I do not think I am free, not in the sense that “one has all options laid out in front of them and can choose whatever and whenever they want”. I don’t believe that because I am just a human. If I can do a decent job in explaining my rationale, you would probably cast doubts onto your conception of being free, too.
We interpret the word “free” very broadly and oftentimes without due examinations–the ability to make choices and decisions independently as per one’s liking. Being free, as commonly accepted, is the default state of any individual. One questions very little about the origin of this belief, and why would they? Most people who advocate freedom have never tasted what it is like any other way, and it just so happened they are surrounded by others just like them. It is important to understand that freedom comes at a price; it doesn’t just pop into existence. I fully understand why freedom is often used as a wedge issue, hence it brought me to a closer examination.
How do we know we are free? Depending on how you interpret “free”, you can be either A) an extraordinarily rare human being who is unfettered by all secular and/or spiritual constraints, or B) a common individual whose decisions are determined by his/her previous experiences which had been molded by even older ones, therefore opening up the debate of an endless regression.
I personally don’t believe that I am type A for simple reasons. If I were truly free, then I should be able to do anything, of course within the legal framework, reasonably acceptable to all others who may be affected by my actions, not breaking my financial limit, and not subverting the foundation of the given society where I may carry out my reveries in the attempt of proving my absolute freedom.
But wait, you say. Of course one needs to operate within some socially agreed parameters; there is no absolute freedom. To which I ask: then why believe you are free in the first place?
That leaves me to the alternative: type B. However, I can’t continue without clearing things up by addressing my premise not being a false dichotomy. Asking if you are free is akin to asking if a glass of water is pure–if that glass of water has molecules besides H2O, then the answer is a definitive negative. Side note, drinking pure water actually does no other good to your body except for hydration; it lacks minerals and electrolytes.
The clarification is important; the purpose of differentiating being reasonably free and absolutely free is vital. A common person who can exercise empathy will carefully examine their actions before carrying them out, somewhere along the process self-inducing some form of restraint; but to an unlikely fellow who chooses not to, or cannot empathize (an extreme example would be psychopaths), their focus is predominantly on themselves, making everything and everyone around them irrelevant. Telling the latter that they are completely free to do what they fancy sounds like a pretty grim proposition.
If we agree that freedom is a relative concept, then we should align our rhetoric with it: tell people exactly that. Because employing one definitive rhetoric in the hope that people can self-examine is an arrogantly improbable approach–some people will take it at its face value when bombarded with reinforcements.
Communist economy is a good example. If you keep telling people “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (R.I.P. Mr. Marx), they will eventually stop working and, instead, start hoarding. I am in no way indicating communist economy is completely untenable, in fact, in hunter-gatherer societies where only few dozens of people co-exist, this type of productivity had worked incredibly well–but I digress.
Think Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract. It posits that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority, in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. To me, this is an illustration of the interplay of responsibilities and rights. To surrender some, or as I would like to call it–self-restraint, is our responsibilities, and in exchange we enjoy relative freedom.
This notion can’t be novel to anyone since we are already engaged in Social Contract in one form or another. Tax, healthcare, pension, etc. The risk, however, lies in the notion’s either extremities: too much responsibility is borderline oppression while zero responsibility means nihilism. Neither contributes to a healthy society. Therefore, finding a balance is a much more meaningful discussion compared to asserting freedom with no modifiers, which in my opinion resembles a unicorn: too good to be true.
Back to the debate of endless regression. I incline to think I am an endless regression of past events and experiences and here is my wacky thought: if we accept endless regression, then we can safely embrace endless progression, which sounds awfully like evolution. Then ask yourself: is the process of evolution determined by free will? And does evolution have free will?
Many will likely to argue that I am conflating human evolution with cognitive progression (after all we are in control of our thoughts, sort of), which I may be guilty of–only time will tell. However, I stand my ground for even in psychology, scientists agree that everything psychological is also biological. The psyche and the body are woven intricately together, to say one can operate independently from another is, to me, a very weak argument.