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Freedom, Society, and Politics

Some have described freedom as something of the inner-self: that a person chained in a dungeon is free if he allows his imagination and faith to set himself free.

Those of us who are not extreme in the ideology of individualism may think of freedom as something societal. Individuals living in isolation in the wilderness have only their own efforts to protect themselves from nature's oppressions — tooth, claw, ants an buzzards. Nor is there much freedom living as a hermit under a bridge or in a cave. And the landless in ancient times who roamed about in packs surviving by stealing food, they too can't be said to have been very free.

Freedom can be described as power over circumstances. We are freer if we have the money to buy what we need or want, including transportation to wherever we please. Freedom can also be associated with access to knowledge. Knowledge allows us more choices.

I am among those who see freedom as derived from being a member in good standing of a nation-state with appropriate rights-giving laws.

The United Nations has declarations concerning human rights (closely associated with individual freedom), but not being a super-state the UN lacks the power to provide rights and freedoms.

Hanna Arendt wrote about stateless refugees who don't have the "right to have rights — discussed recently on the PBS program "the Open Mind". Conclusion: that's justs the way it is.

To elaborate on freedom and the nation-state: people who believe in representative democracy see freedom in people choosing who represents them as lawmakers. And they see freedom in the right to information supplied by a free press. Utopian anarchists, on the other hand, have dreamed of people being free to do just as they please. This has occurred with the disintegration of state power — failed states — and we have seen how that works out: more freedom and power for gangsters.

We in the US have the right to speak our mind but not to shout fire in a crowded theater unless there is indeed a fire, and defamation law allows us to sue people who publish false and malicious comments. We have freedom of choice regarding religion — within limits. (kidnapping and cannibalism, polygamy, denying service at public establishments are verboten.

And, of course, we want the freedom to breath clean air, and many of us want women to be free of harassment, including government harassment concerning their own bodies (like whether they can take the morning-after pill).

"Freedom to chose" has been a popular slogan among conservatives, referring to people making, selling and buying what they want. Some of see this as better than a command economy (everything done according to bureaucratic plan), but they also favor government regulation to protect against being poisoned or scammed. We want balance within a rule of law.

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.