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Old 07-28-2009, 04:37 PM
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MonoVCPHG MonoVCPHG is offline
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Default What is Freedom?

I recently attended an Anarchist Book fare fund raiser which involved a movie about aggressive activists against capitalism and the system. First off, I am quite comfortable in capitalism and being a part of the system. One of the things repeatedly mentioned in the Anarchist approach is a quest for freedom.

The thing that bothers me is that in the movie we watched, freedom was never defined. I'm not talking the arms waving in the air, "I'm in tune with the universe" stuff. I'm talking an empirical definition of what freedom would mean and a working example of a modern society that can provide things like health care, food and civil order.

So here's my question; what does freedom mean to you? I actually feel very free. I have been to many Arabic states, all over Asia and the U.S. We have it pretty good.

Last edited by River; 07-28-2009 at 05:26 PM. Reason: added question mark to title question
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Old 07-28-2009, 05:01 PM
AutumnalTone AutumnalTone is offline
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"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." There's a grain of truth in that song, though I don't think it provides any useful description.

Freedom involves a very basic level of autonomy for individuals. Freedom in a society involves guarantees of that basic level of autonomy for individuals in meaningful fashion; one is free to travel, for example, only if one can reasonably expect to actually accomplish travel, that one can accumulate the resources readily to achieve the travel. If one has a nominal right to travel yet will never be able to do so due to participation in a system that won't allow one to gather the resources to travel, then one isn't actually free to travel.

I think Amartya Sen (Nobel laureate economist) had the right of it in his book "Freedom as Economic Development." Granted, there are components to freedom that aren't economic in nature, though to enjoy the full benefits of those in large part rests on having the resources available to do so.
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Old 07-28-2009, 05:13 PM
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If one has a nominal right to travel yet will never be able to do so due to participation in a system that won't allow one to gather the resources to travel, then one isn't actually free to travel.

.
This brings up an idea of relativity in freedom.

Essentially each person defines their freedom based on what they want and how hard they are willing to work to achieve the resources to get that freedom.

I don't believe most systems deny anyone the ability to collect resources. I find it more prevalent that some people aren't willing to work for it. There are at times medical limitations on one's ability to collect resources and I accept that.

If my idea of freedom is being able to read books than I must put the effort into learning how to read. No one is going to hand me that knowledge.
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Old 07-28-2009, 06:08 PM
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" ... I'm talking an empirical definition of what freedom would mean .... "
It seems to me that the question "What is freedom?" isn't answerable by purely empirical means [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empirical]. The question is intrinsically "normative," as philosophers call such things. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normative#Philosophy]

One could devise a somewhat empirical definition of freedom, but it would have highly limited utility, since it wouldn't apply to myriad important situations. This very limited construction would define freedom as "able to move about freely," basically, as in the case of any animal which either is in a cage or a trap -- or not.

The normative, or philosophical, question --What is freedom?-- is an ancient (and continuing) inquiry, and a good and important one. My own view is that there are better and worse responses to this question, and the better ones, I think, always involve the question of social justice. For it makes little sense to answer, "Freedom is the ability to do whatever the hell I want." Obviously, if my wants aren't in perfect accord with the wants of all others who will be in any way affected by the behaviors issuing from those wants, I can't consider What is freedom? without considering these others and their wants and needs. So the very concept of freedom, I think, belongs to philosophical ethics. It is an ethical question more than an empirical one.

Considered ethically, my freedom isn't 100% about just me, but necessarily includes my life with others, and their freedom. I don't believe I can be optimally free if my neighbors are not also optimally free, and since so many of my neighbors (nearby or far away) haven't got optimal justice-dependent freedom, neither do I.

So, what is justice, then? Justice is basically fairness. It isn't fair for some people to do all of the work, or all of the dirty, dangerous, toxic work at little pay, while I or others "benefit" from their degraded condition. I'm thinking of the boy in India I saw in a online video, recently. He was very poor, and the only work available to him was holding bits of electronic waste (broken or obsolete computers, mostly) over a hot fire, while knocking components from circuit boards. He breathes toxic fumes all day while doing this, and the price he will pay in health is far, far too high for whatever meager benefit may come of his work. And here I am, typing on a computer. Proof that, though he's on the other side of the world, I'm in a kind of immediate relationship with him. he's far away, but nearby. Right at my finger tips. His unfreedom impinges upon my freedom, limits my freedom, or at least informs it. I cannot pretend that his freedom--or unfreedom--is unrelated to mine. I am only optimally free when everyone is. But that's an ideal, and isn't likely to ever be completely achieved. So none of us are quite free, really. We will be free when the world is a just--fair--place. No sooner. Or, put differently, we are free by degrees, little by little.... It is the road we are on, we hope.
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Old 07-28-2009, 07:46 PM
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We will be free when the world is a just--fair--place. No sooner. Or, put differently, we are free by degrees, little by little.... It is the road we are on, we hope.
Although I don't think on a world scale in general, this is a great way of putting the overall ideal of freedom. I think there has to be a huge shift in human mentality and thinking for the world to evolve into a "peaceful" place. I don't think any one group has the idea right at this point..because we don't think the way we have to in order to achieve it.
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:42 PM
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I don't think any one group has the idea right at this point..because we don't think the way we have to in order to achieve it.
I draw inspiration from Mahayana Buddhist thought as well as from the philosophy of John Rawls and others. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rawls]

From Rawls, I got the idea of justice as fairness. And Mahayana Buddhism (which I take mainly psychologically and existentially -- and eschew any superstition from it), is a nice lens to use to discover that all things and beings are profoundly interconnected and interdependent, and that we don't really have a separate self with which to be "free," or which could be free. Though this lens I have come as far as I have in realizing that no being's suffering, or joy!, is unconnected with my own. My dignity depends on the dignity of others; my happiness on the happiness of others; my well-being on the well-being of others....

We can, of course, be more-or-less ignorant of these facts, but they are facts nevertheless, and can be discovered and learned as such.

The whole notion of separate selves is ... well, mainly an illusion created by language and narrowly conceived thought. Such selves, separate selves, simply do not exist -- although we are all quite rightly understood to be distinct individuals. There's no paradox there, really. None of these words are separate from all of the others in this text, either. Nor are the words separate from the sentences, or the sentences separate from the paragraphs. Yet all of these can be rightly understood as having distinction --
since they can be pointed out and named.

It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of injustices can readily be solved as problems, but only by people with their empathetic lights turned on, and with potentially resulting compassionate motivation -- which arises naturally when we see things (and ourselves) as we really are: non-separate.

Non-separation is not a perfect equivalent of, or synonym with, "oneness," as many think it is. The word "oneness" implies no distinction between one's self and another--or a lack or loss of alterity [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/alterity]. Radical empathy, though, perserves alterity while also allowing the realization of essential non-otherness. This experience *is* paradoxical, in concept -- but not in feeling-intuition. Altruism is the natural activity of the truly free.
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Old 07-29-2009, 01:06 AM
AutumnalTone AutumnalTone is offline
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Amartya Sen speaks most directly about India and similar countries were the poor are quite left out of all economic activity except as something to be exploited. It has relevance in first world countries, too, though. One can be willing to work for something and still not be in a position to do so.
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Old 07-29-2009, 01:40 AM
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It has relevance in first world countries, too, though. One can be willing to work for something and still not be in a position to do so.
I do have a tendancy to not consider the rest of the world I admit. I am afflicted by the "if I can't see it, it doesn't affect me" syndrome. Where I am from this is not an uncommon attitude. My world is very simple in many ways because I am unconcerned with much of the bigger world I am on. I accept this and won't pretend to be anything I am not. The sad thing is I miss out on a lot of lessons I could be taught.

Thanks for reminding me of this my friend
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Old 07-29-2009, 02:15 AM
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".... I am afflicted by the "if I can't see it, it doesn't affect me" syndrome. ..."
I have the opposite affliction, myself. If it's an affliction. I profoundly understand that we're all interrelated and that no individual human life is more valuable than another. Even non-human beings get my sympathy when they're unfairly treated. And I also know that the entire present global economy, and dominant culture, depends on exploitative mistreatment of others -- whether we see it and know it or not. And I also understand that present generations are drawing down all of our "natural capital," robbing the future of ecosystem and biospheric integrity and climate stability.... Worse!: I know that these problems can be solved if we will let ourselves FEEL their calling to us for a more informed and appropriate response. Not just us as individuals, but us as a community. For we are the community of life -- not just isolated individuals. It's worse, because so many don't yet feel this call. And most of those can't understand that my intention is not to provoke guilt or shame. My intention is to provoke love and compassion.
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Old 07-29-2009, 05:26 AM
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In a loose sense, "freedom" to me is the ability to do what I want as long as others are not harmed. If someone is hurt, then I try to apply the Golden Rule (Law of Reciprocity) to decide if it is just. So in a sense, I see "freedom" in a more limited construct that what it really means. However, I think it is closer to what a lot of mean by the term.
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