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What freedom are you looking for?

March 29, 2013

Freedom in the sea

We all seem to like the idea of freedom. But what do we all mean by freedom? What kind of freedom do we really want?

Freedom of speech seems to be a basic human right these days, and this is an important thing. Because when you stop people from saying what is on their mind, that is a dangerous road of repression to go down. The desire and need to speak will only build up inside and will end up being released destructively if not given any other means of release.

Thinking beyond this though, beyond freedoms which seem to be tied up with basic human needs. What type of freedom is it that you choose in life, not out of need, but as a means to happiness. What things do you aspire to in your life? Here we get into the debate about having the freedom to choose our own way of life. To make our own decisions; choose our line of employment; choose our mates, our friends; choose what things to buy, what type of food to eat. But then there is controversy about how much freedom we have here. How many of our desires to buy things and to find a mate are genuinely internally motivated? Do we not often get induced to desire certain things, and don’t we often suddenly decide we desire a mate, when we see our friends and the people around us becoming coupled?

Much of desire is more compulsion than choice, and in these cases it need not be internally motivated at all, it may just be a habitual, stock human action and reaction. A cultural pattern put in place before we were even born, which we unwittingly go along with. So we have to think very carefully about the kind of freedom we are looking for in our lives. Self reflection is absolutely central to developing our knowledge here.

Some will claim it is all determined, we have no free-will, we must just accept things as they are. But I think this is a naive view, a view seeking passive consumers, a fatalist view, good only for the holder of the view, not for anyone unfortunate enough to believe in it, and self-reflection soon leads us to reject this view.

What I have come to think is central to freedom, is the freedom of self-expression. It is not so important that we are in charge, controlling all our decisions with our free-will. For we must live in a world with others. What is important is that we have a place in our community and our provided an opportunity to express ourselves. It will often mean not always doing exactly what we want, not always getting our own way. For the freedom we have is to preserve our place of self-expression and to express ourselves naturally within it. This at times requires hard work and dedication.

So the debate about free-will or determinism. And about whether quantum indeterminacy opens up the possibility for freedom of will, does not interest me very much. I don’t want freedom of will. A purely negative freedom of there being no obstacles to my will. I want the positive freedom of self expression. My primary concern is not that of power, of being sovereign over my own decisions. Yes, we need this as a basic political right in certain domains to avoid coercion. But with this right in place, we can then turn to more positive notions of freedom as developing our own self conception and finding fulfillment in life.

In this way, we are not just searching for a hopeless freedom of having more material possessions, or more power than other people. A freedom of bad karma you could call this. Where the wheel just goes round and round. Instead we are searching for a freedom that can be shared with others and does not entail putting others down. This is the kind of freedom I think it is worth pursuing in the world as it is today.

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