PERSPECTIVE ON LIBERTY (1987)

Chapter 1 - MOTIVATION

I grew up in the 1950's and 1960's with a particular, protected notion of liberty: the right to control my own life and to choose significant others on my own terms.

My culture reinforced this notion, as I grew up. I saw excellence in acadmeic work and good workmanship in a subsequent computer career, as a way to ensure personal independence. Then, particularly during the 1970's, there developed increased political affirmation of individual privacy rights, such as a the right of a woman to "choose" not to continue a pregnancy, and the (attempted) repeal of sodomy laws and increased acceptance of homosexuals. At the same time, there was an attitude among young professionals, particularly, that life was to be enjoyed and experienced without the "moral" restraints that seemed irrational, arbitrary, and hypocritical. Society seemed willing to adopt a sensible belief that one may do as one pleases with one's own life as long as one does not interfere with the same right of others.

About the same time, economic and political instability began to undermine such underpinnings of personal self-confidence. The Vietnam war, of course, made many people question the integrity of our "national" purposes and the morality of "complicity" with the "system" to further one's own career. It underscored "class" differences in a poignant way, in that disadvantaged young men became "cannon fodder" for the war. In the script of the 1986 film Platoon there is a line that "poor kids fight for rich men's wars." One could add that the poor fought in Vietnam disproportionately even compared to the "fat, decadent" middle class. Vietnam also started the inflation which made us wonder whether we were living beyond our means. During the mid 1970's, we had sever inflation ad recession ("stagflation"), partly due to oil shortages which, history proved, were largely contrived. More recently, falling commodity prices and "deflation" have created their own problems, leading again to unemployment, personal disruption, and ruined livelihoods for many individuals and families. During the same period of "deflation," we have seen the rise of the "religious right," which, coupled with epidemics of drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, have provided apparent justification for all the old moralistic notions about personal behavior and even motivation. In general, the economic, social and political climate of the late 1980's does not seem good for personal freedoms, especially for people who do not "conform."

People tend to react to these situations by appealing to politics. To remedy economic and social injustices, build up coalitions with sufficient political strength to force fundamental changes to the "system."

Of course, this is understandable and sometimes appropriate, but I think that there is a more fundamental aspect, having to do with individual motivation, and a major purpose of this (now on-line) book is to develop the notion of personal responsibility.

I propose a simple principle that underlies much that goes wrong. In our culture, people wrongfully and deliberately prioritize satisfying themselves over meeting the real needs of others. Arguable, enlightened self-interest is morally appropriate and psychologically healthy when it is concomitant with genuine human commitments and obedience to or faith in a Supreme Being. But we "me generation" people have believed that we can direclty plan our lives based on just what we want for ourselves. For people of intellectual persuasion (like me), this tendency may lead to aloofness and retreat to fanatsy; for others, it tends to lead to habits of immediate sensual or material gratification, such as drug abuse, sexual promiscuity (and resulting diseases), or, in business settings, outright dishonesty. In general, the attitude leads to expectations or transcending one's reality (and perhaps human limitations) in ways that are destructive when done by large numbers of people.

So will "accountability for the self" become an andequate principle?