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Will liberty evolve with governance?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of evolving liberty with governance in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Socially Responsible Investing’.  I am often struck by these sorts of labels that imply an intention to work towards a better world.  But have they become weasel words, marketing-driven subjective descriptions that may be co-opted by those without an obligation or a plan to implement firm or agreed objectives? How can we promote or evolve human rights or liberty universally, or create a governance framework to allocate responsibility that can be clearly understood and delivered?

 

Human rights and liberty may evolve in the future though the use of global standards, long-term commercial goals and non-financial societal measures. This view focusses on the social accountability of the individual entity – a person, corporation, government or NGO for their own actions and is in line with the human rights paradigm of self-governance. Within this type of governance framework, the behaviour of the entity is observed and measured to ensure accountability. Liberty may evolve with honest governance that provides education, a robust and enforced justice system, and which upholds free speech.

 

A normalised common good for a community may develop where that community can be defined as ‘Earth’. We refer to all citizens of our planet as a global community, with all inhabitants enjoying equal human rights. The problem comes when human rights, as benefits or interests imposed by government or international rules, clash with human responsibility.

 

Responsibility is related to a duty or obligation for moral or legal purposes, and is assigned to you as a role. Moral responsibility or duty are concepts from a time before the Enlightenment, when civic virtue and social values were pre-eminent.  Duty ethics implies living by a set of rules, according to your duty to the society that you live in. This world view defines each person’s place in a hierarchy, whether as a ruler, religious leader or supplicant. These ethical theories are more powerful when considering a governance system that will care for a common good, such as our environment, or a social institution such as a culture or country.  The cultural aspect of the welfare of the community is dominant, over the rights or wishes of the individual.

 

Within a governance system that is respectful and nurturing to the individual and community, duty ethics can promote liberty.  However, in some cultures past and present, the governance system may be more concerned with enforcement of a defined duty within a social hierarchy, and may suppress individual liberty or exploit a person or a community for the ‘good’ of the hierarchically superior state.  Where this happens, there may be no recognisable individualism or recognition of human rights, as it is beyond the duty paradigm.

 

How do we morally reconcile egalitarian concepts of liberty and human rights with hierarchically-based duty and moral responsibility to ensure universal and equitable governance? This question underpins many global challenges that we face today, including care of our environment, responsible development of technology and natural resources, improving the living conditions for third world communities or ensuring inhabitants of our world are free to choose their own religion, lifestyle or family groupings.

 

The solution is to carefully integrate both liberty and duty ethics with an equal recognition of both, for the healthy functioning of the individual within the society that they live in.  Equitable governance will promote both liberty and duty in both a rational and a spiritual sense, looking at both short to long term development, and taking account of both high and low-level issues, complexities and inter-relationships.

 

Governance where the governed have input in shaping the governance and policy development process is a difficult process of finding consensus and reconciling many different points of view. The key is to follow an agreed framework that is able to benefit and validate all of these viewpoints within open and honest channels of communication, with a consideration of societal or collective normative values for the common good, truth and values.  Example frameworks that have been developed for this type of framework include ‘Communitarianism’ and ‘Commoning’.

 

An immediate need is common governance of the world’s natural environment.  A purely liberty-based view of governance based on ‘human rights’ may look to exploit the ecosystem for economic growth.  This may subsume all other considerations, including our duty to protect nature or our responsibility to preserve the world’s ecology for future generations.  The common and integrated view of environmental governance based on equivalent ‘rights’ and ‘duty’ allocates custodianship of countries and corporations for natural resource development, and specific responsibility for any social and ecological damage caused by economic production or consumption. This custodianship includes the duty of current generations to conserve the global environment for future generations. There are signs that future legal international frameworks will normalise explicit intergenerational environmental responsibility in equal measure to the legal status of human rights to ensure accountability for externalities of economic development, together with defined plans for delivery.

 

Technology can be used as an enabler of open and honest channels of communication and facilitate the transition from the extremes of individualistic liberty and hierarchical duty to a framework of the common good and universal governance. But how can technology judge what is open or honest?  And what if the technology includes artificial, autonomous systems or augmented intelligences that need to be factors within the framework of defining the common good?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  governance  liberty  rights 

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Can human rights preserve liberty?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Monday, June 24, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program asks if human rights can preserve liberty in her sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

How do we regard human rights and liberty now and in the future? Can our current understanding of human rights and values guide us toward a better understanding of the challenges that we face every day to our free choice and will, preventing harm to society?

 

Our current notions of individual liberty and human rights were developed through the Enlightenment in response to the separation of church and state, and in the mid-20th Century, in response to the terrible atrocities committed during World War 2 and beyond.  They reflect our growing awareness and action to remedy our appalling treatment of minority ethnicity, disabilities, women, refugees, and children, to prevent acts such as torture, unlawful incarceration and genocide. These principles were laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and in regional instruments like the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).  They lay the foundation of minimum protection of individuals and groups from the worst of humanity’s barbarism and to promote human life with freedom and dignity that is conducive to our physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare.

 

Our personal liberty is to be bounded only by these international and regional agreements for the purpose of respecting other people’s right to freedom, civil order and the welfare of society. This includes of the right to privacy, protection of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, opinion and expression. These agreements prohibit any propaganda for war, or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that provides incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. 

 

The International Declarations and Covenants protections came into force in 1976, ensuring legal enforcement by all signatory parties. Together with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (2015), these agreements show the most noble aspect of human values that we aspire to uphold and promote for current and future generations’ rights and liberty. In this context, this includes the right to economic, civil, cultural, political and social development.

 

Yet despite these intentions, in today’s society we see outcomes of commercial or State enterprise that undermine the intentions of our human rights.  These outcomes subvert the free will of the individual and promote hatred, racism and violence within society.

 

For regular Internet users, our access to vast amounts of information promotes our sense of liberty, and amplifies the reach of our free speech and commercial opportunities.  However, covertly our online presence is tracked and inundated with incentives to buy products, and to think or behave in a certain way. These incentives are curated through computer algorithms that follow our online entries, forming a profile as a basis of commercial business models that look to inform or change the way we would otherwise entertain our free will or action.  Through lack of active prevention, these algorithms also foster online prejudice, racism and hate, drawing followers of like mind toward vilification, creating bullying, intimidation and racist propaganda which spreads throughout the online and physical world.

 

Human rights and values are supplanted with short-term exploitation of human liberty for profit gain, for manipulation and misuse.  Our freedom to make personal choice and lifestyle is eroded or falsified, and those who may do harm seem incentivised.

 

Our Human Rights of the present and future must be based on custodial governance over our present liberty and resources in order to preserve our humane society for current and future generations. We must govern our commercial and State enterprises for social benefit as well as profit, and protect the community and individual in accordance with our Human Rights and societal values. 

 

Global Human Rights commissions and various standards associations are now beginning to recognise these online violations, and seek to redress this gap by defining emerging codes of conduct for our online service providers and developers. These new conventions seek to make the latter accountable for the ‘unintended’ consequences of their business models, and to include human values in the design of online innovations.

 

Commercial enterprise innovation and growth is now being incentivised by global standards towards developing long-term commercial goals and non-financial societal measures for which they may be held accountable and protects Human Rights. Society is endorsing through positive investments in sustainable enterprises. This facilitates the path toward liberty in the face of challenges brought about by our modern world. But how will our governance and policy mechanisms evolve in the future to ensure liberty?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  liberty  rights  society 

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Does religious freedom constrain liberty?

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 10, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines personal liberty in the light of religious freedom through her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


In today’s world, people of faith are seeking to preserve their practices of religion. These practices are generally based on conservative traditions and observances developed over hundreds, even thousands of years throughout various geo-political settings. They are often based on the belief in a higher purpose, being, god or gods and the commandments to behave in a certain way, and to educate their children within the religion.  They seek to protect their own against a confusing and threatening multiplicity of opinions and lifestyles. This is against typographic negative portrayals of the ‘other’, clinging to the mythical stories that they were raised with to cope with societal change.

 

Enshrined Human Rights practices allow freedom of religious thought and practice at the individual and collective level, as long as that practice does not interfere with the individual’s other human rights which may be encoded in law.  This sets boundaries for religious freedom, with many modern examples highlighting conflicts such as religious recognition of contraception, honor killing and non-heterosexual marriage.  In the eyes of the law, freedom to hold a view is absolute, but freedom to act on that view is constrained by other Human Rights. A ‘free society’ is one that allows freedom to think, debate and challenge the dominant beliefs system without fear of reprisal, as long as individuals and collective groups are not harmed as a result. 

 

In today’s society, the more conservative religious viewpoints argue that past traditions provided guidance and wisdom for current practice and lifestyle, carried through generations. These practices of faith are derived from divine providence or right.  These beliefs may provide protection against the uncertainties of change, as they have ‘stood the test of time’. Where this leads to crisis is where the conservative religious belief specifically rejects change and this may put it into conflict with changed societal views of morality and human rights. A resilient society will allow adaptation, integration and growth of belief and practice where these make sense, to support future generations’ health and well-being. A healthy society is one that looks to the future for sustainability. It derives wisdom from the past on what worked or didn’t, and is guided from a mature integration of cultural, social, intentional and behavioral practices and beliefs, rather than setting absolute rules on that basis.

 

In the post-scarcity future, it is postulated that the current resource crises may be overcome, and people’s basic needs will be met. Such a society may support the freedom of association of individuals with collective beliefs without the necessity to band together over scarce living supplies. This society may move beyond the need for the human rights recognition that the historical Enlightenment gave rise to.  Evolved from the separation of Church and State, the common law provided protection of individual rights and promotion of individual liberty of belief.

 

Such an evolutionary society will promote wisdom beyond the traditional tribal and magical worldview of religious belief and practice.  It will evolve into

a society that promotes a common recognition that the core of all religions and beliefs contain a series of trans-personal, trans-rational practices that seek a higher level of wisdom and being. With this evolution, true freedom will be found through individual and collectivist transformation to a holistic worldview of human flourishing. This will promote liberty of the mind, soul and spirit in the pursuit of higher purpose for being. But in this scenario, will we still need to define and enforce Human Rights?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  liberty  religion  rights 

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Is liberty compatible with public safety?

Posted By Website Admin, Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the compatibility of liberty with public safety in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


It seems that in today’s world our security and safety are constantly under threat. Every day brings more tragic news of innocent people murdered, women killed by strangers or beaten by violent husbands, children co-opted for economic or political gains, racists and extremist views given undue publicity. Political expediency demands quick response by governments to prevent such occurrences. They trade off our personal liberty for the good of public safety and security. The outcomes may make us temporarily feel safer, but actually apply discrimination or restriction upon society’s minority groups, the women and children at risk, restriction of freedom of expression or lifestyle for those under threat in order to secure their safety.

 

Many people argue that there is always a trade-off between liberty and safety, between freedom and security. Others suggest that safety response must cut through any considerations of liberty, and restrictions on minority groups must take priority for the good of the society. Still others think that security is a pre-requisite for liberty and freedom, to protect the collective well-being. A well-defined barrier will prevent ‘evil’ from seeping into society, so we can all sleep well at night.

 

Safety through restriction doesn’t necessarily mitigate the risk, and can bring unintended consequences that can harm long-term liberty. A well-intended curtailment of freedom for the sake of protection can turn into a vicious cycle of ever greater restrictions of liberty. We are told that the girl who is murdered in an alley shouldn’t have been wandering in the dark alone. The man with the funny headdress or dark skin is to be feared or discredited because he is one of the ‘other’ and shouldn’t be living amongst us. The evil of fear grows and ferments within our society, and no barrier can keep it out.

 

By engaging in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s two-toned notion of personal liberty as both freedom from oppression (safety) and freedom to do what we want to do (liberty), we see a symbiotic relationship between safety and liberty. Their practices must exist together and evolve sustainably over time. Every citizen must be equally free and safe to reach their potential in accordance with human rights principles for today’s societal needs. Future generations must similarly be accorded the same rights. This can only occur in an open, just and inclusive society, where we recognise our bonds and obligations to our fellow human beings and their individual rights within an integrated society.

 

In order to promote human flourishing, we need to recognise and celebrate the diversity and temporal position that we hold in our universe. We must undertake custodial responsibility as a society to look after the security and safety of our environment, the food, water, shelter, energy and climate that we all need to survive. We must create a virtuous cycle whereby the positive contributions of all humanity can be celebrated, protected and encouraged.

 

We must promote both liberty and public safety with a long view to the consequences of today’s decisions on today’s complex society, as well as tomorrow’s generations, their health and their environment. So, liberty is absolutely compatible with public safety, but only if we recognise and share a common and equal entitlement to these aspirations. But does that mean that we must all believe in the same thing? How then does religious freedom affect personal liberty?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  freedom  liberty  rights 

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Is liberty compatible with capitalism?

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 22, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the compatibility of liberty with capitalism in her third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

The current economic theory of the ‘free market economy’ and capitalism requires a world of scarce or finite resources, together with ‘infinite wants’ of the consumer, in order to work. Scarce resources drive consumer acquisition and increases the market value of the resources. This balances nicely with a key tenet of the liberal view: the freedom to acquire whatever you want, even (or especially) at the expense of others.

 

The free market economy with unconstrained and unrestricted growth at all cost is now impinging on the freedoms and livelihoods of others. This effect occurs within the market supply chains who manufacture and supply goods, services and natural resources. It occurs with those who do not have the means to afford current market value. This causes even greater scarcity in key earthly resources such as food, water, mineral deposits and energy. It also has a clear link to climate change.

 

We have the strange paradox of capitalist freedom of acquisition that leads to the undermining of liberty and human rights of others. This has been the pattern as long as the market economy has operated throughout history. Whilst the individual is encouraged to be competitive and individualistic, from a spiritual point of view consumerism proves to be an empty vessel that contains no nourishment. Capitalism promotes ‘happiness’ through acquisition of money and goods over community and individual spiritual prosperity and growth. It undermines the public ‘good’.

 

What other models can we consider going into the future that can promote liberty and freedom? It is interesting to explore some models that reverse the paradigms that we live within today and speculate on futures driven under different mental models for both liberty and economic good.

 

One model that we see today is the governance-driven capitalism model, where societal benefit is promoted alongside profit. This can be seen for example in the ‘B-CORP’ model, where capitalist endeavours can be nurtured spiritually by knowledge that they are promoting good in the world, or at least not causing harm.

 

Others observe that the future will evolve into a post-scarcity economy, where resources are abundant through greater utility and efficiency of innovation, and digitisation will provide both basic and greater needs of the world’s population. This is predicated upon greater information about the world we live in. However, when the commodity underpinning the economy is data or information, where will ownership lie?

 

Another model suggested is that of ‘Commoning’, where ownership and control of resources is participatory. Resources are protected from sale in the market and belong indefinitely to the community that created them or nurtured them - in the same way that a river might be maintained by communities along its banks, instead of being consumed or sold by a third party to outside interests. In such a model, data would be owned and consumed by those that generate it.

 

In all of these models, how will the desire of the individual to acquire at the expense of the community be balanced with the community good? One presumes in the manner that this has always been resolved, through some form of political governance, either provided internally by the community, or presided over by a benevolent external body. Benevolent governance seeks to balance the needs and wants of a community against the resources generated or available. It seeks to regulate the internal and external stakeholders’ interests against moral or ethical dilemmas.

 

Accountable benevolence, ethics, morality and human rights must be clearly defined in accordance to a normalised common good. This clarifies what the community finds tolerable for the welfare, safety, security and health of the community members. The result is the antithesis of capitalism, to which liberty is incompatible.

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  capitalism  economics  liberty 

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