is causing huge problems. “Policing authorities” are designated predators-by-law and empowered to execute predatory behavior. Policing is not all about predation; police do protect and serve their communities, however, it’s no surprise that individuals who are comfortable with being a predator gravitate toward specific jobs. But, weaker  individuals, who may be very uncomfortable with the task of wielding power, may end up in such jobs and that’s also a problem.

The following also applies to autistic, Asperger, disabled and those with mental vulnerabilities: contrary to modern sentiment, predators “select” the vulnerable as their targets; the young, the old, the injured.  

There are situations that trigger the predatory response, especially if the person stopped by the police unwittingly switches into prey behavior – notably, running away. A natural response (especially for young black males, who ARE prey) that may jump-starts predatory behavior in a police officer.

The racial aspect of this is huge. The history of White and African relationships is one of predation of black people by white people. There is something else that is overlooked: the stereotyping of black males by entertainment, the media, sports, etc. is utterly skewed: Big, black, aggressive, out-of-control and criminally active are adjectives that dominate the white view of black males: dangerous on all counts.

Stop and take one minute to examine this stereotype: black males are always the aggressors. Ridiculous! These are human beings who way more often than not are frightened, intimidated, harassed, and tragically, are often trying to live up to the “Big Bad Black Male” stereotype. Are black men allowed to feel fear, pain, and sorrow? Are they allowed to be gentle, caring and intelligent?


To the public observer, the act of running away is “non-threatening” and the police reaction is baffling and “over the top.” We are viewing the event rationally – a given situation has escalated way beyond what we would imagine ourselves doing. A person who is running away is obviously not a threat. It’s not about threat; it’s about acting like prey and pulling the predatory trigger.

As an Asperger, I can describe my reactions regarding eye contact. (I do not react well to  aggressive people.)

1. The other person is invading my comfort zone. It’s a breach of “boundary etiquette.” If the person stands too close (and stares) I will gain space in any number of benign ways, including calculated removal of myself from the area. I will avoid eye contact naturally, instinctively, because eye contact with predators rings their bell.

2. If the person is not aggressive, and a conversation takes place, I will switch to listening mode, because his or her appearance is no longer vital; my visual system has sized up the person and decided that he or she is “friendly.” This is intuitive. I will likely keep adjusting the “space” between us, which probably looks weird to other people.


Hibernation / Science and Personal Fantasy

For all but approximately 3 years of my life I’ve lived in “bad winter” locations, and I like winter; it’s the length of the season that gets to me. So I fantasize about the ability to hibernate for a month or two. February is daunting, especially in this part of Wyoming, where the year’s snowfall tends to be delayed until March, April and into May. In other wintry places, one may think of February as the last step toward spring; for us, it’s a dead zone that means 3 more months of winter to go. I’ve also considered the notion that archaic humans, Neanderthals especially, may have entered states of “altered metabolism” during the worst climate / weather periods. Perhaps we call it depression today; perhaps mania too, was a “normal” state of intense activity in warm periods. Bipolar disorder has been investigated as a disruption to circadian rhythm cycles. 

And, getting enough quality sleep is a “modern social problem” that seriously affects health and performance. 


Why Does Hibernating Make Animals Tired?

Hibernation tires animals out, because it may be more like wakefulness than previously thought.

Matteo Cerri is a hibernation researcher at the University of Bologna, Italy. He is currently consulting for the European Space Agency about ways to make humans hibernate during long space missions.

Hibernating mammals are able to actively suppress their metabolism, meaning they can tell their body to use less energy. Hibernation is a marvelous physiological and molecular event, and it’s still a mystery how the behavior is activated and regulated. One of the most curious mysteries about hibernation that I and my fellow hibernation researchers are trying to answer is why hibernating animals are so tired when they wake up.

There are several types of hibernation, which can last an entire season or just a part of a day (this is called “torpor”), and can even happen when the ambient temperature is high (which is called “aestivation”).

For sure, the brain plays a key role in starting the entire chain of events, but how and which part is still unknown. Among the many unexpected facets of hibernation, one is incredibly surprising.

Traditionally, hibernation is commonly seen as a “big sleep,” a way for animals to stave winter off when no food is around. But it’s actually not. Hibernation is a state characterized by the active inhibition of metabolism, and in this state, the activity of the brain differs substantially from sleep and may in fact be closer to wakefulness than many people realize. Hibernators are known to wake up periodically from their “cold sleep,” and most people would think “it’s to eat, of course!”

But that is not the case. Hibernators don’t eat during hibernation season (and, for what it’s worth, they also don’t drink or produce any urine). So, why are they waking up? To check out the weather?

Electroencephalographic recordings of the brain of hibernators give a surprising answer: They wake up to sleep. And it’s not like they shift from hibernating to a nap. These animals wake up and pass out like they’re exhausted. Delta brainwave readings, which can be used to measure the deepness or intensity of sleep, show that animals that have just woken up from hibernation are indeed sleeping intensely.

This observation has been confirmed both in seasonal hibernators, such as golden-mantled ground squirrels and European ground squirrels, and in animals that perform torpor, such as the Djungarian hamster. Why this is the case is the subject of great debate among hibernation researchers, and it matters because my team and others around the world are working on research that could lead to the possibility of human hibernation. We’d like to know as much about the process as possible.

There are two main hypotheses. The first one suggests that sleep is such a deep and necessary process for the brain—that it serves such a vital role that the brain itself has to command the body out of hibernation to recover the sleep it’s lost during hibernation. In fact, the idea that hibernation is more similar to wakefulness than it is to sleep is the subject of a recent study conducted by me and some of my colleagues at the University of Bologna in Italy.

This hypothesis has been tested with an interesting experiment. If a scientist disturbed a hibernator of this “recovery sleep” for a few hours after it wakes up, then it stands to reason that after that the animal would make up for this time when it actually does fall asleep (it would sleep for the same total length of time as hibernating animals that weren’t deprived of sleep immediately after they woke up). if that sleep was so important, it would be recovered at the end of the deprivation period. In other words, if the animal had a sleep debt, that debt would have to paid, sooner or later.

The second hypothesis takes a different view of the whole process. Brain activity is strongly affected by hibernation, and the brain itself goes through some intense changes during hibernation. For instance, during hibernation, there is a process of disconnection of neurons. Many synapses are in fact re­absorbed by the brain in what is very similar to a transitory state of Alzheimer’s disease. This disconnection is quickly reversed after an animal wakes up, rewiring the brain in the same way it was before, which brings back all the information that was stored in the neurons.

During the re­connection process, which happens in the first few hours after an animal comes out of hibernation, the brain is in a highly plastic state. Therefore, it’s thought that the EEG activity that we see during these stages is not real “sleep,” but just a nonspecific pattern of neuronal reactivation. If this is the case, in the experiment described before, we should not see any recovery sleep after the sleep deprivation, which would suggest there’s not sleep debt in first place. In other words, hibernation wouldn’t actually be making the animals tired, they would simply sleep to reform these neural connections.

The experiment I’ve suggested has actually been performed, more than once. But the results are conflicting. A team at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, found evidence of sleep debt in hibernating animals. They even went as far as testing different durations of sleep deprivation, and showed that, during torpor, sleep debt accumulates 2.75 times slower than during wakefulness.

A separate experiment by a team at Berkeley and Stanford reported that no rebound was observed after sleep deprivation, and so did teams from the University of Alaska and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

How can we explain the conflicting results? They looked at different animals. The Zurich group looked at the Djungarian hamster, while the Berkeley group looked at the ground squirrel. The main difference between the two species is that hamsters undergo daily torpor (hibernation that lasts less than 24 hours), while ground squirrels are seasonal hibernators.

So, the answer to our initial question is that we still don’t know why animals fall asleep immediately after they wake up from hibernating. No more experiments on the topic have been conducted since the ones I described. But, my own work at the University of Bologna in Italy has supported the idea that brain activity during torpor or hibernation is more similar to wakefulness than it is to sleep.

In this experiment, a torpor-­like state was induced for the first time in a rat, a non-­hibernator (our goal is to eventually open the way to human hibernation in the not-so-near future). Brain activity recordings in this kind of suspended animation state did indeed resemble activity during wakefulness, but the activity became slower and slower as body temperature decreased, as if the frames of a movie were being projected slower and slower as the movie progressed.

No one knows what it’s like to be in a state of hibernation, and we don’t know if hibernators are still somewhat conscious. Perhaps if we can teach ourselves to hibernate, we’ll learn the answer. In the meantime, I’m hoping that research on this topic will flourish again.

You’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is Motherboard’s exploration of the future of sleep. Read more stories.

Everything sounds better in Italian, including English… Note the importance (and revelation) that synaptic connectivity is plastic…

Incantations, Spells and Adjurations / Jewish Sources

Some traditional Jewish sources indicate belief in the efficacy of spells.

By Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis

Reprinted with permission from the Encyclopedia of Jewish Magic, Myth, and Mysticism (LlewellynWorldwide).

An incantation or spell is a spoken word, phrase, or formula of power, often recited as part of a larger ritual, which is recited in order to effect a magical result. Most cultures have some idea about words having supernatural constructive powers, but nowhere is this belief stronger than in Judaism.

Both the Bible and Jewish mysticism emphasize that God created the universe by means of a series of “speech acts.” Humanity is the only one of God’s mortal creations with the power of speech, implying that our words can, under certain conditions, have the same constructive (and destructive) power.

Underlying Beliefs

Jewish belief in the efficacy of spells, or “constructive language,” is premised on three assumptions:

1) There is special power inherent in the names of God.

2) There is special power in the words and phrases that God speaks, i.e., the words of the Torah and the Hebrew Bible.

3) The Hebrew alphabet itself is supernatural in origin, which means that using Hebrew letters in certain combinations is a source of special power, even when it has no semantic value to the adept.

Kinds of Spells

Spells may be either “theurgic” or “magical” in character. Usually, the belief underlying the use of theurgic spells is that God has in some way delegated that power/authority to the adept.

Truly magical incantations, by comparison, are “autonomous”; they do not involve spiritual entities at all. Often a magical spell or incantation is simply addressed to the object to be influenced. Thus, a truly magical incantation most closely parallels the word power of God Himself.

Incantation phrases are also a form of “heightened speech,” not unlike poetry. As such, there are a number of distinctive stylistic features present in incantations. These can include: repetition, rhythm, reversals, nonsense words, foreign words, and divine names of power.

Repetition, usually done three or seven times, or by another number symbolically relevant to the issue at hand, is the premier aspect of constructive words of power (Shabbat 66b, in the Talmud). Thus we find a teaching in the Talmud, for example, that reciting a verse containing the phrase “Voice of the Lord” seven times thwarts evil spirits at night.

Backwards Reduction

An incantation meant to undo the effects of a given event or phenomenon will often include elements of reversal, reciting a word or phrase backwards in some fashion. An example would be this one for dislodging a bone in the esophagus: ”One by one, go down, swallow/swallow, go down, one by one.”

In Pesahim 112b (in the Talmud), we read that one afflicted with an ocular disease should recite the word shabriri (blindness) repeatedly in the phrase “My mother has cautioned me against shabriri. With each repetition, the speaker should reduce one letter from the word: shabriri, shabrir, shabri, shabr,shab, sha… The magical ritual of reducing the word is intended to yield a parallel reduction in the severity of the illness.

Speaking “Nonsense”

Spells can include rhymed or nonsense phrases that have minimal or no semantic value (vocesmysticae). Rather, rhythmic meaningless arrangements of words and phrases (sounds like typical neurotypical speech LOL) are used for the illocutionary or mantra-like effect, or for a sympathetic result, or because these words are understood to be meaningful to heavenly powers, if not the adept.

For example, to fend off an evil water spirit, the Talmud recommends intoning this: “Lulshafan anigeron anirdafon, I dwell among the stars, I walk among thin and fat people (Pesahim 112a).” While the second clause of this spell is strange enough, the first clause of the spell is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic; by all indications it is just gibberish. This feature, common to Greco-Roman magic, emerges in Jewish circles in late antiquity.

Akin to nonsense phrases, incantations often include nomina barbara, the use of foreign words and phrases. This feature of Jewish spells goes back to the Babylonian tradition of using archaic Sumerian words in their incantations, and becomes characteristic of Jewish incantations by the Greco-Roman period. With the later decline of Hebrew and Aramaic as a spoken language, these languages themselves become lingua magica for many spell-casters, both Jewish and gentile. Rashi (medieval French commentator) explains that an integral part of spell-casting involves reciting words that maybe incomprehensible to the enchanter (commentary to Sotah 22a).

What’s In A Name?

The use of names of power is a pervasive aspect of all Hebrew/Jewish spells. The names of God, angels, the righteous dead, even one’s mother, are considered critical to giving an incantation efficacy (Shabbat 66b). Often the names are encrypted in atbash form (an ancient letter substitution code, ”mirroring” the Hebrew alphabet) or in other occult methods.

Spells from late antiquity are often promiscuous in the powers they invoke, freely mixing Jewish and pagan entities. One Greco-Egyptian spell calls upon ”First angel of (the god), of Zeus, Iao, and you Michael, who rule heaven’s realm, I call, and you, archangel Gabriel. Down from Olympus, Abrasax, delighting in dawns, come gracious who view sunset from the dawn.”

Rabbinic Views

Magical incantations that appear in the Talmud (and are therefore presumably sanctioned by at least some sages) mostly serve the functions of healing and protection. In Tractate Shabbat 67a-b, one sage gives explicit sanction to the use of magic if it is done solely for the purposes of healing. Outside the talmudic/midrashic tradition proper, there are spells for summoning angels, love spells, and ”binding” spells intended to curse or thwart a rival in love, business, or other personal matters.

While rabbinic authorities have never endorsed the latter forms of incantations, they are more tolerant of spells that enhance goals the sages endorse, such as healing, or spells meant to enhance the learning of Torah. These latter two types are perhaps the most common in Jewish literature.

Tolerance for the use of spells can also be regional. The Babylonian Talmud preserves several examples of spells (see especially tractates Pesahim, Shabbat, and Berakhot), while the Palestinian Talmud has virtually none. We know that at least some Jews in Palestine engaged in spell-casting, because we have magical texts from that region and period.

Evidently, the difference between the two Talmuds reflects something of the respective ”official” attitude among the sages of those regions toward spell-craft.

Spells in Medieval Judaism

The types of incantations recorded continue to expand in number and variety of purpose throughout the Middle Ages. In theurgic manuals like the Book of the Responding Entity, there appear an increasing number of spells based on astrological power (what Renaissance adepts would dub “natural magic”).

In expressly magical texts, like Sefer Raziel, there appear incantations to ”receive all desire.” These spells often completely parallel gentile magic, involving magical materials, fire and water, invoking the names of governing angels, and throwing something of value with magical names and phrases inscribed on it into the proper element (fire, seas, etc.). Treasure-locating spells also appear in medieval magical manuals.

What status many of these spells had in “normative” Jewish circles is hard to judge. Again, spells recorded in the works of later religious authorities tend to be limited to the same areas tolerated by talmudic authorities: incantations for better memorizing Torah, invoking an angel or ibbur (a usually beneficent spiritual possession of a living body), and for protection against medical or supernatural misadventure.


Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.


Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.

Swearing / A Natural Painkiller and Emotion Regulator

 Asperger types may have difficulty understanding “cursing or swearing” as a social phenomenon. My “take” is that swearing originates as a physiological function; an expressive “sound” response to pain, frustration or failure. It’s SOCIAL use is obviously grounded in MAGIC: the belief that words have the power to do HARM – literally, to bring a strongly felt emotional aggression to fruition. This can be seen in the association of swearing with religion; religion is ritualized magic, offering both positive and negative power to initiates through the priesthood or elect. Curse words are not “taboo” because of social rejection, but because these words and spells are believed to have active and dangerous power, which is reserved for the “magician-priest” class alone. They are a key step in the formation of a social hierarchy. The designation of which persons may or may not use “swear words”  demonstrates segregation of power in the social hierarchy. 

Females in JudeoChristian culture have always been suspect of having magical power over men, to the extreme – the manifestation being paranoia in males. Therefore, “swearing and cursing” have traditionally been taboo for “ladies”. This denies females the “soothing power of a good expletive” and is an excuse for all male groups, professions and other power organizations to exclude women as employees and especially as bosses. (Sexual predation being the number one tactic) This exclusion is both fear-based (women have magic power over men – sex) and a social constraint that functions to keep women low on the social pyramid – dependent, childlike and economically disadvantaged. 

Swear by it: why bad language is good for you

It bonds workers, sheds light on the brain and pacifies us.

Emma Byrne on the uses and paradoxes of swearing:

When I was about nine years old, I was smacked for calling my little brother a “twat”.

I had no idea what a twat was – I thought it was just a silly way of saying “twit” – but that smack taught me that some words were more powerful than others and that I had to be careful how I used them.

Except that experience didn’t exactly cure me of swearing. In fact, it probably went some way towards piquing my fascination with it. Since then I’ve had a certain pride in my knack for colourful and well-timed profanity: being a woman in a male-dominated field, I rely on it to camouflage myself as one of the guys.

But what is swearing and why is it special? Is it the way that it sounds? Or the way that it feels when we say it? Thanks to a range of scientists, from Victorian surgeons to modern neuroscientists, we know a lot more about swearing than we used to.

For example, I’m definitely not the only person who uses swearing as a way of fitting in at work. On the contrary, research shows that swearing can help build teams in the workplace. From the factory floor to the operating theatre, scientists have shown that teams who share a vulgar lexicon tend to work more effectively together, feel closer and be more productive than those who don’t.

Swearing has also helped to develop the field of neuroscience because of its function as a barometer of our emotions. It has been used as a research tool for more than 150 years, helping us to understand the structure of the human brain, such as the role of the amygdala in the regulation of emotions.

Swearing has taught us a great deal about our minds, too. We know that people who learn a second language often find it less stressful to swear in their adopted tongue, which gives us an idea of the childhood developmental stages at which we learn emotions and taboos. Swearing also makes the heart beat faster and primes us to think aggressive thoughts while, paradoxically, making us less likely to be physically violent.

And swearing is a surprisingly flexible part of our linguistic repertoire. It reinvents itself from generation to generation as taboos shift. Profanity has even become part of the way we express positive feelings – we know that football fans use “fuck” just as frequently when they’re happy as when they are angry or frustrated.

That last finding is one of my own. With colleagues at City University, London, I’ve studied thousands of football fans and their bad language during big games. It’s no great surprise that football fans swear, but it isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as you might think – fans on Twitter almost never swear about their opponents and reserve their outbursts for players on their own team.

In researching and writing about swearing I’m not attempting to justify rudeness and aggression. Not at all. I certainly wouldn’t want profanities to become commonplace: swearing needs to maintain its emotional impact to be effective. We only need to look at the way it has changed over the past hundred years to see that, as some swear words become mild and ineffectual through overuse or shifting cultural values, we reach for other taboos to fill the gap.

That doesn’t mean swearing is always used as a vehicle for aggression or insult. Study after study has shown that swearing is as likely to be used in frustration with oneself, or in solidarity, or to amuse someone else. Either way, it is a complex social signal that is laden with emotional and cultural significance.


A review of:

Swearing: A Cross-Cultural Linguistic Study.

Magnus Ljung (2011) / Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 240 ISBN: 9780230576315 (Hardback)

Affiliation Birkbeck College University of London, England

SOLS VOL 8.1 2014 183–187 © 2014, EQUINOX PUBLISHING

Reviewed by Nooshin Shakiba

This book studies the forms, uses, and actual instances of swearing in English and twenty-four other languages of the Germanic, Romance, Slavic, and Finno-Ugric language families, among others. The study mainly draws upon the results of the application of a questionnaire used to interview native speakers. From a sociolinguistic perspective, swearing is seen as a type of linguistic behaviour that society regards as disrespectful, vulgar, and even offensive. It is a sociolinguistic phenomenon worthy of investigation because of its social regulatory function.

The volume under review begins with the definition and classification of swearing. To the benefit of those interested in diachronic studies on the topic, the history of swearing is covered subsequently. The two following chapters focus on forms of swearing that can be used as independent utterances. The remaining chapters deal with swear words that, in spite of their independent character, are used as parts of larger units. In addition, this book highlights the (socio)linguistic characteristics of swearing, featuring various examples from past and contemporary researchers. The author analyses the data from his own research throughout the whole book but also uses the one million word British National Corpus (BNC).

In the first chapter, ‘Defining Swearing’, the author identifies four criteria common to all instances of swearing. First, swearing is the use of utterances that contain taboo words. The use of taboo words in swearing adds emphasis to the message the speaker wishes to convey. At the same time, swearing frequently violates cultural rules. Second, while the literal meaning of these taboo words is indeed used in swearing, they do not carry much weight. Third, due to lexical, phrasal, and syntactic constraints, swearing is considered a type of formulaic language. Finally, swearing constitutes an instance of reflective language use that reveals the speaker’s attitudes and feelings. In addition to these criteria, the author notes in this chapter that some types of swearing have entered into societies and languages where they have never been used before as a result of an increase in immigration. The author explains how a taboo word’s degree of offensiveness is not related to the perceived strength of the taboo ‒ which eventually changes over time. Even materials prohibited during daytime tend to be admitted for broadcasting beyond the restricted hours.

In addition, taboo terms cannot be replaced with their literal synonyms in the context of swearing in spite of the fact that they display interchangeability with other words in that specific context. For instance, we cannot say ‘Shag you!’ instead of ‘Fuck you!’. However, ‘Screw you!’ can be used to carry the same meaning. This indicates that swear words present a specific synonymy which is particular to them. Swearing is formulaic as the meaning of the entire sequence cannot be understood from the words it contains, nor from its grammatical configuration. This feature is at times considered a case of grammaticalization, which is accompanied by desemanticization. Desemanticization, the loss of meaning, is very common in swear words. As an emotive language genre, swearing is primarily used to communicate the speaker’s attitude. However, the listener will also form their own interpretation of the utterance on the basis of the available linguistic and non-linguistic information. Ultimately, the speaker cannot be certain of the exact impact any use of swearing will have. This may lead to severe consequences or penalties.

In Chapter 2, Ljung elaborates on the subcategories of swearing. He uses the distinction between function and theme as the main aspects of the taxonomy provided in his study. The term ‘function’ refers to the uses of swearing, while ‘theme’ refers to the areas of taboo language from which the swearer draws his or her swear words. The pertinent functions can be divided into the three categories of stand-alones, slot fillers, and replacive swearing, each of which has its own subdivisions. This chapter also lists five major – as well as some minor – themes from which most languages draw their swearing vocabulary. The first major theme is religion. In Christian cultures, there is a distinction between celestial and diabolic swearing, but among Muslims, diabolic themes apparently do not occur. The second and very popular theme is scatological. The third one is about sex organs. Using taboo words for the female sex organ was the most popular among all the languages studied by Ljung. The fourth theme revolves around sexual activities.

In some Germanic languages, such as German and Swedish, speakers never use their taboo words for sexual intercourse in swearing. The final theme is about the mother, which is very widespread. Indeed, it can be subsumed under the category of ‘ritual insults’. Except for English, the Germanic languages do not use this theme in swearing. Moreover, the mother theme’s abbreviated format, e.g., English ‘Your mother!’, is found in many languages. Among minor themes of swearing, ancestors play a crucial role in several cultures. Animals, disease, and prostitution are not uncommon. Death plays a significant role in all cultures, and some languages prefer euphemistic terms for discussing that subject.

Chapter 3 deals with the ‘History of Swearing’. It explains the first recorded instances of swearing, and all the social, cultural, and global impacts of the use of swearing up to the twentieth century. The first two recorded cases of swearing come from Ancient Egypt. Since the very beginning, swearing shows traces of self-cursing. Swearing performed by Zeus or Hercules was totally acceptable in classical Greek and Latin. Therefore, swearing focused on the use of the names of gods and bad language was not present in their swearing. This does not mean that classical Latin had no ‘bad words’, but that ‘swearing was not part of the linguistic repertory’ (p. 51). In addition, gender-based differences were apparent among the Romans.

Uttering a swear word in public in medieval times could lead to the death penalty. Swear words were hence used in oral interactions for hundreds of years before ever being recorded in written language: people did not dare to use them in writing. Despite such severe punishments and the rise of the power of the Church during the Middle Ages, the use of swearing was not eliminated nor reduced. In fact, swearing increased. It became very common among all social classes regardless of their gender or age. Moreover, the use of swearing became an art form, since it could convey a well-designed linguistic ‘product’ and be used in a very sophisticated form.

In Great Britain, swearing reached a high point during the eighteenth century, but in the following century respected members of society ceased using such language. Swearing remains the most popular way to express anger among soldiers and sailors of any rank. In the twentieth century, swearing in general and the use of four-letter words in particular almost resulted in the same mode of speaking. ‘Fuck’ has been used since the seventeenth century, and compared to other four letter words, its use is quite recent. However, this does not mean that other types of swearing have diminished in use. Scatological swearing, which is used in all languages, showed the highest usage of all types of swearing in this study.

Chapter 4 focuses on ‘Expletive Interjections’, i.e., how swearing, in many languages, contains expletives for exclamations of pain, surprise, or annoyance. Ljung formulates the hypothesis that any utterance can be an exclamation; nevertheless, what matters is the delivery. In fact, the delivery carries the representation of the speaker’s state of mind, while the syntax or other features of the utterance are of lesser importance.

Ljung’s study of expletive interjections in the BNC shows that the majority of expletive interjections are religious in nature, such as ‘Oh God’ and ‘Hell’. Expletive interjections may be used in two different ways. First, there are reactive interjections – often thought to be the most frequent ones – which indicate the speaker’s involuntary reaction to stimuli, as in exclamations of surprise, annoyance, or pain. By contrast, pragmatic interjections fulfill the communicative functions of subjectivity, interactivity, and textuality. These three functions are strongly related to the category of pragmatic markers, and their use exceeded that of reactive interjections in Ljung’s study (2009). It is evident that the same interjection can carry different meanings on different occasions. Furthermore, the majority of pragmatic interjections were used as slot fillers, particularly before clauses.

Chapter 5 discusses ‘Oaths, Emphatic Denial, and Curses’. Informal oaths and curses are the two oldest forms of swearing. Present-day English speakers have fewer choices as far as oaths are concerned and show a lack of creativity in their oaths compared to speakers from the Middle Ages. However, there are several languages, including Arabic, in which oaths are alive and unaffected by the interjectionalization and grammaticalization that have affected oaths in the languages spoken in Western-derived cultures. In addition, emphatic denial is found in many languages. This type of swearing uses emphatic utterances to deny statements, a usage similar to oaths. It is particularly used for denying the truth of a subsequent utterance, as in the phrase ‘The hell it is!’ In emphatic denial swearing, scatological and religious themes are most common.

Chapter 6 specifically addresses three types of swearing: ritual insults, name calling, and unfriendly suggestions. With few exceptions, infernal powers, worldly powers, and summons of heaven do not appear in these types of swearing as they do in curses. Instead, the types of swearing covered in this chapter use more common taboo themes like sex, mothers, masturbation, animals, and disease. The most popular theme in ritual insults is the mother theme. This theme is less related to languages than to cultures. In other words, two languages belonging to the same language family, such as the Finno-Ugric languages Finnish and Hungarian, do not treat the mother theme in the same way. However, due to immigration, linguistic and cultural boundaries sometimes get blurred. Some swear words that were entirely absent in particular languages or cultures have begun to surface in them due to the impact of linguistic and/or cultural contacts.

In Chapter 7, ‘Degree, Dislike, Emphasis, Exasperation, and Annoyance’, Ljung introduces swear words that are used inside larger units, e.g., as slot fillers. Since the focus is on swear words only, these are called ‘expletive slot fillers’ which express the speaker’s state of mind. It is important to keep in mind that in spite of the tendency to categorise swear words, individual opinions on swearing, religious beliefs, and appropriate behaviour differ a lot. Ljung states that all the languages in his study use expletive slot fillers to indicate emphasis and dislike. He also indicates that in certain languages, such as Arabic, some ways of expressing dislike are absent. In addition, there are languages featuring different linguistic typologies and cultures that still use the same means of expressing dislike and intensification. Cross-linguistic comparisons of swearing constitute a fertile area for research into emotive language. Therefore, for those interested in studying swear words and emotive language, it would be worthwhile to extend the comparison to other languages not covered by Ljung’s study.

Chapter 8 focuses only on ‘Replacive Swearing’. In the previous chapters the author mentioned that it can be hard to determine the category to which a specific swear word belongs, or which criteria might apply for classifying that item as a swear word. However, this issue becomes even more difficult in the case of languages that assign more than one literal meaning to a specific swear word. In fact, understanding the illocutionary force of a swear word depends on linguistic and situational factors as well as the context of the utterance. Ljung elucidates a very interesting structure for creating new vocabulary in Russian which makes the Russian swearing lexicon quite impressive. Ljung’s findings indicate that there are significant similarities between the swear word systems of languages, regardless of their cultural and linguistic differences.

The distinct chapters of this book can be used as teaching material for various courses, including courses on sociolinguistics and historical linguistics. Scholars interested in such topics as comparative linguistics or multilingualism can benefit from reading the analysis presented in this book on the languages used in Ljung’s study. At the same time, the volume is a valuable resource for graduate students and researchers. Each chapter provides readers with rich information about pertinent studies as well as sufficient examples. In addition, Ljung’s own findings provide in-depth analyses of the proposed topics of each chapter. Since the author covers twenty-five languages in his study, his findings constitute a significant resource in their own right.

PDF downloads of the text are available online. 





Back to Basics / Positive and Negative Liberty

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

I’m highlighting and commenting as I read this, based on my experiences as an American citizen for 50+ (conscious) years, and from the POV of a lifelong, born as, Asperger human.

First published Thu Feb 27, 2003; substantive revision Tue Aug 2, 2016

Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. One has negative liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes. While negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, positive liberty is sometimes attributed to collectivities, or to individuals considered primarily as members of given collectivities.

The idea of distinguishing between a negative and a positive sense of the term ‘liberty’ goes back at least to Kant, and was examined and defended in depth by Isaiah Berlin in the 1950s and ’60s. Discussions about positive and negative liberty normally take place within the context of political and social philosophy. They are distinct from, though sometimes related to, philosophical discussions about free will. (In my opinion,  a dead dodo term with only superstition and western illusion to support it) Work on the nature of positive liberty often overlaps, however, with work on the nature of autonomy.

As Berlin showed, negative and positive liberty are not merely two distinct kinds of liberty; they can be seen as rival, incompatible interpretations of a single political ideal. (Why not as mutually informative in a discussion about freedom?) Since few people claim to be against liberty, the way this term is interpreted and defined can have important political implications. Political liberalism tends to presuppose a negative definition of liberty: liberals generally claim that if one favors individual liberty one should place strong limitations on the activities of the state. Critics of liberalism often contest this implication by contesting the negative definition of liberty: they argue that the pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization or as self-determination (whether of the individual or of the collectivity) can require state intervention of a kind not normally allowed by liberals. (Hmmm…. in the U.S., these two would appear to be reversed, with Republicans (conservatives) going for strong limitations on the state, and Democrats (liberals) favoring strong limitations on human behavior by the state. Perhaps this reversal exists because liberals in the U.S. are the present day perpetrators of Puritanism? 

Many authors prefer to talk of positive and negative freedom. This is only a difference of style, and the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ are normally used interchangeably by political and social philosophers. Although some attempts have been made to distinguish between liberty and freedom (Pitkin 1988; Williams 2001; Dworkin 2011), generally speaking these have not caught on. Neither can they be translated into other European languages, which contain only the one term, of either Latin or Germanic origin (e.g. liberté, Freiheit), where English contains both.

1. Two Concepts of Liberty

Imagine you are driving a car through town, and you come to a fork in the road. You turn left, but no one was forcing you to go one way or the other. Next you come to a crossroads. You turn right, but no one was preventing you from going left or straight on. There is no traffic to speak of and there are no diversions or police roadblocks. So you seem, as a driver, to be completely free. But this picture of your situation might change quite dramatically if we consider that the reason you went left and then right is that you’re addicted to cigarettes and you’re desperate to get to the tobacconists before it closes. Rather than driving, you feel you are being driven, as your urge to smoke leads you uncontrollably to turn the wheel first to the left and then to the right. Moreover, you’re perfectly aware that your turning right at the crossroads means you’ll probably miss a train that was to take you to an appointment you care about very much. You long to be free of this irrational desire that is not only threatening your longevity but is also stopping you right now from doing what you think you ought to be doing. (Nice concise description of the human condition in Western culture. This problem can only exist in cultures which acknowledge the individual.) 

This story gives us two contrasting ways of thinking of liberty. On the one hand, one can think of liberty as the absence of obstacles external to the agent. You are free if no one is stopping you from doing whatever you might want to do. In the above story you appear, in this sense, to be free. On the other hand, one can think of liberty as the presence of control on the part of the agent. To be free, you must be self-determined, which is to say that you must be able to control your own destiny in your own interests. In the above story you appear, in this sense, to be unfree: you are not in control of your own destiny, as you are failing to control a passion that you yourself would rather be rid of and which is preventing you from realizing what you recognize to be your true interests. One might say that while on the first view liberty is simply about how many doors are open to the agent, on the second view it is more about going through the right doors for the right reasons. (I don’t see these as being exclusive to each other at all:  the one must take sides position is neurotypical, not Asperger. An Asperger can be aware of a proposed distinction, without having to jump on one horse and ride it into the swamp of social typical insanity. These concepts are useful tools with which to analyze a situation, a pattern or a system. They are not universals, absolutes or ideas that demand loyalty.)

In a famous essay first published in 1958, Isaiah Berlin called these two concepts of liberty negative and positive respectively (Berlin 1969).[1] The reason for using these labels is that in the first case liberty seems to be a mere absence of something (i.e. of obstacles, barriers, constraints or interference from others), whereas in the second case it seems to require the presence of something (i.e. of control, self-mastery, self-determination or self-realization). In Berlin’s words, we use the negative concept of liberty in attempting to answer the question “What is the area within which the subject — a person or group of persons — is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?”, whereas we use the positive concept in attempting to answer the question “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?” (1969, pp. 121–22). (These are not actionable ideas, because they propose an unachievable separation of “thought” from real environments. These are “oughts and shoulds” that deny the facts of human social existence. Social systems control human behavior. That is, the answers to these questions were decided long ago by DEAD PEOPLE; not people living today. Without this realization, social structures appear to neurotypicals to be part of the fabric of space-time, not scientific space-time, but supernatural space-time!)  

It is useful to think of the difference between the two concepts in terms of the difference between factors that are external and factors that are internal to the agent. (Yes, this is a useful tool, but in action, these internal and external factors are not exclusive) While theorists of negative freedom are primarily interested in the degree to which individuals or groups suffer interference from external bodies, theorists of positive freedom are more attentive to the internal factors affecting the degree to which individuals or groups act autonomously. Given this difference, one might be tempted to think that a political philosopher should concentrate exclusively on negative freedom, a concern with positive freedom being more relevant to psychology or individual morality than to political and social institutions. (Here we go; the neurotypical universe of “chopped salad”) This, however, would be premature, for among the most hotly debated issues in political philosophy are the following: Is the positive concept of freedom a political concept? Can individuals or groups achieve positive freedom through political action? Is it possible for the state to promote the positive freedom of citizens on their behalf? And if so, is it desirable for the state to do so? The classic texts in the history of western political thought are divided over how these questions should be answered: theorists in the classical liberal tradition, like Constant, Humboldt, Spencer and Mill, are typically classed as answering ‘no’ and therefore as defending a negative concept of political freedom; theorists that are critical of this tradition, like Rousseau, Hegel, Marx and T.H. Green, are typically classed as answering ‘yes’ and as defending a positive concept of political freedom.

Above we have a concise description of the “values” situation in traditional Asperger temperament vs. social repression of one’s native or instinctive concept of What it means to be human. This goes far deeper than retraining Asperger children to mimic social “niceties” in order not to be rejected from the group. 

In its political form, positive freedom has often been thought of as necessarily achieved through a collectivity. Perhaps the clearest case is that of Rousseau’s theory of freedom, according to which individual freedom is achieved through participation in the process whereby one’s community exercises collective control over its own affairs in accordance with the ‘general will’. Put in the simplest terms, one might say that a democratic society is a free society because it is a self-determined society, and that a member of that society is free to the extent that he or she participates in its democratic process. (One might say this, but social typicals are full of blah, blah, blah that is “pie in the sky” – blind to reality) But there are also individualist applications of the concept of positive freedom. For example, it is sometimes said that a government should aim actively to create the conditions necessary for individuals to be self-sufficient or to achieve self-realization. The welfare state has sometimes been defended on this basis, as has the idea of a universal basic income. (I have nothing against a support system for providing decent distribution of resources to those who cannot “fend for themselves” – but the welfare system – in the U.S., at least – is not this: it is a system for controlling who gets access to the upper levels of the social pyramid, and who remains trapped at the bottom.) The negative concept of freedom, on the other hand, is most commonly assumed in liberal defences of the constitutional liberties typical of liberal-democratic societies, such as freedom of movement, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, and in arguments against paternalist or moralist state intervention. (More supernatural blah, blah, blah that has nothing to do with the reality of a severe social inequality disguised as democracy. I’m sure that the neglected and persecuted minorities “voted for” their own oppression!) It is also often invoked in defences of the right to private property. This said, some philosophers have contested the claim that private property necessarily enhances negative liberty (Cohen 1991, 1995), and still others have tried to show that negative liberty can ground a form of egalitarianism (Steiner 1994). (Neurotypical – either-or, black and white, non-negotiable “supernatural” absolutism. Pick a side…)

After Berlin, the most widely cited and best developed analyses of the negative concept of liberty include Hayek (1960), Day (1971), Oppenheim (1981), Miller (1983) and Steiner (1994). Among the most prominent contemporary analyses of the positive concept of liberty are Milne (1968), Gibbs (1976), C. Taylor (1979) and Christman (1991, 2005).

2. The Paradox of Positive Liberty

Many liberals, including Berlin, have suggested that the positive concept of liberty carries with it a danger of authoritarianism. Consider the fate of a permanent and oppressed minority. Because the members of this minority participate in a democratic process characterized by majority rule, they might be said to be free on the grounds that they are members of a society exercising self-control over its own affairs. But they are oppressed, and so are surely unfree. (Democracy as a sham) Moreover, it is not necessary to see a society as democratic in order to see it as self-controlled; one might instead adopt an organic conception of society, according to which the collectivity is to be thought of as a living organism, and one might believe that this organism will only act rationally, will only be in control of itself, when its various parts are brought into line with some rational plan devised by its wise governors (who, to extend the metaphor, might be thought of as the organism’s brain). In this case, even the majority might be oppressed in the name of liberty. (The preposterous notion that all humans can be forced to be “perfect” someday apply psychological diagnosis and treatment, social engineering, pharmacology, genetic fixes –  Until then, despots must rule, by default.)  

Such justifications of oppression in the name of liberty are no mere products of the liberal imagination, for there are notorious historical examples of their endorsement by authoritarian political leaders. (This continuing “charade” of Liberals believe this, Conservatives believe that! ALL leaders are authoritarian; their goal is control of the social pyramid.) Berlin, himself a liberal and writing during the cold war, was clearly moved by the way in which the apparently noble ideal of freedom as self-mastery or self-realization had been twisted and distorted by the totalitarian dictators of the twentieth century — most notably those of the Soviet Union — so as to claim that they, rather than the liberal West, were the true champions of freedom. The slippery slope towards this paradoxical conclusion begins, according to Berlin, with the idea of a divided self. To illustrate: the smoker in our story provides a clear example of a divided self, for she is both a self that desires to get to an appointment and a self that desires to get to the tobacconists, and these two desires are in conflict. We can now enrich this story in a plausible way by adding that one of these selves — the keeper of appointments — is superior to the other: the self that is a keeper of appointments is thus a ‘higher’ self, and the self that is a smoker is a ‘lower’ self. The higher self is the rational, reflecting self, the self that is capable of moral action and of taking responsibility for what she does. This is the true self, for rational reflection and moral responsibility are the features of humans that mark them off from other animals. (This “higher self” is the socially-invented imaginary “western” human, who is not rational or moral at all, but entirely self-serving; a person who is indoctrinated with the concept that obedience to social prescriptions is a rational decision, but which  is actually an archaic irrational religious mandate: the myth of “higher self vs. lower self” is merely a continuation of Old Testament original sin (our animal nature) vs. “obedient, conforming, self-hating humans” who are slaves to a social hierarchy: this propaganda works for any system, whatever we choose to label it. Note: The Reformation did not change this: Henry VIII, the “father” of a rebellious protestant regime was a serial rapist and murderer beyond the aspirations of misogynist criminal heroes of Biblical fame) The lower self, on the other hand, is the self of the passions, of unreflecting desires and irrational impulses. One is free, then, when one’s higher, rational self is in control and one is not a slave to one’s passions or to one’s merely empirical self. The next step down the slippery slope consists in pointing out that some individuals are more rational than others, and can therefore know best what is in their and others’ rational interests. (Western psychology feeds on this myth) This allows them to say that by forcing people less rational than themselves to do the rational thing and thus to realize their true selves, they are in fact liberating them from their merely empirical desires. Occasionally, Berlin says, the defender of positive freedom will take an additional step that consists in conceiving of the self as wider than the individual and as represented by an organic social whole — “a tribe, a race, a church, a state, the great society of the living and the dead and the yet unborn”. The true interests of the individual are to be identified with the interests of this whole, and individuals can and should be coerced into fulfilling these interests, for they would not resist coercion if they were as rational and wise as their coercers. “Once I take this view”, Berlin says, “I am in a position to ignore the actual wishes of men or societies, to bully, oppress, torture in the name, and on behalf, of their ‘real’ selves, in the secure knowledge that whatever is the true goal of man … must be identical with his freedom” (Berlin 1969, pp. 132–33).

The contention that there is a rational or moral distinction between a “pure and democratic United States” and any nation, political system, or culture that WE designate as inferior to us, is outrageous. The U.S. acts on purely supernatural and predatory religious prejudice, acted on (in the Puritan way) as “he who has the most money has God’s approval to be the Chosen Tyrant”. 

Those in the negative camp try to cut off this line of reasoning at the first step, by denying that there is any necessary relation between one’s freedom and one’s desires. Since one is free to the extent that one is externally unprevented from doing things, they say, one can be free to do what one does not desire to do. If being free meant being unprevented from realizing one’s desires, then one could, again paradoxically, reduce one’s unfreedom by coming to desire fewer of the things one is unfree to do. One could become free simply by contenting oneself with one’s situation. (This is a viable option, which millions of people act on, whether by necessity or preference for simplicity) A perfectly contented slave is perfectly free to realize all of her desires. (Wow! Nonsense) Nevertheless, we tend to think of slavery as the opposite of freedom. More generally, freedom is not to be confused with happiness, for in logical terms there is nothing to stop a free person from being unhappy or an unfree person from being happy. The happy person might feel free, but whether they are free is another matter (Day, 1970). Negative theorists of freedom therefore tend to say not that having freedom means being unprevented from doing as one desires, but that it means being unprevented from doing whatever one might desire to do (Steiner 1994. Cf. Van Parijs 1995; Sugden 2006). (More neurotypical nonsense, since no definition of an actual state of freedom exists; no possible state labeled freedom has been proven to exist, except as an “abstract feeling”)

Some theorists of positive freedom bite the bullet and say that the contented slave is indeed free — that in order to be free the individual must learn, not so much to dominate certain merely empirical desires, but to rid herself of them. She must, in other words, remove as many of her desires as possible. As Berlin puts it, if I have a wounded leg ‘there are two methods of freeing myself from pain. One is to heal the wound. But if the cure is too difficult or uncertain, there is another method. I can get rid of the wound by cutting off my leg’ (1969, pp. 135–36). This is the strategy of liberation adopted by ascetics, stoics and Buddhist sages. It involves a ‘retreat into an inner citadel’ — a soul or a purely noumenal self — in which the individual is immune to any outside forces. (I think this is a western misinterpretation of a response to these unavoidable forces, which does not claim immunity!) But this state, even if it can be achieved, is not one that liberals would want to call one of freedom, for it again risks masking important forms of oppression. It is, after all, often in coming to terms with excessive external limitations in society that individuals retreat into themselves, pretending to themselves that they do not really desire the worldly goods or pleasures they have been denied. Moreover, the removal of desires may also be an effect of outside forces, such as brainwashing, which we should hardly want to call a realization of freedom.

In the U.S., brainwashing takes the form of Consumer Capitalism, marketing and advertising and political impotence: any and all needs and desires that are natural and necessary to a proper, happy animal life, are denied and replaced by cheap novelties, infantile distractions and the purchase of status objects, over and above the acquisition of food, shelter and meaningful relationships. The result is an epidemic of pathology and self-destruction. 

Because the concept of negative freedom concentrates on the external sphere in which individuals interact, it seems to provide a better guarantee against the dangers of paternalism and authoritarianism perceived by Berlin. To promote negative freedom is to promote the existence of a sphere of action within which the individual is sovereign, and within which she can pursue her own projects subject only to the constraint that she respect the spheres of others. Humboldt and Mill, both advocates of negative freedom, compared the development of an individual to that of a plant: individuals, like plants, must be allowed to grow, in the sense of developing their own faculties to the full and according to their own inner logic. Personal growth is something that cannot be imposed from without, but must come from within the individual. (What crap! It is exactly these individual propensities that the social system is designed to quash without mercy)

3. Two Attempts to Create a Third Way

Critics, however, have objected that the ideal described by Humboldt and Mill looks much more like a positive concept of liberty than a negative one. Positive liberty consists, they say, in exactly this growth of the individual: the free individual is one that develops, determines and changes her own desires and interests autonomously and from within. This is not liberty as the mere absence of obstacles, but liberty as autonomy or self-realization. Why should the mere absence of state interference be thought to guarantee such growth? Is there not some third way between the extremes of totalitarianism and the minimal state of the classical liberals — some non-paternalist, non-authoritarian means by which positive liberty in the above sense can be actively promoted?

Blah, blah, blah! Neurotypicals pretend to “think” but in their addiction to “magic word concepts” they are blind to reality: this Asperger would say, that only by understanding the actual manifestations of social reality, (which are anti-individual, anti-liberty, anti-self-actualization, anti-moral, anti-ethical, anti-nature, anti-happiness) can the individual find a workable strategy to cope with the human landscape – and preserve some measure of integrity.

(Which one must accept as a rational being, may not be possible!)

Ouch! I’ve given myself a headache! Time for some R&R…. continued, next post.

cont., / Negative and Positive Liberty

I include the following for the masochists, who must follow neurotypical nonsense to the absurd matter / antimatter negation of actionable thought. Freedom, liberty or whatever one calls it is not an idea: it is a rare and temporary illusion limited by human on human negotiation, predation, warfare, subterfuge or dumb luck. In the real world, it either exists or it doesn’t; it doesn’t. 

A Russian proverb wisely suggests:  

“My hut is on the outskirts; I know nothing.” 

My comment, as always? For the love of sanity, PLEASE SHUT UP. 

3.1. Positive Liberty as Content-neutral

Much of the more recent work on positive liberty has been motivated by a dissatisfaction with the ideal of negative liberty combined with an awareness of the possible abuses of the positive concept so forcefully exposed by Berlin. John Christman (1991, 2005, 2009), for example, has argued that positive liberty concerns the ways in which desires are formed — whether as a result of rational reflection on all the options available, or as a result of pressure, manipulation or ignorance. What it does not regard, he says, is the content of an individual’s desires. The promotion of positive freedom need not therefore involve the claim that there is only one right answer to the question of how a person should live, nor need it allow, or even be compatible with, a society forcing its members into given patterns of behavior. Take the example of a Muslim woman who claims to espouse the fundamentalist doctrines generally followed by her family and the community in which she lives. On Christman’s account, this person is positively unfree if her desire to conform was somehow oppressively imposed upon her through indoctrination, manipulation or deceit. She is positively free, on the other hand, if she arrived at her desire to conform while aware of other reasonable options and she weighed and assessed these other options rationally. Even if this woman seems to have a preference for subservient behavior, there is nothing necessarily freedom-enhancing or freedom-restricting about her having the desires she has, since freedom regards not the content of these desires but their mode of formation. On this view, forcing her to do certain things rather than others can never make her more free, and Berlin’s paradox of positive freedom would seem to have been avoided.

It remains to be seen, however, just what a state can do, in practice, to promote positive liberty in Christman’s sense without encroaching on any individual’s sphere of negative liberty: the conflict between the two ideals seems to survive his alternative analysis, albeit in a milder form. Even if we rule out coercing individuals into specific patterns of behavior, a state interested in promoting autonomy in Christman’s sense might still be allowed considerable space for intervention of an informative and educational nature, perhaps subsidizing some activities (in order to encourage a plurality of genuine options) and financing this through taxation. Liberals might criticize this on anti-paternalist grounds, objecting that such measures will require the state to use resources in ways that the supposedly heteronomous individuals, if left to themselves, might have chosen to spend in other ways. Some liberals will make an exception in the case of the education of children (in such a way as to cultivate open minds and rational reflection), but even here other liberals will object that the right to negative liberty includes the right to decide how one’s children should be educated.

3.2 Republican Liberty

Other theorists of liberty have remained closer to the negative concept but have attempted to go beyond it, saying that liberty is not merely the enjoyment of a sphere of non-interference but the enjoyment of certain conditions in which such non-interference is guaranteed (see especially Pettit 1997, 2001, 2014, and Skinner 1998, 2002). These conditions may include the presence of a democratic constitution and a series of safeguards against a government wielding power arbitrarily, including the separation of powers and the exercise of civic virtues on the part of citizens. As Berlin admits, on the negative view, I am free even if I live in a dictatorship just as long as the dictator happens, on a whim, not to interfere with me (see also Hayek 1960). There is no necessary connection between negative liberty and any particular form of government. On the alternative view sketched here, I am free only if I live in a society with the kinds of political institutions that guarantee the independence of each citizen from exercises of arbitrary power. Quentin Skinner has called this view of freedom ‘neo-Roman’, invoking ideas about freedom both of the ancient Romans and of a number of Renaissance and early modern writers. Philip Pettit has called the same view ‘republican’, and this label has tended to dominate in the recent literature (Weinstock and Nadeau 2004; Larmore 2004; Laborde and Maynor 2008).

Republican freedom can be thought of as a kind of status: to be a free person is to enjoy the rights and privileges attached to the status of republican citizenship, whereas the paradigm of the unfree person is the slave. Freedom is not simply a matter of non-interference, for a slave may enjoy a great deal of non-interference at the whim of her master. What makes her unfree is her status, such that she is permanently liable to interference of any kind. Even if the slave enjoys non-interference, she is, as Pettit puts it, ‘dominated’, because she is permanently subject to the arbitrary power of her owner.

Contemporary republicans therefore claim that their view of freedom is quite distinct from the negative view of freedom. As we have seen, one can enjoy non-interference without enjoying non-domination; conversely, according to Pettit, one can enjoy non-domination while nevertheless being interfered with, just as long as the interference in question is constrained, through republican power structures, to track one’s interests. Only arbitrary power is inimical to freedom, not power as such. On the other hand, republican freedom is also distinct from positive freedom as expounded and criticized by Berlin. First, republican freedom does not consist in the activity of virtuous political participation; rather, that participation is seen as instrumentally related to freedom as non-domination. Secondly, the republican concept of freedom cannot lead to anything like the oppressive consequences feared by Berlin, because it has a commitment to non-domination and to liberal-democratic institutions already built into it.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the republican concept of freedom is ultimately distinguishable from the negative concept, or whether republican writers on freedom have not simply provided good arguments to the effect that negative freedom is best promoted, on balance and over time, through certain kinds of political institutions rather than others. While there is no necessary connection between negative liberty and democratic government, there may nevertheless be a strong empirical correlation between the two. Ian Carter (1999, 2008), Matthew H. Kramer (2003, 2008), and Robert Goodin and Frank Jackson (2007) have argued, along these lines, that republican policies are best defended empirically on the basis of the standard negative ideal of freedom, rather than on the basis of a conceptual challenge to that ideal. An important premise in such an argument is that the extent of a person’s negative freedom is a function not simply of how many single actions are prevented, but of how many different act-combinations are prevented. On this basis, people who can achieve their goals only by bowing and scraping to their masters must be seen as less free than people who can achieve those goals unconditionally. Another important premise is that the extent degree to which a person is negatively free depends, in part, on the probability with which he or she will be constrained from performing future acts or act-combinations. People who are subject to arbitrary power can be seen as less free in the negative sense even if they do not actually suffer interference, because the probability of their suffering constraints is always greater (ceteris paribus, as a matter of empirical fact) than it would be if they were not subject to that arbitrary power. Perhaps this non-trivial probability is sufficient to explain the sense of exposure and precariousness of the ‘dominated’. In reply, Pettit (2008a, 2008b) and Skinner (2008) have insisted that what matters for an agent’s freedom is the impossibility of others interfering with impunity, not the improbability of their doing so.

Much of the most recent literature on political and social freedom has concentrated on the above debate over the differences between the republican and liberal (i.e. negative) conceptions of freedom. Critiques of the republican conception that build on, or are otherwise sympathetic to, those of Carter and Kramer, can be found in Bruin (2009), Lang (2012) and Shnayderman (2012). Pettit himself has continued to refine his position, and has further discussed its relation to that of Berlin (Pettit 2011). Berlin’s own conception of negative liberty, he argues, occupies an inherently unstable position between the more restrictive Hobbesian view and the more expansive view of freedom as non-domination.

Pettit’s analysis of freedom has inspired a number of recent works by political theorists sympathetic to the republican tradition. Frank Lovett has developed an account of domination as a descriptive concept, and of justice as the minimization of domination (Lovett 2010). Several other authors have made use of the concept of domination in addressing more specific problems in normative political theory, such as disability rights, workplace democracy, social equality, and education policy (De Wispelaere and Casassas 2014; Breen and McBride 2015).

4. One Concept of Liberty: Freedom as a Triadic Relation

The two sides identified by Berlin disagree over which of two different concepts best deserves the name of ‘liberty’. Does this fact not denote the presence of some more basic agreement between the two sides? How, after all, could they see their disagreement as one about the definition of liberty if they did not think of themselves as in some sense talking about the same thing? In an influential article, the American legal philosopher Gerald MacCallum (1967) put forward the following answer: there is in fact only one basic concept of freedom, on which both sides in the debate converge. What the so-called negative and positive theorists disagree about is how this single concept of freedom should be interpreted. Indeed, in MacCallum’s view, there are a great many different possible interpretations of freedom, and it is only Berlin’s artificial dichotomy that has led us to think in terms of there being two.

MacCallum defines the basic concept of freedom — the concept on which everyone agrees — as follows: a subject, or agent, is free from certain constraints, or preventing conditions, to do or become certain things. Freedom is therefore a triadic relation — that is, a relation between three things: an agent, certain preventing conditions, and certain doings or becomings of the agent. Any statement about freedom or unfreedom can be translated into a statement of the above form by specifying what is free or unfree, from what it is free or unfree, and what it is free or unfree to do or become. Any claim about the presence or absence of freedom in a given situation will therefore make certain assumptions about what counts as an agent, what counts as a constraint or limitation on freedom, and what counts as a purpose that the agent can be described as either free or unfree to carry out.

The definition of freedom as a triadic relation was first put forward in the seminal work of Felix Oppenheim in the 1950s and 60s. Oppenheim saw that an important meaning of ‘freedom’ in the context of political and social philosophy was as a relation between two agents and a particular (impeded or unimpeded) action. This interpretation of freedom remained, however, what Berlin would call a negative one. What MacCallum did was to generalize this triadic structure so that it would cover all possible claims about freedom, whether of the negative or the positive variety. In MacCallum’s framework, unlike in Oppenheim’s, the interpretation of each of the three variables is left open. In other words, MacCallum’s position is a meta-theoretical one: his is a theory about the differences between theorists of freedom.

To illustrate MacCallum’s point, let us return to the example of the smoker driving to the tobacconists. In describing this person as either free or unfree, we shall be making assumptions about each of MacCallum’s three variables. If we say that the driver is free, what we shall probably mean is that an agent, consisting in the driver’s empirical self, is free from external (physical or legal) obstacles to do whatever he or she might want to do. If, on the other hand, we say that the driver is unfree, what we shall probably mean is that an agent, consisting in a higher or rational self, is made unfree by internal, psychological constraints to carry out some rational, authentic or virtuous plan. Notice that in both claims there is a negative element and a positive element: each claim about freedom assumes both that freedom is freedom from something (i.e., preventing conditions) and that it is freedom to do or become something. The dichotomy between ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ is therefore a false one, and it is misleading say that those who see the driver as free employ a negative concept and those who see the driver as unfree employ a positive one. What these two camps differ over is the way in which one should interpret each of the three variables in the triadic freedom-relation. More precisely, we can see that what they differ over is the extension to be assigned to each of the variables.

Thus, those whom Berlin places in the negative camp typically conceive of the agent as having the same extension as that which it is generally given in ordinary discourse: they tend to think of the agent as an individual human being and as including all of the empirical beliefs and desires of that individual. Those in the so-called positive camp, on the other hand, often depart from the ordinary notion, in one sense imagining the agent as more extensive than in the ordinary notion, and in another sense imagining it as less extensive: they think of the agent as having a greater extension than in ordinary discourse in cases where they identify the agent’s true desires and aims with those of some collectivity of which she is a member; and they think of the agent as having a lesser extension than in ordinary discourse in cases where they identify the true agent with only a subset of her empirical beliefs and desires — i.e., with those that are rational, authentic or virtuous. Secondly, those in Berlin’s positive camp tend to take a wider view of what counts as a constraint on freedom than those in his negative camp: the set of relevant obstacles is more extensive for the former than for the latter, since negative theorists tend to count only external obstacles as constraints on freedom, whereas positive theorists also allow that one may be constrained by internal factors, such as irrational desires, fears or ignorance. And thirdly, those in Berlin’s positive camp tend to take a narrower view of what counts as a purpose one can be free to fulfill. The set of relevant purposes is less extensive for them than for the negative theorists, for we have seen that they tend to restrict the relevant set of actions or states to those that are rational, authentic or virtuous, whereas those in the negative camp tend to extend this variable so as to cover any action or state the agent might desire.

On MacCallum’s analysis, then, there is no simple dichotomy between positive and negative liberty; rather, we should recognize that there is a whole range of possible interpretations or ‘conceptions’ of the single concept of liberty. Indeed, as MacCallum says and as Berlin seems implicitly to admit, a number of classic authors cannot be placed unequivocally in one or the other of the two camps. Locke, for example, is normally thought of as one of the fathers or classical liberalism and therefore as a staunch defender of the negative concept of freedom. He indeed states explicitly that ‘[to be at] liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others’. But he also says that liberty is not to be confused with ‘license’, and that “that ill deserves the name of confinement which hedges us in only from bogs and precipices” (Second Treatise, parags. 6 and 57). While Locke gives an account of constraints on freedom that Berlin would call negative, he seems to endorse an account of MacCallum’s third freedom-variable that Berlin would call positive, restricting this to actions that are not immoral (liberty is not license) and to those that are in the agent’s own interests (I am not unfree if prevented from falling into a bog). A number of contemporary libertarians have provided or assumed definitions of freedom that are similarly morally loaded (e.g. Nozick 1974; Rothbard 1982). This would seem to confirm MacCallum’s claim that it is conceptually and historically misleading to divide theorists into two camps — a negative liberal one and a positive non-liberal one.

5. The Analysis of Constraints: Their Types and Their Sources

To illustrate the range of interpretations of the concept of freedom made available by MacCallum’s analysis, let us now take a closer look at his second variable — that of constraints on freedom.

Advocates of negative conceptions of freedom typically restrict the range of obstacles that count as constraints on freedom to those that are brought about by other agents. For theorists who conceive of constraints on freedom in this way, I am unfree only to the extent that other people prevent me from doing certain things. If I am incapacitated by natural causes — by a genetic handicap, say, or by a virus or by certain climatic conditions — I may be rendered unable to do certain things, but I am not, for that reason, rendered unfree to do them. Thus, if you lock me in my house, I shall be both unable and unfree to leave. But if I am unable to leave because I suffer from a debilitating illness or because a snow drift has blocked my exit, I am nevertheless not unfree, to leave. The reason such theorists give, for restricting the set of relevant preventing conditions in this way, is that they see unfreedom as a social relation — a relation between persons (see Oppenheim 1961; Miller 1983; Steiner 1983; Kristjánsson 1996; Kramer 2003; Morriss 2012; Shnayderman 2013; Schmidt forthcoming). Unfreedom as mere inability is thought by such authors to be more the concern of engineers and medics than of political and social philosophers. (If I suffer from a natural or self-inflicted inability to do something, should we to say that I remain free to do it, or should we say that the inability removes my freedom to do it while nevertheless not implying that I am unfree to do it? In the latter case, we shall be endorsing a ‘trivalent’ conception, according to which there are some things that a person is neither free nor unfree to do. Kramer 2003 endorses a trivalent conception according to which freedom is identified with ability and unfreedom is the prevention (by others) of outcomes that the agent would otherwise be able to bring about.)

In attempting to distinguish between natural and social obstacles we shall inevitably come across gray areas. An important example is that of obstacles created by impersonal economic forces. Do economic constraints like recession, poverty and unemployment merely incapacitate people, or do they also render them unfree? Libertarians and egalitarians have provided contrasting answers to this question by appealing to different conceptions of constraints. Thus, one way of answering the question is by taking an even more restrictive view of what counts as a constraint on freedom, so that only a subset of the set of obstacles brought about by other persons counts as a restriction of freedom: those brought about intentionally. In this case, impersonal economic forces, being brought about unintentionally, do not restrict people’s freedom, even though they undoubtedly make many people unable to do many things. This last view has been taken by a number of market-oriented libertarians, including, most famously, Friedrich von Hayek (1960, 1982), according to whom freedom is the absence of coercion, where to be coerced is to be subject to the arbitrary will of another. (Notice the somewhat surprising similarity between this conception of freedom and the republican conception discussed earlier, in section 3.2) Critics of libertarianism, on the other hand, typically endorse a broader conception of constraints on freedom that includes not only intentionally imposed obstacles but also unintended obstacles for which someone may nevertheless be held responsible (for Miller and Kristjánsson and Shnayderman this means morally responsible; for Oppenheim and Kramer it means causally responsible), or indeed obstacles created in any way whatsoever, so that unfreedom comes to be identical to inability (see Crocker 1980; Cohen 1988; Sen 1992; Van Parijs 1995).

This analysis of constraints helps to explain why socialists and egalitarians have tended to claim that the poor in a capitalist society are as such unfree, or that they are less free than the rich, whereas libertarians have tended to claim that the poor in a capitalist society are no less free than the rich. Egalitarians typically (though not always) assume a broader notion than libertarians of what counts as a constraint on freedom. Although this view does not necessarily imply what Berlin would call a positive notion of freedom, egalitarians often call their own definition a positive one, in order to convey the sense that freedom requires not merely the absence of certain social relations of prevention but the presence of abilities, or what Amartya Sen has influentially called ‘capabilities’ (Sen 1985, 1988, 1992). (Important exceptions to this egalitarian tendency to broaden the relevant set of constraints include Waldron (1993) and Cohen (2011), who demonstrate, for the sake of argument, that relative poverty is in fact empirically inseparable from, and indeed proportional to, the imposition of physical barriers by other agents, and Steiner (1994), who grounds a left-libertarian theory of justice in the idea of an equal distribution of social freedom.)

We have seen that advocates of a negative conception of freedom tend to count only obstacles that are external to the agent. Notice, however, that the term ‘external’ is ambiguous in this context, for it might be taken to refer either to the location of the causal source of an obstacle or to the location of the obstacle itself. Obstacles that count as ‘internal’ in terms of their own location include psychological phenomena such as ignorance, irrational desires, illusions and phobias. Such constraints can be caused in various ways: for example, they might have a genetic origin, or they might be brought about intentionally by others, as in the case of brainwashing or manipulation. In the first case we have an internal constraint brought about by natural causes; in the second, an internal constraint intentionally imposed by another human agent.

More generally, we can now see that there are in fact two different dimensions along which one’s notion of a constraint might be broader or narrower. A first dimension is that of the source of a constraint — in other words, what it is that brings about a constraint on freedom. We have seen, for example, that some theorists include as constraints on freedom only obstacles brought about by human action, whereas others also include obstacles with a natural origin. A second dimension is that of the type of constraint involved, where constraint-types include the types of internal constraint just mentioned, but also various types of constraint located outside the agent, such as physical barriers that render an action impossible, obstacles that render the performance of an action more or less difficult, and costs attached to the performance of a (more or less difficult) action. The two dimensions of type and source are logically independent of one another. Given this independence, it is theoretically possible to combine a narrow view of what counts as a source of a constraint with a broad view of what types of obstacle count as unfreedom-generating constraints, or vice versa. As a result, it is not clear that theorists who are normally placed in the ‘negative’ camp need deny the existence of internal constraints on freedom (see Kramer 2003; Garnett 2007).

To illustrate the independence of the two dimensions of type and source, consider the case of the unorthodox libertarian Hillel Steiner (1974–5, 1994). On the one hand, Steiner has a much broader view than Hayek of the possible sources of constraints on freedom: he does not limit the set of such sources to intentional human actions, but extends it to cover all kinds of human cause, whether or not any humans intend such causes and whether or not they can be held morally accountable for them, believing that any restriction of such non-natural sources can only be an arbitrary stipulation, usually arising from some more or less conscious ideological bias. On the other hand, Steiner has an even narrower view than Hayek about what type of obstacle counts as a constraint on freedom: for Steiner, an agent only counts as unfree to do something if it is physically impossible for her to do that thing. Any extension of the constraint variable to include other types of obstacle, such as the costs anticipated in coercive threats, would, in his view, necessarily involve a reference to the agent’s desires, and we have seen (in sec. 2) that for those liberals in the negative camp there is no necessary relation between an agent’s freedom and her desires. Consider the coercive threat ‘Your money or your life!’. This does not make it impossible for you to refuse to hand over your money, only much less desirable for you to do so. If you decide not to hand over the money, you will suffer the cost of being killed. That will count as a restriction of your freedom, because it will render physically impossible a great number of actions on your part. But it is not the issuing of the threat that creates this unfreedom, and you are not unfree until the sanction (described in the threat) is carried out. For this reason, Steiner excludes threats — and with them all other kinds of imposed costs — from the set of obstacles that count as freedom-restricting. This conception of freedom derives from Hobbes (Leviathan, chs. 14 and 21), and its defenders often call it the ‘pure’ negative conception (M. Taylor 1982; Steiner 1994; Carter and Kramer 2008) to distinguish it from those ‘impure’ negative conceptions that make at least minimal references to the agent’s beliefs, desires or values.

Steiner’s account of the relation between freedom and coercive threats might be thought to have counterintuitive implications, even from the liberal point of view. Many laws that are normally thought to restrict negative freedom do not physically prevent people from doing what is prohibited, but deter them from doing so by threatening punishment. Are we to say, then, that these laws do not restrict the negative freedom of those who obey them? A solution to this problem may consist in saying that although a law against doing some action, x, does not remove the freedom to do x, it nevertheless renders physically impossible certain combinations of actions that include doing x and doing what would be precluded by the punishment. There is a restriction of the person’s overall negative freedom — i.e. a reduction in the overall number of act-combinations available to her — even though she does not lose the freedom to do any specific thing taken in isolation (Carter 1999).

6. The Concept of Overall Freedom

The concept of overall freedom appears to play an important role both in everyday discourse and in contemporary political philosophy. It is only recently, however, that philosophers have stopped concentrating exclusively on the meaning of a particular freedom — the freedom to do or become this or that particular thing — and have started asking whether we can also make sense of descriptive claims to the effect that one person or society is freer than another or of liberal normative claims to the effect that freedom should be maximized or that people should enjoy equal freedom or that they each have a right to a certain minimum level of freedom. The literal meaningfulness of such claims depends on the possibility of gauging degrees of overall freedom, sometimes comparatively, sometimes absolutely.

Theorists disagree, however, about the importance of the notion of overall freedom. For some libertarian and liberal egalitarian theorists, freedom is valuable as such. This suggests that more freedom is better than less (at least ceteris paribus), and that freedom is one of those goods that a liberal society ought to distribute in a certain way among individuals. For other liberal theorists, like Ronald Dworkin (1977, 2011) and the later Rawls (1991), freedom is not valuable as such, and all claims about maximal or equal freedom ought to be interpreted not as literal references to a quantitative good called ‘liberty’ but as elliptical references to the adequacy of lists of certain particular liberties, or types of liberties, selected on the basis of values other than liberty itself. Generally speaking, only the first group of theorists finds the notion of overall freedom interesting.

The theoretical problems involved in measuring overall freedom include that of how an agent’s available actions are to be individuated, counted and weighted, and that of comparing and weighting different types (but not necessarily different sources) of constraints on freedom (such as physical prevention, punishability, threats and manipulation). How are we to make sense of the claim that the number of options available to a person has increased? Should all options count for the same in terms of degrees of freedom, or should they be weighted according to their importance in terms of other values? In the latter, does the notion of overall freedom really add anything of substance to the idea that people should be granted those specific freedoms that are valuable? Should the degree of variety among options also count? And how are we to compare the unfreedom created by the physical impossibility of an action with, say, the unfreedom created by the difficulty or costliness or punishability of an action? It is only by comparing these different kinds of actions and constraints that we shall be in a position to compare individuals’ overall degrees of freedom. These problems have been addressed, with differing degrees of optimism, not only by political philosophers (Steiner 1983; Carter 1999; Kramer 2003; Garnett 2016) but also, and increasingly, by social choice theorists interested in finding a freedom-based alternative to the standard utilitarian or ‘welfarist’ framework that has tended to dominate their discipline (e.g. Pattanaik and Xu 1991, 1998; Hees 2000; Sen 2002; Sugden 1998, 2003, 2006; Bavetta 2004; Bavetta and Navarra 2012, 2014).

MacCallum’s framework is particularly well suited to the clarification of such issues. For this reason, theorists working on the measurement of freedom tend not to refer a great deal to the distinction between positive and negative freedom. This said, most of them are concerned with freedom understood as the availability of options. And the notion of freedom as the availability of options is unequivocally negative in Berlin’s sense at least where two conditions are met: first, the source of unfreedom-creating constraints is limited to the actions of other agents, so that natural or self-inflicted obstacles are not seen as decreasing an agent’s freedom; second, the actions one is free or unfree to perform are weighted in some value-neutral way, so that one is not seen as freer simply because the options available to one are more valuable or conducive to one’s self-realization. Of the above-mentioned authors, only Steiner embraces both conditions explicitly. Sen rejects both of them, despite not endorsing anything like positive freedom in Berlin’s sense.

7. Is the Distinction Still Useful?

We began with a simple distinction between two concepts of liberty, and have progressed from this to the recognition that liberty might be defined in any number of ways, depending on how one interprets the three variables of agent, constraints, and purposes. Despite the utility of MacCallum’s triadic formula and its strong influence on analytic philosophers, however, Berlin’s distinction remains an important point of reference for discussions about the meaning and value of political and social freedom. Are these continued references to positive and negative freedom philosophically well-founded?

It might be claimed that MacCallum’s framework is less than wholly inclusive of the various possible conceptions of freedom. In particular, it might be said, the concept of self-mastery or self-direction implies a presence of control that is not captured by MacCallum’s explication of freedom as a triadic relation. MacCallum’s triadic relation indicates mere possibilities. If one thinks of freedom as involving self-direction, on the other hand, one has in mind an exercise-concept of freedom as opposed to an opportunity-concept (this distinction comes from C. Taylor 1979). If interpreted as an exercise concept, freedom consists not merely in the possibility of doing certain things (i.e. in the lack of constraints on doing them), but in actually doing certain things in certain ways — for example, in realizing one’s true self or in acting on the basis of rational and well-informed decisions. The idea of freedom as the absence of constraints on the realization of given ends might be criticised as failing to capture this exercise concept of freedom, for the latter concept makes no reference to the absence of constraints.

However, this defence of the positive-negative distinction as coinciding with the distinction between exercise- and opportunity-concepts of freedom has been challenged by Eric Nelson (2005). As Nelson points out, most of the theorists that are traditionally located in the positive camp, such as Green or Bosanquet, do not distinguish between freedom as the absence of constraints and freedom as the doing or becoming of certain things. For these theorists, freedom is the absence of any kind of constraint whatsoever on the realization of one’s true self (they adopt a maximally extensive conception of constraints on freedom), and the absence of all factors that could prevent the action x is, quite simply, equivalent to the realization of x. In other words, if there really is nothing stopping me from doing x — if I possess all the means to do x, and I have a desire to do x, and no desire, irrational or otherwise, not to do x — then I do x. An equivalent way to characterize the difference between such positive theorists and the so-called negative theorists of freedom lies in the degree of specificity with which they describe x. For those who adopt a narrow conception of constraints, x is described with a low degree of specificity (x could be exemplified by the realization of any of a large array of options); for those who adopt a broad conception of constraints, x is described with a high degree of specificity (x can only be exemplified by the realization of a specific option, or of one of a small group of options).

What perhaps remains of the distinction is a rough categorization of the various interpretations of freedom that serves to indicate their degree of fit with the classical liberal tradition. There is indeed a certain family resemblance between the conceptions that are normally seen as falling on one or the other side of Berlin’s divide, and one of the decisive factors in determining this family resemblance is the theorist’s degree of concern with the notion of the self. Those on the ‘positive’ side see questions about the nature and sources of a person’s beliefs, desires and values as relevant in determining that person’s freedom, whereas those on the ‘negative’ side, being more faithful to the classical liberal tradition, tend to consider the raising of such questions as in some way indicating a propensity to violate the agent’s dignity or integrity (Carter 2011a). One side takes a positive interest in the agent’s beliefs, desires and values, while the other recommends that we avoid doing so.

The Internet / One Vast Tricky Resource

The internet was not a bad idea: like most human inventions, it’s an idea; a word concept that has no real existence, until it is acted upon. Those actions are not the idea, but the consequences of attempting to make the idea real. 

As I’ve said many times before: Word language creates the illusion that ideas expressed by words correspond to reality, because social humans believe that words have the magic power to create reality.








Crazy communication between and among humans is obviously not new: “exchanges” have been a mess for thousands of years. Contrary to those who promote civilization as a never-ending escalator to perfection, “communication” favors such pan-human messages such as,

“We hate you; we’re going to wipe you from the face of the earth and steal everything you claim as your own.” Often, this is the type of “idea” that gets action, because it is actionable. 

Ideas like “world peace” “fair and transparent government” “political equality” and the like are not actionable. Why? Because everyone knows that “in reality” these ideas are utterly contrary to the history of human behavior in groups. No governments exist in nature; no social systems exist in nature. In nature, there is only what organisms do,  actively and reactively, in response to the environment.

Since social systems devised by modern humans are “the human environment” and intentionally unfair, unequal and hostile to humans, “ideas friendly to humans” are not actionable. They are in fact, meaningless: no one can act in a way that promotes world peace, justice, equality or fair interactions between unequal people. To “accomplish” these ideas, human beings would have to be removed from the human environment.

Peace on Earth? A planet without humans.

None of this prevents me from making use of the internet. Anyone with a real actionable idea, such as, How much disinformation, arrogance, stupidity and ignorance about Asperger people is there on the internet? will never run out of a supply of information to work with.

The Internet / One Vast Cemetery

It’s internet privacy day: What a joke!

Remember: Nothing ensures immortality like tons of solid gold treasure. The internet is a poor person’s substitute; after techno-civilization collapses, so will the internet graveyard disappear. Even after empires come and go, GOLD is forever. 

___________________________________ The World Wide Cemetery

Created by internet pioneer Mike Kibbee in 1995, it is the oldest online cemetery & memorial site in the world. With its simplicity, it has remained the most elegant, peaceful, and serene resting place online. Memorials are permanent and provide the sole internet presence for many.


It must be winter: I’m spending too much mental and emotional time with dead people and dead ideas.

Wow! It’s so easy: I just immortalized myself and some of my advertising-graphic design work on the internet.


Dutch website Remembr advertises itself as a social media platform designed to remember the dead, rather than the living. The world has spent thousands of years debating the existence of life after death. But on the internet, virtual immortality is easy to achieve because social media profiles do not die at the same time as their owner.

Its launch comes in response to growing demand for a new way of remembering people online.

The Internet Was a Bad Idea

By Walter Michka, October 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

Let me be the first person to say: the Internet was a bad idea.

Remember when they called it “The Information Superhighway?” Just like actual super highways allowed our parents and grandparents to go from point A to point B faster and more directly than ever before, giving them access to more parts of the country in a fraction of the time, The Information Superhighway was supposed to do the same for knowledge.

Imagine, the experts prophesied, the entire world’s collective intellect a mouse click away! Anything you’d need to know accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Truly infinite wisdom. The possibilities were mind-boggling.


Then people started actually using the Internet and information wasn’t exactly the first thing they clicked their mice on. Or the second thing. Or even the third. Mostly they clicked on cat pictures. Or porn. Or Willie Wonka memes.

The Internet will allow the world to stay connected, they promised, to share the human condition, united in one social universe. Or maybe we’ll just tweet each other Instagrams of food.

Before the World Wide Web, if you wanted to show 600 friends, relatives, co-workers, or ex-classmates what you had for dinner, you’d have to: 1. snap the photo, 2. wait a couple days for Fotomat to develop the film, 3. get everyone in a room to show them the prints or 4. go door to door. Now it’s just point, click, share. (Bragging about your meal is a very First World thing to do.)

The Internet will open the lines of communication, they said, enabling billions freedom of expression! Or it’ll just give trolls a place to spew their anonymous hatred. We always had crazy people, nut jobs with weird ideas. That’s okay. It’s America, that’s what makes this nation great. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. It’s why the bullhorn was invented, I’m pretty sure. Free speech! Damn the torpedoes! and all that.

Before the Internet, all the way back to say, 1992, they were solitary nuts. They muttered to themselves in their dingy apartments, out of everyone’s way. Maybe they’d say something in the lunchroom at work, have some sort of ranty outburst, a shouting match in line at McDonald’s. And that’d be it.

But the Internet gathers these nuts, like a giant, indiscriminating cyber squirrel, and stores them in one place for everyone to see. These nuts are all strung together like a big nut necklace, hanging around our country’s neck, choking the life out of us.

Left wing. Right wing. Mental hospital wing. Doesn’t matter, there’s strength in numbers. Suddenly any crackpot idea, any kooky theory, no matter how farfetched, has authority and gathers steam because a group says it’s so. More than ten people think it, so we must give it as much attention and weight as if millions did.

And forget the truth. The truth is pretty much the last thing you should expect from the Internet—

What promised to be educational and enlightening turned out to be just a way to sell us stuff, track our whereabouts, and waste what precious time we’ve got on earth. Oh, and to look at porn. Like so many other great inventions, the Internet was a great idea at first. Then it fell into the wrong hands… ours.


At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.

At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.

At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.

By Brandon Ambrosino, 14 March 2016

The numbers of the dead on Facebook are growing fast. By 2012, just eight years after the platform was launched, 30 million users with Facebook accounts had died. That number has only gone up since. Some estimates claim more than 8,000 users die each day. (Apparently Facebook is today declining to update the calculations re: Facebook Dead People.) 

Does the social bullshit ever end?

Now, with the advent of social media, hypersocial individuals (in denial of death) can burden their family members and friends in perpetuity with the task of “keeping me alive” on the internet, by maintaining  my “virtual immortality” ! (This will of course entail “memorializing” pet hamsters, snakes, and of course, dogs and cats.)

A very popular question on the Internet:

How does Facebook know I have died?

But… just what does “remove” mean? Thanks to humanitysdarkerside: 


New Site / Science-Based Medicine

A topic that fires up violent reactions in “rational” types LOL

Psychology and Psychotherapy: How Much Is Evidence-Based?

Psychology Gone Wrong: The Dark Side of Science and Therapy, by Tomasz Witkowski and Maciej Zatonski, Witkowski is a psychologist, science writer, and founder of the Polish Skeptics Club; Zatonski is a surgeon and researcher known for debunking unscientific therapies and claims in clinical medicine. Together, they turn a spotlight on research and treatment in the field of psychology. They uncover distressing flaws, show that many commonly accepted psychological principles are based on myths, argue that psychotherapy is a business and a kind of prostitution rather than an effective evidence-based medical treatment, and question whether psychotherapy should even exist, since in most cases it offers no advantage over talking to a friend about one’s problems, and in some cases can cause harm.

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