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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Search for Gender Neutrality in Freedom

1)      Towards a Deeper Theory of Freedom: Children suffer unnecessarily in our culture because of our prejudices. While they grow up, their parents and teachers tell them that what they have a passion for is not for them. Male children learn to never cry because ‘boys do not cry’. Female children learn that society expects them to marry men and learn skills in order to be good housewives. The cultural sexism in United States at its worst seeks to make males into G. I. Joes and females into Barbies. Though cultural sexism in child-raising has decreased in severity for many, the remaining prejudices between and within the sexes is an issue of freedom and justice.
A theory of freedom needs to be able to deal with sexism and explain the inherent unfreedom in a society with a gender mythology. The depth of a theory refers to how far it goes in considering human psychology and cultural problems. Some concepts of freedom are too superficial. Contradictions often arise in the concept when it is too superficial because the theory will not justify a measure that the theorist provides to protect freedom. In looking for a theory of freedom for society in regards of the problem of sexism, it must have the quality of depth.
Three theories will represent the progression between superficial towards deep theories of freedom. Friedrich Hayek’s non-coercion model[1] of freedom is representative of the most superficial kind. Second, Phillip Pettit’s non-domination model goes deeper but cannot get into the psychological manifestations of unfreedom. As representative of deepest level of freedom consideration is Nancy Hirschmann’s feminist model of freedom.[2] After taking the ideas of Hirschmann into account, gender mythology becomes a serious issue for a model of freedom.

2)      Hayek and Absence of Coercion: In “Freedom and Coercion”, F. A. Hayek defines political freedom as the absence of coercion.[3] He distinguishes his concept from other considerations like desires and self-fulfillment in order to make the concept as simple and straightforward as possible and to avoid the problems of theories which delve into the ‘true self’. As an economist, he goes into detail how his model corresponds to a capitalist system, using examples of employers, workers, and property owners. He claims that inequality and misfortune are compatible with freedom. Even though he attempts to strip freedom of positive connotations, freedom is a political value and carries the connotations thereof.
One major flaw in Hayek’s model is that he smuggles in legitimate and illegitimate coercion in order to defend a capitalist view of freedom. Charles Taylor in “What’s Wrong with Negative Freedom” explains this contradiction of so-called negative freedom theorist by revealing the necessity of making qualitative judgments between various freedoms.[4] By smuggling in legitimate and illegitimate coercion, Hayek does make a qualitative distinction between freedoms, which his model does not explain.[5]  Also, the social injustices of Hayek’s vague explanation of legitimacy result inability to address the unfreedom that face the sexes. For instance, anti-coercion gives no basis of why sexism in the workplace is an issue of freedom. If females are not being hired on the basis of sex, the there is no real coercion by Hayek’s logic because business owners have the right to employ anyone they choose.  Legislation would be coercive in this model it forces employers to choose employ in a more ethical manner.
G. A. Cohen describes another major flaw which is shared by libertarians in “Freedom, Capitalism, and the Proletariat”.[6] Cohen identifies a failure of perception the part of libertarians to recognize the inherent unfreedom in capitalism because of the right to sole discretion on the use of private property.[7] Libertarians tend to believe that the freest society is without restrictions or with minimal restrictions is necessary, while accepting a rights definition of freedom. For libertarians, the rights definition of freedom implies that unfreedom occurs only when someone does something they do not have the right to do.[8] For Cohen, even legitimate interference reduces freedom.[9] Cohen provides the idea that freedom and unfreedom are distributed in society in a compatible way. Using Cohen’s logic, defending the right of employers not to hire women based on their sex and preventing employers from that action both implies some unfreedom. The goal then is to make the most ideal distribution of freedom and unfreedom.

3)      Pettit and Non-Domination: Benjamin Constant links liberty of the moderns to non-interference (a more Hayekian model) and the non-domination of freedom to the liberty of the ancients.[10] Sharing this distinction, Phillip Pettit takes the side of the ancients, finding the modern sense of liberty untenable and inferior to the Republican ideal. The Pettit goes further into the nature of freedom by presenting the principle of arbitrariness interference, defined by Pettit as interference without regard for the interests or feelings of those affected.[11]
The non-arbitrary requirement, as expounded by Pettit, serves to promote harmony of wills. This solves the problem Hayek suffers from when it comes to sexism because not taking in the interests of women would be arbitrary interference. If it is the people’s common desire for interference in the employment and treatment of the sexes in order to reduce sexism, the intervention in even the workplace by the government would not be arbitrary. Domination unlike Aribitariness does not require interference. If one group has power to interfere arbitrarily, domination exists. This means that everyone must have equal power or restrained by constitutional measures to prevent domination.
Pettit refutes the claim that equal interference of the laws with the harder-to-lose-freedom effect. His counter-example explores the American Revolution.[12] The British Parliament of the time subjected both American colonies and Britain. For those who argue that laws are equally constraining on everyone (i.e. Hobbes and Bentham), the colonists would be just as free as the British. Because the Americans did not have representation, the British arbitrarily subjugated the colonists and thus limited their freedom, Pettit correctly assesses. In regards to sexism, even if laws and customs subject males and females to even the same interferences, a sexist society restricts freedom. Like the colonies had British laws, women face masculinist laws. Non-arbitrariness justifies women empowerment.
Pettit refutes the claim that no interference is freedom with the easier-to-lose-freedom effect. Again, Pettit uses the American Revolution to explain why just having no interference is not enough to say one is free.[13] Because the British Parliament of the time had the power to subject colonists to its arbitrary will, the colonists acted without inference only at the mercy of Britain. For the Republican model, freedom cannot exist in a master-slave relationship regardless of how kind or merciful the master is because there is domination. In regards to sexism, if society privileges males over females in terms of power, women are not free until activists counter that privilege and empower women towards equality. In other words, women cannot be free if they are at the mercy of men.

4)      The Strengths of Non-Domination: What makes non-domination so appealing is that it is intelligible. In other words, Pettit’s model can clearly show if people are free or not in its own terms. It allows for inductive or inferential means in assessing the domination in a community.[14] The organization of institutions and the exercise of governance act as facts which one can assess in order to determine the degree of domination in a community. Pettit presents harmony or tranquility of the general opinion as another fact which one can assess to determine the freedom of the people. The more harmonious a community is, the freer it is. If there is a minority opinion, unfreedom can occur in an unmodified democracy (one without a protection of basic liberties). As John Stuart Mill put it, the democracy deals with a different sort tyranny, the tyranny of the majority.[15] The third fact one can assess in Pettit’s model is whether or not one has “the ability to look others in the eye, without having to defer to them or fear them.” [16]
This model avoids most of the weaknesses of non-interference. The harder- and easier-to-lose-freedom effect both trounce at the inequalities of power which lead to its arbitrary use in the non-interference model. If there is absence of coercion, for Hayek, it does not matter how hard it is for women to participate in the design of public institutions, their supposed autonomy makes them free. Pettit’s model goes deeper and looks at disunity of desires and interferences. A system which has not taken in account the needs of females in society is unfree in a meaningful way.
While Hayek attempts to avoid normative endorsement in his conception of freedom, Pettit has a clear communitarian ideal. The Republican ideal aspires towards the harmony of wills. The way the community increases freedom, according to Pettit, is through intensification and extension thereof. Society intensifies freedom by the cessation of arbitrary interference and extends freedom by the removal of obstacles to freedom like master-slave and patriarchal relationships.[17]
Pettit defends the communitarian ideal by claiming that the progress in the last two centuries has made people more capable of achieving a harmonious community.[18] The progress in the inclusiveness of the modern freedom project has enabled society to achieve greater freedom for women, minorities, and the lower classes. The ability to conceive of modern institutions which conform to democratic values is representative of the ideal meeting the practical in Pettit’s model.

5)      What is wrong with Non-Domination:  Since the Republican ideal has a communitarian way of organizing society, it runs into the some of the flaws of cultural relativism.[19] Gender neutrality, which is the absence of imposed cultural norms for the sexes and their interactions, does not fall under the non-domination model. People can harmonize with the cultural norms even if they have equal participation in Pettit’s republic, and the resulting unfreedom goes unnoticed for the general citizenry. Since Pettit defines interference as being intentional and domination as arbitrary interference, there is no domination in this kind of oppression. If a cultural meme persists of females being Barbies and males being G. I. Joes, culture restricts people’s ‘freedom to be’.
The internal barriers to freedom presents a major weakness in just looking at the way a community organizes itself. Just because the system takes out the source of the external problem, the psychological damage from the cultural mythos remains.[20]  A child raise during her unfree years in the republic may learn cultural values which teach that women are temptresses who damned all humanity. This particular myth leads to restrictive expression of personal passions and engagement with the opposite sex. Cultural memes are internal phenomenon, and because Pettit’s non-domination focuses on external states of affairs, his model fails to cover all societal problems of unfreedom.
This point must be stressed in Pettit’s case because of the inevitable consequences. Even though the old patriarchs have died, the undead hand of masculinist culture manipulates the feelings and desires of people today. Because the post mortem patriarchal interference is non-arbitrary by Pettit’s definition, the pervasiveness of sexist ideas about women and men makes it the communitarian’s duty to enforce it. Even with the harder- and easier-to-lose-freedom effects taken into account, the mythos of the masses shackles everyone in the republic.
The republican society makes children non-dominated by harmonizing them with the culture. This indoctrination of ideals makes the people feel and think along the lines of their culture without seeing sexist nature in the activities and policies. Even if some people realize the sexist flaw in the republic, the community will treat them as enemies of freedom which the community must harmonize. The cultural apostates suffer from the greatest unfreedom because they separate from the homogeny of the majority. As example of such communitarian homogeny of the communitarian mindset, the ancients, exiled or executed those who strayed too far from conceptions of piety like Socrates.
To give Pettit credit though, he wants a society in which there would not be people afraid of cultural apostates like Socrates. Though Pettit would not desire the apostasy situation, such a practice is inevitable under the Republican system of law.[21] The culture cannot see its own faults often, as with the Athenians who foolishly killed the philosopher revealing their ignorance. In society, there will always be apostasy of some kind, so the will of the people will never fully align and probably will divide on many issues. Since the community provides freedom, leaving the community means a sacrifice of one’s freedom.
In the end, what Pettit says about non-interference not being tenable is applicable to non-domination: “even though it is thought desirable, it must be judged unattainable.”[22] One male is not like another psychologically, and the same goes for females. The homogeny of the community’s will fights this aspect of the human condition. There may be a general direction of progress, but people fit together like a jigsaw puzzle with ends that operate well together rather than a homogenous blob of everyone’s interests leading to a straightforward direction.

6)      A New Model of Non-Domination: Many principles of the non-domination model can be changed in order to reach a freer society which can handle this diversity within a population. It requires an understanding that of the qualitative differences between interferences and their relationship with the good. Good interferences helps the affected with reaching their ends. The interference will change the means to the end of those affected especially if that means is harmful. For instance, if hungry, young boy intends to steal a loaf of bread in order to eat, the community would attempt to change his means (stealing) into something more productive like working for it or asking a charitable person for some food.
Because the harm of the cultural mythos thwarts flourishing (a general end), this new model of non-domination justifies the debunking of those harmful myths. This does not mean that truths will be censored because of some harm a particular truth may cause, but a general alignment of the best understanding of individuals’ inner selves and society.[23] This allows this model to deal with internal barriers to freedom unlike Pettit’s. The harm within our cultural landscape justifies the community in educating against the indoctrination of myths about women which exists in many modern day religions.[24]
In the case of ends which thwart each other, this new model avoids a kind of unfreedom. In many cases, competition for resources means some will not receive a portion of a limited quantity, like a ticket to a concert or a good spot to sell ones goods. Some competition is naturally harmful. There are kinds of competition which there is a harmful cumulative effect begins to instill a power inequality. The cumulative effect has an external and internal manifestation.
For external, capitalism is best representative. The design of the capitalist market leads to an inevitable arbitrary interference, where ends the cumulatively successful thwart the ends of the majority unsuccessful to the great harm of that majority.[25] The internal cumulative effect comes from the continued control of cultural institutions at the exclusion of some group. In the case of sexism, the continued control of education, business, religion, and government for most of Western history resulted in the thwarting of female self-realization.[26] Teaching patriarchal myths, prevention of female promotion in the workplace, inability to lead in the church, and the non- or disproportionate representation in government all reflect contemporary problem of sexism. The internal aspect of all these things is the creating of the myth of the women. What a woman is in the culture’s eyes is a function of these various inequalities. This model attempts to acknowledge this cumulative effect on both external and internal in order to promote flourishing.

Hirschmann and a Feminist Theory of Freedom: Nancy Hirschmann in “Towards a Feminist Theory of Freedom” describes this flaw as dealing with historical context. All of these models use concepts that have a masculinist bias. The Hayekians defend a concept of freedom which makes capitalism the ideal relationship between ‘individuals’[27] society and between society and state.[28] The very language people use skews the discussion of freedom in a masculinist way. For instance, how does one define ‘flourishing’? It is paramount that one recognizes that the new model of domination does not take into account yet the problem of language which Hirschmann provides the method to overcome. The internal accumulation of dogmatic identity in the new model is not enough for the model to criticize its own language of freedom. If including women into the new non-domination models means making them more like men, this also is a kind of unfreedom. The definition of flourishing will become internalized. If flourishing means having traditional male rights and achieving traditional male end, this will perpetuate this unfreedom.
Hirschmann, whom Charles Taylor’s concept of freedom greatly influenced, finds the resulting external and internal distinctions particularly troubling for a practical theory of freedom. If the unfreedom persists after the actual self is always beyond the reach. Feminists use the ideal of what the women ‘really’ is as a criticism of any context because the “abstract ‘women’ … is who she is because of [her] context”. 25 This leads to double vision where the context both restricts freedom and makes freedom possible. More clearly, the context of people’s lives defines who they are not as much as who they are. These internalize context is composed of many sub-contexts as well. While a white woman has the white privilege, the African American man has the male privilege.[29] These various privileges bestow power to change and define the social constructions.
The double-edge sword of proposing another ideal to criticize the contemporary context that Hirschmann describes empowers as it restricts.[30] By creating a new language or social consturction, the theorist places new standards what it means to flourish.  Aporia and autocoscienza both serve to help feminist theorists critique their own social construction without internalizing another social construction as a model of critique. This allows theorists to avoid the double-edge sword and rise above their context.
For Hirschmann, Aporia allows feminists to criticize the patriarchal context, which “contains both the discursive ideal that it is men’s right to discipline their wives and simultaneously that women should be worshipped and placed on a pedestal; the dissonance between these allows feminists to develop a ‘counterdiscourse’ identifying both of these ideals as false and objectifying”.[31] Autocoscienza is a practice where group of women deepen their understanding their feelings and ways of thinking. This consciousness-raising causes a new language to emerge from the patriarchal one.[32] These methods are available to the general public. Application of these methods will result in more gender neutrality. As for flourishing, understanding one’s own ends comes after applying these practices on social context.

7)      Conclusion: Hayek’s freedom only speaks of freedom and unfreedom in terms of physical coercion and legitimacy smuggled in specifically to defend capitalism. Because there is more in terms of how one is governed then the use of force, Pettit’s non-domination better describes freedom than Hayek by taking into account the relationships between people and power. The harmonious republic’s fatal flaw is that it does not demarcate the qualitative differences of people’s ends. The new model of non-domination goes below the cultural values and tries to find what ends are worth harmonizing, like the end of driving somewhere quickly means that people take turns at intersections. The deepest theory of freedom takes into account how people and theorist understand ends. When ends like being successful are question, biases become apparent. Hirschmann provides aporia and autoscienza as methods to get past the biases that exist in language and concepts.
Freedom is not a society which simply allows someone to do something but a society which allows people to be themselves in the most meaningful sense. Because of the permeable line between internal and external obstacles, how society raises children and treats adults will prevent them from actualizing their selves. This includes the LGBT especially but also children in general. The just society distributes freedom and unfreedom based on human flourishing. Since telling women they are inferior to men is harmful to women, the just society would seek to educate against that practice. The ideal is that people are prevented from doing intentional harm.
The society which seriously considers justice seeks to do the best for society within practical limits. In other words, where the practical and ideal meet, that is the path to take in progressing society. Though the ideal social constructions are an opinion, there are better opinions than others. As knowledge about human beings and the world increases, the better people can access what distribution of freedom and unfreedom causes more human flourishing for a diverse population.
The idealism of this freedom model, after society has taken language has gone through its slow evolution towards more gender neutrality, is based on three intuitive assumptions. First, that one is not unfree because of non-intentional obstacles like the inability to fly by flapping one’s arms.[33] Second, there are qualitative distinctions between ends. For instance, the end of murder is bad, while the end of helping the poor is generally good. Third, even though helping someone is a kind of interference, it is does not make a person less free but can make a person freer. The distinction between ends justifies distribution of enabling and inhibition factors. People should not have the freedom to kill whomever they please, while the freedom to get a basic education is something society should enable. This fact is that this model accepts some unfreedom, in the superficial sense, in order to make a more meaningfully free society in the deepest sense. 

[1] Model is used interchangeably with theory, but it emphasizes the reorganizing of society aspect of any theory of freedom.
[2] Hirschmann’s feminism is different from other types because it has some poststructuralist components.
[3] Hayek, F. A., “Freedom and Coercion,” in The Liberty Reader, ed. David Milleret al. (London: Penguin Publishers, 2006), 81
[4] Ibid, 90-91
[5] Taylor, Charles, “What’s Wrong with Negative Liberty,” in The Liberty Reader, ed. David Miller et al. (London: Penguin Publishers, 2006), 146
[6] Cohen, G. A., “Capitalism, Freedom and the Proletariat,” in The Liberty Reader, ed. David Miller et al. (London: Penguin Publishers, 2006), 166, 168-170
[7] Ibid, 170
[8] Ibid, 171-172
[9] Ibid, 171
[10] Pettit, Phillip, “The Republican Ideal of Freedom,” in The Liberty Reader, ed. David Miller et al. (London: Penguin Publishers, 2006), 223
[11] Ibid, 225
[12] Ibid, 227-229
[13] Ibid, 229-231
[14] Ibid, 231
[15] Mill, J. S. On Liberty, ed. Elizabeth Rapaport, (Indianapolis: HacKett Publishing Company, Inc., 1978), 4
[16] Pettit, “The Republican Ideal of Freedom,”231
[17] Ibid, 233
[18] Ibid, 232
[19] I do not mean to be derisive or to imply that Pettit is wrong simply because the position is some kind of modified cultural relativism.
[20] Religious Trauma Syndrome is a good example of internal damages from things one learns in one’s youth.
[21] Pettit, 231-232
[22] Ibid, 224
[23] Lying can be justified in cases where the harm is significant enough and obvious enough to justify that.
[24] Many other institutions promote harmful cultural phenomena. For instance, contemporary sports institutions carry the patriarchal ideal of the athlete. This corresponds to the fact that male sports have an immensely larger viewership.
[25] Pettit’s non-domination would account for the external manifestations.
[26] This sentiment overlaps with Hirschmann’s objection.
[27] For a Masculinist Theory, the individual is the universal man. Some cases this so-called universal man takes on interests of the theorist or reflects a certain folk psychology of the male. Capitalism is based on this kind of self-interest, capital-building model of human behavior.
[28] Hirschmann, Nancy, “Towards a Feminist Theory of Freedom,” in The Liberty Reader, ed. David Miller et al. (London: Penguin Publishers, 2006), 206
[29] Ibid, 216
[30] Ibid, 217
[31] Ibid, 218
[32] Ibid, 220
[33] Impersonal obstacles like walls or fences can limit the freedom of an individual though.

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