Cone of freedom

By dkl9, written 2023-164, revised 2023-211 (2 revisions)

Some people speak of a spectrum of societal freedom. On one end lies anarchy; on the other end lies Nineteen Eighty-Four. Between those endpoints would go, perhaps, America, typical Europe, contemporary China, and North Korea, in that order.

An understandable simplification, this leaves out important details, tempting one to misleading conclusions. The most common such wrong conclusion is a swift rejection of various probably-beneficial policies (environmental protection, public-dominant transportation, communal acoustic improvement, and the like), from the observation that, by introducing restrictions, such policies bring a society closer to the Obviously Bad and Unfree end of that spectrum.

I'm not about to deny that Nineteen Eighty-Four, and its neighbours on that spectrum, like North Korea, are indeed Obviously Bad. But that spectrum model needs revision. Freedom and the lack thereof is not a line, but a cone. (This analogy isn't quite right. The correct analogy involves annoying combinatorics and isn't helpful enough to make up for it.)

cone as described in text

At the tip of the cone is total anarchy. At the base disk is a range of many types of restrictive societies, arising from many sets of things to restrict. Those rejecting restriction-based policies think of a single path from the tip to one point on the base. We who promote a restrictive policy intended a point in the cone entirely off that path.

Reduced freedom looks bad sith it's a convenient strategy for citizen-enslaving, ruler-benefitting governments. But it's also essential, in a different form, to the best strategies for a citizen-focused, honestly-run government. Reversed evil is not goodness. When you know the full details of the case (the real effects of a policy), do not judge it by a crude and misleadingly one-dimensional proxy variable (its reduction or preservation of freedom).

(There were other claims here, now revised out, having recognised them as epistemically careless with the help of LessWrong commenters.)