"Liberty and Freedom, you can make a distinction between them. Liberty perhaps being political rights, freedom; not being enslaved. The ancient Athenian had only one word "Eleuthera" …and to him it was the noblest and defining character of his nation. To be free." – J. Rufus Fears – “The History of Freedom” Lecture series.
Pop culture is often a reflection of predominant philosophical themes. By the widespread use of an idea or phrasing we can often discern some of the philosophical attitudes of people that partake in these particular cultural expressions. They are of course never 100% accurate, and sometimes poor philosophical ideas are obfuscated and intentionally hidden to be presented to the mainstream culture. But in this general regard, there is a popular song by 3 Doors Down which contains the line “So you call this your free country, Tell me why it costs so much to live” and it reflects, I believe, a popular cultural sentiment. This line and sentiment infuriates me for a variety of reasons, the most important being that it wantonly confuses contradictory definitions of the word “Freedom”.
Freedom obviously has many different uses, for the purposes of this essay I will discuss the four predominant ones in English. To start with, one definition is being free from oppression (that is, no threat of having people force you to do something against your will) and another is Free as in ‘without cost’. Different languages use entirely different words to say these different concepts, it is only the fact that the English language uses this same word to mean a couple different things that this line is possible, and consequently that is even has a chance of trying to make the point it tries to make (that it should cost nothing to live) and that perhaps this language quirk is a major reason why this cultural sentiment exists at all, since it is superficially ‘clever’.
To illustrate why this is a fallacious way of thinking, let me use that exact same reversal of definitions of the word “Freedom” in a different context to illustrate how completely egregious it is to mix those two definitions conceptually. Consider the following statement.
“Of course I think black men should be free, everyone ought to have one”
Such is the betrayal of freedom (from oppression) that is permitted by mixing those definitions.
Being free from oppression is absolutely not the same thing as being free from cost, and ironically insisting that something be free from cost actually destroys freedom from oppression. Life, and existing, does have a cost, and it always will. That cost is food and water primarily, shelter secondarily, and health and medical care lastly. When we are hungry, we can not make food fall from the sky and into our mouths just by wishing it to. That food must be grown or killed, collected, processed, transported to us, and prepared for consumption. Every step of this process is complex and consumes a great deal of effort and time which other people have to put in. Whenever someone demands free (from cost) food, they are demanding that all of people, the farmers, packagers, truckers, train operators and tractor builders, fuel processors, grocery stores, etc, work for them without pay in order to provide that food free from cost.
We can not wish a heated home with running water into existence; such a thing requires the material and intellectual effort of literally thousands of people. Should everyone be provided with a heated home with running water for free (without cost)? To insist such a thing means that the thousands of laborers, builders, designers, carpenters, plumbers, contractors, etc do this work without pay.
Similarly, when we insist on free medical care, we are advocating every single medical practitioner, researcher, innovator, nurse and health aide to work for us to provide us these things for free without paying them anything.
Now let me be clear, I think as many people as possible ought to have the best health care, education, shelter and food possible. But under absolutely no circumstances is it right to advocate forced enslavement of people to provide these things. Each and every one of us has a right, fundamentally, to our own life, is it ours to live freely as we choose. No one else has any right to dictate to us or enslave us, and similarly we have no right to do that to anyone else. No one has a right to tell a farmer forcibly what he should charge for his food when it was his own mind, effort, and labor which produced it. No one has a right to tell a doctor what to charge for his services, his abilities are the product of his own effort and mind and they are not owned by anyone but himself. To force him, implicitly at the end of a gun, to charge no more than a certain amount for his services, is to tell him everyone but himself is the actual owner of his abilities; and as such his life. He is enslaved to everyone. He is a slave who is the property of “the people”
In fact, demanding a *right* to anything that is the result of someone else’s labor or mind means that the people who make those things have no rights. There can be NO RIGHTS in a society which demands the enslavement of all the producers and providers. No one EVER has a right to enslave. A right can not be just when it comes from the enslavement of everyone else, or even one single person. If you have a right to free from cost medical care, enforced by your government, it means you have a right to enslave the providers of medical care. If you have a right to education, it means you have a right to enslave the providers and producers of education. If you have a right to food, it means you have a right to enslave the producers and distributors of that food. This right to enslave is a founding element of socialism and communism, and no free from oppression society can be founded with the right to enslave embedded into its framework.
When we talk then about being free from cost, we are talking about a particular kind of freedom, which I will call material freedom. Material freedom is the acquisition of material goods with no cost to the person who has acquired them. Contrast this then to what I will call Political Freedom. Political Freedom is freedom from being forced to do something against your will by another person. These are the two types of freedom that are confused in the lyrics mentioned previously and in the popular cultural sentiment as well.
That life has a cost; the actions and efforts to sustain it, and thus could never be free (unless technology like nanotechnology literally renders food and shelter as cheap as dirt) conjures up the implicit idea from mixing these definitions of freedom; that the cost of living is similar to political oppression. That needing to work to live to provide yourself food and shelter in order to survive is no different than being forced by a captor as a slave laborer under the threat of torture and death. There is a tremendous distinction between these. Needing to partake in physical labor in order to acquire the material needs for survival is a consequence of physical reality and the laws of physics. We can not continue to exist merely by wishing to. We must act. All life requires a particular series of actions to be sustained, and every single person on this planet lives by only one of two means; providing that material existence for themselves, or looting or stealing the material means of survival from someone else. Needing to get permission from a dictator to live is a far different thing than working to grow food or build housing, or working to freely trade with someone to acquire those things. Blurring the distinction between the two in any way serves to perpetuate dictatorial rule, as it then can be hidden behind the guise of the ‘natural’ difficulties inherent in life. If the cost of living is similar to political oppression, than the fact that life requires action and effort means that political oppression must also be a part of life and dodging a dictators noose is as natural a component of survival as toiling in a field is. Who is it then that benefits most from convincing you that the lack of material freedom is the same as the lack of political freedom? Well those who seek to politically enslave you of course, or that seek to ally with you to enslave someone else under the banner of ‘rights’
The idea that needing to provide yourself the material necessities of life is a violation of freedom brings up a third common definition for freedom. I call this freedom Metaphysical Freedom. Metaphysical freedom is literal freedom of volition, it is the ability to do anything you want instantly with no effort just by wishing it, whether that is transporting yourself instantly to another continent or planet, or insisting that you do not need food to live.
Metaphysical freedom has limitations placed on it as well, and just like Material Freedom being confused with Political freedom, Metaphysical freedom is also often confused with Political Freedom. In fact the lack of Material Freedom is a consequence of the limitations forced onto us in regards to our Metaphysical Freedoms. Those limitations are, of course, the laws of physics. Life requires energy to sustain it, it requires action and effort to acquire the fuel for the energy and a perpetual and directed course of action intended to further that life. The laws of physics do not allow us to survive without eating, to work forever without rest or food, or to get a better life merely by wishing it. No one has Metaphysical Freedom, and probably no one ever will, though advances in technology will get us closer and closer to a pure metaphysical like freedom, we will likely always still require energy and effort to survive. Insisting though, that life should have no cost to it, that cost being food, shelter, and medicine, is an affront to the restrictions placed by the universe on our metaphysical freedoms. It is screaming to nature in frustration that you must follow her rules. It is screaming because your car wont start, or your investment failed, or you lover no longer loves you back. It is throwing a childish tantrum at reality, it is unproductive, useless, and nothing less than ignorant savagery. When you fail at a task or something happens to make your life more difficult, you have not been frustrated by a malevolent universe out to perpetuate human suffering and misery, you have instead corrected a misconception you held about the nature of the universe. Nature and reality exist and function in particular ways, to prosper as physical beings in a material world requires us to understand and follow the rules of material existence, not whine and wail when things do not go the way of our whims and conjur up flawed philosophical notions of metaphysical freedom.
The restrictions placed on our metaphysical freedoms by the laws of nature lead us to our final definition of freedom which I will discuss in this essay, Physical Freedom. Physical Freedom is the literal freedom of action, to move about, to speak, to do things, to work, to act on the physical world. Yet again this additional definition of freedom is frequently confused with the political freedom from oppression and the freedom from cost of materials. You might hear in conversations with anarchists that Physical Freedom ought to be identical to Political Freedom. That is, everything you are physically able to do you should be allowed to do, this includes physically brutalizing and oppressing another person. After all, if the police prevent you from oppressing someone they are in fact restricting your freedoms, but in this case they are restricting your Physical Freedoms, they are not restricting your Political Freedoms. Is it any wonder than whose interest is served by blurring the distinction between Political Freedom and Physical Freedom? Again if infringing on your ‘right’ to assault someone is an assault on freedom, than it is only those who advocate dictatorial or tyrannical rule who seek to call a system where anyone can do anything to anyone else as long as he is physically able to do it, Free. This is not Freedom in any meaningful political sense of the term.
The lack of distinction of Physical Freedom from Political Freedom often leads hardcore egalitarians and socialists to proclaim that the laws of physics themselves are a form of oppression, which of course is the only logical implication of any statement that derides the fact that it costs effort to live by providing food, and to have to deal with the physical realities of nature is a form of cruel oppression, and the people able to understand and overcome nature owe it to the people who are not able or willing, and owe it to them specifically because they are not able or willing, to shield them from the difficulties of physical existence. To make the world soft, coddling, padded, welcoming and free from anything remotely damaging to the fragile egos of these solipsists.
To summarize then, the four types of Freedom are:
Material Freedom – free from cost, cost as labor or effort or money
Physical Freedom – a literal freedom of action and movement, constrained only by the laws of physics
Metaphysical Freedom – literal volitional freedom unrestrained by the laws of physics, being able to do absolutely anything you wish instantly without effort. Includes being free from being forced to do something against your will by the laws of nature. Metaphysical freedom is a philosophical impossibility.
Political Freedom – Freedom from being forced to do something against your will by someone else.
Because of the nature of Material Freedom (that of being free from any cost or effort at acquiring the material necessities for life) any advancement in Material Freedom, when provided by government decree, necessarily bears a zero sum relationship with Political Freedom, You can not have a right to your own life if everyone else does. Any material good that is provided, that the government says everyone has a *right* to must come from the material products and effort of other people, and as such those others must be forced to work, i.e. enslaved, to provide those goods and services. If you say “I have a right to education” you are saying you have a right to force others to provide you with education, a right to enslave them. Thus, political figures like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, etc, operating under the guise of freedom are in fact seeking to forcibly enslave the majority of the population.
Is it no wonder then that every single communist nation in existence has always forbidden leaving the country? Is this not the ultimate expression of not having a right to your own life? People are not politically free in these nations, they are merely a physical tool whose only purpose is to attempt to provide equal material freedom to everyone else. Nations which do not allow people to freely leave them do not even deserve the respect of being called nations, and instead should be referred to as they truly are, prisons. Dictators and rulers of these nations, the worst of which are North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam; are in fact literal hostage takers. These nations operate under the flawed idealistic premise of material freedom as the end goal, and as a consequence have absolutely no political freedoms and are brutally oppressive, poor, and painful to live in.
Conversely, any advances in Political Freedom (including both economic and civil, which really should not be distinguished) lead directly to advances in Material Freedom, that is allowing people to rule their own lives and to discover and invent of their own accord, leads to the greatest advancements possible to man and thus the greatest reduction in the effort required to survive, implicitly speeding toward Material Freedom, though never quite completely reaching it.
I am a strong proponent of Political Freedom, that is, A life without oppression from other people. I am a strong advocate of Physical Freedom but only when it does not lead to restrictions on Political Freedom; anyone can do anything they want as long as they do not assault person or property of others. I am adamantly against Material freedom when it comes from the enslavement of the material production of those able to produce useful things, but completely for it when the free and voluntary exchange of these useful things results in people making the world an easier and more pleasant place for them to exist.
Thus, a just government would defend at all costs Political freedom both civil and economic, allow Physical Freedoms where they do not conflict with Political Freedoms, and necessarily progress more toward Material Freedom than any controlled or centralized government because of the advances made from innovators and producers which reduce the material cost of everything man needs to survive. Such a government should include a constitutional separation of church and state *as well as* a constitutional separation of business and state. While an initial incarnation of it might require taxation to sustain itself in order to provide basic infrastructure, national self defense, protect civil liberties, enforce rule of law, and final arbitration in matters of dispute, eventually a streamlined system could work on voluntary fee based system alone. Laws would allow individuals to do virtually anything they wanted as long as it did not infringe on someone else’s rights, or assault them physically or economically. Prisons would contain only violent criminals. The society would be wealthy, politically free, physically free, continually approach material freedom providing for wonderful, long, healthy lives for its inhabitants.
But when we confuse the meanings of Freedoms we open ourselves up to promulgating dictatorial rule in the name of an abstract and harmful ideal of ‘freedom’ which is in fact a literal enslavement of the vast majority of the population. Words are the only means by which we can convey ideas and as such are extremely powerful tools, we must always choose our words wisely and there is no more important area to be aware of the meanings of words than when it is in regards to the freedom (political and physical) of sentient beings.