On Freedom


That which has the potential to free, has the potential to shackle.


If you could free yourself; you would have. But you can’t. It’ll take something or someone bigger than you, bigger than this moment. And something that big, will have its own gravitational pull. And if they happen to pull you away from whatever has shackled you, heed caution, that you don’t get stuck in their orbit.

The only way to do this right, is for it to come from within you.


Our freedoms are bound by several structures. The laws of physics are one bounding structure- quite rigid.

Another structure is social norms, what is acceptable? What is unacceptable? What will people think if I do this?

But societies’ influences are deeper than morality.

They fundamentally shape and constrain our thoughts. This is explored in Orwell’s 1984, and more broadly posited by linguistic determinism (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). The strong version of the hypothesis claims that language constrains thoughts, seems to be disproven by the Dani peoples’[1][2] ability to distinguish colors.

But, the strong hypothesis includes overriding our cognition/perception. This is quite strong.
But what if we consider the weaker hypothesis; one where our cognitions are unaffected; but rather higher order thoughts and abstractions are constrained. Those not directly perceived, but constructed in our minds.

Values are one such higher order structure that we construct. Think about what we, as individuals, value? What do we think is worth pursuing? These are things constructed in our minds, with a seed sowed by the broader social values.

This isn’t a bad thing. All societies broadly agree that flourishing of (at least some) life is the goal. And they sow these seeds to these ends; in a healthy society, social values bring individual flourishing.

This sowing of the seeds, conditions you in a certain way. You can call this upbring, or education, or conditioning. But in one sense, this is a constraining of freedoms of the individuals. Specifically kids; but we understand we can’t give kids total freedom. They need to be conditioned into freedom.

This is the broader tension between freedom and constraint. Between freedom and responsibility.

This is the interplay between freedom granted and it's wise use. This is why education is crucial. Because freedom is not some absolute; but only meaningful with regards to some action; something to be done.


All[a] freedoms of action are predicated on freedom of thought; on freedom of imagination. What good is the freedom to do, if one does not know what to do?

Freedom of thought is a self-substantiated freedom, i.e. exercising this freedom, gives rise to more of it; and not exercising it diminishes it.

True freedom means the ability to rethink ( the concept of ) freedom itself. Pre-mass internet, freedom of speech had a different implication than post.

When freedom of thought is viewed in relation to freedom of action; one can see how constraining thought limits future possibilities.

Freedom of action does not guarantee one is free; In fact, from an alternative perspective the action might appear an act of bondage. Imagine a hamster in a cage, with the door open. The cage has food, water, safety, and a mate. The hamster might view it’s freedom as the freedom to run, eat, and mate within the cage. But from someone looking at the hamster, one sees it is not truly free. Thus, merely doing actions cannot constitute freedom, unless there is a deeper reasoning/intuition behind the action.

So a society that merely boasts freedom of action, without the presupposed freedom of thought, uses it like a rhetorical tool. An intellectual toy of sorts. A way to avoid self-reflexive reflections on freedom itself. This inability to separate the rhetoric of freedom, from the underlying being-doing-thinking free state is itself a constraint on freedom. Why? Because you’re settling for a booby prize; a knock off of real freedom. And you don’t even know it.


Healthy, stable societies value individual flourishing. But unhealthy or unstable societies, don’t. And so in an unhealthy society, one must not delegate the exercise of free thought. Why? Because the synchronicity between the individual and society is diminishing.
[1] The Dani only have two labels for colors, corresponding to hot and cold colors. However, they were able to distinguish many other colors.
[2] https://www.freedominthought.com/archive/can-you-think-complex-thoughts-without-language-1984-george-orwell
[a]do this with multiple, potentially disjointed, sections