Freedom through the microscope

With regard to my post about Ayman al-Zawahiri’s view of freedom, PV sends the following comments:

“one gives people what they most deeply want” I challenge you to defend this statement. It would seem that you, personally, most deeply want freedom, but I wonder, and indeed doubt, whether that want is universal, or, for that matter universally “deep.” Considering the number of men, women, and children who are slaves to their religions, their ideologies, or more tangibly (though I would argue no more nefariously) their fellow men, man’s inherent need seems somewhat less apparent. One could, I think, even question whether freedom exists. What is it, a liberated body? A liberated mind? A liberated soul (whatever that soul might be)? If it is all these things, then are any of us actually free.? “is a very strange line of reasoning” Is a love of freedom, indeed a lust or yearning for freedom truly universal? Is it physiological? Did it evolve within our genes to facilitate their own survival? Is it biochemical? If so then perhaps a desire to be subjugated, incorporated into a greater body (oppressive or otherwise, physical or psychological) is also innate. After all, how strange is one’s line of reasoning when for the majority of history our ancestors have lived under oppressive regimes. Through time immemorial we have segmented society into rulers and subjects. Perhaps we are being naive, shortsighted and egocentric to believe so unquestionably that our way is the best, the righteous way, the way we all most deeply desire. These are important questions. Questions I think many people, especially Americans, overlook, believing that their own –current– desires are total and universal perhaps they’re just the topical trend, the latest fashionable meme in a tumultuous and devilishly undirected cultural evolution.

Well.  I wasn’t making any universal claims.  My point was that, from al-Zawahiri’s perspective, the American way of life offered too many possibilities of action, which (again from his perspective) people very much want, but which must end in oppression and sensual depravity.

Al-Zawahiri considers Islam a fragile flower, and Muslims as unable to withstand the cold blast of liberalism.  As a matter of pure fact, he may be right.  Olivier Roy’s Globalized Islam makes the case that Muslims in Europe and the Middle East have become increasingly divorced from their own traditions, because of the great temptation, made ever-present by mass communications, of Western freedom.

What is freedom?  Nothing too philosophical:  having choices.  Two choices offer more freedom than one; ten choices, more freedom still.  But behold:  any choice entails a loss of freedom.  Once you turn right at the crossroad, you lose the freedom to turn left.  Like paper money, freedom has no intrinsic value – you have to do something with it to realize its true worth.  You have to choose.

One can choose a religion and, despite what you say, not be a slave at all.  The Founding Fathers wagered their lives and their sacred honor on American independence, and thereby lost a great deal of personal freedom; they were not slaves.  They chose nobly.

Is anyone really free?  That is an interesting question.  We almost certainly have fewer choices than we think.  We don’t choose to weep over sad events, or to jump at loud noises, or to fall in love with a specific person, or to live within a group rather than skulk alone in the wilderness – Hobbes’ state of nature is quite unnatural to us.  Biology is powerful; culture, almost as much.

But I think we do have choices.  Don’t you?



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