Why Freedom?

Freedom and happiness seem to be intertwined, at least in the Western world. How much freedom a person needs to be happy varies from person to person (and frequently doesn’t correlate with how much freedom they say they need) but with certain exceptions we all want choices in our life.

Sometimes the freedom is only an illusion, a feeling of freedom without the substance. Driving a convertible, for example, or riding a motorcycle. Does riding in the wind really make you more free than riding in a cage? Does it matter if the illusion makes you happy?

Sometimes the appearance is more important than the reality.

What is it about the feeling of freedom that makes us happy (or is a requirement for happiness)? Freedom is, at its heart, the ability to chose. To exercise the free will that makes us human. Without the ability to say, “No, damn it, I’m not going to have French Toast this morning. I’m going to have pancakes,” we begin to feel like caged animals, driven only by instinct or, even worse, someone else’s will. Prisoners and people in an abusive relationship experience this on a regular basis. When you constrain a person’s free will you take away some portion of their humanity.

But people are social creatures and living in human society requires each of us to give up a portion of our freedom. It is an economic transaction; you trade a portion of your freedom for the company of people who you hope will bring you more happiness than would the freedom you have sold. Most of the time it’s a good trade. If the person who has lost his or her free will is in a sad state, so too is the person with absolute freedom, but no lasting human contact.

For most of us, perpetual loneliness is too high a price to pay for absolute freedom. We try to strike a balance between the human needs for social ties and freedom from too many ties. Unfortunately, we only do so consciously when the ties begin to strangle and by then it is often too late for a simple solution.

So, I have been thinking.

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