Me, Bobbie McGee and the Slippy Slope of Freedom N’at
Posted by PintofStout on July 3, 2006
I was listening to an interview of Chris Kristofferson on Fresh Air the other day, where he was asked about the line “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” and whether it happened after he lost all his stuff in a fire. It turns out he said it felt quite liberating to have nothing left. The interview had me thinking about my conversation with B___, and subsequently T___, and the conclusion B___ and I had drawn regarding freedom in logical extremes. The question started as what you would do if you had all the freedom you want and talk about. Both of us, being the cubical creatures we are currently, said we’d do something involving nature; camping and traveling for me and perhaps a more stationary pastoral existence for B__.
A larger question arose from our answers: “What is Freedom; is it freedom from something or freedom to do something?” While there are two schools of thought (and a few synthesizers) about Freedom either being positive or negative (not a value judgment as the terms might connote), one concentrating on means and the other concentrating on ends, I will keep this simple. Once you have freedom from involuntary outside coercion then your freedom to is essentially endless.
I could give a litany of varying examples that would only make me stray far a field from my point. In fact, in a previous draft of this entry, that is exactly what happened. I was commenting on the article linked above before I could get to the message of this post, and in the process I was getting lost in the quagmire of philosophical discussion.
For now, though, the coercions in a physical and psychological sense are what keep us from actually doing stuff. These can include threats of physical or psychological coercion, but these can also fall into a gray area. I’ve been using the term coercion pretty broadly, when really I mean anything from verbal reproach or disapproval to being killed violently. Coercion falls into two classifications; voluntary and involuntary, and excludes natural consequences such as those brought on by gravity, combustion, and biological effects of heavy bleeding, etc. B___ and I agreed that freedom is maximized when the involuntary coercion is reduced to zero.
Reducing voluntary coercion is the extreme where we concluded reducing it to zero would mean eliminating all contact with civilization to the person. Voluntary coercions are the consequences resulting from different actions based upon the community and association we choose for ourselves. For instance, my dream of freedom involving travel and the outdoors is limited mostly by voluntary coercion; (I say mostly because I have a special talent for linking everything stinky back to the state) first is debt stemming from a house and a cloudy college education, next is the choice to be committed to my wife (nearly the only source of happiness in my daily grind). If I were to pick up and leave, either defaulting on loans or selling everything, I would either have to convince A__ to come with me or leave her behind. Her feelings and my feelings for her are coercion that I had a choice in, but are coercion nonetheless. Every person we meet and, expanding into our “society” – writ small, community-style or writ large, whole human race-style, have an effect upon our actions resulting from societal consequences for behavior. Voluntary societal coercion I limit to disapproval and conceptions only, thus leaving out physical restraints. Physical restraints in the form of government, which is how involuntary societal coercion usually manifests itself, I consider immoral based upon the involuntary and aggressive nature of such devices. So, to reduce voluntary coercion to zero like we postulated for involuntary coercion would require an elimination of sources, i.e. people or, more precisely (and peacefully), interaction with people. Sad, huh?
Postscript: The more I thought of the coercion which affects my freedom the most, the more I realized that much of it is voluntary (excluding that special talent for tracing blame, at least partially, to the state). This realization means that our biggest obstacles and, therefore, our greatest opportunity for expanding our personal freedom is in our own hands – and close at hand, too!