First of all, we need to define freedom. As Wittgenstein repeatedly stated, the ways we use and interpret words, especially abstract words, shapes our view of the world, our understanding of it. And freedom is an abstract and subjective concept. We all think of something different when we think of freedom.
However, what we CAN say about freedom, we must. Freedom is the absence of something to hold you back. Ergo, complete freedom is an impossibility. As John R pointed out, if you are free from the Devil, you are enslaved to God, if you are free from morality, you are enslaved to sin. Furthermore, as humans are individuals, all with some degree of control, you can’t grant freedom to one without eventually taking it from another. Not to say that reality is a zero-sum-game. You can have a situation where everyone is largely free. Yet, for absolute freedom to be granted to one, no matter how innocent their desires are, some trivial desire, whim or need will inevitably tip the scales against someone else. Also, as society is comprised of individuals and no individual is wholly innocent or wholly harmless, to grant equal freedom to all becomes impossible. Some people wish to be free to abuse little boys or “free” mice at the expense of years of research and the animals’ lives, this means that their freedoms must necessarily remove the freedoms of the young boys, the autistic and schizophrenic people who would have benefited from the advances and even the mice. These groups are basically asking for the same freedom everyone else has: the freedom to do whatever you want. However, what someone wants (the financial security of marriage, the ability to grow your own food, time to paint) may be far more reasonable than what someone else wants (the license to rape, the ability to kill someone, the right to steal money through divorce). You could give the first person everything they want, make them happy and not hurt anyone. If you give the second person everything they want, then you enslave others. We require laws to ensure that one person’s freedom does not take excessively from another person’s freedom.
Therefore, you can only be “free” by either exclusively desiring that which doesn’t harm others or by removing the freedom of others. The individual is free when he only wants simple, harmless things (innocence) or when he seizes the freedom of others (tyranny). A society is free when it only wants simple, harmless things (vulnerable) or when it controls that which individuals can obtain (legal restrictions). It is far, far more likely that your freedom entails the restriction of someone else than that you are harmless.
Secondly, freedom requires an opposition. We are all generally free to breathe, to think, to scratch our elbows. Few but the dead are likely to ever be in a situation where any of those things is inhibited. That is why we don’t have activist groups demanding these freedoms. Which, technically, means they aren’t freedoms at all. They’re just facts of existence. Until an opposition arises, there is no “freedom”. The same way a room can’t be “dark” until you’ve experienced “light”, or you can’t feel “better” without having felt “bad” you can’t desire freedom without being captive.
However, captivity itself also requires freedom. You can’t be captive without having been free. Someone who used to own millions but now owns 100K feels captive and longs for the freedom of the millions. Someone who used to own nothing but now owns 100K feels free. Someone who has always owned 100K doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. So, in order to desire freedom, you must be captive and in order to feel captive you must have been free.
Finally, your “freedom” can be inhibited by many things: your own mind, your own morality, social norm, laws, individual enforcers, biological restrictions, etc. If the inhibition is entirely internal, then only you can exercise power over it. If the inhibition is another human, you must assess their power over you. If the inhibition is a legal power or a Higher Power, you must yield or act covertly. If the inhibition is a fact, you must yield.
Yet the modern concepts of “freedom” and “liberation” don’t allow for that. You are expected to desire “freedom” above all, even if you have never been captive and will never be captive. This leads to a culture of victimhood, where everyone feels captive, but doesn’t understand their captivity. It is also assumed that any limiting factor is a threat, a danger that must be removed. Your desires are always righteous, good, necessary. Anything that stops you from attaining them is always evil, restrictive, oppressive. We invent an enemy to enslave us, to excuse or explain our behaviours and unhappiness. We believe that our invented enemy is real, that we are captive, that we will someday be free, although we don’t know what this freedom is.
When someone is told that women generally regret one-night-stands, the response isn’t to assess whether one-night-stands are biologically natural or morally correct. The assumption is that if someone has a one-night-stand, they’re exercising their freedom, they must want the sex. Therefore, biology and morality don’t matter, they should get what they desire. So, if they regret it, we look for a cage, an inhibitor. We accuse the partner or rape or manipulation, or we accuse society of brainwashing the women who regret one-night-stands. Because there is no way this “freedom” to be a libertine could become an obligation to be a libertine. The women do feel captive (albeit restrained by their own morality, a desire for something better, a need to behave according to their biology), so they seek an answer and society tells them that they’re free to have sex, but enslaved by social norms and shame. They campaign to stop the shame, even though this shame is internal and based around your core morality and a biological drive not to get an STD or get pregnant by a man who will leave you and the child to starve.
When someone talks about their right to have children, they ignore the fact that having children is a biological act. There is no “right” to having children. Unless you live in a society where babies from certain parents are culled or certain people are artificially rendered infertile, you either can have children or you can’t. The adoption system doesn’t exist for anyone’s “right” to have children: it exists to meet children’s need for and right to care, to a loving family. The fertility industry doesn’t exist for anyone’s “right” to reproduce: it exists to exploit the existence of infertility for material gain. We assume that because those systems exist, they should cater to the infertile, when, in reality, they are perks. They aren’t restoring a “right”. I repeat, you have no right to reproduction, you either can or can’t. What these systems do offer, is the option of having children for people who don’t have them. It’s luck of the draw, like good-looks or a scholarship. Are you infertile, yet a suitable parent? Congratulations, you can adopt. Are you infertile, yet wealthy? Congratulations, you can get a lab-made baby. You don’t pass the tests and have no cash? Bad luck.
It may seem ridiculous to some of us, but this mindset of entitlement is ubiquitous. Indeed, many of you shook your heads through the above examples. A few probably closed the page in anger at the fact I could say such a thing. But it’s the way things are. Which leads to the central point: we live in a society where “freedom” is almighty, your end-goal, the “key”. We believe that liberation has made life better. Yet we feel worse. So we seek more liberation, to make life even better. When someone feels bad for engaging in libertine behaviour, we assume there is some external factor influencing their feelings. The idea that their feelings may be legitimate, internal, part of them, founded on something solid, is beyond the scope of our imagination. Because they are “free”. As “free” people, we assume we will do whatever we want and that doing whatever we want will make us happy. As I have discussed before, happiness isn’t about liberty, possessions or reaching “that goal”. Happiness is about being happy. Yet modern society says we should be “free” to do whatever we want, that this behaviour will make us happy, so long as we engage in it enough. And, as few to none are happy in this society, we believe it and engage in libertine behaviour. “If I want to get drunk, being drunk must make me happy!” “If I want to have anonymous sex, anonymous sex must make me happy!” “If I want to hurt someone, hurting someone must make me happy!”
Then, when we are inevitably UNhappy, modern society says that there must be someone or something ruining our happiness. Libertine behaviours will make you happy. So unhappiness must come from a limiting factor. This leads to everyone feeling unhappy, everyone feeling discriminated against, everyone feeling oppressed. It excuses our unhappiness without pointing the great finger of blame at our own heads, our own liberty, our own society. Because, if we aren’t happy, then surely something is hurting us? And if something is hurting us, then surely we are enslaved to it, or incarcerated by it? We become focused on ourselves, our own internal feelings of fear, shame, disgust, anger and general unhappiness. We assume that others never feel the same, that we’re being oppressed by something they don’t experience or understand. We become little martyrs to the cause of our own happiness and refuse to accept that “liberation” may actually be the problem.
As John R mentioned, he would rather be enslaved to God than the Devil. There is no other option. So, likewise, my solution is simple. Enslave yourself to goodness and happiness. Sure, you may want to sleep around. That’s what society tells you to do. But, if it makes you unhappy, you must stop. Your duty lies with happiness. Sure, you may want to kill someone. That is an impulse within you, a drive stemming from a biological state. But, as killing is not good, then you must not kill. Your duty lies with goodness.
Of course, the problem we now encounter is that modern people seek a morality that allows them to be “free”, because they have prioritized “freedom”. So they view engaging in random conflict as good and a source of happiness, because they are “free” to act on impulse. Anything that limits their individual “freedom” is against their personal morality. This is just a symptom of our sick society. The one way out is to find someone else, something else to attach your morality to. Whatever you do for yourself can’t be considered moral until you have stopped believing that “goodness” and “happiness” originate from “liberty”. Everything you want must, for the sake of sanity, be assumed to be amoral and analyzed. Not until you feel confident that you have rewritten your own laws of morality can you decide what is “good” and what is not. Your moral compass is broken and you need to reset it.
So, as a conclusion, this is my advice:
Turn away from what you want and focus on what you need. Your desires and impulses are irrelevant, when you act on them you become a mindless animal and this will make you unhappy in the long-run. Act to make others happy. Whether you seek to make a relative, a friend, a partner or a Higher Power happy, always think of how your actions may affect them and strive to do right by them. Always consider the repercussions of your actions. If your action will bite you in the butt, then don’t look for an “oppressor” to blame or attack, look for a reason. A slut feels shame not because she’s shamed by society but because she’s impulsively acting against her own morality. Focus on being happy and being good. Freedom is a wild-goose-chase. You will never be “free enough” and it will never give you what you want or need. You want to be happy, so make yourself happy. You need to be good, so strive to be good. An obsessive belief that freedom is the magic cure to every mental, emotional and social ailment will only make you deeply unhappy.
[EDIT: Legionnaire’s recent post on freedom is also worth a read.]