I was thinking about this, in general terms, yesterday while listening to Obama's speech at Westminster Hall. He went on and on about how the British/U.S. system of law, and N.A.T.O., were instruments of "freedom" and, really, that's only true for a segment of the population of the world. No one sitting in a cell without a trial or for a crime they didn't commit would call the law an agent of freedom.
Politicans are all demagogues so it's no surprise that they always relate their systems/ideas to "freedom", but the word gets tossed around a lot
by people who seem to have never even bothered asking themselves - what is freedom? and how much of it do I really have?
So, this is how I define freedom: Freedom is the degree to which you can do what you please without meeting resistance - and, as a corollary, it's the degree to which you can overcome resistance to doing what you please.
No one has absolute freedom. We are all constrained to one degree or another, and cannot possibly do everything we want to do. This is good in many respects - it restricts (or attempts to restrict) some
of the most destructive people among us from indulging their impulses without, at least, the threat of repercussion.
But, beyond this generalization, it's apparent that there are vast
differences in the degrees of freedom that different people have.
So, if there are differences in the degree of freedom that people have - who has the most freedom in our society? Who can do as they please with the least resistance, or can easily overcome things that keep them from doing what they please? I think it's obvious that the wealthy and the politically powerful and, maybe, some celebrities are some of the most "free" people in our society. Also, note that the overlap between "wealthy" and "politically powerful" means that there are many, many people who are members of both groups. But, in the most bare analysis, more wealth means more freedom - the wealthy aren't subject to as much scrutiny as politicians, and wealth can be used to exercise strong influence over the political process (either to pursue a particular set of ends or to remove obstacles to that pursuit) - so the "most free" people in our society are those who possess the most wealth. In a sense then, more power means more freedom. The more powerful you are, the more freedom you have.
Moving on ... I assume that none of us are billionaires, so this begs the question: What about the rest of us? How much freedom do we have? To answer this, I think it works best to use an old standard of "liberty" (which, for me, means pretty much the same thing as "freedom" in this context) that, I think, Kant came up with about 200 years ago. We have "positive" freedom and "negative" freedom - positive freedom means we are free to do something
and negative freedom means we are free from something
. In the most basic terms, negative freedom is "freedom from" and positive freedom is "freedom to." Note how well this coincides with our historical conception of freedom - Freedom of speech is "freedom to" speak our mind, and (at least in concept) "freedom from" prosecution in the courts for doing so (note that I specified "the courts" - you may speak your mind about how much you hate Chuck Hayes, but Chuck Hayes may kick your ass for doing so).
Now put this in terms of your day-to-day life - how free are you? How much are you free to do? How many unpleasant things do you have freedom from? Do you have freedom from obstacles that prevent you from doing what you're free to do? Think of this in the most practical terms: There is no law barring you from building a moon colony on the moon, but does this really qualify as genuine freedom? Also keep in mind the obstacles that prevent you from doing what you please: who put them there? Are those obstacles placed there by someone else's
freedom of choice? If so ... which one of you has more freedom?
Think about the things you would love to do, but can't - then think about the reasons you can't. Who or what is preventing you from doing so?
I think, if you do a very honest analysis of your own situation, you'll find that you really have very, very little freedom. I also believe you'll find that the reason you have very little freedom is because someone, or some group of people, has the freedom to prevent you from doing what you'd please. Their aim may not be to prevent you from doing what you please, but they have the freedom to create a set of circumstances that effectively limit your freedom. So, really, how free are you?
The question then is: Who limits your freedom? Since freedom is equal to power in most respects, think in terms of a zero sum game: you deal with individuals, organizations, groups everyday whose exercise of freedom, their exercise of power puts obstacles in front of you daily. Their exercise of their freedom reduces
your power. The people who have power over you use that power to take more from you. Many of their expressions of power are through actions/systems that threaten
And that's where the idea of civil liberties, the PATRIOT act, and so forth come in. Our civil liberties are, to a great degree, expressed in terms of negative freedom. We have (or had) "freedom from" government invasions of our privacy, "freedom from" excessive interference in our day to day lives, "freedom from" conviction without a trial. Why would people give the government more positive freedom ("freedom to") that directly threatens our negative freedom? Why are we okay to give governments the freedom to threaten our freedom from them?
Originally Posted by rockbox
Having a voice and opportunity with the absence of fear. Fear of the government, fear of criminals, fear of somebody taking things away from you.
Here's how the trick worked: We were compelled to fear the freedom of others. People who may harm us. People who may steal our stuff. People who may just look scary. Many of us are fearful of the freedom of others
to a much greater degree than we are covetous of our own freedoms
. But, with this relationship, who benefits? Who gets more freedom from our fear? It should be obvious here ...
And, from another angle: Our freedom from government invasions of our privacy without warrant, though negative are very real
- not so much in what they do for us in our day-to-day lives, but because they expressively limit
what the government has the "freedom to" do to us. Now, we essentially traded in some of this freedom to be free from the fear of the freedom of others. But what did we get in exchange? Are we really safer? Are we free from fear? We gave away our very real
freedoms for ... what exactly?