on liberty

During this trip to Hong Kong and China I presented a child welfare paper at a conference held at Hong Kong’s City University. Here is a scene of someone else presenting at the same conference – this particular presentation was truly brilliant – the conference theme was world peace and harmony and the presenter is reminding us of Mill’s work “On Liberty.” I am not a fan of Mill’s thoughts on utilitarianism but his thoughts on the potential for a tyranny of the majority are very important.

Many of the presentations were good and inspiring – by some inevitably rubbed my the wrong way – like the chap who asserted that it is unethical for social workers to do anything that can’t be measured (a throwback to the logical positivism of the First Vienna Circle) and the person who claimed that social workers were the “fighter pilots” of justice working on the margins of society (an analogy that has some tensions at a conference with peace and harmony as a theme). Even so the ideas these presenters exposed me to were well worthwhile and the entire conference game me much to mull over.

But anyway, let me leave the last words of this post to Mill:

"When society is itself the tyrant – society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates in at all in things which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself."

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