Is Freedom Really Worth Fighting For?

Here lives a free man. Nobody serves him.
– Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)
The concept of freedom has as many interpretations as there are people who use the word.

We fight wars in the name of freedom. We insist that people who have been wrongly convicted and incarcerated be freed because freedom is a basic human right. What the concept of freedom means is confusing.

Politicians manipulate our thinking on various subjects by hinting or clearly stating that our freedom will be reduced or confined if we do not support the action they advocate. It motivates fear, which is what gets them elected.

Freedom is a great political football because nobody is clear about what it means. Most times the word is used, it means whatever the user wants it to mean.

Whatever freedom is, the concept exists between the ears.

Is it worth fighting for? If you can’t think for yourself and tend to take your view of the world and your opinions of the parts of it that affect you from others, it’s not worth fighting for. You have given up your freedom voluntarily already.

Freedom as a tool of political persuasion is only used–can only be used–with people who have already given up their right and ability to think for themselves. When we see how many wars are fought in the cause of freedom, we can see how many people don’t think for themselves. Many people don’t think at all, they just follow.

People such as The Mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi, who was jailed many times for annoying the British with his peaceful insistence (resistance) that the UK free India, and democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Ki, of Burma, under house arrest for years, did not consider their freedom to have been removed. No matter where they were (or are) they could think for themselves.

Their freedom to move around from place to place was restricted, but their freedom of mind was not–could not–be taken from them.

Are you free? Because you read, because you choose to seek out information and opinions on various subjects, you certainly are free. Or you have greater potential to be free, whether you adopt it or not.

You may listen to input from a variety of sources, but you don’t make up your mind on any subject until and unless you have learned more than enough on which to base a sound decision.

If freedom is based on the unfettered ability to think, isn’t everyone free, almost by definition? By definition, yes. By choice, no. Too many people allow their minds to be manipulated by others who have something to gain by having them as allies or supporters. Look at the effectiveness of most advertising and religions as examples of how propaganda can be used to have people voluntarily give up their freedom.

Follwers listen to one line of thought and adopt it as if it were inherently good and right and the only possible choice. It’s like two siblings fighting over something and mom supporting the first one to explain their case to her. The first one to make a good case get the most supporters.

No one can take away your freedom of thought. The only way you can lose that is to give it away.

Why do so many people give away that right? They aren’t taught it at school. At home, kids have to follow the ways of the family, at least when they are younger. At school, kids are taught that the teacher’s way is the right way. Even at the college level students learn that it’s risky to take a position on a paper that is contrary to that of the teacher because a low mark may result.

People who enjoy true freedom of thought generally do not voluntarily go to war. Some may take leadership roles and send others into battle. They don’t go themselves because they value their own freedom.

The freedom to think.

We can teach this. The world won’t fall apart or be bombed out of existence if we teach freedom of thought and support freedom of expression. It’s not just a clause in a constitution. Freedom can be a way of life.

It’s only a risk when too many people allow themselves to be persuaded that it’s a dangerous thing to allow others to express their opinions.

Freedom of thought and expression is embedded in the constitutions of many countries. Yet people in those countries give away that freedom when they accept the fear mongering by leaders who want opinions that differ from their own to be suppressed.

We have nothing to fear from differences. We only allow ourselves to be afraid when we don’t have exposure to all sides or positions of an argument or issue.

Those who limit our exposure to differences of opinion or forms of art or anything else want to remove our freedom of thought, our freedom to make our own choices. The more we restrict our learning of information about differences, the more we sacrifice our freedom.

When we imprison our own minds, all that’s left is our bodies. And they are no more sophisticated than the bodies of other animals or plants. Bodies aren’t intelligent, they just are.

We can teach the freedom to think. We can teach it in schools. We simply need to teach boundaries with it, such as when freedom of thought becomes licence or anarchy that impinges on the rights of others.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to teach children how to think for themselves.
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