In the tradition of naming entries after Gerry Rafferty songs , I would like to examine the issue of downstream effects on life. In particular, I would like to examine the justice of two distinct sets of consequences that serve to influence our world. Those who know me well understand my intense but rather complicated thoughts about the nature of freedom . Rather than discuss merely political freedom, though, I would like to examine the matter of personal freedom, and the ways in which our freedoms as people exist within the framework of a great deal of influence, some of it towards restraint, and some of it in the form of inducement towards that which we might want already. How are these related to each other?
This evening, after work, I wanted to post my latest book tour reading on Amazon.com . I somewhat absent-mindedly looked up “Citizen” hoping to see the book I had read and reviewed, and instead I found the Citizen brand of eco-friendly watches that I have seen occasionally advertised. This was not what I was looking for, and I repeated my search, only further refined to screen out the watches and find the book that I was looking to review, which I did on my third effort. Unfortunately, my errant search that ended up finding watches ended up leading Facebook to advertise Citizen watches to me not long after I had seen it in error on Amazon. This is not an isolated situation; indeed, I regularly see (and not only on Facebook, but all over the web) advertisements for me to buy books that I already own, and have read and reviewed for free. I tend to be greatly offended that websites try to induce me into buying something just because I have looked for it. I tend to have a good idea of what I want and what I do not want, and dislike being coerced to go into a particular direction by others. In fact, I tend to feel fairly fiercely about being coerced, and generally have to restrain myself in such circumstances to avoid responding in extreme choler in the knowledge that others believe they are doing well and would be deeply hurt and offended by my own sensitivity to coercion, even if my own life experiences show that this sensitivity is not an unreasonable one.
Coercion does not only lie in the direction of inducing, though. At times, coercion lies in the direction of restraint. Is it legitimate to deny the freedom to choose for those who are not judged as competent to choose well? All societies, in some fashion, restrain freedom to certain people. Some people, as a result of developmental difficulties, never are judged to be competent to behave as an adult, because for their own safety they require protection from some sort of guardian. This is the case, most famously, for Britney Spears, whose father serves as her guardian despite the fact that she is a wealthy and popular singer and a parent herself. This is the case for prisoners as well, who are judged for their own safety, as well as the well-being of others (like governments or other citizens) as requiring the guardianship of a particularly coercive sort. Although I am no libertarian, and I see restrictions on the freedom of mankind when that freedom is used to harm others, I am troubled by the ease by which we seek to coerce others in negative ways as well, rather than seeking to encourage and model the development of self-discipline by which we restrain ourselves from harming ourselves and others, so as not to require others to coerce us.
What these two stories share are issues of the downstream effects of coercion. In this life we are subject to pressures from all directions. We are pressured to do some things and not do others, to buy things, to like things and dislike other things. We pay lip service to individual freedom, but all too often we are faced with pressure from those who wish to influence our behavior to do what is beneficial and convenient for others and not necessarily for ourselves. We are faced with arm-twisting from those who believe they know better. Sometimes they may even be right. Yet we remain responsible for our own actions, seeking wise counsel in a dangerous world full of competing pushes and pulls, striving to find our own way to the dignity and honor and happiness that we seek for our own lives, even as we seek to respect the rights of others to act according to their own wishes as well. It is no wonder that our lives are so complicated as we wrestle with these pressures and tensions.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: