Skip to main content

The Definition of Freedom Under It's Light and Shadow

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Courtesy of Kent Miller/Macy's

Courtesy of Kent Miller/Macy's

Sometimes the spark of deep and profound thought can come from the unlikeliest of places. Isaac Newton supposedly got the idea of gravity from a falling apple. Einstein developed his theory of relativity watching a clock tower shrink in the distance as he moved away from it. Bruce Lee developed his concept of being like water in his martial arts by punching the water in the Hong Kong bay while sitting in a boat. So it was with this.

There was a section in the recent Assassin's Creed Valhalla game, where it had recordings from one of its old protagonists of the previous games, Desmond Miles. In one of these recordings, he is reflecting on the credo of the Assassins he has born and raised into. How they believe in the right to free will and yet force their members and their member’s families into their group. That it is the upfront - yet unspoken hypocrisy that all assassins accept for centuries.

Desmond comments how if the group that murders for the cause of freewill truly believes in it, then its members as well as people in general, should have the right to choose against freewill. To willingly relinquish it to others without the fear of consequence or having an assassin’s knife across their throat that very night.

Desmond’s friend, Sean who is recording the whole conversation, comments that he agrees and that freewill is embedded with that paradox. That it's a potentially “self-refuting” concept in that freewill can choose to no longer be free.

“The more freewill you have, the more riskier it is”.

"But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."

— - Robert Jackson

Dark Side of the Moon

This provoked a lot of thought because I realized it was the unspoken paradox about freedom, and is celebrated on a day where a whole nation is supposed to celebrate its freedom: July 4th.

Freedom’s paradox comes from its rarely-if-ever-acknowledged, shadow. That is, our freedom has come at the cost of someone else's. Or we want to restrict the freedom of other individuals who we see as a threat to our own rights, worldview, or agendas. Despite the assumption that all people make about freedom’s moral affiliation, the reality is that freedom itself is amoral.

On an individual level, we all guard our freedom and rights jealousy and religiously. We become instant zealots whenever we begin to feel someone else encroaching onto it, whether it's true or not. Be it gun-rights, abortion rights, lifestyle and sexual choices, or being able to express our own opinions, we want to keep those rights to ourselves. Yet in order to do so, someone else’s rights have to be capped. Those people who want to limit or remove those freedoms, or even be able to commit crimes like theft or murder. All those too are rights too and they are also curtailed, regardless of the reason.

And most of the time there are good reasons. Murder, theft, and any form of assault is an unspoken one. But in other societies and other periods in history, our own included, exceptions were made…

If someone is trying to limit your access to use your own freedom to vote, that's an imposition. It's someone trying to control you or a larger outcome you could affect. If someone is using their freedom of expression to demand that you lose your job and career on Twitter, for the sake of “holding others accountable”, that's an imposition on the freedoms of that actor about to lose their livelihood. Still, despite this amoral nature, we feel the need to attach some holy, moral license to it to justify our own choices with it.

Again: “The more free will. you have, the more riskier it is.”

Scroll to Continue

But let's elevate this to the next level. Even if that dark side of freedom didn't exist, we would still be guilty of using our freedoms to our own ends because we have profited off of someone else’s loss of it. Down to the very basics of our homes that we live in and decorate. Those homes are built on lands taken from other people. We don't pay taxes to those tribes nor have we ever asked for permission or permit to live on their ancestral land. Yet we take ownership of it all the same without a second-if benign-thought.

Were we there when the treaties were broken and the blood was shed? No.

But we did continue to live on the results of those actions anyway, without considering the prospect of returning ownership to the original owners or at least paying them some form of rent. Every American is guilty of this.

Or let's take the technology we currently use. This tech, from the music we listen to, to the internet that runs our lives, has been developed over the last forty plus years through capitalism. The nature of capitalism is competition. Competition means someone is going to lose out. People have or can potentially lose their jobs in the name of competition so we can go on our dating and Tik Tok apps on our phones. It all depends on who we choose to use. Everything we have, even if we are championing the rights of the oppressed or suffering under the yoke of corrupt officials, came at a cost that we accepted as part of normal life. Because that is our right, our freedom, to do so.

This is the cost of freedom.

Coming to a new idea of freedom

I don’t think we can ever cleanse our hands or any generations’ hands of this. It's built into the very nature of freedom, and American freedom even more so, itself. Therefore, I believe a new definition of freedom needs to be coined. Something that acknowledges our rights, as well as the mixed history embedded in it.

Freedom is an ability to make our own choices, but it is not security. Freedom is insecurity because what someone may choose can have ill-effects on you or vice versa. Whether that be through voting or just cutting someone off on the highway.

Many of us Americans like to try and separate the ideals of American freedom from the reality of its creation. And yet because we prosper off the bones of those realities, we can never truly do that. Free will and American freedom will always have a corrupt side to it no matter what political or ideological affiliation you hold to. They are intertwined like strands of DNA and you can't have one without the other.

This is what makes American ideology overseas both reviled and admired. This is what separates American bravado from the rest of the world. That we believe our own blindness of the good morals and values of freedom, while at the same time have no issues taking it or demanding the taking of it, if it does not meet our expectations: moral or political-wise

This is the question Americans are being forced to reconcile with as the first quarter of the 21st century closes in.

© 2021 Jamal Smith

Related Articles