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March 29, 2007

Whither Freedom?

Recently I came across an item about a recent BBC programme entitled "The Trap - What happened to our dream of freedom?" and it got me thinking. How "free" are we? How free have we ever been? And the answer seems to be - we never have been and we probably never will be "free" in the sense that most people (and the OED) would define as "freedom". Yet, it is one of the concepts that we, particularly in the Western Democracies, take as a tenet of faith, it is our great raison detre for all our desire to spread our "Liberal" concepts and democracies, but is this really "freedom".

The programme makers have examined the gap between our understanding of the promises of the last hundred years and the realities of our societies and concluded that we have the definition wrong, we don't understand the concept and we are probably not free at all. It seems that our idea of freedom is far too narrow and, most perniciously, our political masters like it that way. Why? Put quite simply it provides them with the means to circumscribe our freedom, to limit our control and to make sure that they have the ultimate say in what is and what is not permissible.

How has this come about? Apparently it arises from models of human behaviour that were developed by strategists as a means of manipulating public opinion mainly in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Unfortunately, as with all things taken out of Pandora's Box, it wasn't long before politicians realised that it was just as useful at home to direct public opinion and "steer" the gullible public in the direction they wanted us to go. The Mass Media are, of course, a party to this since they are the tool by which the manipulation is managed. This is how the largest part of the poplutaion has been deluded into thinking that Socialism, with centralising control of every aspect of life, ever increasing bureaucracy and the slow strangulation of enterprise and freedom of thought has been carefully managed, is a "Good Thing". Yet the concept is not new. This was the genius of men like Dr Goebels and indeed the Soviet Union's own propagandists. It is the stock in trade of every dictator; convince the public that, in order to "preserve" their freedom, you have to impose restrictions and limits.

It stems from the belief among radical psychiatrists and genetic biologists, anthropologists and other related sciences that humanity is basically selfish, a collection of isolated creatures who live in a state of constant suspicion that one or other of our neighbours might be up to something which will deprive us of something we have or want. The idea has been seized on by market economists and extended by marketing executives who all play on our supposedly inherent desire to be free of the herd. But, has this created the "freedom" we supposedly all crave? Has it actually created a "free and fair" society? Or has it created a society that is now more regulated, more controlled and less free than at any time since the beginnings of civilisation?

Personally, looking at the evidence these documentaries present, I would suspect that - to corrupt Voltaires famous saying, "We are born in chains, and these are added to as we grow". The Civil Service has never been more powerful - or more bureaucratically driven and more interfering in every aspect of our lives. Politicians thrive and mutilply - probably Britain's biggest growth industry at present, yet we enjoy no right of self defence, no freedom to bring up our children as we think is right, no freedom from wage slavery, taxes (They grow like Topsy!) and no freedom of thought or speech. Both those last are now restricted as never before by laws introduced to promote "tolerance". Even our freedom of movement is threatened by the government's determination to drive private motoring off our roads and force us to use the privatised and hugely expensive rail systems (Heaven forbid we should consider using the domestic airlines!). Even our choices in employment have been restricted by the collapse of our industries and their being driven abroad by over regulation of supposed "health and safety" and by "workers rights" which render labour here so expensive (not that the worker gets any more of it - it's the oncosts of employing anyone that are a killer!) that it is cheaper to sell the factory or move the factory and import everything.

Is the person on Benefits "Free"? Simple answer - no. They are tied up by endless "rules" restricting where they can go, how much they may have and how the "benefit" will be eroded should they dare to presume to take any paid work.

The concept of Freedom that we have lived with since the 1950's at least is fatally flawed. We need to have a wider concept, and a deeper understanding of what we mean not only by "freedom" - it has to be more than the right to vote! - and then we need to understand how it affects others, particularly those in other parts ofthe world who see things differently. The Cold War has produced many of the problems we face today, not least state sponsored terrorism, but equally the current trend to over regulate and to try to direct how society functions at a micro-managerial level. We need to restrict the power of politcians, bureaucrats and the media to a very large extent - and to rediscover the real meaning of freedom.

Have we ever been completely "free"? Probably not since we first formed societies and clans, however that is not to say that we cannot enjoy a form of freedom within that group which we would not have outside it. We do need some rules and we certainly need some moral guidelines to make any human society functiuon cohesively - what we do not need is constant interference by some group that considers itself better qualified than anyone else to direct our personal relationships, thoughts and utterances.

In short, we need to reconsider our concept of what it is to be truly "free" and to then explore where the boundaries of that freedom are - and what responsibility it imposes on the "free" to guard it and ensure it is enjoyed by all - and not simply by the ruling elite and their hangers-on in the bureaucracies.

Posted by The Gray Monk at March 29, 2007 04:39 PM

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