Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Here's a word tossed around in discussions an awful lot, and in fact it has become largely misunderstood.

There are two things you need to think about when discussing freedom.

1. It's a luxury. The vast majority of people have limited freedom, one way and another. Some people have a lot of freedom in some ways, and none in others. How much, and what sort of freedom you have is mostly by luck of birth. If you are born in the west, wealthy, white, and male, then you have far more freedom than average.

2. Freedom by law and freedom by actuality are two totally different things. Simply being uncurtailed by law is not necessarily freedom, and being bound by law does not necessarily limit your freedom. I am not free to kill people, but I don't want to anyway. I am free to walk down the street topless but in practice it would affect my life drastically because it would draw attention by the media, and ultimately this is no freedom at all, due to public attitudes.

So, it's a rather vague word, open to interpretation, and therefore to argument.

In recent years we have seen a rise in the argument over freedom and security. The idea behind it is sound. If you feel secure, that it to say you don't feel that your personal safety or your property are at risk from people who would attack you or steal from you, then in theory you are free of those dangers. Unfortunately in many instances the actions required to reduce those risks tend to limit your freedom in other ways. It can lead to what people call a "fortress mentality". This can be quite literal, as we see in "gated communities". Groups of houses inside a perimeter fence with a guard at the entrance. Some people choose to live in this manner and think they are free.

A similar situation has arisen when travelling. Because of the fear of airplanes being used for nefarious purposes, all those flying are now restricted in what they can carry, their baggage is searched before boarding, passengers must walk through metal detectors, and in some instances are scanned or patted down. So, to preserve the freedom to fly safely, we all become suspects. Interesting.

When I look at my own life, I have quite a bit of personal freedom. But there are many expenses I cannot avoid in order to live comfortably. In order to afford to live, in fact I am forced to work, and I am then forced to declare and pay taxes and other contributions to the state. In the modern western world it is almost impossible to opt out of this system, there is no land that is "common", that one could simply choose to build a shelter on and not pay rent to somebody, and in our climate even if you did find a spot where nobody noticed you, it would an extremely uncomfortable subsistence lifestyle, which only appeals to a tiny minority. Doesn't appeal to me at all.

In fact we have sacrificed financial freedom for ease of lifestyle. As much as we grumble about our way of life, we like our warm homes, power at the flick of a switch, having plenty to eat, and there are few who would be willing to give this up.

For every single freedom that a person has there is a trade-off. There are no exceptions to this, and understanding it is the key to being realistic about what freedom is.

It is not being able to do as you please, because there are consequences to everything. You are free to refuse to work, pay taxes, pay utilities, etc, for example, but the consequence is that you will be cold and hungry. This is generally thought of as cutting off your nose to spite your face.

What freedom actually is then, is having the choice to live within the boundaries and enjoy the benefits, or to live outside the boundaries and eschew the benefits.

This doesn't just apply to individuals. If a portion of a country wishes to break away, to rule itself, and not be bound by that country, freedom would be having the option to do that. The larger country may not allow it, may fight to keeps its boundaries intact, to prevent the rebel area from leaving. There could be great loss of life in the struggle in a situation like this. Is it worth dying for independence? Those who fight for it may call themselves freedom fighters, because they believe that after forming their own government, and becoming an independent state they will be free. Free of what? Free from one government, but under another. Free of aid from a large government probably.

Teenagers often think they are free in much the same way, when they first leave home. Free from chores and curfews and nagging. Also free of having any money left after paying landlords, when the rent is several times higher than the contribution they made to their parents. Free from having anyone to do things for you when you are sick, or tired, or working, or can't be bothered. You're on your own now. You have to pay for everything, do everything, yep, you're free.

But if you are allowed to leave home, as most kids are, then there is a freedom in having that choice.

It really isn't uncommon for individuals or groups to make choices that seem to reduce the quality of their life in order to feel free. Because the feeling of freedom is hard to define, varies from one person to another, and is largely a matter of opinion.

What matters is that choice.


  1. Here "freedom" is thrown around a lot! Mostly when they are taking away some they tout the ones they are saving. Such as they are saving our freedom to be safe and our freedom to carry whatever gun we please by locking students in schools and parents out. I think people are confused about what freedom really is.

    1. Exactly Amy, it's a "trigger" word but rarely means anything.