Degrees of Freedom

Chris Snowdon has an article in the Spectator about how Australian health activists are trying to redefine ‘freedom’ to mean ‘safety’.

The latest example of this comes from the Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA). Its spokesman told the nanny state inquiry that ‘to be truly free’ we need to be able to walk down the street ‘free from the fear of being run down by a speeding or drunk driver’ and without being ‘exposed to cigarette smoke’.

He objects to this sort of redefinition, saying:

It is a sure sign that a person is against freedom when they start trying to redefine it.

But perhaps one of the problems with freedom is that for all the talk about it (of ‘freedom-fighters’ and ‘freedom-lovers’, etc.) ‘freedom’ is a curiously ill-defined idea. And it is perhaps precisely because it is so ill-defined that health activists feel emboldened to redefine it.

So what is ‘freedom’? When I asked Google, it responded:

Freedom (is) the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.

And this seems to be a perfectly good place to start.

But given this definition of freedom, I might ask: Do I not always have the power to act, speak, and think as I want? Is that not a power that is invested in all humans? As I type these words, I am acting (by pressing the keys on the keyboard), and I am also speaking (making words), and I am thinking (about what words to type). Isn’t the power to think, speak, and act as I want synonymous with ‘being alive’? Has there ever been a single day in my life when I was unable to think or speak or act as I wanted?

I suppose that on those few occasions when I came down with a fever, and lay in bed with a high temperature, my thoughts became a little disordered, and I only spoke monosyllabically, and I was barely able to reach the glass of water beside my bed. But I still retained the power to think, speak, and act, even if it was in a highly restricted manner.

I have yet to be sent to prison, but I imagine that once thrown into a dark dungeon, I would still be able to think as freely as I ordinarily do, and I would still be able to speak (perhaps in whispers) to any other inmates of my cell, and I would still be able to pace about inside its confines, and perhaps scratch my name on its walls, or mark off the passing days. I would simply be highly restricted in what I could do.

When I was a schoolboy (which was a bit like being sent to prison), I was required to pay attention to teachers during classes, to keep quiet, and to write notes on what I was being taught. But it was perfectly possible to drift off into a daydream, or stare out of the classroom window, or draw pictures. So I was not actually constrained to pay attention or write notes.  It was instead requested of me that I should pay attention and write notes, on pain of some kind of punishment if I did not (and some sort of reward if I paid particularly diligent attention). And anyway, out on the playground between classes, I was not constrained or required or requested to think or speak or act in any particular way. I could do more or less exactly as I liked, as long as I stayed within the bounds of the playground.

I have also been an employee of a number of different companies. This was a bit like being a schoolboy, in that it was requested of me that I devote my attention to a particular task for several hours, but with the difference that I was rewarded with a pay cheque every month (something schoolboys never get). But once again, at the end of the working day, I could do more or less whatever I wanted. And it was always open to me to terminate my employment whenever I wanted (something schoolboys are not permitted to do).

I’ve never been very rich, in the sense of having a lot of money or owning lots of things, but even the richest of rich people are constrained to some extent. They can’t extend their property into other people’s property. Even they can’t do exactly as they like.

So what might be said is that although I am always free to think, say, and do as I want, in practice this freedom is often highly constrained. A patient lying in his sickbed is free to do as he pleases, but is practically unable to do very much at all. The prisoner in his cell is able to think, speak, and act freely, but he is constrained by the walls of his cell to a tiny subset of all the things he might wish to do. The schoolboy in his classroom might be constrained to listen to a teacher for an hour or so, but he will be let out at regular intervals between classes into a playground. The employee at his workplace may be required to perform some task for some number of hours, but he will have lunch breaks and tea breaks and will go home in the evenings, and have a weekend to himself, and perhaps even paid holidays in summer. And even the billionaire owners of the company in which they, who spend their days playing golf or holidaying in the Bahamas, are constrained in small ways.

So instead of thinking of people as being either free or unfree, we might instead think in terms of degrees of freedom. And one might set individual people somewhere on a scale of degrees of freedom, so that the invalid constrained to his sick bed has a very small degree of freedom (he can just reach the glass of water beside his bed), while the billionaire on his golf course on the Bahamas has a very high degree of freedom: he can do almost anything he likes. So if a degree of freedom is seen as a circle whose area corresponds to the sum of all the things someone can possibly do, we might see a scale of increasing degrees of freedom. Or, to put another way, the circle represents the size of the cell someone lives in:degrees_of_freedom

Yet even billionaires may not always enjoy the highest degree of freedom. For if a billionaire falls sick, or is sent to prison, he will have the same small degree of freedom as any invalid or prisoner, no matter how much money he has in his bank.

And equally when an invalid is cured of his malady, or a prisoner is released from prison, he does not become as free as a billionaire overnight. In reality, he merely steps up to the next level on the scale of increasing degrees of freedom. The sick child who recovers from his illness becomes a schoolboy, and on leaving school the schoolboy becomes an employee, and as an employee he can be expected to be promoted to become a supervisor or manager, and may even rise to become a company director, and a millionaire – and even a billionaire.

It can now be very quickly seen that good health is not the same thing as freedom. Health ≠ Freedom. A prisoner in his cell may be in perfect health, but he is still not ‘free’. Health is only one component of freedom. It may be the prime requirement of freedom, but it is by no means the only one.

Equally, we can dismiss the notion that freedom is identical to safety. For all safety measures are put in place in order to preserve health, and health ≠ freedom.

And what about ‘freedom from fear’? The awful ‘fear of being run down by a drunk driver or exposed to cigarette smoke’? And here we might say that fear is itself a kind of crippling disease, and to be smitten with fear is not very different from being stricken with cancer. The cancer patient cannot get out of bed because he lacks the strength to do so, but a man paralysed by fear cannot get out of bed because he dare not. And perhaps we should treat outbreaks of fear and panic in the same way as we treat any disease.

In summary, freedom is not something we have or don’t have in some absolute, on-or-off sense, like being ‘free’ or ‘unfree’. Freedom is experienced in degrees. Some people have a higher degree of freedom than others, but nobody is completely and absolutely free. And only the dead are constrained to think nothing, say nothing, and do nothing.

I have barely even scratched the surface of the matter.

About Frank Davis

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30 Responses to Degrees of Freedom

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Benjamin Franklin said,
    “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    The thing is peoples rights and liberties are never up for a vote or even a public opinion poll. rights are god given not regulated by government. The government has no righ to tell anyone what to do save say a stop lite to get traffic flowing without REAL ACCIDENTS. Clean food kept at proper temperatures and handling. These are things we know cause harm to us and others. Its proven! What is based upon simple hate is smoking bans and obesity bans and sugary bans alcohol bans etc etc………. We have laws on drunk driving for a reason,loss of ability to drive. Being intoxicated isn’t drunk driving,the act of not being able to control your car in a safe manner is what should constitute drunk driving not a blow and go test.
    Seatbelt laws are another infringement on peoples liberty and rights. Its our decision not governments. The same if we want raw milk str8 fro the cow.

  3. jaxthefirst says:

    Freedom (is) the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.

    Loathe though I am to argue with that beacon of knowledge, Google (ahem!), but I would simply add to that definition: “… without persecution, prejudice or punishment by others,” or words to that effect.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution

      The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

      This amendment is used to protect the citizenry from any expansion of governmental power because of the limited nature of the Bill of Rights. Because every right of the people of the United States could not possibly be mentioned in the Constitution, the Ninth Amendment was added to supplement those already mentioned. The amendment protects many rights implied in a universal civil code, and those that are linked to other rights already declared. It protects these personal liberties from state and federal infringement.

    • Frank Davis says:

      that beacon of knowledge, Google

      It’s as good a start point as any. Particularly if you want to start questioning it.

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdogan, The Son Of Turkey’s President | Zero Hedge

    While we patiently dig to find who the on and offshore “commodity trading” middleman are, who cart away ISIS oil to European and other international…

  5. harleyrider1978 says:

    Study demonstrates a pattern in ‘how scientists lie about their data’

  6. Lepercolonist says:

    All I know is that smoking bans curtailed my freedom.

  7. waltc says:

    The Declaration of Independence, with the wit of brevity, listed the only possible rights a government must, or even can, acknowledge: life, liberty (aka freedom) & the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights attempted to put specific limits on the power of the govt to limit liberty (aka freedoms), After that, everyone should’ve just shut up.

    But FDR envisioned other guaranteed freedoms: freedom from want and freedom from fear. I suppose by “want” he meant dire foodless, shelterless poverty and, at the dawn of WW2, he meant freedom from political or military fear but as a more general proposition, his proffered freedoms are a slippery slope to insane impossibility. As somebody else once famously put it, “you can’t always get what you want,” ( to which I’d add you can’t even always get what you need) and if Mary’s afraid of dogs, and Andy’s afraid of elevators, and the a-hole in this article is afraid of the peripheral sight of a beer ad…then everything’s forbidden in the name of freedom for somebody else. ( We seem to be getting there now on American campuses.)

    But freedom of speech, to be freedom worth the name, isn’t just the freedom to whisper or to mutter but to speak, yell, broadcast, publish. Freedom of religion means the freedom to exercise your beliefs, not just believe them. And freedom of assembly means that smoking smokers should be free to assemble with other smoking smokers, not merely free to assemble if they don’t, in fact, smoke.

  8. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Harley – did you catch this story? Smoking and vaping to be banned outside.

    ‘Nonsmokers will have a bylaw to back them up when they ask smokers* to butt out in parks and outside civic facilities starting next spring.

    ‘They won’t, however, be able to summon a bylaw officer.’

    ‘“Some smokers** may feel like we’re pushing them farther and farther into the woods, and fair enough,” said Coun. Arjun Singh. “I do believe people will comply and, hopefully, more people will be encouraged to give it up.”

    *and vapers
    ** Yep, vapers are included

  9. margo says:

    Freedom from, or freedom to?
    And is a billionaire really freer than a person who has little money?
    ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’? (the great Janis Joplin?)

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Freedom’s just another word for everything left to lose’

      One minor word change makes it a fighters song

    • Frank Davis says:

      And is a billionaire really freer than a person who has little money?

      A billionaire can do all sorts of things that poor people can’t, so he has greater degree of freedom.

      I thought the whole point of getting rich was that it let you do things you couldn’t otherwise do. Like, for example, live in a palace with an army of servants.

      In some ways that’s becoming a bit of a problem for some of us, particularly when they use their greater degree of freedom to reduce other people’s degree of freedom. e.g. Michael Bloomberg funding smoking bans.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Right on the mark Frank just like last time in 1900 when all the rich bastards created these prohibition groups to keep their hatred alive via the non profit!
        The best thing to happen would be a total market crash and all their endowments are wiped out. So would end the 100 years war on 100 year old hate on the common man.

    • smokingscot says:

      @ Margo

      Funnily enough there was a discussion on this only recently. A billionaire is now quite commonplace, and there are more of them being created every year (China has 596 of them – and there were 1,645 worldwide that some list knows of in 2014), so now they’ve invented the term “mega-rich” – and it seems their greatest fear is not having the very best of the very best.

      Bernard Madoff was one such individual – and he became mega-rich because he conned many very rich people into investing in his ponzi scheme.

      And Pink Floyd, well they got ripped off as well by their financial guru – and that’s why they had to go back to doing concerts and interviews and even release re-hashes of their old hits.

      However from what I’ve seen, what very wealthy people really want is privacy. Branson has his island – Necker Island – somewhere in the Carribean, while Blair has some isolated pile in England – and so on.

      Hollywood is chock full of very rich celebrities with isolated pads, lots of security and an aversion to prying eyes, yet despite that they seem to have exactly the same issues as the rest of society. Marriages that go belly up, kids that go awry and they get sick too. Robin Williams handled his Lewy Bodies Dementia in a spectacular manner and I see his children are squabbling about the estate and the step mother (same as the parasites over Michael Jackson’s estate).

      Bloomberg of course has a place in Bermuda, very private, very isolated and a two hour hop from NY. I see he’s just bought a townhouse in London. Paid well over the asking price – a paltry £1 million so taking it to £17 million before re-modelling costs are included – to get it. The blurb states it has:

      “seven bedrooms, a private entry road, a garden, several vaults and a massive ceiling mural by James Thornhill, the designer of the paintings on the inside of the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral”.

      At one stage he had a total of 12 properties scattered throughout the world.

      But he too is divorced and living out of wedlock with former New York state banking superintendent Diana Taylor.

      Yet you’ll have probably sussed a very big weakness here. All these houses, cars, yachts, islands, aircraft and such. Yup, that means staff – lots of them, and while they may be very deferential and so on, they know everything about you from the colour of your knickers to what you had for breakfast.

      Truth is it ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, but money can buy power and influence. And that Margo is where so many of them get their rocks off. Sometimes it really is up front like Gates and Bloomberg, but all too often it’s those who now run the foundations that were set up by previous billionaires that are the problem – as well as individuals who have slush funds from public companies (like big pharma). They are truly insidious creatures.

  10. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Stumbled across an article this morning, from 2009:

    No, I didn’t stumble like that, Clicky *rolls eyes* Stop interrupting…

    The moral of the story? If you can’t escape the tyranny, don the Violet and join it… then relentlessly March in pursuit of those that show you up for the spineless, Nazi-doctrine approving, jellybotty that you really are.

    This is a fun video I stumbled across the other evening…

    No! Not like that either, you silly dolphin…

    *innocent face*

  11. harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank one for the opposing graveyard

    One dead after shooting at Biloxi Waffle House

    BILOXI —

    A Waffle House customer shot and killed an employee after she told him to put out a cigarette at the U.S. 90 business in the early-morning hours Friday, police said.

    Biloxi police Sgt. Donnie Dobbs said the 52-year-old employee was shot in the head after arguing with the customer about smoking inside the restaurant around 1 a.m. Friday.

    The employee, who has not been identified pending notification of next of kin, died at Merit Health Biloxi a short time later. She had a suffered a single gunshot wound to the head.

    The customer, Johnny Max Mount, 45, was arrested as he was walking out of the restaurant. He was booked at the Harrison County jail on a charge of first-degree murder.

    Mount, Dobbs said, was armed with a 9 mm handgun at the time of the shooting.

    Mount, who lives on 100 block of Grandview Drive in Biloxi, is being held on a $2 million bond set by Justice Court Judge Albert Fountain.

    Read more here:

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Now we can start a graveyard for all the Nazis sent to their graves by aggravated smokers.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        well I called WH corporate and read them the story…….they didnt even know it had happened yet!

        She said the VP would likely email me over the incident or call again. Ive got about 3 hours phone time with this man in the last 3 years over the smoking issue alone. Ive even read him and sent him the facts.
        I warned the VP of wafflehouse last year in waycross Ga this sort of thing could happen with his sudden decision to go smokefree after 3 years of him saying we love our smokers their our best customers. Then bamm! He suddenly changes course and gets all quiet about it,until I mentioned what did they do promise you 500 million in guaranteed government loans to build 500 new wafflehouses with……..thats just what did happen a small corporation turning only about 32 million a year profit suddenly gets enuf clout to finance 500 new stores as thats what they aredoing.

        Whats worse is WH has shut down almost 150 stores across the south since the bans came in at the state levels. Now their going to build 500 new ones,for what! Our WH cut staff and hours after the smokefree decision went down. I mean in the mornings when I drive by to go to the smoking restaraunt across the street there isnt 3 cars at 9 am over there and theres 15 at the smoking one.

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          If we remember mikes comparison on making employees and owners police enforcers how they risk life and limb in confrontations. This makes the point perfectly!

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          Currently the law demands that the owners of over 99% of those workplaces be drafted as unpaid, untrained, uninsured, unempowered, unarmed, and often unwilling Civilian Vigilante Law Enforcers required to physically tackle any smoking customers or visitors to their premises and remove them bodily if they refuse to stop smoking upon demand. Failure to do so will, supposedly, subject them to fines, and then possible closure or outright confrontation with authorities if they refuse to pay those fines.

  12. harleyrider1978 says:

    It appears FACEBOOK has bit the big one this morning.

  13. harleyrider1978 says:

    Kerala cracks whip against smoking in public places

    The police report stated that a total of 47,282 people were fined during the July-Sept this year for violating the no-public smoking provision law

  14. Smoking Lamp says:

    Smoking should be a protected freedom, but the Antis redefined freedom as the “freedom from smoke” reinforced by false claims of second hand smoke risk. Now smoking is being actively banned in a move toward total prohibition. The latest ban is a patio ban that ban smoking on all restaurant and bar terrasses in Quebec. That ban should be resisted and political and legal action toward its repeal should be initiated. The smoking (and now vaping) bans are a direct assault of freedom and liberty.

  15. caprizchka says:

    How about “Freedom” from all consequences of one’s own choices? Or “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”? or “Freedom from the burden of choice”? or “Freedom from the constraints of the human body?” or “Freedom from risk.” It’s a problematic concept fraught with irrationality, in my view, which stems from the same confusion as “Equality” juxtaposed with “Equality of outcome”.

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