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1st Travelogue: The Aftershocks of Ineffective Therapy

The part of The Trap that caught my attention and particularly disturbed me was the discussion towards the end of the documentary about negative liberty and the attempt to use this political philosophy on Russia. I had trouble agreeing with the concept of negative liberty because it promotes a society without ideas. To me, this seems utterly contradictory to true freedom, which is what was trying to be accomplished. While negative liberty promotes the individual’s ability to do whatever they please, it also hinders the individual from finding purpose in one’s life. Consequently, in the case of Russia, it seems that authorities were creating an illusion of freedom for the population, rather than providing true freedom and reform.

When the group of American advisors, led by Jeffrey Sachs, tried to put the theory of negative liberty into effect through their plan of “shock therapy,” it proved to be a disaster. A Time Magazine article notes that in January of 1992 when the therapy was being implemented, “The lines outside food stores in Russia grow longer and longer, and the people standing in them grow angrier and angrier.” Yet, this idea of “freedom” was continually pushed onto the society.

I feel as though Sachs and his group of advisors were too strict in their plan, not allowing for mistakes. They tried to push a certain viewpoint on the whole of society, without taking into account the people of that particular society. Isaiah Berlin, the philosopher that further defined the idea of negative liberty from the time of Kant, even noted that being too steadfast to one idea will only lead to its collapse:

“It is seldom, moreover, that there is only one model that determines our thought; men (or cultures) obsessed at their models are rare, and while they may be more coherent at their strongest, they tend to collapse more violently when, in the end, their concepts are blown up by reality – experienced events, ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ that get in the way.” (from ‘Does Political Theory Still Exist?, 1962; http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/berlin.htm)

I do not think a specific, structured mode of developing a society and promoting a certain notion of freedom will ultimately succeed. The plan must have room to grow and breathe with the society it is supposed to be helping. Additionally, to take away the ability for individuals to control their own lives and develop their own sense of fundamental purpose, for the sake of being free to do as they wish, is inherently not free.

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One Comment

  1. Alexandra Cale 17:46, Jan 25th, 10

    Leslie, I agree with you. I think the desire to be free has to come about organically for it to really succeed. We could get into a whole debate about what “free” really means, but either way I think the important thing is that the people of any given country need to want to see change in their government and way of life. Of course the “shock therapy” in Russia didn’t work – their entire infrastructure was dismantled and then they were left to start from a blank slate, which of course is not realistic or practical. It’s no wonder the Russian people just wanted some order and didn’t care about voting. They had no money to buy food to eat, so voting was the least of their worries.