Tuesday, August 6, 2013

0 What is freedom?

To be free from others?

Or to be free from the self?

What is freedom for you?

Freedom seems nowadays to be a value that many pursue, yet it is not clear what the term means. Perhaps this is a healthy sign - people are free to decide what freedom means to them.


The word freedom dates back to before the 12th century. Nonetheless, there was not always a term for it in human history. So what happened to make the term needed? In old Greece, the term free people was used to distinguish those from slaves. Slaves  were either prisoners of war or bought through trade. It is worth noting that slavery, and hence potentially the use of the word freedom, have proliferated after the invention of agriculture, and increased after the establishment of cities.

Evidences suggest that there was no systematic slavery before that during the stone ages. Small human tribes then are likely to have made their decisions based on consensus, had no centralized leadership, there was no differentiating between the genders, and people enjoyed leisure time way more than later on in agriculture or industrial societies.

Different meanings

Maybe it is the legacy of slavery that one interpretation of the word freedom is still heavily soaked in: To be free from others.

Around the same time as in old Greece, in another location, Gautama the Buddha has given a different meaning to the term: To be free from the self and its patterns.
This meaning is in agreement with the interpretation that Lao Tzu gave circa 100 years earlier:
The sage seeks freedom from desire. He does not collect precious things. He learns not to hold on to ideas. He brings men back to what they have lost.
Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching
The above meanings might be pointing into different directions: For to be free from others, one needs to develop a sense of the self first. On the other hand, for one to be free from the self, one needs to undo that sense.

In either case, the meaning of freedom seems to be strongly bound to the relation between the individual and others / the whole. This relation inspires the following question:
In whatever circumstances, how can an individual be part of the whole without being free?

What are your thoughts?
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