The essential myth of conservative, libertarian free-market ideologues is
that freedom is practiced exclusively by individuals–and that “society” is
an artifice, or merely the sum of individual behavior, with no
meta-qualities of its own–and that individuals practice freedom primarily,
if not solely, for economic gain. Thus the myth of the hacker as a
preeminent symbol of libertarian virtue, and, not suprisingly, many if not
most hackers are political and economic libertarians. This ethos stands
against an alternative view of freedom, that freedom is practiced primarily
as a social phenomenon, and that individuals benefit by living in free
societies, but it is because the society as a whole expresses freedom that
people live up to their potential. This is the classic dichotomy between
freedom from constraint, which is what the libertarians view freedom as
exclusively, and the freedom to be, which some people call “positive”
freedom, or part of the “expressivist” tradition. The latter tradition also
views freedom as the ability to pursue higher goals than simple economic
wealth or enhanced consumption. We–I include myself in this
tradition–regard the libertarians as advocating a society of atomized,
largely asocial individuals who have nothing on their minds except getting
rich. Sitting in front of a computer all day and all night, as dispersed
individuals interacting only in “virtual communities,” seems to lend itself
to the libertarian mind-set. Getting out of the house, working with others
in common purpose, and believing in the elevating qualities of collective
experience, seems to lend itself to the alternative mind-set. The question
becomes what our utopia might look like: people arrayed, one by one, in
front of machines, or people working and playing together in cities and in
nature? Where are we “more free”?


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