There is no freedom, only accidents
International law, the guarantee of human rights, the right to free speech, the right to blow the whistle on criminality and the right to freely publish all exist in theory, but they do not exist in practice. When the exercising of basic freedoms occurs without a negative consequence, this is typically the result of one of the following:
1. Incompetence on the part of authorities whose de facto duty it is to curtail and quash freedom in order to sustain a monopoly on violence.
2. The phenomenon of authorities allowing for an arbitrary exercising of freedom among anti-authority individuals in order to give people a false sense of security as to their own rights.
The reason for this is because from the perspective of authority, it is easier to allow someone pugnaciously attached to their freedom to ‘expose themselves’ rather than to spend the time and money to have such people exposed by the powers that be.
3. A cost-benefit analysis taken by the state in order to determine whose freedom is worth spending time, money and effort in order to stifle and whose freedom is simply not worthy expending effort in order to quash.
It is item three that tends to be most pervasive in states with a sophisticated intelligence/secret police apparatus.
Monopoly on violence minus ethics
Max Weber defined the power of statehood as the ability to exercise a monopoly on violence (Gewaltmonopol des Staates). In theory, this does not necessarily mean that the state will behave unethically but just that factions which would have otherwise used violence as a means of attaining a narrow goal will be forced to submit to a state which can either use its monopoly on violence to enforce peace and order or alternatively to consecrate an environment harmful to those who would stand to benefit from a more free and de-centralised social environment.
To be fair to Weber, he felt that ideally the monopoly on violence will be the state’s way to protect people from lawlessness and chaos. In reality however, the monopoly on violence cuts both ways.
Your freedom is nothing more than the state’s cost-benefit analysis
In practice, all states use the monopoly on violence to advance their material interests. This is the case even when the advancing of the state’s material interests are cloaked in ideological slogans. Therefore, the differences which exist between states are matters of how a sovereign entity chooses to execute the monopoly on violence. Some states pursue their interests in a way that is generally beneficial to the people and some do not. This is the only reason why some states are benign whilst others advance their interests through acts of extreme malignancy.
In general, these differences are best defined by an individual state’s cost-benefit analysis when it comes to curtailing the freedom of those who exercise their freedom to challenge authority.
If someone challenges authority by confiding to a family member of his or her disdain for the powers that be, few states could enforce their will against such an individual for the simple reason that the individual’s free expression is known only to one person or to a very small group of people who have no desire to amplify the initial expression.
If one uses his or her freedom to shout anti-authority statements on the pavement, such a person may experience a temporary and largely inconsequential punishment (a small fine, a brief detention or a mild beating) or otherwise such an individual will simply be ignored by the authorises. This is the case because it would typically not be worth the while of the state to severely punish someone who had the potential to be influential but who in all likelihood will not have any significant impact on wider social developments.
Here one sees the classic cost-benefit analysis. By either doing little or nothing to punish someone attempting to have his or her anti-authority statements heard, the state is banking on the fact that such an individual hasn’t made any great social impact and likely never will.
Sometimes the state gets this cost benefit analysis wrong but typically materially advanced states get it right. This is why those who are less important than Julian Assange are actually allowed to say things far more objectively controversial than that which Julian Assange said and published. The state is more threatened by a mild anti-authority message shouted loudly than a deeply anti-authority message that is scarcely audible to the public at large.
If however, one uses large media platforms, including and especially the internet to spread anti-authority messages to the wider public, something will most certainly be done by the state to punish the person amplifying an anti-state message. Insofar as this is the case, the powers that be have several options when confronting someone using his or her freedom to loudly amplify such an anti-authority message.
–Erode the individual’s credibility through personal attacks.
These character assassinations could be based on true but immaterial behaviours that the individual engaged in or they could be based on utter falsehoods. Often times credibility damaging character assassinations are based on a combination of the two.
From the state’s perspective, the advantage of using such a method is that it can influence other would-be anti-authority speakers to permanently shut up. An imprisoned man soon disappears from the wider public consciousness and an executed man is soon buried and then forgotten. However, a living man who is embarrassed, humiliated and degraded is a walking warning to others: “do not say what I have said or your life will be rendered worthless and you shall live a life of misery”.
–Bribe the individual
In some cases, when it appears that an individual can be easily wooed by material gain, the authorities will try to rapidly silence such a person through a material bribe. This method can work to rapidly silence someone whose exercising of human freedom disrupts the authorities.
The advantage of this method to the powers that be is that to the ordinary member of the public, it appears that the individual ceased using his or her freedom to make anti-authority statements out of free will, thus ending any great attraction to a message which appears to have been “voluntarily” shut off.
–Use state power over capital to harm one’s economic welfare
Without the power to influence and/or control capital, the state can scarcely afford to monopolise violence effectively. This is why poor states often become failed states. A failed state is simply one that can no longer monopolise violence. Thus, powerful states that are able to raise powerful police forces, secret police forces and armies are those that can necessarily control capital to their benefit.
As such, states that do not want to appear to be directly molesting the freedoms of anti-state individuals can use their control over capital to shut down bank accounts, demand someone lose his or her job or is otherwise cut off from either earning an income or spending money on necessary or pleasurable activities.
When the wider public see that one has materially suffered for speaking out against the state, people will be automatically disincentivised from following such a path.
–Arrest, try and punish the individual based on falsehoods/technicalities
Unless the powers that be want to send an unambiguous message to other anti-authority individuals that their actions will be met with swift and severe punishment, it is often beneficial for the authorities to arrest, try and punish an anti-authority individual under charges that are false or which relate to issues of legal technicalities that the wider public is generally unable to understand.
From the state’s perspective, this has the triple advantage destroying the credibility of the individual in question, removing him or her from the public sphere and simultaneously luring others into a false sense of security so that they too might be easily caught and punished for their anti-authority statements. As such, this method will allow other anti-authority individuals to continue exposing themselves to the authorities without the authorities having to do much investigating of their own.
–Arrest, try and punish the individual by plainly calling him a “traitor”, “security threat” or “terrorist”
When state authority fears that a deeply powerful message or highly truthful revelation will inspire others to not just speak out but to physically act out against authority, the ultimate fear factor can be exploited by making a public example of someone by punishing him or her on the basis that their act of anti-authority freedom is a specific and unambiguous crime.
–Punish or molest the family or friends of the individual in question
For those not afraid of any material punishment, states can exert power over the friends and family of an anti-authority individual exercising his or her freedom to speak against the state. This can be powerful in cases where one has given up any hope for one’s own life but remains cognisant of wanting to shield friends and family from acts of violence or other material harm.
Thus far, some readers might feel that what has been written is an extreme interpretation of how states exercise the monopoly on violence. Such an interpretation is perhaps counter-intuitively made by those with an inflated sense of self-importance.
If one is able to enjoy the freedom to speak out against the state without suffering any direct negative consequences, the truth is that in most such instances, one’s speech isn’t having a big enough impact to warrant the state to take action upon their customary cost-benefit analysis.
Thus, if the person reading this has used his or her freedom to speak out against authority in public and has not been punished by the state, there are only three possible realities at play:
1. The message is not important enough for the state to consider it a serious threat on cost-benefit analysis
2. The state is too incompetent to recognise the free speaker in question as a threat to the monopoly on violence
3. The speaker is being lured into a false sense of security, but eventually, punishment will be forthcoming
In the case of Julian Assange, his impact was substantial, his truthful publications were damning and his influence was becoming bigger every day. As such, the state first tried to arrest him on self-evidently false charges and then proceeded to harass those friendly to him. Today the state apprehended him on a legal technicality and hours later, it was confirmed that his arrest also related to “espionage” related charges from another state (the USA).
If masses of people were able to exercise their freedoms to challenge state authority, eventually the state would collapse. This is known as a revolution or in some cases a popular coup. Therefore, in order for a state with a discontented population to survive, it will eventually use its monopoly on violence to stifle those who exercise freedom to challenge authority.
In this sense, all free thinkers who use their voices to challenge authority stand a chance of being arrested and tortured like Julian Assange. The only thing stopping the state from doing this to people who are not Julian Assange is a simple cost-benefit analysis.