What is Freedom?

A friend asked me one day, “What is freedom? Freedom from what? To do what”. My response was as follows…

I think in its most basic form, freedom is simply not being forced by another human into a course of action or inaction, whether physically, psychologically, or any other way. (People do not seem concerned with freedom environmentally, such as freedom from cold or heat or a certain size land mass etc.) In that way, for me, it’s clear that freedom is something that we only have in degrees. So physically, freedom would pretty much be no chains to restrict you and not much else, that I can think of.

So freedom “from what?” is dealt with in that definition I think, and as far as freedom “to do what?” that is a bit trickier. The broadest answer is freedom to do whatever you like. Now, I think when you look at freedom this way it soon becomes apparent how problematic freedom is. For instance, if I want to dye my hair taxicab yellow, freedom is fine. If I want to rape someone, freedom is a problem.

The vast majority of freedom is intangible or psychological, I think. Physically, I can’t think of much that is or can be forced on people to do; the vast majority of force is psychological force. Most of the time people are not taking your hands and forcing you to physically do something. Physical force is usually used to restrict you from doing something, I think. If someone puts a gun to your head, you’re not physically being forced, you’re being forced psychologically to make a choice: your life over the refusal of what’s demanded of you. The same with everyday scenarios, whether it’s social norms that threaten us with being ostracized, or it’s being threatened with arrest and jail time. I would say the psychological forces exerted on us determine our sense freedom more than anything else.

Beyond psychological forces, I believe that when most people think of the idea of freedom, they are probably more focused on consequences to themselves. Freedom does not change cause and effect; it does not change consequences or repercussions. So one person’s freedom can infringe on another person’s freedom. So I think maybe people see the idea of freedom as a lack of accountability or being free from consequences, they dislike, which affect them. Because, even if there are no consequences legally from an action that  someone decides to do in their freedom, there are still consequences and people don’t seem so concerned about the consequences or repercussions their actions have on others. But when those consequences affect them in a way they dislike, such as being arrested, or being physically hurt, to me, that is when people tend to believe they don’t have freedom.

So for me freedom is merely the choice to do or not do, and unless we’re in chains we pretty much have freedom because even with a psychological force, it doesn’t take away our choice. But freedom for most people seems to be the ability to do what they want without having to deal with a consequence that they dislike. Because of these things, freedom isn’t a word I use much.

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