My writing inspiration for the day is the concept of freedom. I think it ties in nicely with other things I’ve written this week, like democracy and rotten children and the idea of experiencing life free from the bondage of others’ approval. Enjoy. Or get mad, whatever. Tell me what you think.
Definitionally speaking, freedom is the absence of constraints.
I would suggest that freedom is mostly subjective. We are primarily slaves to consciousness – what we know. It feels a little like the tree falling in the forest – if we don’t know what our limits are, they feel so much less limiting. Maybe the freest are those who are not aware of their constraints. Would I consider a permanently unconscious person free? Not from an external perspective; they do not have the freedom to get up and walk away. But for someone who is not aware of their lack of choice, this is not really a problem. In those situations, choices must be made by others on behalf of the afflicted, and constraints then affect the decision-makers, not the individual.
So if consciousness were not an issue, the next most pressing limitation on freedom is likely physical. This becomes a problem when the conscious person makes a choice but lacks the physical capacity to carry it out. You may be free to get up and leave, but if you are paralyzed, it’s just not gonna happen.
So are there any true freedoms left for those who are cognitively intact and unaffected by physical limitations? In general, and if we consider consequences, I’m not so sure. Freedom will always be limited by something. As an individual member of society, I am required to obey the laws and social mores that allow people to co-exist peacefully (although collectives like nations appear to be less limited by such constraints). While I believe that I am ultimately free to not obey laws and social mores, the consequences of engaging in free action that contravenes others’ freedoms will themselves limit me. Although the action in isolation might be free, the consequences (prison, ostracism, death, guilt, etc.) could well result in future limitations.
Maybe the only true freedoms are the ones that are completely self-contained, that do not affect anyone else, if such a thing exists. We can freely choose how we will react to something (within the limits of our personalities and maturity level – again, limits) – for example, we could choose to be miserable about something, but even that affects those with whom we have contact. Maybe freedom is a choice, or a genetic predisposition not to be affected by consequences – to allow consequences to limit one’s action, or to choose not to allow them to, and to live with the consequences.
I would argue that from my privileged position as an educated, able-bodied adult living in a first world country, I am probably among the freest in the world. If I was richer, or was in some other way a member of a higher social or economic class, I would be constrained by public scrutiny, and likely held to higher standards of behaviour. If I was poorer, less educated, or belonged to a visible or invisible minority, I would be limited by financial, occupational, and societal constraints. I am limited by my obligations, to family, children, employer, etc. which can be physical, social, moral, legal or evolutionary (and are value neutral – neither bad nor good in themselves). And it is interesting to note that, again, considering the subjective nature of freedom, there are some who would consider my circumstances to be terribly limiting, and some who would consider less education, lower income or fewer personal rights than I enjoy to be not only acceptable, but preferable (for example, a minimalist, or a refugee now living in Canada who is grateful for a safe place to sleep, even if he can’t work or vote). Obviously I am not untouched by limits, but they affect my choices less frequently than they might affect others’, by virtue of luck, fate, karma or something.
In the end, I am left wondering if there is really such a thing as freedom, or if what we call freedom is simply the illusion, or a good approximation of an absence of constraints and I’m not sure if that makes me sad or relieved. If I had a choice, it would probably be relief.