What is "Freedom"?

Freedom. Perhaps the defining word thrown around politics at the moment (and for the previous forty or so years). Politicians love to throw it around, and pay lip service to the idea. But it is barely used consistently, so I'm just going to bash out some thoughts on what freedom is to various people.

I suppose the simplest form of "freedom" is a classical lassez faire manner of things. "Your right to swing a fist ends at my face", as the saying goes. Very few, if any rules, other than those to prevent direct harm (e.g. property theft, assault). Economic and social regulations likely don't exist.

It is free, in a sense. But not as free in another sense. First off, a person who earns $100,000 a year is more "free" than someone who earns $10,000. The richer person might have obligations he needs to fill, people to take care of etc. But ultimately, she can start a new life elsewhere, or give up the job or whatever. Someone with $20 to their name could scarcely afford to outrun their debtors, let alone move a thousand miles to start a new life.

But then, that sort of freedom might not need to be implied. The poor could be being punished for their inability to be worthwhile to the economy, for not engaging in entrepreneurial spirit, whatever you like. The lassez faire model fails at a more basic level than that. It fails to recognise that social stratification is an almost inevitable development that must be regulated against.

Take a group of thirty or so people (or a hundred, it doesn't matter). You probably know a group of a similar size. Do you have rules regarding interactions and conversation? I don't imagine so. But something you might well recognise is the amount of social clout any one member of this group has. It is not the same between members. As the group grows, the most powerful become more powerful, and the "underclass" of people who are more or less ignored grows.

And again, some people think it's a lack of willpower and so on. But very rapidly, once you move from tens, to hundreds, to thousands, the amount of power a random member wields is so miniscule that their ability to change their position in the group might as well not be there. Without any kind of regulating body, this results in stratification. And this becomes systemic if you look at multiple generations in the same group.

You can see this in your own social groups, even starting at something as low as five people. You understand who is vying for whose attention, who is willing to stand their ground and so on.

Thus, the basic lassez faire model doesn't really account for that. Over time, groups tend towards stratification, which is less "free" even if it is a less overt form of oppression.

So what about this "freedom in another sense" that I mentioned earlier?

Freedom can also imply social mobility, but as the above demonstrates, social mobility becomes very restricted in a lassez faire system. Which some may think of as "less free", an ironic outcome of allowing all basic freedoms.

I did have another point here, but I kind of spent a month not writing this post. Whoops.

Social mobility and perhaps ability to enact political will. Yeah.

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