A thoughtful post CCT. Let me tease out a few threads.
I think we might be might be bumping up against the Rawlsian difference between “freedom from” and “freedom to” here, though I’m not exactly sure. But if that’s the case, then yes, we do differ. I tend to emphasize negative constraints on freedom more than positive empowerment. I like, in a very postmodern sense, the right to tell people in power they are wrong.
This said, I don’t dismiss the “freedom to” perspective, and this indirectly speaks to the substance of my earlier post. I had a reasonably good education, much of it paid for out of the public purse. This has given me the freedom to do things that most people in the world could only dream about (teach English in Taiwan?? well maybe…). In this context, it would be the height of hypocrisy to then suggest, for the sake of some ideal notion of freedom from coercion, that others should pay their way entirely.
But only to an extent. You mentioned the expat choice to live in HK and Taiwan… I can’t speak for others, and you yourself probably share more in common with the motives of many of my colleagues here than I do, but an important part of the reason I live in Taiwan is, most assuredly, the politics.
The promise of political liberty, of one day this place growing up and letting me have a vote, is one part of why I stick around. Occasionally I get glimpses of this maturity and it makes me proud to be a part of the comtemporary experiment that is Taiwan. It’s rarely enough on a day to day basis to keep he happy here, but whenever I look at the lowly paycheck I make, I think about the half dozen friends I have here that really do think of me as Taiwanese. Each one of them would be happy to see me vote in a local election, and this is generally enough to keep me going.
Finally, while I agree there is “no penultimate state of ecstasy that human society will ever achieve” - I like this sentence and may steal it from you at some stage - I do believe in social progress. Take the institution of property, for example. This has deep roots in British political thinking that dates all the way back to the Magna Carta. At one time, not so very long ago, the idea that any commoner could actually own things was unthinkable - even his/here own labor. But now, it’s a foolish government indeed that doesn’t give private property at least some credence.
And why? Property is the basis of any economic system that produces growth and wealth. Sure, it can have multiple forms (Chinese TVEs), but if you don’t have it, you’re fucked. We’ve learnt that lesson very well over the last 200 years with both positive and negative examples - and the last 50 years of Chinese economic history couldn’t be more demonstrative.
“No meal to end all meals”? Maybe, but your chances of obtaining a content, satisfied life CCT is infinitely greater today because someone dreamed-up, fought for and codified the crazy idea that your paycheck is indeed yours alone. That’s social progress in my view (i.e. rather than mere technological development or wealth accumulation), and it also just happens to be a key component of the “freedom from” conception of liberty.