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Filosofa's Word

Been a lot of talk about that thing called ‘freedom’ lately.  Started me thinking about some things.  What is freedom, anyway?  Freedom from what?  Freedom to do what?  Am I free?  Are you?  Are any of us?  And what is the trade-off for freedom, for there is a trade-off, a price to pay for everything, y’know.

I did a bit of thinking about it … and one thing I can say for certain is that we don’t all see freedom in the same way.  There are those, some are friends of mine even, who think freedom means you get to have a gun … any ol’ gun you want, carry it wherever you go … and use it however you want.  To them that is freedom, but wait … if they have that gun, and they can use it when and how they want … suddenly I don’t feel quite…

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4 thoughts on “What Exactly IS Freedom?

  1. I recall the first time I had the opportunity to converse with Americans “in the flesh”. It was in Japan in 1971 where the wife and I had just got married. She had a number of American friends who worked at the American sponsored university she had attended in her home town. On one occasion, the concept of freedom came up in discussion, and it was very clear to me that our respective ideas on freedom were worlds apart, while the Americans believed I did not really understand the concept of freedom at all.

    I was 22 at the time, and in my rather simplistic idea of freedom at that time, I categorised freedom into ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. In my mind America theoretically had more ‘freedom to’, while NZ had more ‘freedom from’, but in practice, without freedom from such things as poverty, ignorance, poor health and oppression, the the opportunity to take advantage of ‘freedoms to’ are practically non-existent. I cited what is now termed “social mobility” as an example of how ‘freedom from’ provided more freedom than ‘freedom to’, as at that time, NZ was possibly the most socially mobile nation in the world and with the lowest levels of inequality (sadly we’ve slipped somewhat since the introduction of Rogernomics in the 1980s).

    I think I totally lost the Americans when I tried to explain, that ‘fairness’ rather than ‘freedom’ was the cornerstone of our democracy, and while American politicians talked of ‘freedom’ and ‘opportunity’ as going hand in hand, our politicians talked of ‘fairness’ and ‘opportunity’ in the same manner.

    While some of our comparison of our respective countries were along the lines of “My country is better than your country”, we really talked past each other when it came to concepts such as freedom, equality, fairness and opportunity.

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    • Thanks, Barry. There are Americans, and there are Americans. We’re not all alike and never have been especially concerning perspectives on freedom. If I had been there in Japan in 1971, I would’ve wholeheartedly agreed with you and your wife, and probably gotten into an argument with my fellow Americans.

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  2. Excellent article, Robert. The author raises important issues regarding our freedom. As an immigrant, I have observed that black and brown American-born citizens don’t share the same freedoms as whites. Of course, there are always exceptions.

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    • That is a direct consequence of the varying perspectives on “freedom.” To a racist, freedom means being able to discriminate against others without legal obstruction or recourse. To a libertarian, freedom means the preeminence of individuals and private organizations over government. To a religious fundamentalist, freedom means the absence of secular law.

      Conversely, people on the political left see freedom quite differently. They want to be free from arbitrary authority such as autocracy, corporatocracy, and theocracy. They support democracy and the rule of law while opposing all forms of authoritarianism.

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