A lot of people who talk of their ‘freedoms’ (for example, freedom of speech) are really just talking about the length of their leash. There’s a difference between being free and being granted a certain amount of clothesline by an authoritarian keeper. Particularly, those who have it deeply engrained in them (via psychological pressure, etc.) to obey can be given more leash (the leash has been internalised). But the leash is still there.
The principle of freedom requires an entity called an “individual”. No one else can grant you freedom, they can only grant you an amount of leash (an amount of limitation), for in the act of ‘granting’ they are assuming control, and you are assuming an obedient role. Only you can grant yourself freedom, by acknowledging whatever strengths and resources you possess, acting according to your own individual values and aspirations, and facing the consequences with whatever is at your disposal. This same principle applies to an organisation which seeks to be free — it all depends not on what others grant them, but what they assume for themselves. With freedom implicitly comes responsibility.
The etymology of the word ‘right’: Middle English, from Old English riht; akin to Old High German reht right, Latin rectus straight, right, regere to lead straight, direct, rule, rogare to ask, Greek oregein to stretch out.
If you are granted a ‘right’ that is proof that you are not free, that you do not possess liberty. Liberty is not, cannot be a right. That is an oxymoron. Whether the writers of the American constitution understood this I cannot say. But you can understand it if you choose.
If you ask others to grant you rights, at least acknowledge that you are granting them the right to dictate to you, to lord over you. You are abdicating your liberty and acknowledging their lordship. There are benefits to having an overlord, which is why people abdicate their liberty in some circumstances. But if it is liberty you seek, then assume it, seize it; make your own decisions, obey your own values. You may ask others to respect your individuality and personal sovereignty, but don’t ask others to give you liberty.
Liberty requires two ingredients: Freedom and power. Liberty is the employment of freedom.
Consider those who are granted “freedom of speech”. Are they permitted to speak whatever they wish? Of course not. There are exceptions, qualifications, subtle and implied limitations. Say the wrong thing and the leash gets shorter, or the master comes to move you to different accommodations (ones less visible and with fewer rights). Those granted “freedom of speech” like to show us how splendidly long their leash is, polishing it with pride and making speeches about it, but they are mistaken in calling it freedom.
But you already have the freedom to say what you wish. Can you not operate your own mouth, your own pen? What this so-called freedom of speech right really grants is a promise that, within limits, your keeper will not attack you for what you say, and will stop those who would attack you. (Whether this promise is kept is another issue.) Thus you are granted the right not to be attacked by your master, and you are granted his (promise of) protection (or often merely his promise of retaliation which is far less useful). In other words you are not given anything, merely promised that you will not have something stolen from you. And this makes sense, because the keeper is not really in a position to grant freedom, merely to take it away, to limit it. He does not possess your freedom so he cannot give it. You possess your freedom.
Can your freedom be stolen? In fact no. Your goods can be stolen, you can be beaten, killed. Your resources, means, power, liberty can be diminished. But freedom cannot be stolen. At best others can convince you to obey them, to lend them your freedom, your obedience, usually in return for something.
Two examples of laws:
- A driver may not drive faster than one hundred kilometres per hour.
- Light does not exceed 3 x 10^8 metres per second.
What is the difference between these two laws? They both imply limits. However the first is a decree, an order given by one to another which is to be obeyed. In fact it is false, in that a person may choose to drive faster. This law conveys a desire and a will to enforce.
The second is a natural law — a limitation. It’s not that a photon disobeying it will be pulled over, racially harassed, and ticketed. He is free to go as fast as he can. The law doesn’t set the limit or attempt to usurp freedom, it merely reflects an observation of behaviour. It is unenforced.
To be more natural like the second law, the first law could be rewritten:
If a driver drives faster than one hundred kilometres per hour, hungry police may attempt to catch him and attack his wallet, and he may be stigmatised with demerits which may affect his (granted) rights.
Unfortunately some live as if a law (decree) really does represent an impossibility, a natural limitation, saying such things as “I can’t do this” or “I have to pay my taxes”. Their habits of speech reveal how they have been conditioned and how they condition themselves — how they have removed the possibility of choice from their consideration. Tucking those facts away as impossibilities, they then consider themselves free and possessing individual liberty.
I think is it important to remind ourselves of the difference between things we really believe we cannot do, such as drive ten thousand kilometres per hour, and those which we are told by an authority we must or must not do. In fact we should say “I choose not to do this to avoid attack (what some call ‘punishment’, although I fail to see a distinction), instead of saying “I must do this”. The difference is the difference between choice and obedience. Responding to a force out of necessity and consideration of its potential or merit is different than obeying a force which you regard as your lord.
How power and freedom are often confused
Earlier I stated that an individual’s freedom cannot be granted or stolen, merely forgotten or dismissed. Does this then imply that a person who has acknowledged his freedom and does not look to others to grant him rights is able to do anything he likes? No. Just as a light wave cannot propagate faster than c, individuals have natural limitations, based on resources, wit, courage, wisdom, their position relative to others and their environment, etc. Their power.
In contrast to the case of a person who looks to others to grant him rights, a free-minded individual evaluates his own power, strengths, limitations, and needs, and takes actions which he deems suitable. Likewise he takes responsibility for those actions, and deals with their consequences.
The state of freedom can be a very subtle one to realise. In a sense it is an ‘anything goes’ policy. But while some would claim this leads to chaos, in fact people do have values, and they do have limitations. This is as much a part of them as are their destructive tendencies.
Now let’s consider what might happen if everyone were free, as I have claimed they intrinsically are. Some, due to their nature, would live in peace, but others, due to their nature, would seek to subjugate the will of others, would steal and plunder. People would probably form into groups, based on their beliefs, skin colour, or location. They might choose as leaders people with charisma and energy, and they might be betrayed by brutal leaders who assume power.
Groups might set decrees setting forth certain expectations, and individuals would be expected to obey these decrees, or would be attacked by the group. Many individuals would become accustomed to being controlled from without. The group might use psychological propaganda and misinformation on young people to deeply engrain habits in them at a young age, or might even attempt to convince them that freedom is a thing which only the group can bestow — a right.
Groups would often conflict with other groups, waging war to attain supremacy, attempting to assimilate the losers.
This discussion was my clever way of demonstrating that people are in fact already free, and always have been. Freedom does not imply omnipotence or omniscience. It alone does not imply liberty. It merely indicates a will to choose. What many seek while claiming to seek freedom is more power.
A free-minded person does not have to be a rebel, his house filled with machine guns, explosives, and Crays. In fact he may be a peaceful law-abiding citizen. The difference can be very subtle. He may obey a law only because he understands that if he doesn’t he will be attacked by the group. This does not mean he is not free, for he is consciously making his choices based on his environment. It does mean his power, and thus his liberty, is limited.
Likewise, a rebel may not understand freedom at all. He may rebel against governments and people because he believes they possess his freedom. He may break laws only because the action is forbidden. He merely reacts. He may be just as bound as one who obeys unthinkingly. He has power but cannot employ it freely, he can only apply it in opposition.
Now my reader may say that most are like the law-abiding, free-minded individual, just obeying to avoid punishment, but in fact that is not the case. Government has become a deeply engrained religion of sorts, and people have become dependent on the security (illusory and otherwise) which the group mentality provides. They see presidents, governors, soldiers, policemen, and pieces of carefully printed paper as holy and sacred. They believe deeply that rights granted are freedoms. Except when encouraged to do otherwise, they assume that the law is right, and that which breaks the law is wrong. They rarely question the basic fabric of their beliefs. It is unthinkable.
Further, even aside from the influence of their governments proper, people are greatly influenced by the subtle pressures and taboos of their neighbours. They sacrifice themselves and their liberty to blend in, not merely because they fear the consequences of being different, a reasonable fear even for a free-minded individual, but because they honestly come to believe themselves to be wrong, broken, sick. They come to hate themselves as others do.
The difference between those who are free at heart, yet lack liberty, and those who are deeply conditioned to believe in authority, cannot often be clearly seen in times of peace. Those who have forgotten freedom will often claim they are free, ironically pointing to their leashes, their rights, as proof. But when the opportunities for change come, as they always do eventually, these people will cower and try to retain ’the system’. They have grown dependent on it. They will respond to those who welcome change with violence and hatred, much like a trained dog on a leash angrily barking at a stranger. Others will welcome change, and will struggle through it, still able to see that greater things can be accomplished.
I believe most of us would like to put ourselves in the second category, believing we are just putting up with the system for awhile, and have not forgotten that we are free. But that is wishful thinking, and the truth is not black and white. We have all been trained to think we are not capable, trained to believe freedom is bestowed. And this training takes constant vigilance to challenge.
Pleading for rights, while perhaps valuable, will not make you free, will not give you liberty. It will only make you a more powerful dog, a more effective tool. Liberty requires a much deeper commitment than begging others to grant you rights, or attempting to become one of the rulers rather than the ruled, and it requires a great deal of patience for the genuine changes to occur. I see many grabbing for rights while still clinging to an entire system hinged upon obedience and oppression. It is not freedom these people seek, it is merely power.
At first, freedom must be cultivated internally, by realising that rights granted by an authority are not freedoms. Until you take your destiny into your own hands and stop whining to others for rights, for privacy, for power, you will not comprehend the nature of freedom, or the nature of freedom in motion — liberty. We all have some power, no matter how large or small, no matter whether we live in the wilderness or in a jail cell. It is how we use that power which we have, or in despair fail to use it, that determines whether we live as free individuals or as automatons. Power and wisdom work in tandem. If one has more power than wisdom, he uses it poorly and looses it. If one has more wisdom than power, he uses what little he has wisely, and thus gains more power. Power alone is not liberty. One may be powerful but not free. One may be free but not powerful.
Freedom is choice, independence. Liberty is the free use of power — not power over one’s environment or fellows, but power in harmony with them.
Make use of the following additional resources to expand knowledge and understanding of the topic covered in this unit.
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