The Freedom to Define Freedom

This one’s actually from yesterday, but since I posted about rain then I figured I’d save it for today. As a bonus, if I write about them a day behind I have a spare day in case I hate the topic and don’t have any ideas on my own.

Topic #269:

What is freedom? When do you feel most free in your job? In your day? Least free? When is it better to not be free?

Ah, freedom. A complicated concept, made especially murky since it’s become a buzzword. (Some part of me feels sad that my spellcheck recognizes “buzzword” but not “spellcheck”) Freedom is one of those words that implies more than it says. It can be difficult to define clearly even when used in fairly specific terms. For example “you have freedom to travel” could mean as little as “it’s legally possible for you to travel”, while it implies more, in this example generally that such travel would be relatively easy and without interference or molestation. (Make your own joke here)

The word is frequently spoken as an absolute term, while it’s almost never actually intended that way. I’m not even sure if “absolute freedom” is even a useful concept, freedom to do what? What are you free from? “Free from everything” just sounds like a poetic euphemism for “death”. It really needs to be contrasted against something, without context it tells us nothing.

Taken philosophically, everyone’s free. A slave is free. We all have the power to say “No” and suffer the consequences. And it really is a great power, as Egypt so dramatically demonstrated. The world changes when enough people say “no”.

Of course the trouble with philosophy is that so often it works both ways. Try as we might, we can neither violate nor change the law of physics, and ultimately we are all slaves to our stomachs.

The question in the topic that intrigues me the most is “When is it better to not be free?” It’s such a wide open question that I have trouble deciding how to handle it. I suppose the question gives me too much freedom to interpret it. The choice of words is interesting though, because the question it implies, the question I took when I first read it is “When is it better to be a slave.” (The answer to that, of course, is “At certain private parties where everyone wears masks and nobody uses a real name.”)

Answering another interpretation of that question, “When is it better to have restrictions”, I can point to many poets who place rules of meter and rhyme on their work and create wonderful things within that framework. Likewise many artists, authors and creative people of all kinds do their best work when they’ve placed boundaries on themselves.

We live in a society of laws, and constantly argue, debate, and fight over what those laws should be and how strictly they should be enforced and how harsh the penalties for breaking them should be. Every one of those laws is, strictly speaking, an opposition to our freedoms yet even the most die-hard anarchists aren’t willing to remove all the boundaries, even if they don’t want any of them formally written down. We have instinctive boundaries to our behavior, things we won’t do unless pushed to extremes and maybe not even then. Far from limiting us these social rules allowed us to survive and thrive because the tribe that works together, that can trust each other, has a tremendous advantage.

Ye gods I’m almost up to 600 words again. You know, when I do these daily topic things I don’t usually address the topic so much as type down whatever wanders into my mind at the moment, but this one seems unusually random even by that standard. Oh well, at least I’m writing! Have a great day everyone.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on October 6, 2011, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very well written!

    So much so, that not only did i forget to make my own joke, as instructed, but i failed to stop reading – at the point where you mentioned the party – in order to allow myself at least a solid 30 seconds of imagining what a party like that might entail… =)

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