Man can never be free of hunger, of cold, of disease, of physical accidents. He can never be free of the tyranny of nature. So why should he object to the tyranny of political dictatorship?
Freedom. It’s a powerful word. It’s something that we all want. What is freedom?
It’s probably not something many people have thought about taking the time to define.
And it is definitely something that a lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about.
So what does freedom mean to you… and are you guilty of any of these freedom myths… ?
What is freedom?
Fundamentally, freedom is the absence of force.
It is the ability to act on our ideas, to act on our initiative or in a way that we desire; without violating the rights of others.
The only way we can be prevented from acting, is if someone uses force to prevent us from acting. As an extreme example, if we are chained in a prison cell, we are unable to act. We have had our freedom taken from us.
A state of freedom, is one where people are protected from have force initiated against them. When an individual is protected from having force initiated against his person, we have a state of political freedom.
Sometimes, freedom is taken to mean the ability to do anything that we want, regardless of the effects on others; or to be able to take an action without facing the consequences of that action.
Additionally, when talking about the question ‘What is freedom?’, some people think of the idea of “financial freedom”, with financial freedom being the point at which your income enables you to do whatever you choose. What is really meant by financial freedom, is the point at which our situation enables us to have an inexhaustible range of possible actions.
In this article, when look at the question of what is freedom, we are going to look at the idea of political freedom.
There are a couple of powerful myths about freedom. These myths all rest on faulty ideas and flawed thinking. By carefully thinking through these ideas, we can see the error in their formulation. So to help answer the question, what is freedom, let’s look at 4 powerful freedom myths:
4 Powerful Freedom Myths
Freedom Myth #1: There is no such thing as freedom because we are “limited” by the laws of nature
Fortunately, this isn’t too common… but it is more common than it should be. Some people think that we are restricted by the laws of nature, mathematics, physics etc.
One of the special things about being human, is that we have a creative imagination. No other creature has this ability. We can see things that don’t currently exist, and bring them into existence. For example, we can see ourselves having a skill that we currently do not posses… so we learn that skill to bring it in line with our vision of who we want to be. We can see ourselves having a different body composition to what we currently have… so we get a good diet and start hitting the gym. We have a new business idea so we research it, build the pieces and test to see if the market responds.
However, what our imagination can envision is not limited by the laws of nature, but, we do have to compare our ideas against the laws of nature and either:
- reject the idea if it does not comply with the laws of nature
- modify the idea until it does comply with the laws of nature
Unfortunately, a lot of people skip that last step – we are all guilty of it!
For example, we can imagine ourselves reading a book, so we buy the book and read it. We can also imagine ourselves sneezing hard enough to reach the moon… but that is never going to happen. The first idea from our imagination is in accordance with the laws of nature, the second idea is not.
So why do some people feel “restricted” by the laws of nature?
What this boils down to, is:
Primacy of Existence against Primacy of Consciousness
Man, and the human mind, is an observer of reality, not a creator of reality. The universe exists regardless of whether or not man exists. The mind, at its core, is an observational tool that seeks to understand the nature of reality and existence. The mind does not create existence – the universe is not a projection of our mind, the mind is an observer of the universe.
As an extreme example: Let’s say you are facing a lava flow. Someone who believed in the primacy of consciousness might start praying to be saved – they think their consciousness is the primary source of reality. Someone who believed in the primacy of existence… would run away, as they understand that they mind does not create reality, it merely observes it.
You cannot wish something into existence.
At the same time, we cannot wish to be free from the laws of nature, or for the laws of nature to be different.
Often, people view the mind and the body as being two separate entities, rather than being parts of a single entity (for reference, look at every religion man has conjured into existence). The mind needs the body to function, and the body needs the mind to function. This is sometimes referred to as ‘mind-body dichotomy’.
Both mind and body operate under the laws of nature.
You cannot be “free” from the laws of nature… because they are not restricting you in the first place! The laws of nature are not initiating force against you, or restricting you. We operate in accordance with the laws of nature.
There is no other alternative.
The correct approach when considering an idea which is not physically possible, is to reject it outright, rather than feel limited by it.
“If you murder someone and you go to jail, you aren’t really free”
My first thought upon hearing this argument, is that I want to stay the hell away from the person who made the argument.
Someone who says this, wants to be able to take actions without having to endure the consequences.
If someone has the ability to murder anyone, anytime, for no reason and with no consequence…
that means that you could be murdered anytime, anyplace, for no reason.
That means that someone can initiate force against you… at their whim.
Which is to say that someone can take your freedom from you… at their whim.
The argument here is:
There is no such thing as freedom, because I am unable to take your freedom, without consequences to my freedom.
… which is gibberish.
Freedom does not mean ‘action divorced from consequences’.
It does not mean freely violating the rights of others (e.g. murdering people).
Freedom is the ability to take action while respecting the rights of others.
Freedom is to be protected from having force initialised against you, not the ability to whimsically initiate force against others.
What is freedom? It is not a licence to go on a murder spree.
Freedom Myth #3: I am not free because I cannot buy anything I want
It is true, that wealth gives you the ability to pursue more actions than you can if you are poor.
But does this mean that you do not have freedom?
This argument takes the ideas of political freedom and of financial freedom, and uses them interchangeably under the single concept of “freedom”.
In order to look at this idea, we have to clearly distinguish between the two ideas.
If we look at the definition of freedom:
“The ability to act, without violating the rights of others.”
We can see that freedom is the absence of force. The ability to act as you see fit, without violating the rights of others.
Political freedom and financial freedom are two distinct ideas, and need to be treated as such.
Freedom and Property Ownership
This ventures into the concept of property ownership. If you own your property and you are free, you get to use it as you see fit. If you want more property (or more money) then you need to produce more, to exchange with others, to get what you want.
A lack of resources is not a lack of freedom. Freedom is what makes it possible for you to acquire more resources.
What happens if you entertain the idea that financial limitations are a restriction on freedom?
The consequence of that train of thought, is that political means are used to create “freedom”. After all, we can all agree that a government should protect freedom. To protect this idea of freedom, would mean forcefully confiscating (aka stealing) resources from one person, to give to another. Force has been introduced into the equation – and freedom has been taken away.
This is another example of destroying freedom, while claiming to be protecting it.
Freedom Myth #4 – There is no such thing as freedom, because nature involves risk and danger
I’ve never quite understood this one. It is similar to Freedom Myth 1.
Sometimes, shit happens.
A freak weather storm could injure, or even kill us.
An accident could cause an injury, or death.
Does the occurrence of chance events that can negatively affect us mean that we are not free?
No. To picture freedom as being a “version” of reality where humans do not face chance events of nature, or chance accidents causing injury… is non-sense.
If I had to guess, I would wager that this myth stems from combining the Judaeo-Christian idea of heaven with the premise that existence is to be “endured”.
There are no alternatives to reality.
Reality is, what reality is.
The correct way to approach any theory, or criticism, offering a “better” or “alternative” to reality, is outright rejection. What is freedom? When thinking about any question, reality is the final arbitrator.
What do these freedom myths have in common?
There are two common themes to these ideas:
- A desire to be “free”, from reality.
- Claiming to value freedom, while in fact, acting to destroy it.
Reality is, what reality is. The laws of nature are what they are. What is freedom? Being free.
The existence of absolutes is not a restriction on human potential, action or achievement.
Being free from reality is non-sense.
When you take the ideas and look at their consequences, and clearly define the components of each idea, you can quickly see the consequences of that idea… and the premise on which it is built.
Why do these myths persist?
We could be lenient and say that these myths persist purely down to flawed thinking, low self esteem, faulty epistemology or a down right rejection of reality on the part of people that perpetuate them.
But that isn’t the entire story.
When the meaning of freedom is distorted, our ability to recognise freedom is distorted along with it.
If we don’t understand the basic meaning of freedom… it is easier to have our freedoms taken from us, one at a time.
What is freedom? When we cannot answer this question accurately, there will be someone along to “protect” our freedom… while actually taking it away.
Further, when reason is eliminated as a method of knowledge, we are left with emotion.
And when emotion is the rule of law… the person that makes the rules, is the person that shouts the loudest, with the most outrage.
When you last read the news, or watched the news on TV, what did you see? Ruthless application of logic and reason, each person pushing their mind to its full capacity to think as clearly as possible? Or did you see a battle of who could be the most outraged?
And if you were to look at the ideas that were being discussed… and to sit down and carefully think through them… what would be the consequences of all the emotional outrage? The consequences of following those ideas though would be horrific. It always is.
The quote at the start shows the ulterior motive to these myths. If you can convince man that freedom is impossible, by the flawed ideas that we can never be truly free, because we are subject to nature (… reality)… then politically removing freedoms one at a time is a lot easier.
What is freedom? Something we should value and protect.