Monday, August 17, 2009

Are We Really Free? (An Essay on Freedom - Week 4 @ JCU, Semester 2 2009)

The word "Freedom" or "Liberty" had a different connotation in those old streets leading to the Bastille on July 14th 1789, where the people of Paris furiously attacked that old prison, the symbol of the Ancient Monarchy that had ruled France for centuries. As a matter of fact, in French the meaning of the English words Freedom and Liberty are summoned in the one word Liberté. This painting by Eugène Delacroix depicts an anthropomorphised Liberté holding the flag of the Revolution, guiding the people of Paris to the battle, even as they march on top of those who valiantly offered their lives for the sake of their nation.

The French Revolution marked the dawn of a new era, in which the European empires weakened as free and independent nations sprung all across the world, especially in the Americas. The search for Freedom would never be the same. The Liberty they were fighting for in those days was the independence from Ancestral Empires, which furiously tried to retain the absolute power around the figure of a King or Emperor.

In the vox populi of the 21st Century, people in ‘developed Western societies’ tend not to speak too much about the political or economical freedom they already enjoy. Of course not – that freedom they already enjoy (and take for granted) is because of the battles fought by their forefathers, valiant people who, like the Parisians, fought for the sake of an independent nation. The natural assumption would be that our present generation would enjoy the absolute freedom brought by political and economical liberty. But the reality is that even in our generation, humans continue to search for freedom. Past the politics and theories of market interventionism, deep inside Humanity lies the desire to enjoy a more holistic freedom, a freedom that will permeate absolutely every aspect of the individual.

Talking to a dear atheist friend, he commented me that he desires not to be affiliated with a religion, lest he puts his individual freedom in jeopardy. So, are some people still unable to attain the freedom they desire with all their hearts, even in the 21st Century? Is religion another Bastille that needs to be thrown, discarded and dealt with? Are there other Bastilles waiting for the final insurrection of Humanity?

Most of men and women of the 21st Century (at least in developed countries) consider themselves free to do whatever they want. But does Humanity use that Freedom to do any good? Is doing whatever we want true Freedom? To illustrate: as a Pharmacologist, it is sad for me to see that more and more young people consume drugs of abuse in the world. Heroine, cocaine, LSD – you name it. They are just destroying their lives, being chemically chained to the pleasure that drugs produce in the brain. These people are certainly free to do with their bodies as they please – but why is that Humanity wastes its Freedom like this?

The freedom stemming from political and economical liberty is just partial – it fails to supply us with the holistic freedom we so desire. It seems that we humans can’t stand having too much Freedom in our hands, so we just become the master of ourselves… or slaves to ourselves, to put it in other words. Our fight is not against Oppressors, or Louis XV or Charles X – it is against the selfish desires in our inner heart that want to take control over our lives. Sometimes those desires may be good - but sometimes, they are selfish, self-centred, uncaring.

Are we really free? Free from what?

Is Freedom defined as the capacity to do whatever we want to do, regardless of any constraints other than our personal decision?

What is the Freedom we so desire, even in countries that champion political and economical liberties?

Are we ever going to find that Freedom?

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