As we enter this new year with a few lessons from the old year, I have been thinking a lot about freedom. As we see all the videos going around of “Karens” acting so entitled and professing that not wearing a mask is their right, I am forced to wonder.
I am currently reading a book called Sapiens (get your copy here, I HIGHLY recommend it).
It is fantastic.
If you are feeling a bit sad, depressed and anxious about life, read it. It will give you such a perspective on life and on us human beings, that your problems will just feel SO small.
He talks about the fact that, the way we were able to start living in large societies, we humans had to create myths. Genetically, we are, like all our other big apes cousins, meant to be living in much smaller societies.
And so, we needed to create a “structure” based on “beliefs”, in order for us to live the way we do today. It is really fascinating.
How does this relate to freedom, have I lost control of my pen again?
Well not exactly.
He explains that there are 3 big parts of our reality.
The objective reality:
A stone. Water. Radio-activity. This is objective. It exists, in a biological way.
Then there is subjective reality:
This is reality filtered by our interpretations of things. Our tastes, and even the love we feel, is subjective: we don’t all have the same subjective reality.
Before reading the book, I thought that was it, these 2 things.
The author then talks about the third one, and this is pretty fascinating:
This reality is constructed around things that we all believe in, that have no objective reality.
The examples are: the Law — There is no biological objectivity to the law.
He gives us the example of the differences between Babylonian law 3500 years ago, and the declaration of independence in America in the late 1770s.
This inter-subjective reality, also contains such things as money, religion, and most if not all of our social contracts.
Another good example, is an LLC company.
In our society, an LLC company is an entity, like a person, that doesn’t depend on another person. That is why, if you are the CEO of LLC X, and you go bankrupt, nothing will happen to you and your personal belongings. The responsibility falls onto LLC X (which is a fictional construct made by a few lawyers)
All these inter-subjective reality systems, are meant to make it possible for us to live as a society, but really, they are completely fictional. There is nothing objectively real about them.
Back to freedom now.
What is freedom? What freedoms are we allowed to perform?
Well that depends.
Are we talking objectively?
Are we talking subjectively?
Or are we talking inter-subjectively?
The only thing that makes sense, is, because we live in a society with other homo Sapiens, we must act according to inter-subjective reality, or inter-subjective social constructs implemented in the modern civilisation that we live in.
In that case, the boundaries of inter-subjective freedom, would be at the border to each of our subjective freedom.
Simply speaking, your freedom stops when it tramples on someone else’s freedom.
To come back to the example of the mask, you do not possess the freedom not to wear the mask, since the mask is not there to protect you but to protect others, and that not wearing it bypasses your fellow humans freedom to decide to protect himself or not.
I like the analogy of light. If we get 100% light, we cannot see. It’s just pure brightness, removing any contrast that lets us determine objects, shapes, and so on.
Just like there cannot be 100% light, we cannot expect 100% freedom. It must be bordered by lines that our inter-subjective societal realities have put in place for us.
Here is another way to define freedom, that I find particularly elegant:
Freedom is the choice you make when you step in the gap between stimulus and response.
The stoics talk a lot about response ability, our ability to respond to events in life, external and internal, and we have mentioned it many times on the channel (we will mention it again many many many more times in the close future).
In his book Man’s search for meaning ( get your copy here, it is a beautiful book), Victor Frankl explains, that the reason he was able to survive the terrible years he had to live when he was imprisoned in Nazi death camps, was because of his last freedom.
He said, and I paraphrase, in a way less gracious way, that although they could beat him up, which they did often, just for fun and by human cruelty, they could not beat his mind. They could starve him. They could humiliate him. But they could not get in his mind. They could not remove his freedom to choose how he would respond to all these horrible situations.
They could not take away his last freedom, which was, the way he chose to react to the situation he was in. Isn’t this mind blowing? He didn’t give up, and when the camp was liberated, he was able to get out of that nightmare. He had made the decision to survive this, in order to tell the world about it, which he did in his books, so that it would never happen again on earth. (Sadly, concentration camps still exist in 2021.)
I will cut it short here, because this post has been way longer than I planned for it to be, and we have a lot more to cover, but let me know how this resonates with you. Send me a tweet or an email. Let’s talk about this. Its important.