September 13, 2006
So thick is the mucus of propaganda around this word, that I feel the need to brush my teeth after using it.
It is simultaneously one of the most beloved and universal human values across the globe (though understood in various ways), and an alter to which so much is sacrificed.
But what is it, this freedom?
Do we speak here of a freedom from, an absence of that which would directly prohibit? Or do we imply a freedom to, an enabling force that allows us the space and tools to pursue what we will?
Recently I have been reading Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. In this work (which I do recommend, though light it is not) she speaks at length about the Aristotle’s conception of Freedom.
As she notes:
“To be free meant both not to be subject to the necessity of life or to the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It meant neither to rule nor to be ruled. Thus within the realm of the household, freedom did not exist, for the household head, its ruler, was considered to be free only in so far as he had the power to leave the household and enter the political realm, where all were equals. To be sure, this equality of the political realm has very little in common with our concept of equality: it meant to live among and to have to deal only with one’s peers, and it presupposed the existence of “unequals” who, as a matter of fact, were always the majority of the population in a city-state. Equality, therefore, far from being connected with justice, as in modern times, was the very essence of freedom: to be free meant to be free from the inequality present in rulership and to move in a sphere where neither rule nor being ruled existed.”
I am not by any means suggesting that this is the core of what we should all understand freedom to be, but it is breast from which all modern western conceptions of freedom were fed.
Basically for the Greeks, Freedom was to be free from needing to (directly) procure the basic necessities of survival, to be free from the will of another, and to be free from the need to exert one’s own will over another. To be free to, meant to be free from these three things.
Taking this idea for a moment. I have a question.
If the core of freedom lies in a freedom from the necessities of life (that is satisfying our human ‘needs’), what are the implication for the potential for freedom in our current society?
While certainly we can argue that our needs are more than easily met, at the very center of our society is the consumerist drive to create artificial needs. I need a computer, I need that new plaque removing toothbrush, I need to go to the dentist, I need a new pair of shoes, I need that better long distance plan.
My question is this: Obviously the Greeks weren’t talking about artificial needs. Obviously the artificial ‘needs’ created in a consumerist society are different than the ‘needs’ of human survival. However, does it really matter if we perceive these things as needs?
Is the validity of the need really important, so long as we internalize it as a need?
Can we ever really be free, if we spend most of our time and energy fulfilling these ever increasing (albeit artificial) consumer needs?
I am not entirely sure …
What do you think?