Friday, 18 June 2010

A Question of Freedom

I returned. I thought to start with a new blog but I wish to keep this one- it chaos represents me well and I wish to be represented with my faults and my moments of inspiration (though these days they are few and far between).
I have been feeling for a while that I am unable to write, but that is silly- if there is a time to write, then this is surely it. So I will start slowly and just commit a little of what is on my mind to this blog- in no particular order or withy any particular mastery but simply for the fact of it being. Something concrete.

So first up is this article I found in the guardian which highlights one of the aspects of life in Egypt which perhaps most annoys visitors to the country and that is the lack of personal freedom. Though I find that Baher Ibrahim examines the issue from a very Western liberalist perspective and ignores the fact that it is not only Middle Eastern societies which do not allow for this freedom  but many other political systems as well and indeed the concept of personal freedom is extremely subjective.

The essence of personal freedom is choice. The more freedom we have to choose, the freer we are. Having said that, in our "modern" culture, where we have more choices than ever, many of us have our freedom limited because we are not the ones creating the choices before us.

In his great book, "Escape from Freedom," Erich Fromm suggests that we do not really want to be free. Being truly free also means being fully responsible for our lives and our decisions. Many of us would rather have others to blame for our lack of success or fulfillment in life.

Fromm identifies three ways that we escape from freedom. One he called authoritarianism. He saw this in its most viral form in Hitler's Germany. In authoritarianism, we choose safety over freedom. We are taught to be afraid and look to an authoritarian government to protect us. In America today, the Bush administration constantly uses fear of terrorism as an excuse for taking away our freedoms.

The other thing one can do is become the authority. This also makes you less free. Neither the prisoner nor the guard is free. The authoritarian leader must be constantly vigilant in keeping the people afraid. Such vigilance removes freedom from the dictator as well.

The second way to escape from freedom is to lash out at your oppressors. This he called destructiveness. Destructiveness is seldom successful in setting people free. In fact, it is often the case that when one authoritarian regime is destroyed, a second takes its place.

Gandhi and King represent non-destructive methods for obtaining freedom in both the political and personal sense.

Conformity is the third way to escape from freedom. You simply go along with the program and don't make waves. You give up your freedom willingly and allow yourself to be imprisoned as long as the prison is a pleasant one. In the West, conformity has led to the lack of freedom we are now experiencing. We have taken our freedom for granted for so long that we didn't notice when it began to slip away.

I do like the finale very much though "Egyptians need to realise there's a better way to live their lives than following others' dictates" and perhaps this should be applied globally.

True personal freedom requires a lot of personal courage. Freedom means taking risks. Freedom means defining ourselves and not being defined by others. If you affirm that you want to be free, you are affirming that you want to be responsible. It's just possible that freedom really is worth the risk. We haven't much to lose in any case.

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