A Few Thoughts on Freedom and Society

Reasonable men and women who have become disillusioned with the rhetorical shows of politicians and prominent individuals of social power might accede to the notion that a universal regulator of human morality and equality in terms of economic opportunity and sociopolitical status does not exist. This being so, many are faced with the question of who will speak for them, their communities, and their families.

With an ever declining congressional approval rating and participation in the ostensibly democratic process, one may find no use today in communicating the pains of his/her desperate dispositions. It seems the people are no longer heard among the vociferous voice of money that sways U.S. policy. Indeed, there is now a Princeton promulgated study that has shown how the majority of major policy decisions, regardless of the general public’s support, will only pass into law if sufficient persons of opulence support the policy. This is of course NOT democratic. In light of this and other things, I feel that it is perhaps now the time for Americans to reconsider just what freedom is and what the functions of government and law should be.

Freedom has been defined within various contexts. We may think of the noun and its ramifications in relation to the numerous words one may put in front of it (economic freedom, technological freedom, etc.). Herein I speak of human freedom as simply actions in accord with ones will. This type of freedom is, of course, affected by enacted laws, but more importantly human will of the enforcing body and receiving body. It is true that a law exists merely as an abstraction and its function in the regulation of human conduct is carried out only by consent of the respective population to whom it applies. There is literally nothing that bars an individual from acting in defiance of a law except his/her willingness to obey it (and the enforcer’s willingness to uphold it). So what is the essence of this implied consent that individuals give to governmental regulation? What is valued enough to allow for restrictions to one’s conduct? A broad answer is only occasionally tenable, yet I wish to make the assertion that an individual’s concept of freedom lay at the root of consent. We generally accept that we live in a world with people of different interests and tastes. We understand that to restrict their predilections is to impose restrictions on ours as well. Therefore, it may be thought that our concept of freedom is not marked with an absolute value but rather that it flows from establishment of a social contract with society; its services and people that comprise it.

With a social contract, the individual gains benefits that he/she would not have outside of the society. By simply consenting to its laws, the individual (now citizen) may participate in sociopolitical and economic activities. The individual may find work and exchange currencies for goods he/she did not have to produce.  But, as with any contract, something is not given for nothing. Because laws are, in their most elementary definition, regulators of human conduct and thus restrictions of human freedom, the individual who participates in any society is less free than he/she would be living on the outskirts of a civilization or in the wilderness. So as a rule, it may be said that the more dependent one becomes on a society for the means to subsistence, the more individual freedom is vitiated. Also, as alluded to above, the individual who participates in and abides by the laws of a society gains advantages and access to goods and services that increase his/her comfort and lessen the degree of self-responsibility.

To illustrate the above take the following example of the United States. The U.S. has a massive welfare system that affords for many individuals the benefits of not having to seek work, buy (grow) food with an earned income, build a home, or engage in the accruement of funds to pay off medical expenses. The welfare individual receives satiety of all basic biologically essential needs. This individual has very little responsibility for his/herself respecting these activities. Yet what has that individual lost? With the welfare system comes a great deal of regulations that determine the degree to which the individual may freely act. Over time, the individual may become dependent on the welfare system and with such dependency comes the slow abrogation of choice. This is demonstrably true with disabled individuals in community homes (equal opportunity is quixotic). These individuals have very little freedom though they receive relatively good medical care and all other biological imperatives (food, water, shelter, etc.).

By comparison though, the individual who owns land, builds his/her own living quarters, grows food, produces textiles, tools, and a myriad other goods of economic self-sufficiency enjoys a much greater degree of human freedom than the socially dependent individual. Such a person of self-sufficiency/self-reliance indeed has a great deal of responsibility for his/her subsistence, but by living in such a manner the individual may avoid many restrictions of civilization. At least this is the ideal of self-sufficient living – while in practice things are not so simple, especially in the 21st Century. In contemporary homestead practice, one may scarcely avoid the confines of a nation or state whose laws are applicable regardless of the homestead location.

Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that the path to self-sufficiency is an important component to actualizing a form of human freedom.

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