Freedom is one of those important things that we don’t usually notice until we lose it. There are numerous examples in both history and fiction to support that. So, if I think freedom is one of the few very fundamental values, it can’t hurt to be mindful of it first.
Thinking of times when I feel the freest, it’s when I walk the streets or the woods, alone, nothing to come between my thoughts and my consciousness. Times when I can do this are very precious.
But when you start thinking hard about things, all manner of doubts come up inevitably. Is this really it? I mean, freedom? In a way, yes. Spending time on my own, thinking, is when I rejoice in my consciousness, which is, they say, a prerequisite to free will, having worlds to do with freedom. As it is, I’m frightened of losing all or part of my consciousness.
The notion of freedom evokes a host of other things. Free will, consciousness, morality, control etc. Philosophy has all sorts of – often competitive – answers to what these are and how they are related. I don’t feel qualified to go into the philosophy of it, so here is the Wikipedia article where I recommend that you look at the References section (by the way, it redirects to Liberty, and one of these days I’m going to have a few words to that too): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty.
A quick note about using Wikipedia for external references: In academic papers, it’s not always accepted, although the editing principles made it more reliable over time. On the other hand, some articles are very well worked out. Look at the References section to check how reliable a particular article is – and if that section is good, it also gives you a plethora of resources to go deeper.
This scene of freedom – walking the streets – also assumes I have the physical liberty to do so. It requires that my body is functional enough to be able to walk, and that I can walk without the danger of being killed, wounded, kidnapped, mugged – or stopped and prosecuted by authorities. So, when I walk the streets or the woods, I also rejoice that I have a place where I’m allowed to do this.
Or have I? In my country, police can stop and inspect you at any time, without having to present justification. You’re required to carry identification on you at all times. Actually, it was always like this, at least in my lifetime. And I was, more than once, stopped in the street by police for apparently no reason. I mean, their action made no sense at all, except if the purpose was to exercise their power, and remind me of – what? That my freedom to walk the streets depends on their discretion? So, when I simply walk the streets, I think of not being stopped, and I feel defiant. There’s a lot more to feel defiant about these days – this is kind of going back to basics. If I accept that I can be prevented from walking the streets, I’ll eventually accept a lot more – and a lot worse – things.
This brings me to something else to be mindful of: times and situations when I’m not free. In the widest possible sense – all times when I’m controlled by something without my knowledge, or against my will. Here is where morality is invoked: it’s quite all right to give up some of my freedom so I don’t hurt others (note to self: be mindful of times when I hurt without knowing or willing), and it’s also acceptable to be constrained somewhat by law and authorities so I don’t harm and I’m not harmed either.
This is – and always was – a delicate balance. When I look at all those dangers I can be exposed to when out in the streets, it strikes me that, in this world, the two greatest threats to external, physical freedom are authority – and the lack of it. As to my inner freedom, it depends on being mindful of what can control me (careful there, taking this too far might cause one to come up with wild conteos), but being able to be mindful of these things depends on my physical freedom – and on the longer run, vice versa.
This all might sound naïve and like a lot of trivialities, which it is. But this is not something you can learn from books, and I think it’s a fight for everyone on their own: you must go back to basics, start being naïve about things – that is, question them, especially if they seem evident –, and work it out from there. Only then you can immerse in freedom, and begin to value it for what it is: one of the governing principles of meaningful human life.
PS. The best sort of naïve ever was Socrates. I’m too inhibited to follow his example – but if you want to begin to understand your values, and the values of those around you, better be like him and ask the ‘why’ question about everything around you. Kids know how to do that. We adults usually forget.