Absolute Freedom! Really? Where is it?

Who does not want freedom? We all do, we love it. We all wish innately and strive – actively or passively, consciously or subconsciously – to be absolutely free from the unwanted clutches of everyone out there, including our own parents, siblings, friends, partners, neighbours and bosses. Many of us love to defy the authority of all kinds and shapes, at all levels. We despise being instructed or ordered or pushed to do anything that we do not want to do in the first place. We want to be our own ultimate free-masters – of our bodies and minds. We want to do (or say) whatever we feel like doing (or saying) – unrestrained, untethered, unbridled and unfettered. We hate taking orders from others as much as we hate being punished for being disobedient, defiant or unruly. As we rise through the intoxicating hierarchy of power – social, professional or political – we wish to do whatever we feel like doing or saying – unhindered, anytime and anywhere. We want to say whatever we feel like saying, unchallenged, to anyone who exists around us or who tends to boss us. In tricky and sensitive situations, however, our defiance and insubordination can cost us dearly; sometimes, it can cost us our limited and relative freedom; sometimes, our livelihood; and sometime, even our own life.

Freedom may be considered, albeit arguably, as the ultimate goal of our life – freedom from disease, poverty, slavery, drudgery, oppression, suppression and incarceration. In essence, we do everything – work and education included – to become free from the commands of other people and rise as the absolute masters of our own lives. Innately, therefore, each one of us could be taken to pursue freedom and attain an impossible state of freewill. In doing so, we incessantly strive to amass as much wealth and power as possible, by both fair and unfair means, to buy our autonomy. In the pursuit of absolute control over our lives, however, we may tend to intrude upon the freedom of others, which, in turn, can potentially cost us a portion of our own freedom if the offended individuals bear authority upon us or are more powerful than us.

Utopian versus real world

In a perfect, utopian world, our wishes, whims and wants for achieving total freedom may be justified as our birthright or a human-right. In the real world, however, we are and must be held accountable for what we do and how we do it, as well as what we say and how we say things that may potentially offend others or encroach upon their intrinsic human dignity, material interests or human-rights. No wonder that outlaws, deviants and rebels are usually humbled, subjugated and brought to account in the end.

Absolute freedom and total autonomy, therefore, must be considered as utopian and a distant dream for most of us if not all. In the real world, therefore, freedom must be considered as relative and limited to our position in the socio-economic hierarchy and, as such, only some of us are relatively freer than others but none of us is absolutely free. Our limited and relative freedom comes with our accountability and, therefore, responsibility towards other people. While enjoying it, we must exercise due care, with sensitivity towards the freedom and human-rights of other people. The freedom that is exercised and discharged carefully, with accountability and responsibility towards others, may be expected to remain sustainable in general but not always where we are treated only as commodities (and not as humans).

On an individual level, our material progress must not be defined by the amount of our material wealth or our educational qualifications (gained through tutored education) or the collection and display of our facilities and gadgets. In essence, it must be defined only by the degree of autonomy that we enjoy in the expression of our thoughts and activities that we undertake in the public space. Our non-conformance with the commands of our elders and superiors can earn us a tag of being called a rowdy, unruly or a rebel. Where we deviate from societal norms, we are called as anti-social. Our flirtation or confrontation with law makes us an outlaw or a criminal, with legal consequences against us.

We generally tend to lose what we misuse. This applies to our fundamental rights also. The law and authority decide what can be deemed as acceptable and what as punishable. In the food-chain, the mighty rule and the powerful write the law. In the human jungle, conformity with written (and unwritten) law is a trusted path to safety. However, where the authority is prejudiced against us, for whatever reasons, our conformance with law may mean nothing.

A complex life and social structure

In our early years of life, we enjoy very little free space or autonomy. Our life remains primarily tethered to those who look after us – our parents, elders, teachers and the society at large –and our freedom remains dependent upon their whims and wishes. To a lesser or greater extent, we attract punitive reaction for using uncivil language or indulging in unacceptable behaviours of defiance. Of course, for some of us, the degree of our relative autonomy increases as we grow but also dwindles in the sunset years of our lives when many of us become dependent on our children and health professionals.

Due to the known complexities of life, and how we remain interconnected with other humans around us – socially, professionally or politically, not many of us succeed in achieving an absolute control upon our lives. Most of us remain chained lifelong to the accepted norms – societal, professional and political. In our growing years, we learn the art of political correctness to save our skin in those complex, confronting and challenging situations where we are required to speak or act, albeit without incurring damage in return. Understandably, the lives of court jesters in the past world, who would spew bitter criticism upon their rulers or the ruling establishments, would have been hanging on the edge by a delicate thread, with the sword of Damocles hanging constantly over their heads.

In the real world, human lives have always remained fettered to the law of the land or, in the absence of the law, to the whims and wishes of the ruler, and the mighty and the powerful.

True and uninhibited knowledge can, of course, set our minds free but for that, one needs to have the rare gift of freedom of thought and the ability to think outside the box. Sadly, not many of us have that kind of gift or the freedom to think critically and ask questions. Young minds are ridiculed for challenging their elders and asking uncomfortable questions. As adults, they continue to be muffled and gagged, and sometimes punished severely. In the world of beliefs, myths are passed on to newer generations as facts and historical occurrences that must not be challenged. Political ideologies and religious mythologies are thrust upon most of us since we begin to walk and talk. As adults, most of us get swayed; we are gullible and fallible.

Plato (circa 429-347 BC) – the ancient Greek philosopher and the illustrious student of the great Socrates – proposed the Allegory of the Cave (in his famous work Republic), to ruminate on the nature of belief versus knowledge. He likened the people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave and unable to turn their heads. With a fire burning constantly behind them, they would see only the shadows dancing on the wall of the cave in front of them and that becomes their reality; they cannot be imagined to have any idea of the real world outside their cave. He said: “Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.”

Holistically, true education must help us in attaining freedom from the darkness of our ignorance. True education, with openminded critical thinking, transcends the tutored education, which must be expected to have limitations. Unless our tutored education sets us free on the unbridled path of independent and critical thinking, with ability of question anything and everything, it can potentially trap us within a box where we live with a limited set of knowledge that can potentially be exploited by others with agenda.

Freedom demands accountability and responsibility from those who exercise it.

Our best safety comes from exercising political correctness that we learn through our enculturation at home and / or from school. To save our relative freedom – of thought and expression – we learn the delicate art of cultured speech and polished writing. We learn about the potential consequences for being rebellious and how our wings can potentially be clipped if we offend the authority – at home or at school or at workplace or the government. We risk the complete loss of our limited freedom — of expression and activity — if we are seen to be on the wrong side of the authority.

On social media, one may remain hidden and evade punishment for offensive posts as long as the authority chooses to turn a blind eye. But where the cyber hunters, employed by the authority itself, remain on the constant prowl, one is bound to be caught and punished. A social media user, deemed to be an actual or potential threat by the authority, can be punished for sedition.

In conclusion, while venting out our thoughts — in spoken or written words — we must remain always cognizant of the sensitivities of the authority and the audience (and readership) and, therefore, exercise our (limited) freedom responsibly and cautiously. While we enjoy and exercise our fundamental rights, we must not infringe on the rights of other people. Irresponsible social media users – who are incapable of intellectual engagements with other users or tend to make fun or indulge in personal attacks on them – exposes their own limitations, fallibility and shallowness. Civility demands that one focuses on the topic under discussion, without becoming personal or attacking other people.

… Bill Koul [Perth, Western Australia (03 August 2022)]

2 thoughts on “Absolute Freedom! Really? Where is it?

  1. Dear Mr Kaul,
    Your blog is a mix of philosophy, religion and politics of Freedom. You have given the different aspects of human freedom and its significance in our lives. However, I found some parts of it hard to understand. I have tried to tell you what I feel about human freedom without having anything to contradict your point of view. My views on human freedom are as under

    Do we have freedom in the first instance? It is an old philosophical and theological debate on Freewill and Determinism. Does Freewill exist? Do we experience it? Has luck, some say destiny or chance, played a role in our lives? There is no correct answer to these questions. . Reflecting on them, I feel that Freewill exists. I exercise it daily, primarily unreflectively. For instance, I choose to have tea with biscuits or have tea only or have nothing. I am writing a comment on your post is also the exercise of Freewill as I have the option not to write it. Looking back on my life’s journey, I shouldn’t be shy to say that luck has played an important role in what I have achieved. So, in my experience, free will and luck/ chance/ destiny exist. By agreeing that Freewill exists, I become solely responsible for the consequences of my actions, however burdensome they may be. Generally, we avoid owning the responsibility for our actions.

    Further, I believe that my Freewill and my freedom as an individual in society are not identical. Individual freedom is a set of rights society gives to protect an individual from the powerful, the state, in the modern human civilisation. My constitutional right to life and my decision to commit suicide aren’t identical freedoms. The latter is entirely in my hands ( Freewill), whereas society decides the former.

    We, as a society of individuals, must be more concerned with the freedoms that society and the political systems give to individuals and society than with the philosophical views concepts of Freewill. The extent and nature of these freedoms decide the human condition of society. In Afghanistan, a Taliban Area commandant can summarily send an accused to gallows without trial. It can’t happen in any civilised country. Nobody has authority in a civilised nation to shoot a person without the due process of law ascertaining that the accused is not deprived of his ‘freedom to live.

    Over many years, political philosophers and political science academicians and politicians have agreed that human is born with some unalienable rights like the right to life and the right to liberty etc. These unalienable rights and a few more are enshrined in the constitutions of many nations. And it is the responsibility of the state to uphold the rights of its citizens through well-laid down laws, rules and processes. These rights are independent of our duties towards the state. The state has no authority to curtail my fundamental rights beyond what is already defined in the statute by telling me that I haven’t performed my duties.

    The sad part of human nature is that we love to have more power over our fellow beings. So, it is not uncommon for governments to restrict the freedom of their people or a section of their people to satisfy the urges to have power over the lives of fellow human beings. Governments use all sorts of tricks, entitlement, enticements and nefarious ways to curtail the freedoms of their citizens. They use state machinery to subvert the laws, rules and processes to deprive people of their rights. You can look around and see this thing happening in many countries.

    I conclude that the freedom ( Freewill) that I exercise is limitless. I decide what I eat, wear, drink, and do at a specific hour of the day……… The list is infinitely long. I have infinite choices. There is no external agency which restricts my freedom. But, maybe my consciousness restricts my freedom. Otherwise, I have the freedom to jump to death from the balcony of my flat. I don’t do that, but the choice is there. Also, I am responsible for the consequences of my decisions. If I equivocate on the consequences of my choices, then I am acting in Bad Faith.

    Freedoms given by the society through legislation or otherwise are safeguards to the citizens to protect them from the violence of the powerful state. These rights are broad but not absolute. They are restrictive, and the nature of restrictions is given in the statutes. Citizens are not to uphold these laws. It is the responsibility of the state to defend the unalienable rights of its citizens. These rights are free of any encumbrances other than pre-stated restrictions. Our duties towards the state have no direct relation to our unalienable rights as human beings. The Netas are creating encumbrances where none exist to curtail our freedoms.

    1. Dear Mr Peer, thank you for your detailed and valuable comments. The piece is philosophically objective and not subjective. It aims to challenge us. As for the concept of freewill, scientific studies (based on quantum and other theories in Physics) have indicated a total absence of freewill (i.e. it does not exist, as everything is preordained by Nature, including how we think and act), which many of us will undoubtedly find extremely challenging our existence, thoughts and beliefs. The research continues …
      Regards. Bill

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