‘One person’s freedom is another person’s tyranny’ – I said that.
Freedom is something that I’ve thought about a lot. Nobody values their freedom more than me. But when does freedom become licence?
What is obvious the minute you start to think about freedom is that it is all a compromise. Nobody, not even the frontiersman living in the wilderness, is completely free.
Freedom is dependent on context. You don’t sit on a bus and belch and fart – or at least you shouldn’t.
As a youth I used to idealise the life of hunter/gatherer societies living, what I saw as a more natural existence, in tribes, in tune with nature. I recognised that it was a hard and dangerous life; a short life too, but it had that sense of freedom that I craved.
But I bet if I went and lived in one of those societies I would find my ‘freedom’ just as limited. I think that the religious/spiritual beliefs, the hierarchy of the society, the cultural taboos, the personal relationships, the hardships and dangers; they would all have put strictures on a person’s freedom.
As soon as you live with other people you have to take them into account; you compromise.
‘Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking of the times when I’ve been loved’ to paraphrase Donovan.
Even living on one’s own has its compromises. One has to eat, to be safe, to keep warm and sheltered. There are constraints.
Freedom is never absolute. We all have to live by rules that are, hopefully, designed for the good of all – whether that is driving on the right side of the road or not attacking other people. Without rules and regulations that restrict people the world is unsafe, people are abused and exploited, and the environment is wrecked.
So – what we argue about when we talk of freedom is the point where the rules become too petty and restricting, is it not?
So what are the freedoms that I value?
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of belief
- Freedom of political views
- Freedom of movement
- Freedom of appearance
- Freedom from abuse or exploitation
- Freedom to be treated fairly by those in power
- Freedom to enjoy myself
There are caveats to these freedoms that I accept. For instance I would accept that neither I, nor anybody else, have the right to incite violence or hatred through my free speech. I accept that inciting racism, misogyny or bullying others is wrong. I do not believe that I, or anybody else, have the right to brainwash children. I do not believe that any of us has the right to inflict pain or anguish on other people or creatures. I accept that I should not do anything that damages the environment.
Other rules I might argue over – the drug laws for instance or whether burqas should be allowed.
So I am prepared to accept limits on my freedoms as long as those limitations have a good reason.
Particularly in America I hear people talking about their freedoms – the right to bear arms, the right to prevent other people having abortions, the right to home educate, the right to indoctrinate their children and the right to stop sex education.
What I don’t hear is the effect of exercising these ‘rights’ on the freedoms of others.
I hear about opposition to ‘Big Government’ and that communities should decide. Yet I see the mass killings, environmental destruction, gross inequality, exploitation, racism, violence, sexism and do not hear of pragmatic solutions to these problems.
The main problem I see is that everybody thinks they are right, what they believe is true. For example they are content to exercise their right to hunt and kill and assume that what they see as vermin is the same as what others see as vermin, and that their views of their freedoms are universally agreed. Couple that with a belief that their own government is the enemy and all experts lie because they are in the pay of either government or big business, and I think we have a society that is in deep trouble.
A society exists upon acceptance of agreed rules. These rules compromise one’s freedom but are necessary for a variety of reasons.
Have we got the balance right? There’s the debate.
When does freedom become licence? When do rules become petty restrictions of rights? Do we allow the bullies, the powerful and wealthy to do what they like and run roughshod over everyone else?
One person’s freedom is another person’s tyranny.