What is Freedom?

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the vote in the UK to exit the European Union. This isn’t the only political act of separation that stirs the world these days. There are plenty of more minor examples of various regions in the world that all want some level of autonomy that rings better for them than the position they enjoy within some larger body. Rightfully, I think these movements are down to a desire for freedom. But what is freedom? Is it really a sort of anarchy? I think most people’s definition of it would categorize it as a form of that. I believe their definition of it as such is an error. Very much like the definition of free will, I think that the definition of freedom takes some thought to arrive at. It isn’t simply the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want to.

I’ve talked about free will before. In regards to that I’ve arrived at the conclusion that free will pertains to the ability to choose a way of living and stick with it through examples in life that would seem to discredit it. An example of this would be a person who adopts a moral code and because of it loses out on some opportunity because their principles got in the way of winning. It takes free will to willingly lose when the natural option for those who have not made such a choice is to win. You say to yourself, “I would like to win, but not at that cost.” The cost is, of course, entirely in your own mind. The winners didn’t consider it. Hopefully, your exercise of free will is one where others can understand your choices as well. Hopefully, it comes with a structure and isn’t merely related to the fact you exist.

I think we tend to misinterpret freedom as an undefined, omnidirectional, full of spontaneity state of being. The truth is far from that. First of all freedom is about rights. Rights are inalienable. They come about as a part of the condition of our existence, especially as human beings who have to relate to each other. But what are rights other than a recognition that you can do a certain thing or should be treated a certain way? Are they only that? Are they only about the focus of the world around us and how it is required to treat us? I don’t think so. I understand rights to fundamentally consists of responsibilities.  It’s like this, you have the right to make a right turn on a red light in the US, but you have the responsibility to determine that in doing so you don’t impede the traffic that has the right of way crossing you. As far as that goes, in traffic the right of way, which the crossing traffic possesses, doesn’t rule all either. It is subsumed to the responsibility to watch out for what may be happening and adjust your position accordingly. Things change and you have to change with them. Rights don’t come without responsibilities. They don’t because to have rights is to arrive at a level of complexity as a living being that cannot be simply defined by what you want to do and whether you are being permitted to do it. Freedom is about understanding, for yourself, the nature and intricacy of that level of complexity.

To be free is to be able to understand that others are free as well. This is not a contradiction because freedom was never only about you always making demands. It is more about you understanding where your demands come from and how they fit into the picture. You have the right to be or do whatever you want but that very right comes with the responsibility to determine what the thing you are about doing or being is in its construction and how it should be properly interacted with. Knowing that you can then discover what your responsibilities are as they pertain to respecting that structure.

To be free is to grow up. It means to become liberated from infinite possibility. It pares those possibilities down to a range of choices that make sense for an adult. It means that you can have a personality. It means that you can have a self and not just a consciousness that is driven by the input signals it receives and acts according to the desires it forms as a result of the preponderance of a certain type of those signals. It means you can understand the value of paying attention. You can see your own rights, and the responsibility you have toward the rights of others.


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