Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Fences of Freedom

Towards the end of this week we have been cocooned in drizzle-like fog. It permeates any clothing, rising damp is reaching my knees, the ground seems wetter and muddier than after heavy rain. Trees, last week dancing in strong winds, are poised without reaction, silent, bare, dark and still against the heavy grey sky.

The 17th November is a public holiday here, it marks the day in 1989 when police violence to break up a student march sparked public protests which brought the end to 40 years of Communist totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia. It tends to get overlooked that it also marks the Nazi clampdown on student activities that day in 1939, when all institutes of higher education not instructing in German were closed and student leaders executed or sent to concentration camps. In fact it was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of these events that the student march in 1989 was organised in the first place.

Conversations at this time naturally turn to comparing life here before and after 1989. I am not qualified to fully contribute to these discussions having arrived here in 1993, but a recent such conversation turned to whether there is more freedom today and whether that is a good thing. As the damp soaked into me I pondered on what freedom is to me.

No freedom is limitless, the fences that limit our freedoms may be way over on the horizon or close up to us but we should know that they are there, look after them and shift them as necessary if we can, sometimes dramatically, but we can't just destroy them. We want "freedom from" when we define where we don't want to be: freedom from fear, responsibilty, problems of any sort. Respite from these might be desirable but fencing these out of lives completely excludes other things that constitute a worthwhile life. We want "freedom to" or "freedom of" to define where we want to be: freedom to travel, freedom of speech. How many people use the freedom to travel, really want to travel, put up their own unnecessary boundaries to this freedom? The limits to my freedom of speech should be way over on the horizon, but I should accept that it is wise to consider what I say where, when and to who.

Freedoms should be limited but the fences must be well-maintained.


  1. Well, Tramp, I must confess that you have opened a big topic here. While you are correct that unlimited or absolute freedom cannot be tolerated in a civilized society, I strongly believe that every individual, wherever he or she lives in the world, is entitled to certain basic freedoms, which, fortunately, are enshrined in my country's constitution, specifically, freedom of speech, freedom from religious oppression, freedom of association, freedom to travel, and freedom to participate meaningfully in the democratic process. On a personal level, I also support the freedom of every individual to choose his or her own path in life, the only caveat being that no individual should be permitted to interfere unreasonably with the freedom of another person. As I said, this is a broad topic, and it is difficult to make any statement for which there would not be an exception. In general, however, I cast my lot with the ideal of freedom. Lest you have any doubt, however, I do not support that notion of "freedom" that is often used by the oligarchs and plutocrats in the United States to advance raw, dog-eat-dog capitalism. Some people just want more freedom for themselves, even when it comes at the expense of freedom for others.

  2. George
    Yes, this is a big topic. I arrived at it from discussions of whether freedoms claimed to exist in society here today have improved the quality of life. Some look back sentimentally to times when unemployment and the debt collector were unknown concepts, readily accepting drastic restrictions on individual freedom in order to maintain this situation; others emphasize problems in today's society, for example corruption and bureaucracy, as leftovers of the "socialist paradise".
    Freedom is linked to our rights as individuals. Some would accept very little freedom in return for the right to work, the right to a flat and other basic parts of life, others would accept the responsibilty to provide these for themselves. But a society where selfishness is given high value means little to those who most value the simple basic freedoms.
    For me society should value simple basic freedoms, but that will only be the case if the individuals in that society truly value them.
    We must sow the seeds of optimism every day.

  3. TRAMP

    this is a BIG topic - I have re-read your post and the comments above several times and I am struggling to get to a place of intelligent response. I believe that is because I don't think of freedom or lack there-of much at all. I will tell you that I have come to realize that being a person with a disability gives rise to freedoms and rights. For example, something as basic as going out to eat and then discovering you cannot use the restroom because it is not handicap accessible. Takes freedom/rights to a very basic place. Also, in employment I always felt imprisoned by rules and regulations, dress codes, acceptable verse non acceptable "speech", all determined by some management team that doesn't have a clue. I never felt free at work. Also, as of late, I find the health care system governed by workers taught to decline claims has infringed on my freedom to choose health care options. In our home I feel free to love and love as I please but the systems and demands of those systems that set policy and cost are taking away from our peace of mind. Certainly no freedom in fear.
    Anywho - this is huge.

    Love you Tramp and Lady too

  4. Gail
    Certainly a huge topic. It was brought on by me feeling that there are more important questions than whether a loaf of bread here costs more than it did 21 years ago or not (and the answer to that one depends on how you calculate average salaries etc. etc.).
    Both what George had to say and your comments are much deeper than this and I value the comments that both of you make. Thank you for adding another dimension to this.
    In a system we can feel so overwhelmed, there is no longer the opportunity to be the individual who we are and the opportunity for the self-realization needed for a meaningful life.
    Love and peace to you and yours.

  5. Hi Tramp,

    there isn't really much left to be said.
    Let me just repeat Robert Frost's line: Good fences make good neighbours.

    It is a huge subject, people have fought for it, against it, died for it, suppressed it for millennia.

    I'd be happy to have the freedom to be my unassuming, peaceful, self.
    However, that might not suit you.

    Love to Lady, is she being ignored somewhat?

  6. Friko
    An enormous subject, it left me quite empty after trying to write about it. What struck me was that we sometimes put limits on our freedom to be ourselves, most often out of fear. We need to check these fences carefully, they may be in the wrong places.
    I am busy, Friko. These humans here are up to all sorts of tricks in the snow. They need plenty of supervision, it's a dog's life, I can tell you.