When talking about freedom and/or liberty, most Americans do not question the origins, function, or definition of freedom within the context of the grand scheme of the universe that is around them. They frequently just spout off about “liberty” or “freedom” and how government is always an institution that blocks freedom for the individual from doing the things that they want to do. Quite honestly, this debate sounds a lot like a teenager complaining about parenting that is, in their estimation, overly strict, without ever questioning the origins, reasoning, or functionality of that strictness. Even with adults making these complaints, I can never help but hear the twinge of unreflective childishness. Yes, there are some practices that government does do that aren’t good for society’s well being and the individual’s sense of freedom. Yes, the government’s members do make mistakes from time to time with regards to their treatment of members of society and the attitude that underlies them. But that does not mean that a government’s role in society ought to be minimized to a point where it does nothing while grave social, economic, and environmental injustices happen, nor does it mean that laissez-faire has any validity as an economic, social, or environmental system and logic for government relative to producing an optimum for society’s ability to adapt, mitigate against problems, and generally function and survive as best as it can in spite of the calamities that we will face as a species and the dangers that are internal and external to society. Therefore, I will examine the concept of “freedom and liberty to act”, to see if it has any grounding in empirical reality at all and to see whether it is, indeed, socially, economically, and environmentally better than the concept of “freedom and liberty from negativities and problems”.
The freedom and liberty to act requires that you’re not hindered by anyone or anything else in the universe that is around or within you. To have actual maximum freedom and/or liberty in this sense is to be independent of all factors that might inhibit you. However, this is impossible to have, as we are all always going to be interdependent upon each other, both for the production of that which we call our “self” and upon the consequences and circumstances that we end up experiencing. Your desires stem from your brain, which is produced by a complex mix of your family’s (not just your parent’s) genetics, your experiences, and your perceptions of your experiences. There is nothing in your brain that is independent of the rest of the universe and, on top of that, it is limited simply by virtue of its biology relative to the scale of the universe. Your desires, priorities, beliefs, experiences, and perspectives limit your ability to act, and therefore, deny you your freedom to have maximum liberty. The second part of this equation are the consequences of your actions; how you effect everyone and everything else that is around you. Even if you were actually God (capital “G”) you would still be effected internally and, potentially, externally by the rest of the universe. On the human level, this is amplified by virtue of the fact that you’re never actually “God”, in spite of what your brain may tell you, and will, therefore, always be effected for better or for worse by your actions here on Earth, in this universe. It is a different plane of existence that only exists in your brain to think that you’re at liberty to act independently of the consequences of your actions, in spite of how easily some people can slip away from the direct negativities of their actions from time to time. How you impact others and the environment matters to your own health and your own survival. You’re truly an idiotic fool if you actually believe and act in the world like it works otherwise.
Thus, when all of these things are considered: your limited and dependent biology, the consequences of your actions, and the circumstances that you find yourself in, where is the true “freedom” or “liberty” to act? If you, through your actions, limit or inhibit someone elses’ ability to live and be well, does that not, in the long term (which becomes the short term) lead to a detriment in your own liberty due to the negative reputation that you may create or the damage that you do? What happens if you anger the rest of society or destroy the environment in which you’re living? What happens to your liberty to act then, when you’re inhibited by consequence and circumstance?
As you can see, the whole notion of freedom or liberty to act is half-baked at best, without any real reflection on where the potential for freedom comes from. Now, when we consider the freedom to be free from certain things that are detrimental to our health and well being, we see a different story emerge. We see people being able to actually go about their lives unhindered by governmental dependency, because they’re able to independently of the government put food in their bellies, put roofs over their heads, get medical attention when they need to, and take on educational opportunities when they need/want to in order to move up the social and economic ladder according to their wishes and their abilities and willingness to go for what they want and need. Yes, it means some people lose out on their imaginary “freedom” to act, because through their choices and actions, they’d limit other people from being able to act without causing detriment and pain to the other who is losing out. If a person does not have the resources or the time or the energy to confront those who limit their freedom, it stands to reason that they appeal to the larger body of society, which manifests itself in these cases, as the government of the society; the apparatus of the society that is responsible for making sure that the “strong do not harm the weak”, in the words of Hammurabi in his Code of Laws. This prevents the numerous weak from being scattered and abused piecemeal by those who have marginally greater amounts of material wealth and/or social influence, thus ensuring the survival of all, including the exploitative elites who would run a society and themselves into the ground, in the name of freedom, liberty, and the engorgement of their own private accounts. That is why we have societal rules that are enforceable, so that we all can enjoy a reasoned existence on this plane of existence and not be caught up in the torrents of some imaginary plane of existence where rules don’t matter and there is no accountability or sense of where the natural boundaries are. This prevents the need from the natural law of society from running its course and killing the diminutive “strong” who abused the numerous weak and could very well help save the environment in which we’re living with a change in priorities from monetary economic growth, for the sake of monetary growth, to a more level mindset of improving upon and maintaining human well being.
Sadly, the Libertarians who espouse this ideology of “freedom to do” rarely ever really reflect or question their own beliefs and sentiments in the issue. They have some merit when it comes to pointing out problems in the government and problems with how the government operates. However, their beliefs do not belong in the environment that they despise. It would lead to their own ruination as well as the destruction of our whole social and environmental world if the government were to become inappropriately laissez-faire and ineffective at delivering the goods and services that it need to provide for society for society’s, as well as for the government’s sake.
Freedom doesn’t really exist, and liberty is just an abstract concept.
Think about it.