Freedom Matters

by Jinryu

What, really, is freedom?

If you grab someone off the street and ask them what freedom is, you’ll probably get an answer like “freedom is being able to do what I want.” That’s certainly the way that most of society looks at it nowadays– it’s all about you. Or it’s all about me. But, most certainly, it can’t be about us, can it?

If you ask that person to think about it a bit, they might ammend that idea to “freedom is being able to do what I want, so as long as I don’t hurt anyone else.” That seems pretty reasonable. I mean, whether your freedom actually has something to do with hurting others or not is kinda a tricky subject– but it certainly fits the idea of the freedom that we actually have: most Western law allows us basically to do whatever we want, until we actually hurt someone.

A lot of people might tell you something different– that “Freedom is choice.” It’s a bit more broad than the other guy’s answer, but this too reflects what’s going on in North American society– we have the freedom of religion, we have freedom of expression, we have freedom to vote for whoever we want. That certainly sounds like freedom.

We can pretty much agree that in some countries, people have a lot less freedom than we do. They don’t get to chose a lot of things. We equate that with them not having a lot of freedom, and a lack of freedom in turn means a lack of a good time.

So why is it that so many people are unhappy, when we have so much “freedom”? Who in the world has more freedom than you do?

Is freedom something that is measured on a sliding scale?

How much freedom do you have?

Your response might be that there are different kinds of freedoms. That’s true. Very important, actually. But if we know that there are so many freedoms, why do we make such a big deal about the ones that don’t matter, and ignore the most important ones?

So, then, what would you define as the most important freedom, if you could?

I mean, we know that when we’re unhappy, it’s usually because we’re doing something we don’t want to do, or because we don’t know what to do. The usefulness of freedom is to give us the possibility of feeling good, and of being connected with things– but then, where do we find that kind of freedom?

We can certainly chose lots of things– everything comes in a billion designer colors, different flavours, different sizes and styles. But the only freedom that matters, the one that eludes us the most, is the one that allows us to pursue personal totality. Some sort of … state of being, where we’re “complete.”

And I think that one part of the puzzle that’s been missing to me is that I’ve always figured that freedom, liberty, and completeness had something to do with making myself perfect. What I’ve come to understand in bits and pieces over the years is that a real sense of freedom is one that’s tied to the fates of others. It’s a freedom through universality.

It’s a bit hard for me to explain it, but let me throw some ideas out here. The main point is that I’m not alone– though I may at times feel lonely, the fact of the matter is that the world is full of people, and my life is inexoribly intertwined with these lives. I’m not just talking about family and friends– or even enemies for that matter– I’m talking about how the laptop that I’m writing this on was put together by a dozen people I don’t even know. That the air I breathe is made up of gasses that are a mix of the breaths of other humans. That the carpet that my feet are on was conceptualized by someone, made by someone else, and installed by yet another. There are people everywhere– and if I existed in a world without humans, without their knowledge or influence– I would not last long.

It should probably follow that any sense of freedom that I have shouldn’t be one where everything is about me. But that’s the tendency. Take the example of me having the freedom to swing my fists around– I’m free to do this as much as I want, until I actually hit someone. I have to stop short of that. My freedom, my right, is to swing up until just before that point that I hit someone.

Why is it that freedoms and rights are things that separate us? Why do I have this freedom, and you have this freedom? Why can’t we share in a freedom somehow?

What I’m getting at is that the freedoms that we put so much emphasis on are missing the point. The choices we have in life are missing the point. We’re so concerned with what is yours or mine and coming up with ways of granting freedom that we don’t realize that the very nature of our definitions of freedom is something that divides– there is an ingrained adversarial system in every freedom granted that says that all of the choice in the world must be divided.

Why does that happen?

Because we think we’re entitled to privacy. Because we want privacy. Because we want to be private, individual people. Because we’re egocentric.

What if we were social?

I don’t mean using social networks. I don’t mean making friends.

I mean, truly, social– in the sense that we treated our very existence as one that was connected to others? Where we accepted as much responsibility as we could, not just for ourselves, but for our fellow humans?

If we could be like that, I mean, connected to others, then maybe we could work on acheiving a freedom that matters. But until we can stop using a definition of freedom that defines the “haves” from the “havenots,” we’ll be at odds with the social nature of our very existences.

Somewhere is a disconnect that we have to remedy– we want to be good people, but we’re content to allow ourselves work in systems that do bad things. Smart as we are, we subconsciously feel guilty, or afraid, or resentful of the fact that bad things are because of us or because of others. So maybe we’d just feel better if we could work on a new sort of freedom– one that unites rather than divides?