The Problem of Freedom

JONATHAN CARROLL | OPINION COLUMNIST

For those living in the land of the free, those who proudly flaunt that fact, and especially those who bemoan any impediment on their freedom, it is time to face a possibly upsetting truth: freedom is an inherent contradiction. Every single ounce of freedom allotted to one person is, technically speaking, an ocean of enslavement to every other person. This notion, particularly in the context of a government, becomes instantly problematic when more freedom from more rights is used by people as some sort of vacuous rallying cry due to its very real impossibility.

To begin, allow me to elaborate on the restricting nature of freedom. To put this in a very simple view, in whatever society which Person 1 has the freedom to live, every other person–Person 2, Person 3, Person 4, Person 5…all the way up to Person N–cannot have the freedom to prevent Person 1 from living. Thus, the small allowance of freedom for Person 1 results in an overwhelming limitation on every other person.

So, too, must every allowance of freedom; granting Person 2 that same freedom, results in a wave of limitations on every other person of the same magnitude which resulted in granting Person 1 that freedom, and so on and so forth for every person which receives any freedom. At the end of the day, granting a right to every person may seem generous, and a manifestation of ultimate freedom, but in reality it is a minute privilege in the face of how many restrictions must accompany it.

Now, the right to life may seem like an intuitive approach to basic freedoms where the cost, no matter how great in number, cannot out-qualify the benefit of life for all. This may be true, but the same principle of a necessary lack of freedom accompanying every freedom granted applies to just that: every freedom granted. One person’s freedom to own a material possession by necessity, denies every other person the freedom to prevent that person from owning the same material possession. One person’s freedom to walk wherever he or she chooses by necessity, denies every other person the freedom to prevent that person from walking where they do not wish for that person to go.

And all of this is just to speak for one instance of freedom. When freedom is purported to be granted to an entire people, the nuances required to reconcile the freedoms gained and the freedoms lost and the actions which each person may or may not take in relation to every other person become staggering in concept. Thankfully, we do have institutions that work to simplify this structure of freedom as much as possible: government.

Governments work to conceptualize and implement these nuances and make permissible actions clear to their citizens, but we must be wary of what governments promise with respect to the logical implications of freedom in and of itself. I do not intend to criticize governments as an institution. On the contrary, governments are the most efficient way to establish a set amount of freedoms and their corresponding restrictions and make sense of the resulting matrix.

However, when a government claims to champion more freedom by establishing more rights, the government is inescapably misleading its constituents since the establishment of every right actually results in much more freedom lost by the society as a whole. As stated before, the freedom sacrificed for the implementation of a right may not actually be detrimental, and consequently, you may choose to disregard my entire point after understanding it. Nevertheless, the fact remains that given this reality, any true supporter of freedom must be diametrically opposed to each and every freedom granted by a right.

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