On Freedom

Quoting Michael Ignatieff:
[Isaiah Berlin's] definition of freedom as negative liberty, with the strong emphasis on the absence of coercion, is an absolutely central idea through everything he thought. He said somewhere that freedom is a chilly virtue – freedom is not particularly nice and what people do with their freedom is not particularly nice. It's not justice, it's not equality, it's not a warm bath – it's just freedom. And yet it's the most important human value, because it's the human value that respects individuals in all their singularity.....One of the freedoms that Isaiah valued, which is not very popular, was the freedom not to be a political animal. The luxury of a truly free society is that political involvement is a choice, not an obligation.
This dovetails with a few thoughts I've been having recently about liberalism and conservatism. I may have written on them before, but even so there's a new step to take. Liberalism (and I know the word has baggage but I won't give it up) is primarily about how we envision the world as it should be: a place of goodness, or joy, where woman meets woman and man meets man in a celebration of all that is wise and just, etc, etc. Or just a place where people don't starve or live without rights. It's about where we could be. Conservatism, on the other hand, is about what is, right now. It is about the real: the facts that there is greed, and there is crime, and government can be as much an agent of that as a fixer. It looks upon government as another flawed actor in the system, instead of the change agent that liberalism might see. I don't know if today's conservatives quite fit this description, but since I can't really figure out a policy that's not arithmetically possible, I'm keeping with this definition and hoping that the GOP recovers some relationship with facts and stuff. The beauty of the system above is that conflict is inevitable: liberals always seek to change things, while conservatives are wary. But when both sides align, change is possible. It's like the liberals are the House of Representatives - rabble rousing, and filled with ideas, while the conservatives are the Senate - slower acting, less responsive, but required for ratification. Because ultimately each side needs each other - conservatives know that changes must occur as circumstances shift, and liberals need to know how to sell ideas in ways that respect fundamental human psychology - the endless and inane e-mails I get from Planet Obama are calibrated to be opened by the greatest numbers, even if they lack the high-brow content I would totally gobble up. there just aren't enough voting nerds out there with my kinds of interests. So this is all frustrating, though, because then we have a two-party style system where it can be hard to reform with nuance - there is room for basically two public ideas on a topic at a time. Moreover, and more generally, the laws of human interaction are real (though they vary across cultures), and that means frustration for those out of lockstep. That's why tolerance and the freedom to isolate oneself from politics is so important. Freedom sometimes allows bad things to happen - conservatives know and respect this - but it also allows liberals to try out ideas without worry that they can't return later to the dominant way of doing things. And when ideas work, they can be adopted.