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September 3, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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CounterPoint With Chris Palmer

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” – Jean Paul Satre

There’s a shining magnificent quote while we’re into them. The trouble is it’s the sort of thing you could say to someone on death row.

And the trouble with freedom is that it’s as hard to pin down as any God. But if all it ultimately means is the will to do what you want and to accept the consequences, then no individual is any more or less free than any other. Legal retribution is just one contingency out of many. A government is just a feature of your environment. There is the freedom to submit, and in the Buddhist concept of freedom through enlightenment, will and submission become one. But most of us experience reality in a concrete, localised sort of a way. Which makes it easy on a day-to-day basis to assume a fundamental difference between a gun in my hand and one in someone else’s on my behalf. Let’s get rid of all government, if we’ve got so much faith in the marketplace.

Corporations can have their armies of mercenaries fighting for resources and they can pay to train platoons of security guards to look after their stuff. Cos in a world without taxes, people would be so much more agreeable anyway. And to rationally protect their precious human resources they would avoid military conflict whenever possible.

And they would work in time frames much longer than the immediate whims of shareholders and corrupt CEOs. And if you feel unsafe at night, learn a martial art or get a gun.

Every day people exercise their freedom to drive too fast or not at all, to smoke themselves to death, to kill, to exploit, to wear clothes, to break the law, to ignore their emotions, and to do what they can to maintain the world in as close a condition to how they want it, be it through voting or threatening people.

An effective argument is a form of coercion in that it presents a situation where a rational person will see that it is in their own interests to behave in a certain way. A gun is not an argument, but it does change the argument.

What persuasion is for one person can be coercion for another anyway. We talk about the force of an argument, and there are people who choose to die rather than give up their ideals. What we decide to believe is true bends according to what actually works for us, and reason can be very malleable. Our vantage point is constantly changing. Sometimes a gun comes into view. Sometimes it’s just the threat of withdrawal of social opportunities.

If we assume, from one angle, that a person is the result of the potentiating of relevant genes in a formative environment then we must accept that there are situations where the completely rational argument is not the one to go for. Sometimes reason presents a world for which one’s formative environment has left one completely ill-equipped and totally alienated. We are not yet the only animal left on the planet, yet we seem to be the only animal who have found survival value and reproductive success in the faculty of conscious reason. All the rest seem to have put their energy into other things.

Much is made of the United States embodiment of various freedoms in their constitution. But equality before the law has yet to be achieved for Blacks, and access to reason is being denied in states where the people have exercised their right not to have their kids taught evolution.

I don’t like to think of myself as a pomo wanker, but the idea that there is really such a thing as a non-coercive utterance or action to me seems to assume some kind of uncaused cause in each person. Because even in choosing for an event in your environment to have no effect on your behaviour, it is already having an effect. And if you believe that there is a separate will in each person that starts afresh in every moment, then maybe you have to allow for all sorts of gods and insubstantial realities.

And if you accept or dismiss as irrelevant the truth of our every thought and action as being just another ripple in the causal flow, then you already have the world you want. Congratulations!


If you wish to be considered for inclusion in Counterpoint, please email 700 – 800 words to steve@salient.org.nz by Wednesday 12pm. Opinions can include anything. Publication is at the editor’s discretion.

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  1. Gemma Wilson says:

    Chris, I too beleive in freedom but believe that real freedom is when one is internally free from conditioning and can choose what in fact is the thing, word, action… that will build and not destroy, promote life, and not death, increase the true freedom of the other… i believe that “it´s a long, long road to freedom..”. Maybe it is also true tht ” freedom is another word for nothing left to lose!”
    I think Gandhi was free, Martin Luther King was free., Helder Camara was free, and many others. But msot of us are only aprtiually free.
    with love from your aunty in Brazil at the moment!

  2. Gemma Wilson says:

    Chris, I too beleive in freedom but believe that real freedom is when one is internally free from conditioning and can choose what in fact is the thing, word, action… that will build and not destroy, promote life, and not death, increase the true freedom of the other… i believe that “it´s a long, long road to freedom..”. Maybe it is also true tht ” freedom is another word for nothing left to lose!”
    I think Gandhi was free, Martin Luther King was free., Helder Camara was free, and many others. But msot of us are only aprtiually free.
    with love from your aunty in Brazil at the moment!

  3. Gemma Wilson says:

    Chris, I too beleive in freedom but believe that real freedom is when one is internally free from conditioning and can choose what in fact is the thing, word, action… that will build and not destroy, promote life, and not death, increase the true freedom of the other… i believe that “it´s a long, long road to freedom..”. Maybe it is also true tht ” freedom is another word for nothing left to lose!”
    I think Gandhi was free, Martin Luther King was free., Helder Camara was free, and many others. But msot of us are only aprtiually free.
    with love from your aunty in Brazil at the moment!

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