Freedom has many different definitions in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, including: “the condition of being free or unrestricted,” “personal or civil liberty,” “absence of slave status,” and “the state of being free to act.” These definitions cover a wide gamut of topics, and one of them mentions a synonym for freedom: liberty. So, what does freedom actually mean in our society in 2012?
Just as its definition suggests, it means a wide variety of things with an even wider variety of implications. For instance, the condition of being free or unrestricted doesn’t have any caveats, and is vague and open to interpretation. Unrestricted in what way? Why is it defined as a “condition?” The absence of slave status is fairly self-explanatory and its derivation is quite obvious. The state of being free to act is again quite repetitive and vague. Why is this? Why is the definition for freedom laced with the words “free” and “liberty?” Is there a real definition of freedom, and, if so, what is that definition?
In North America, especially the U.S., we feel as though we are living in a free society (ever heard of the statement “It’s a free country”?). I hate to spoil your thoughts, but we are not living in a free society or country. We are, in fact, living in a society that offers us the illusion of choice and the illusion of freedom. We are not free to act, as there are laws, by-laws, and traditions that govern how we are supposed to act. We do not live with the condition of being free or unrestricted, as there are restrictions on nearly everything—where we can live, how much we can make, what jobs/careers we have access to, what foods we have access to, etc., etc., etc. Slavery has been abolished, yet we are slaves to our own democratic systems, as someone (or a group of someones) decided that it was the freest political system.
I could pick apart freedom in a plethora of ways, discussing corporations, governments (at all levels), social interactions, education, speech—the list could go on and on. So, instead I will focus on the implications of this lack of freedom in my own life. I want to live in a house whose walls are made of dirt bags and surrounded in cob. I want to collect my own rainwater, create my own power, and grow as much of my own food as possible, including owning some livestock for meat and dairy purposes—and I am free to do all of that. However, that freedom has many restrictions. The first issue is that I will have to have enough money to buy the land and the materials for the construction of the home. I will need to be able to pay anyone who assists me at any stage of the construction. And if that wasn’t enough restriction on my freedom, I will also need to ensure the home is built to code, adheres to the city’s bylaws, and that I have all necessary permits to continue with building.
I can’t just find a piece of land and use it as I wish, as the government (again at all levels) needs to know where I live in order to ensure that I pay all applicable taxes. Several years ago, there was a group of hippies, for lack of a better word, who lived on the Eastern Coast of Vancouver Island. They lived in homes that they had built, grew their own produce, collected their own water, and so on. The government found out, and quickly forced them to pay taxes. When they didn’t comply, they were kicked off the land, their homes were bulldozed, and a peaceful community ceased to exist. Doesn’t sound like freedom in our supposedly free society, does it?
What I am getting at is that we need to start thinking about how we can achieve greater freedom without falling into anarchy. Laws are good things, for they ensure our safety and offer recourse to those who break the law. But at what point do our laws, by-laws, and traditions begin to detrimentally affect our so-called freedom? The next time you’re in a grocery store, look at the labels of the products you are purchasing to see how many of them come from the same company, and then look at who owns that company, or who owns the company that owns the company. What you will find is that, even in a grocery store setting, this illusion of choice and freedom is readily, and frighteningly, apparent.