Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose-
I think that many people have a fundamental misconception about what freedom is, and the quote above from the Janis Joplin song sums it up. Janis summarized the sentiment of much of the boomer generation in the 60’s, roughly equating freedom to some sort of material nihilism. In a sense, freedom is having no ties, and no obligations.
But the other side of the political spectrum can miss the mark also. Libertarians will sometimes espouse the motto ‘every law they pass in Washington is one more freedom taken away.’ This roughly implies that we would be free (or freer) if we weren’t restricted by laws and government sovereignty.
I believe that freedom is quite paradoxical. Freedom can only be obtained by binding oneself through commitments and responsibilities, so long as they are taken by choice.
Is a bird free just because it can fly?
Can you even have true freedom when you still have an identity? For me this is one of the most compelling examples of freedom. One who sheds the preconceived notions, opinions and defenses of self is free in the sense that they are unbound by selfish desires, and they can create their life for any purpose they choose. But there can be freedom in that creation, even if what is created is a binding life of multilayered commitments and responsibilities. There is a tremendous freedom in having a purpose in life and structuring your life around that purpose. One avoids all the endless self talk ‘what should I do with my life?’ ‘is this the right job for me?’ ‘why am I here?’
I think freedom is essentially choice, and in that sense, we all are immeasurably free. We are only not free in our minds. The fundamental element of a human being, when you tear away all the layers of perception, thought, need and desire, is attention. We watch, we see, we observe. That is our nature. But the thing that controls the observation is choice. We choose to observe and pay attention to things, and from those billions of choices about what to pay attention to, our brains are wired and programmed, we develop ideas, concepts, reflexes and behaviors. Our bodies act from those mental constructs and things happen in the physical outside world.
Wars are fought, the sick are healed and discoveries are made, all stemming from the simple act of choice. You chose what to pay attention to, and it shapes your life.
The very act of liberation leading to greater, but voluntary, imprisonment is a type of freedom many people don’t contemplate, much less strive to engage in. This is the freedom of binding yourself through commitment. People who are truly committed and responsible toward those commitments are more restricted than the boundless. They have chosen to bound their actions within the commitment. But they are also more free than the uncommitted. Within the domain of their commitment, they don’t have to fret and ponder one action or another. They simply take action in line with the commitment.
EG A truly committed husband/father doesn’t have to fret about this date or that relationship, or attraction to his secretary, or quitting his job to run off and play. He is committed, so is freed from those considerations. He is bound, but voluntarily, through choice, and therein his constraints are actually liberation. So to for any truly committed person.
And by committing oneself to wake up and be aware, one has freedom in all of life.
And what of imposed obligations that may bind the individual but create more net freedom for the whole?