Ideas from a Hut

For the Jewish holiday of the sukkot, I have a post containing some of my thoughts on freedom and Judaism (going through some other points on our route).

Anarchism: When I say Anarchism, I mean the classical socialist Anarchism. The central belief underlying Anarchism is that power corrupts — and therefore lack (a-) of a (power) hierarchy (a-archos, or anarchy). Therefore, the only solution is to dissolve the state. But dissolving the state creates a power-vaccuum which allows even worse state-like entities. Anarchism comes with belief that people should be responsible for their own morality, so as to not need power-hierarchies to enforce the law. The methods in bringing about the Anarchist utopia differ in various Anarchist substream, but all believe that the Anarchist utopia is possible and desirable — a state of state-less (pardon the pun) unenforced morality. The Anarchist believes that true freedom, freedom from the state, comes with responsibility for one’s own morality. Freedom is freedom from outside punishments and rewards, but is based on an internal moral compass that is as much a slave driver as any legal system.

Discordia: Discordia is often described as a “parody religion” or a “joke religion”. However, its teachings are real and serious as much as they are a parody. Discordia teaches us that we are already free, if we only believe it. Nobody can force us to be a slave against our will. People can hurt us, people can bribe us, but nobody can tell us what to do if we do not agree to be slaves. (There are other aspects to Discordia, but this is what is relevant to the discussion at hand.

Benjamin Franklin:: Franklin said “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. This relates directly to the Discordia teaching us about freedom — freedom is a state of mind. It is easily sold for safety, or convenience, but those sales are always a bad idea.

Judaism: I have long maintained that thinking of Judaism as a religious tradition is misleading. A better understanding of Judaism comes from thinking of it as a legal Judaism. Judaism is a code of morality, and it has been that way from the beginning. The “monotheistic revolution” is poorly named — it is not about the number of Gods, but about God as a moral agent, not merely a supernatural creature to appease through offerings.

In the bible, one of the most important scenes is when the Hebrews ask for a king “like all the other nation”. If you ever read Hobbes’ Leviathan, this should strike you as familiar — the people are asking for a king to protect them from each other. God’s answer? God’s answer is the modern answer to Hobbes. God gives a grudging yes, but warns that an unchecked power in the king will lead to corruption, which soon becomes reality in Solomon, wise yet corrupt. Later on society progressed into democracy, but democracy is still only a way to keep checks on corruption, but it does not eliminate the power. We ask for a state to keep us from harming each other, and it comes with a cost.

But Judaism, a legal tradition, is specifically a tradition not based on rewards and punishment (the mishna teaches us that we must fulfill the mitzvahs without expecting a reward). Much like the Anarchist creed, it is about being moral out of a sense of personal responsibility, not out of fear of punishment. Judaism, like Anarchism, is a utopist philosophy. It believes in bringing about the days of the messiah by getting everyone in the world to be moral people.

Sukkot: Sukkot, like Passover, commemorates the exodus. In both of these holidays, we must give up a little convenience, and a little safety, to remember that freedom does not come without sacrifices. In both of those we force ourselves to be slaves to an internal law, in order to make sure that we never take the easy way out of being slaves to men.

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One Response to Ideas from a Hut

  1. Ben N says:

    I really admire the way you combine deep commitments to Judaism and to modern rationality here in a way that’s coherent and meaningful and totally different from how I’ve done so.

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