What Is Freedom?
Konstantin Eriksen, Guest Writer
Today I’d like to talk about a subject that I’ve been thinking about for many years and to share my current thinking on the topic: What is freedom?
The reality is that no matter how much I thought about the meaning of freedom and how much I read about it, no definition of it ever satisfied me. All were lacking in some way. So I’m going to attempt to give a short but accurate picture.
I believe that few people are truly free and I will explain this below. For the purpose of clarity I’m going to ask my readers to think of freedom in 4 general categories, with #4 being the most important by far:
1. Political and economic freedom. When people use the word “freedom,” they often mean some type of political or economic freedom present in a given country at a given time. To me, this type of freedom involves living in a jurisdiction that is not occupied militarily or economically and that limits all forms of coercion against individual citizens. Personal safety, complete and absolute freedom of speech and freedom from economic tyranny are essential for true political freedom to exist. Unfortunately, after having lived in a lot of countries, I have to conclude that true, pure, political freedom is nonexistent today, that there are only degrees of freedom within a given society and that some societies have more freedom in some aspects of life and less in other aspects.
Many countries that pride themselves on being “free” are actually not free at all, for although they are not under military occupation, they are under economic occupation. Large economic interests can end up with monopoly positions in energy, finance, medicine and many other key sectors of the economy.
No matter how much theoretical freedom is built into a political system, any form of economic control through special interest groups and the financing of politicians by rich entities will ensure that the system becomes corrupt and will degenerate into some form of economic slavery or semi-slavery.
This brings me to my second point, which helps us solve some of the challenges posed by the first.
2. Personal financial freedom. This means being free from having to work for others, being free of externally imposed schedules, being free to live and not to toil. There are three key points I want to make about financial freedom.
Firstly, we must become free of useless desires for superfluous “goods and services.” Think about it: How many of the things you own do you really need? How many bring you joy and happiness? In my experience, many of our purchases are actually attempts to cover up the deeper emptiness of our lives. Sometimes, getting rid of things and having a new experience is much more rewarding.
Secondly, we must be free of debt. Debt is an insidious form of slavery. It limits our options. It ties us down. We think we’re “free” but our freedom is a delusion as long as we owe others for our standard of living. Generally, it is not a good idea to get into debt unless you can afford it with plenty of room to spare.
People in the USA, Ireland, Spain and other countries borrowed massive amounts of money in the preceding years. Where has that left them? Bankrupt, of course! Germans, on the other hand, have very low levels of household debt. First they save money, then they buy. So being debt-free is not a dream, it’s a matter of discipline.
Thirdly, we must have the courage to act, to dare, to explore, to cut the umbilical cord and to venture out on our own. Without this, failure is assured.
3. Freedom from the social matrix. I can’t stress how important this was for me. In order to be truly free, we have to be free from the influence of individual people around us and from social conventions.
I like to use the matrix metaphor: The sum total of all prevailing beliefs, conventions, memes and pieces of information floating around in a society have created a social-conceptual matrix that dominates our lives. But this matrix is false, because it is not a part of natural reality. It is man-made.
Think about it. We are born and we grow up in a specific society, with specific epistemological, ethical and political beliefs. We are immersed in this dreamworld throughout our school years and on into adulthood. But how different would each one of us be if our circumstances had been different?
I’m quite sure that if I had been born in Szechuan province or Bhuttan, I’d be different today.
Noticing all social influence and not allowing it to affect us is one of the key principles of true freedom.
4. Freedom from our own minds. This is the real essence of personal freedom. Unplugging ourselves from the mindless chatter, the traditions, the memes, the doctrines of our societies and everything that comes with them.
In the end, we internalize the sociopolitical matrix and we become it, without even noticing it. This is what is meant by the now famous phrase “Free your mind.”
As I said at the beginning, I believe that very few people are truly free, and the reason is that no matter where they live, no matter how much financial or political freedom they have (or believe that they have), they are trapped by their “own” mind-thoughts, which, in the end, are not their own at all. They were all arrived at second-hand.
Free your mind – definitely not an empty phrase.
About the Author
Konstantin Eriksen is a philosopher and a 32-year-old former stock-trader, long-time natural health researcher, neigong enthusiast and fledgling internet entrepreneur. In my spare time, he enjoy hiking, music, mountaineering, meeting interesting women, studying whatever interests him and Piazzolla. Please visit his excellent blog, Life-Sucks.