What is Freedom?
The Principles of Runari 3/12
“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill, 1859
You have the freedom to live your life as you see fit. You have the freedom to do unto yourself whatever you wish so long as what you do does not impinge of the health, property, or freedom of others. This includes the very human freedom to be left alone.
This chapter will look at the deeply held principle of personal freedom whereas the next chapter will concern itself with the companion of personal freedom which is personal responsibility. Please do not read this chapter thinking it absent of responsibility for that shall be discussed in good time.
The utmost belief in humanity is the belief that each individual human being has agency over their own lives. The threads of our lives are not woven in advance with an old crone ready to cut them at the appointed time. We should not be the play things of supernatural deities or for that matter utterly mortal ones. We should not be asked to submit to others or to one person, being, or thing. There are those who want to submit and to follow, but that is their decision and they should not be forced to do so and they should be allowed to change their minds if they wish.
You are a free agent and that means your decisions do matter.
What are the constraints on freedom?
The chief constraints which naturally exist are those internal to us, form the physical reality of the world around us, and those which we inherit by the dint of our parents’ own resources, abilities, location, and choices. Yes, our freedoms are somewhat constrained by the bargaining within our communities too though if we live by the principles of the Runari and the basics of natural law, we can do pretty much anything we want to ourselves and in determining our own lives.
We must also, therefore, be aware of our abilities. We are not blank slates at birth. Each of us inherits a cocktail of genes from our parents, grandparents, other ancestors, and a random set of mutations. In addition to that we are products of our environment as we grow up. There is no zero equals zero blank slate or tabula rasa. We are not dolls waiting to be imprinted or programs to have new software downloaded to.
Inequality is natural
I know equality of outcome sounds nice to many people, but to achieve it, the freedom of those with more talent needs to be curtailed, and that’s unfair. We’re good at somethings, better at a few, and rubbish at most things. Some of us will only at best be mediocre and there will almost always be someone better than us at something. Andy Murray is a great tennis player but Novak Djokovic is even better than him, and Rafael Nadal is even better than Djokovic, and Roger Federer is even better than Nadal.
That doesn’t mean we can’t try, but it does mean we accept that freedom will lead to different outcomes. A good example of this is the Pareto Distribution which can be found across human activity, but across nature too. In this distribution, if a large number of people or things try to do something, only a small number will be semi-successful at it. Of this number, only a tiny fraction will be super successful. If you look at book sales or music sales or money earned or access to sunlight for trees in the woods, the semi-successful 10% will make up over 90% of the output, and 10% of them, the super successful, will make up 90% of that.
Nature, Nurture, and Reaction
However, in addition to our biology and the environment around us, there is a third factor, agency; we express freedom by how we react to who we are and where we are, and to what happens to us. A truly free person makes their own decisions rather than following what nature or nurture tell them to do. The former makes us animals bound by instinct and the latter makes us slaves. The choices we make have an impact on these situations and on our ability.
As Stephen King says in his great book On Writing about the craft, being a great writer is innate and you’re born with it, but an average writer through the dint of his own hard work can become a good writer. I look back on my writing and I cringe at the ineptness, what my professors at university called a “weird writing style,” but I’m going to continue on regardless because I believe in the ideas and the stories I am trying to tell. And also because I believe I have the freedom to write whatever the hell I want to, so long as I do not call for violence.
We Are Bound by Physical Reality
In terms of the physical world around us we are constrained by physical reality. We do not have the freedom to defy it (yet) so cannot fly by flapping our arms or teleport or expect a McDonald’s burger to look as good as the photo.
Our physical locations go beyond that of course. Moving comes with practical challenges, not least leaving people behind, and so on. Minor constraints due to these practicalities is a relatively minor thing, but it can be a deal breaker for some.
People Around Us
The environment is also constituted of people. Being free is ok so long as you do not impact others negatively. This is a difficult thing to define and most people are group-oriented and so within this group form morals specific to it. This makes it easy to accidentally break those codes.
In an ideal Runari world, negatively affecting others could be limited to physical assault, murder, rape, theft, damage to property, spreading lies, outcasting, and verbal insults (see principles 10 and 12).
However, there are other constraints such as your love for your family and your friends plus responsibilities to them. Confucianism is big on filial piety to an extreme, but it is good to look after others. If you have your own family, your freedom is limited by your responsibilities to care for them.
The ultimate constraints on freedom are its polar opposites. Like destruction is the antithesis of creation, and nihilism is the antithesis of appreciation, then tyranny is the opposite of freedom. Many identitarian or inflexible ideologies will attempt to constrain your freedoms and agency, these range from left-wing ideologies like communism, socialism and fascism to religious ones which call for you to submit wholly to someone else’s will or ideas
How do we start living a free life?
The first step we can take to live a free life is to be mindful. Being mindful means asking ourselves what are we doing and why are we doing it. Furthermore, it means asking what impact this will have on ourselves and our lives, and also on other people. By extension we can also say trying to be mindful of what other people are doing and why they are doing it – though it’s much harder to guess and we should never assume to know.
For me, being mindful was the first stage of becoming more self-aware of my own actions. In a way, I have always been independent and free spirited, but I’ve also been tied to the instincts and repetitions of my mind as someone on the autism spectrum.
Start by thinking about your life. What are you doing and why are you doing it? Does what you do ultimate benefit you and does it benefit those you love? Is it good for everyone around you? Ask yourself if you are conforming to things which do not have to be conformed to – are you tempering your speech to avoid upsetting people who should know better?
Constraints on freedom come from outside (environment) and from within (the mind). It is difficult to deal with the former, but it is a lot easier to free the mind.
What Do You Want to Do?
Think about how you could do things better or live better. In many of his interviews, speeches, and discussions Jordan Peterson has said the two steps to being a more responsible and ordered person is to understand yourself and to know what you want to do. He’s set up self-authoring programs to investigate both of these aspects.
Hopefully what you want to do is not amoral. For most people it’s good things – do you want to write books? Do art? Do you want to travel? Do you want to settle down and have your own family? All of these things are fine and good so long as you understand the consequences. The same goes for other elements.
Think about practical steps you can take to start furthering these goals. Are you the kind of person who can achieve them now? How do you become that person?
There are many elements to this. For example, I’ve previously written an article on removing anchors which hold us back. These are things, people and emotions. An anchor is something which serves no purpose except to stop you doing what you want to do. Remove them. Some are easy to do – too much stuff, some are harder to do – annoying relatives, and others are in the realm of responsibility – having kids or owning a business.
However, if you set your course, you can begin to take concrete steps towards it. You can ask yourself if what you are doing is helping you reach your goals or not, you can remove anchors, streamline the things you do, and cut out negative relationships. These will free you. You’ll realise that you are making the decisions in your life rather than holding onto the side of the boat and hoping you don’t get tossed overboard.
One Last Constraint – The Law
Finally, a note of caution. Know the laws in the state within which you reside. Governments big and small enforce their morals and laws with force. It is disproportionate to the force you can bring to bear as a free person, not that you should be (see principle 10), and has the tools to punish you and paint you as the amoral person.
For example, not paying your taxes and instead saving the money for yourself and your own family may benefit you personally and them too. However, ending up in prison is no good for your freedom and worse if you have a family to look after and protect.
Pursuit of freedom does not come at the expense of others or at the expense of your best interests. Live within the laws of the land, and if they are unjust, find legitimate ways to change them. Most people in the world just want to be left alone to their own devices, most people want simple, basic freedoms, and so these have to be argued for, represented in democracies, and lobbied for, so that the laws of the land are for the people not to control them.
Tell me what steps you are taking to start a free life.