We want guarantees in life. We are risk-reducing creatures who want to plan and plot and know as much in advance as possible. We want tight and definite parameters around the possible outcomes of our actions and our world. Whether we like it or not, they don’t exist. Still, we persist in fabricating them and acting offended when people acknowledge the impossibility of our desired guarantees.
I recently heard two libertarian philosophers discussing social justice. One made the case that social justice is a good goal, and that it is congruent with liberty because a truly free society results in the best-case scenario for the least well-off; something even John Rawls would approve of. He said free-marketers should proudly fight for social justice and remind the world that a free economy will improve the absolute conditions of the poor more than anything else.
The other philosopher responded by saying the world is awash in guarantees We are not suffering for want of guarantees, but for want of opportunity. He said guarantees create expectations; when these are not met, they result in complaints, frustration, blame and disillusionment. We needn’t coddle the unrealistic desire for a sure thing, but encourage an embrace of the risk and uncertainty in life and the courage to create and try even when the end results are unknown.
Even if it is true that free-markets result in better lives for the poor, is it really helpful to make the case for freedom to specific individuals as one that promises this? To say that freedom will make you better off is appealing to everyone, because everyone wants a guarantee. And it is correct in a general sense. But the truth is no system – not a free society or a totalitarian one – can guarantee a specific outcome to specific individuals. Will markets produce better results than interventionism? You bet. But can either system promise what will happen to each individual? No way. To hinge the case for liberty on guarantees is to utilize the same false advertising tyrants have been using since time immemorial.
Liberty is beautiful. It promises nothing but the freedom to be, to act, to try, to create, to produce. It does not promise what effects will follow cause, only that cause will be unimpeded so long as it does not impede anyone else. The desire for a guarantee is the very desire that causes people to tolerate and advocate their own enslavement. This desire itself is dangerous. Better to disabuse oneself of the myth of a guarantee.
Anyone who’s done sales knows the danger of relying on expected results instead of actual results. Don’t count the money until the check clears. If you cultivate a guarantee loving mindset, you’ll find yourself bitter at all the unrealized expectations in life. You will feel as though everyone, society, the system, or reality itself is your enemy. Really, by choosing to accept the unreality of guarantees, it is you who have made yourself the enemy of what is. Why? It accomplishes nothing but to stunt your own creative and cooperative capacity and replace it with an adversarial outlook towards your fellow man.
The world is uncertain. We seek to make the most out of it and eliminate hardships, but every course of action only brings probabilities of success, not guarantees. That’s OK. In fact, it’s wonderful once we make our peace with it. Stop debating which ideas can guarantee what, and embrace the fact that guarantees are a serum that slows us down from acting to achieve our ends. After all, it is the process of seeking just as much as the ends we seek that brings fulfillment Guarantees put all the emphasis on the sought, and none on the seeking. Even if our ends are realized, this mindset deprives us of half the joy.
I am not making the case that freedom ought only to be embraced because it’s “right”; far from it. Freedom will produce better outcomes than statism, and this is the best reason to advocate it. But what those outcomes are specifically, and how the manifest in each individual’s life is unknown, just as the results of statisms deprivations and favors are unknown. What is knowable is the fact that freedom produces an outcome for every individual that no system of control and dependency ever could; but it is not an external or material outcome. It is a sense of pride, of life, of self-worth that is impossible in a system built on false guarantees and dispensations from authorities. The freedom to experience the effects of one’s cause, regardless of whether it is for good or ill, produces a sturdiness and fullness that humans need to be fully human. The dignity of uncertain freedom is orders of magnitude greater for the human soul than the patronizing promises of central planning.