Technology × Freedom

Despite Technology, Freedom Is Not Inevitable

July 31, 2017 invisiblehand

A good reminder from Mises Institute President Jeff Deist (forgive the length):

It has become trendy to imagine that technology creates a new paradigm, a new “third way” that will make government obsolete without the need for an intellectual shift. The digital age is so flat, so democratic, and so decentralized that it will prove impossible for inherently hierarchical states to control us. The free flow of information will make inevitable the free flow of goods and services, while unmasking tyrannies that can no longer keep the truth from their citizens.

While I certainly hope this is true, I’m not so sure. It seems to me that states are shifting from national to supra-national, that globalism in effect means more centralized control by an emerging cartel of allied states like the EU and NGOs — not to mention calls for a convergence of central banks under a global organization like the IMF. We should be suspicious of the determinist notion that there is an inevitable arc to human history.

And while we all benefit from the marvels of technological progress, and we especially welcome technology that makes it harder for the state to govern us — for example bitcoin or Uber or encryption — we should remember that advances in technology also make it easier for governments to spy on, control, and even kill the people under their control.

So I suspect that while humans continue to exist, their stubborn tendency to form governments will remain a problem. The choice between organizing human affairs by economic means or political means was not undone by the printing press, or the industrial revolution, or electricity, or any number of enormous technological advancements. So we can’t assume liberation via the digital revolution.

As much as it feels this way to some of us, a belief in the moral and practical value of personal freedom is not innate. Humanity doesn't naturally tend toward loving freedom. Like other political philosophies, freedom must be fought for, defended, and convincingly articulated to others. We can't rely on new technologies alone to save humanity from oppressive forces. All revolutions - bad or good - start with an idea so compelling that it is worth living and dying for. Technology is merely a tool. Freedom is the glorious idea.