Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Philosophy and Freedom

I just got back from the year's first Philosophy Club meeting. Our
normal meeting place, a cozy coffee shop, was closed because a tornado
knocked out its electricity. So we went to a pizza place instead. It
was louder, and did not have the furniture to pull into a circle, so
we talked about random things in smaller groups.

On one end of the table was me, an undergraduate philosophy major, a
blue-haired Syrian atheist, and a Sikh astrophysics Ph.D. who got off
the plane from India two weeks ago. We had an excellent conversation.

Most of it was driven by the undergraduate asking naive questions like
'What is the drinking age in India?' (Answer: Whenever you are old
enough to get the money to buy it) We got lots of interesting
accounts of life in developing countries, involving stealing
electricity, bribing police, running your own phone lines across
several city blocks, bribing tax collectors, throwing wild parties for
less than ten dollars, bribing police, etc.

It seemed, through most of the conversation, that the theme was that
you could get away with almost anything if you had cash and savvy.
But when the undergraduate asked what people in India thought about
America. The Sikh was quick to respond, "In America you have so much
freedom. You can do anything, say anything, and wear anything you
want." The Syrian added, "Here, people might look at you funny, but
that's all. Nobody yells at you or hassles you."

It was a good illustration of how the rule of law preserves the
freedoms that really matter.

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