Lost in the Garden of Freedom

January 8, 2007 at 8:01 am Leave a comment

What is Freedom? Some leaders in the world have expressed a desire to spreadfreedom and democracy”. From the American perspective where we fought for freedom and representative democracy this desire to share our experience is what we call a “no brainer”. So, it sounds good, but what does it mean in real terms rather than as some vague concept? As democracy presupposes freedom, for the sake of this entry I’ll just focus on the concept of freedom.

I guess in the traditional sense we Americans think of freedom in the context of our American Revolution from the tyranny of British colonial rule. People came here for religious expression and economic opportunities that didn’t exist in Europe at that time. When taxes and legislative intervention became excessive in the colonies and harkened back to the oppressive social order from which colonialists were trying to escape, a critical mass was reached and we declared independence to begin our own social investigation into the meaning of freedom.

As well as being included in grand statements and gestures of leaders, I guess what provoked this topic is a curious definition I recently heard: The freedom to wave your arms ends where my nose begins. While it made me chuckle, I also found it curiously accurate in it’s sentiment, especially in this modern manifestation of freedom where we currently find ourselves. It seems to express the idea that there is no absolute freedom like the romanticized version that has existed in my head, but rather that it is curtailed or limited by responsibility. This begs the followup question of where one ends and the other begins.

The distinction thisarm into nosedefinition suggests is that responsibility begins with our interactions with other people. It leaves a person free to do what they want on their own to the extent that it doesn’t affect others, or at least a non-consenting party. I say this because in boxing it is okay to wave your arms into the other guy’s nose and vice versa! It seems to me that the ideal of responsibility would be synonymous with respect. In other words, allow me to believe and do what I want in my private sphere and I will allow you to do the same. Where individuals hold differing views or beliefs, they agree to disagree and carry on the dialogue over another meze, beer or tea and we end up with something nearing civilized behavior.

But, like trying to herd cats, I found it difficult to find any overarching truth that seemed to capture the essence of what we idealize and its modern and complex manifestations. Yes we are free, but it feels like people treat it more like a turf war rather than common ground. Special Interest Groups, minorities and majorities seek to codify law as it represents their interests and ideals without regard to the rest of their society. I understand the landscape from which this mentality grew, but since it is our current behavior, it is also the future we are constructing. In other words, our future will consist of even more dissection of rights. Frankly, that thought scares me because the world already seems overly complicated!

It then occurred to me that perhaps that thearm into nosedefinition of freedom could actually untangle the confusion in my head by offering a refreshing perspective as how to achieve the ideal of freedom that we seek. Perhaps we need to first accept freedom as our natural state. From there we hold responsibilities in each of our relationships, whether it is with other people, legal entities or government. In a world full of social divisions, questionable corporate behavior, government corruption and general environmental crisis, focusing on our responsibilities to each other seems an important concept to adopt in order to start resolving these issues peacefully and amicably.

Our understanding of freedom has grown from the day of our founding and it is reasonable to expect that it will continue to mature. As I understand it, perfect freedom exists first in ones mind and ideally extends to ones private space. From there it becomes more limited only by the responsibilities we collectively determine and thus expect in the social setting. As all adults know, recognizing our responsibilities is not a loss of freedom. The respect implied and offered by owning up to our responsibilities is the price of the social and economic security we all seek from the community we call our neighbors and the least we expect from them as well.


Entry filed under: Philosophy.

The Great Experiment I Buy Therefore I Am

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