Wednesday, 11 April 2018

54. Freedom is more collective than individual

Freedom is not exactly what we were told.
It has something of freedom of choice, but freedom is not just freedom of choice. Freedom is about self ownership, but then we ended up discussing why we are falling to self-exploitation. Freedom has more to do with the power to execute this freedom of choice and take it to fruition. This freedom needs others. In this sense, freedom is a system of permissions, enablers and tools that are at our disposal or are within our reach to make things happen, to make our living, to create, to affect the world, etc.

A simple example would be to compare two teenagers that decided they want to study palaeontology and find two different responses from their family. The first one is congratulated, receives full financial support to conduct the studies, receives books that might be interesting, is introduced to family connections that work in this field and received emotional support in periods of frustration. The second one is critised for the poor decision, is cut off from financial support and ignored or even manipulated to redirect this wish and punished severely if unsuccessful.

Current narrative about freedom would portray the second one "you against the world" as the test for the free man, the self-made man, the hero. It is certainly a test. A test of will, a test of individuation. But this individual has been born into an environment with low intensity freedom. In different levels, we all have to break some barriers of this kind and that's why we understand and even believe that this is freedom or that this is all there is to it.

However, if we accept that this first teenager was making a free decision, receiving full permission and full support of the environment makes this teenager infinitely freer. Affluent families send their children to private schools, in part seeking to build the sort of network of connections that would open doors, that would help these children overcome obstacles in the future, but tend to sustain political views and support political speeches that speak about individual, heroic freedom as the true freedom. In a sense, the slogan "check your privilege" is pointing out at this systemic configuration that makes you freer than others, and more likely than others to succeed.

Freedom as a collective phenomenon

When we think about freedom as a collective phenomenon we understand that the exercise of freedom is not only to develop some sort of self-awareness to make free choices, but also to free others from their limitations and build a network of reciprocal relationships. Freedom is a social enterprise that requires empathy and generosity.  If this side of the equation of freedom is neglected, freedom within a society collapses.

An example that comes to mind is that of a poor woman that followed a government program to finish her school education. In her speech, she described how she had to organise her life differently, how she had to build a network of support (to care for her children while she was away, for example) to succeed. She had the feeling that the diploma itself was not as valuable as what she had to do to achieve it and that the true learning was to organise her life in a way that enabled her to achieve what she wanted. In other words to build an environment that supported her freedom.

The much-discussed freedom of speech needs at least a second person willing to hear. In a recent Whatsapp group discussion about a hot political issue, the first response of the group was censure. The group tried to "legislate" that some ideas could not be said in that group. In front of resistance and discussion about freedom of speech a member said "I'm sure you belong to other groups where you are free to discuss this", which in other words meant "in this group you are not free". It was a chilling alarm that made everyone realise that freedom requires much more work than we are told it needs. It certainly requires tolerance, but also a certain quality of relationships, a certain quality of speech to make any discussion possible.

When we look at freedom from this social perspective, we can understand how a political speech can be understood as a permission to commit hate crimes while at the same time we could discuss more deeply why political correctness is losing so many battles lately.

Investing in freedom

Freedom understood in social terms, means that we have to actively invest in the freedom of others first and demand reciprocity in return, which means that trust is a fundamental piece of the puzzle. We cannot build a free society or freedom in a general sense if we are not actively investing in the freedom of others. This investment might be time, physical work -commitment-, attention or money (mostly through taxes). In this sense, freedom is not only about our own liberation, it comes with the demand of our involvement and commitment to sustain freedom itself.  

It means that we can't be truly free if we are not working first so that we are all free. If I want freedom of speech, I have to invest time in listening to others, if I want access to education, I have to see that there is a system where anyone can access education.

It means that freedom requires relationships of trust. Trust that the others will reciprocate. And reciprocity does not follow a hard mathematical function or interest equation. We don't pay back a favour with interest. We don't pay back with the same "currency" and even we might not match exactly the favour received. However, there is a lot of wisdom in the fluid economics of reciprocity, with a very sophisticated sense of justice measuring intention, means, effort with no maths involved. 

It means that freedom is what we build when we build a system of social justice. 

Love and freedom

When we think deeply about freedom in this way, the issue of love and freedom starts to come closer together. Love, not as a romantic love, but rather as a generic way to refer to a relationship that would not be broken when we or the other are expressing individuality, a relationship that we are willing to invest in, to work out, etc. The highest form of freedom is experienced within bonds while being able to break up bonds is both the minimal and the ultimate expression of freedom.

Of course, when speaking about love, hate comes to the picture too. In this video, a former leader of a neo-nazi skinhead movement, speaks about his journey in and out of the group. He describes how this group gave him a sense of power and acceptance in a negative way when he could not find it in a positive one. And how much his rejection and hate could not be reconciled with the reality of what he found when he experienced meaningful interactions with people he thought he hated. He goes further and around min 12 he says that one of the biggest problems facing America is white domestic terrorism.
But the most interesting part of this video comes just after, when the case of a father "disowning" his white-supremacist son is discussed and how his cousin wanted the family to not welcome him anymore. This is a very good case where permissions, love, the limits of the relationships are discussed in a meaningful and real way (from min 15).

And finally, a video that I posted before, Zizek discusses freedom and false freedom in this video, in which he concludes inviting the viewer to question the notion of freedom itself. Something we all have to do, quickly, before we lose it.

Love as unpaid work

In feminist economical theory, many experts speak about "love is actually unpaid work" pointing out that women are constantly investing in others (through their care work), including investing in the freedom of others without collecting much. This lack of acknowledgement of the care work that women do, implies the feminisation of poverty: women have less access to jobs, jobs generally lack the flexibility motherhood requires, non working mothers become economically dependant and normally have no access to pensions (or living pensions) in old age. 
There is a pending chapter of the french revolution, where Liberté, egalité, fraternité explicitly excluded  women (fraternity=brotherhood). There is a pending chapter in economics, which are based in Adam Smith's ideas, including that no one does anything that is out of benevolence but rather out of self-interest.  Katrin Marcal points out in her book "Who cooked Adam Smith's dinner" that Adam Smith was living with his mum at the time he was writing the Wealth of the Nations, and even though there might be a degree self-interest in cooking his son's dinner, maternal love and maternal sense of duty cannot be reduced to self-interest.

The easy answer to the question of unpaid work tends to be universal income. But we all know that the year after universal income comes into place, national systems of education or health will become monetised too, because someone will rationally argue that there is no enough money and that now everyone has money and now everyone can pay exactly what they use blah, blah, blah. It will all be perfectly rational, but we will lose the wisdom of the other side of economics, the one that does not measure transactions with maths and interest and achieves a sense of justice regardless. In doing so, we might also be eroding this fabric of trust and social cohesion.

Love, equality, justice, freedom and economics are much more linked together than we think.  


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