Saturday, October 20, 2007

What is Freedom, Anyway?

The other day I made an observation to a coworker about drugs. I said something to the effect that mind-altering drugs bought at the drugstore with a prescription from a doctor are acceptable, but mind-altering drugs bought on a street corner are not. At that point he assumed I was trying to argue for legalization, which normally would have been a valid assumption. In the midst of the argument, I ended up saying: "It doesn't matter. What we have is probably the best we can do right now."

Why did I say that? Let's start with an axiom: our actions are determined by a combination of our values, our belief systems and our perceived environments. Our environment is what it is; we have a bit of latitude in how we perceive our environment, and there are some things we have control over, but for the most part it's a given. That leaves our values and our belief systems. How many of us really have our own values and belief systems?

Just to clarify, by belief systems I don't only mean things like religion. I also mean things like "is global warming caused by humans?" and "does dietary fat and cholesterol cause heart disease?" Yes, the answers to these questions are facts, but unless you've examined the research for yourself after at least learning the basics of the field and having a solid grounding in scientific method, you only have a belief system, and not even your own belief system.

For most of us, we have a combination of what our parents taught us, what we learned in school, and the information given us by the media. Even if we question it, we often end up with an alternative that was also given to us by someone else. So, does it make sense to talk about freedom at all?

For some of us (and you know who you are) the answer is yes. For the rest, the answer is not yet. Before the vast majority of us (the writer included) can have any real idea of freedom, we must examine our belief systems and our values and decide for ourselves what makes sense. But before we can do that, we must recognize that what we have right now is not our own.

No comments: