Reading time: 5 min. | Don’t let freedom become a mega-fact.
Recently, I was, again, involved in one of the usual meat consumption need-to-be-less conversations. As my friends know, I am a proponent of the idea that global meat consumption is likely the biggest and most urgent problem to be solved. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but none of my peers would want to argue that meat consumption is problem-free, given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But accepting the consequences or at least considering abandoning the barbecuing hobby as an option in the foreseeable future, doesn’t work. At any costs, the situation has to be put into perspective for the problem to hopefully finally disappear again.
For this purpose, the entire playbook of populism is activated. The first step is an appeal to empathy with a conciliatory, but it tastes so delicious. Most of the time, it is then realised, without much argument, that gusto has little merit in justifying the end of the world. Then comes the saddling up, trying to take power away from the facts. Now some kind of whataboutism is brought into play, in most cases directly ad hominem (that’s me), e.g., you flew to Portugal the other day. You can eat a lot of steaks from that fingerprint. If that doesn’t work because I emphasise the fact that breeding pigs are independent of air traffic, then they up their game with the ultimate nuclear argument: it is my freedom to eat as much meat as I want! From then on I regularly drop out and try to direct the debate to Barbie dolls.
It seems that the discussion about meat consumption and factory farming with all its grave consequences is, in reality, a subliminal conversation about the concept of freedom. It’s about personal preferences, turning the principle of freedom into a social ideology to gain leverage in the debate. In an open society, freedom as the supreme principle is the beginning and end of every discussion when its foundations are shaken. When freedom is under threat so is the open society (that works, of course, also the other way round). And this is precisely what the discussion about meat consumption does. It shakes foundations.
But which foundations are shaken? The right to eat as much meat as you want? The right to breed, kill and sell as many pigs as the market allows within the limits of the law?
But that is not what this is all about. It is about turning the universal principle of freedom into an ideology, at best into a socially sacrosanct mega-fact. And that is dangerous. Because ideologies always follow, as the word idea in ideology implies, an idea, a thought, and not a principle, such as truth, which as a principle is necessarily the result of facts. Furthermore, ideologies are also justifications of certain social groups to propagate certain things to avoid or to forbid. A well-known example is the unrealistic ideology of communism. In the past, as a justification for their tyranny, the compelling idea that people are equal and everything belongs to everyone was used as a pretext by many dictators, and partly still is today.
The people of the USA had founded their nation on the principle of freedom in 1788, one year before the French Revolution, and see the process of nation building as a never-ending development of American society. Because no ideology but the principle of freedom as a universal human right is the basis of the American Constitution, there is no other goal of development except that freedom must not be restricted — a never-ending process with no destination.
If one follows this thought, it becomes clear that ideologies want precisely the opposite. With their underlying ideas, they mark a beginning, which also projects the middle and end at the same time — if one tries to understand history as a story on a timeline. Ideologies may sound suitable for promoting vital developments but that is only true until the premise of the underlying doctrine is reached. In history, the question “what then” has been mostly been answered with an authoritarian regime.
When freedom is turned into an ideology, the end of the discussion, no matter what the facts are, is already pre-projected because of it’s power as a mega-fact. If freedom is not a principle but a discussion argument, it is, like all arguments, open to debate. If freedom is up for debate, it is in danger of losing its nature as a principle (I know I’m repeating myself but it’s crucial to bring to mind that freedom is a principle).
If that is the case, we are hardly worth the freedom we enjoy. We undermine our freedom by interpreting it unilaterally to our advantage. We make the term freedom an ace up our sleeve for fraud against ourselves and the future of our children. That way, freedom will slip out of our hands unnoticed, and many things we never wanted will become possible. Freedom is not a given, it must be won anew every day, even in open societies organised democratically and in, well, freedom. The fight for freedom is also the fight for truth because both are principles and not ideas. If truth becomes negotiable, our freedom is also available on the market to the highest bidder.