On Freedom-

Hay all, I’m back with some thoughts on how to make things better. Like all the posts, feel free to use what you like and disregard the rest. (going to TRY to keep up the posting, but being lazy is SOOO tempting… we’ll see how it goes)


I’ve touched on this before, but given our current social-political polarization it seems appropriate to cover it again.

Freedom is the ability to do (say, feel, think, move, ect.) what you want, It’s applicable to all sentient live (not only humans). We have limitations on our freedoms, they come from different sources (Physical, social, political ect..) and these change over time, as our collective understanding changes.

Physical restrictions on freedom would be the limits on our understanding of the physical sciences, for most of history people could not fly, now thousands do every day. Keeping warm, growing food, how we interact with our environment has changed and (for most) this has been an expansion of freedom (we have more options for staying warm than ever before). Socially we have a different range of acceptable practices, this is not necessarily a net gain in freedom though, as we have also added new social restrictions along the way, but society (especially in the west) has a more muted role now then historically (for most of history even slight deviations from the norm could result in death, now in some places that is getting to be an exception, not the norm).  Political- changing political affiliation is now common place, and we even have the ability (some of us) to choose our political affiliation, historically political affiliation was something you were born into.

Point being, freedom is not a static state that we revile in each day, but rather a range of choices we have that has changed over time and is unique to each individual and circumstance. I do not think of freedom as an absolute, or even an ideal. While having the ability to do what one desires is intrinsic to most of us, unchecked that can quickly lead to excesses of suffering. In our bloodied past (And still to this day) freedom was used as a pretense to justify violence. (Just recently: Annexations of Ukraine and Crimea by Russia) How should a society best insulate it’s self from these excesses?  We have seen nations like North Korea take an extreme approach as far as restricting what ideas can be expressed. Artificial hominization like that has benefits to be sure (no new ideas means systems and institutions are less likely to change, be disrupted or (a particular concern of the Kim’s ) be overthrown), but it also cripples the society’s ability to advance or change.  The other extreme is where we see the western world, sprinting towards technological evolution with no institution safe from the march of progress. From religion to governance all have been altered almost beyond recognition in the last 300 years.

I purpose a pragmatic approach; Freedom of thought should be absolute, meaning that there should never be actions taken to limit the ideas considered and communicated in a society. If your keen on driving a bus through a crowd, I think we would all prefer you tell us that PRIOR to doing it!   However, I would not recommend extending that same absolute freedom to actions, nor should ideas be free from scrutiny. To put it another way, freedom of expression should be maintained because of the benefits it offers both the induvial and society: The individual is able to see how their idea compares to others, ideally refining their though processes to produce new and better ideas more aligned with the society they are a part of. The freedom in a society can be limited by the ideas it permits to be expressed, so allowing this less or unrestricted flow of ideas will maximize the options available to the society. (I am assuming that no person or group will endeavor without thinking first, though that will likely be a blog post of its own down the line).  It is imperative that the society have some institutions or process to gauge and evaluated these ideas though, less the excess of our past be re-hatched.

The crux is some restrictions on freedom are good ( in that they reduce suffering), but each restriction should be considered and weighted on an individual basis, be in place only as long as necessary and have a process of redress.  To bring in a current day example; recently someone was convicted of manslaughter for advising their significant other to commit suicide (which they did). The expressing of the Idea (initially) should be protected by society, however whom it was expressed to and the manner of expression was far more than what was necessary to communicate the idea (and the idea was fairly shit). Before anyone came to harm it could have been flagged as dangerous (recall this was via text msg.) and the receiver could have been sent other ideas to give this one context.  A better outcome of this tragedy ( than one dead citizen and another one imprisoned) would be a system where all SMS’s that advocate suicide prompt an auto msg. explaining society’s position on the matter, maybe links to available help. The idea is to preserve our ability to communicate such things, but protect persons that such ideas may influence un-duly. Further, if it becomes necessary to restrict a specific induvial’s freedom, it can be done on levels and only the lightest restriction that will protect the public should be used: cutting access to SMS’s is better than cutting off all digital communication, which is better than house arrest, with is better than prison, which is better than lobotomy, which is better ( arguably ) than death.

We are the custodians of our own and others freedom, careful consideration, empathy, and transparency are what a society needs to both protect its own freedom and that of its members. Either extreme (too permissive or too restrictive) can lead to excess of suffering or stagnation of the society, only by having the conversation, really examining what we value can a determination on freedom be made, and even then there will always be individual situations that need redress. Society’s that do this well will find themselves armed with all the options they need to deal effectively with any situation, those that do not will be relegated to the annuals of history.

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