Tuesday, 7 June 2005

Making freedom concrete

Many people misunderstand the nature of freedom. Many, many people. Most people however can easily identify what freedom is not, and when to run from places that it isn't.

So what exactly is it, then? 'Freedom' is not freedom from reality, as is sometimes claimed; it is not freedom to have your own way regardless of the rights of others; it is not a license to ride roughshod over others or their property. As Ayn Rand identified, 'freedom' means being being free to act upon one's own judgement, while recognising that same freedom in others: "Freedom, in a political context, has only one meaning: the absence of physical coercion."

Freedom is ... not freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide man with an automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state. [Rand]

There is sometimes confusion as to the 'limits' to freedom, as if for example rules against murder are a restraint against some sort of 'absolute freedom,' therefore we should drop the 'delusion' of freedom and agree that freedom is whatever society decides it is. This is of course errant nonsense:

It is not society nor any social right, that forbids you to kill -- but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a 'compromise' between two rights -- but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not [ultimately] derived from an edict of society -- but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society -- but is implicit in the definition of your own right.
Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute. [Rand]
So how do you know you are free? Well, as it happens, David McGregor at SovereignLife asks and answers that very question this week on his weekly website update:

Let's get personal. How do YOU rate your own freedom? And what is it that defines the freedom you think you have? How would you answer the following?

  • Are you able to start a business without bureaucratic overload?
  • Are you able to cut down a tree in your own back yard?
  • Are you able to keep the money you earn?
  • Are you able to smoke marijuana?
  • Are you able to read any book, or see any movie?
  • Are you able to express your opinion without fear?
  • Are you able to gamble at offshore online casinos?
  • Are you able to travel without undue harassment?
  • Are you able to buy, sell or trade whatever you like?
  • Are you able to keep your personal information private? The list could go on, but you get the drift.
Freedom, when it comes down to the wire, is the ability to make choices about your own life and property. Freedom is NOT about negating the same choices for other people. So, I cannot claim the freedom to steal another's property. Freedom can only be related to actions which do not impinge on someone else's freedom...
I think that freedom is best evaluated and defined by comparison to its complete opposite - slavery... This brings me to the conclusion that freedom is best measured by reference to how much of one's life remains in one's control.
How much of your life remains under your control?

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