What is freedom? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. So who has it and who doesn’t? It’s not a problem to identify those that lack freedom, for example, inmates in prison and citizens of totalitarian states. What’s not so straightforward is classifying those of us that do have it. None of us are completely free but some of us are freer than others. So how free do you think you are?
Freedom to act
Although freedom to think and speak is important, when most of us think of freedom we think of freedom to act. Let’s put the Covid and lockdown rabbit hole aside for a moment and consider, how free are you to do the things you want to?
A few weeks ago I was discussing the boring nature of office work with a colleague. He went on to mention the long stressful hours worked by him and his wife, which in turn meant they weren’t the best people around their children.
He’d discussed the idea of escaping the daily grind with his wife. Needless to say, the idea of packing it all in and moving somewhere with better weather, a lower cost of living, and less stress was appealing.
But and it’s a big “but”, moving to another country with children isn’t easy. Especially when it comes to changing schools. In the end, he and his wife decided it wasn’t possible.
Having children shouldn’t be a freedom inhibitor but the modern era has made it that way. The pressures of school which can be argued are part of the human domestication process prevents freedom of movement as does omnipresent debt.
Dictators and prison walls spring to mind when thinking about not being free, however, life’s commitments also prevent freedom. Commitments can trap you in a job you don’t want to be doing, live somewhere you don’t want to be, and force you into more debt. All of which dicates how you live your life.
Comfort or freedom
“Comfort or freedom. You can’t have it both ways.” That’s the view of Dennis Dean who’s one of the characters in Netflix’s documentary Some Kind of Heaven. Dennis is a van-living ladies’ man with the aim of escaping homelessness by wooing an attractive rich woman from The Villages (the world’s largest retirement community in Florida).
Dennis eventually escapes “van life” by finding a partner to move in with, however, he seems unsatisfied with his new life despite his gains in living standard. According to Dennis, he’s traded freedom for comfort.
Comfort or freedom — what’s more important? From a personal perspective: I have a job that pays an above-average salary, no money worries, and a nice home. Life could be described as comfortable.
However, this means, being sat in front of a computer sending emails, receiving orders, and attending mind-numbing meetings Monday to Friday. It’s boring, and not something I would choose to do. I’m not free for 70% of the week and my living location is restricted to being near the workplace. But I can shop for food in Waitrose. I have traded freedom for comfort.
The illusion of freedom
There’s a strong case that none of us are free. In the sense that free will is an illusion. Which has been written and spoken about many times before (including Einstein). Seeing as we can’t choose our genes or upbringing then I don’t know how you argue against it. Needless to say, you have “will” it’s just not free. Those that accept this are probably freer. Or as Goethe put it, in one of my favourite quotes:
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Ultimately, if someone decides your working hours, work location and tells you what to do, then how free are you? I’ve met employees that are 100% location independent (they can work from any country). This is undoubtedly a freer scenario. One reason that workers don’t want to stop working from home is that it allows them the freedom to do things that aren’t possible when confined to an office.
This is why the self-employed are happier. It’s not because the work is any different, because often it’s not. And it’s not about earning more money (it’s often less). It’s that no one is telling you what to do. It’s about autonomy. Being self-employed is about having a sense of freedom.
How free am I?
When I consider the question how free am I? My response would be: I don’t have shackling debt, no person(s) suppressing my actions, however, I have a job that limits my freedom.
If my work allowed me to be location independent then I could probably tolerate a job I didn’t particularly like. That’s not an option though, so my solution is to create alternative income so that I can do but more importantly go where I want to.
Being confined for long periods in one place and too much routine is bad for the soul (or at least my soul). As hunter gathers we were explorers and I believe that exploring-spirit is in most of us but suppressed in the modern age. There are several components to happiness, one of which is freedom, however, there’s a compelling argument that many of us don’t have it.
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