Saturday, June 13, 2015

Dreaming of Freedom

The modern conception of freedom seems to derive its vision from two elements:  i.) individuals are able to choose, ideally infinitely, from various options, ii.) individuals are freed from the consequences of their choices (e.g. if one chooses to be lazy, the state will support you; if you get pregnant as a result of bad short-term decision making, the state will ensure you can get an abortion; if you choose to be an alcoholic or a drug addict, the state should try to assist you or rehabilitate you, while suspending judgment and recognizing that you have a "disease" not something resembling voluntary behavior).  We have the basic idea.

Where does this type of thing happen in the real world?  One can say it doesn't, because actions in the real world always actually have consequences for everyone else, whether direct or indirect.  If the welfare state gets too generous, and people begin to opt out of working, or if through demographic decline, the working age population declines, then the welfare state must be dismantled.  There may be cases (like abortion) where individuals can be shielded from the impact of the choices, but these cases must always be a sub-case, and always in some kind of tension with the rest of the society.

This freedom we are describing does have an environment where we can see it operating, and that is, when we are dreaming.  We can do anything we like in our dreams, and when we wake up, there are no consequences.  What is the difference between dreams and reality?  Dreams only have consequences for the dreamer, but things that happen in reality affect others.  To the extent we are alive, to the extent that we are real, we lack this modern freedom.  To be real, to be alive, is to accept that our actions have consequences on other people, and likewise, that we have a responsibility to other people that can (and should) limit what we choose.  Modern freedom is primarily the freedom literally not to be.

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