What are the downsides of freedom?

Words can be really slippery and none more so than words like ‘Freedom’. We think of it as an unalloyed good, but the harder you look the harder it is to define.


First of all, there is no such thing as complete Freedom

  • You cannot escape from gravity (on earth)
  • You cannot escape from a relationship with others and that involves responsibilities eg children – no freedom!
  • You will grow old and die….
  • A society needs rules otherwise it will not be a society, and every rule restricts the individual’s freedom
  • There are many other freedoms that I might like for myself but would really resent if exercised by others.

Then there are the more subtle problems with freedom

  • Freedom can provide an excess of choice such that it is hard to make a decision – eg 60 varieties of Yogurt makes it harder to choose than if there are just 3.
  • Freedom brings responsibility…you cannot blame others when things go wrong
  • The removal of restraints implicit with Freedom could lead to a nihilistic life which probably is not a good thing.

Relative Freedom

So when we talk about freedom are we really talking about relatively more freedom compared with less of it. Every reduction of freedom makes our world a little smaller. The practical constraints are things like

  • Only 22 countries are ‘full democracies’ and another 53 are ‘flawed democracies’ See details out of 167 in total
  • Freedom of speech is widely debated – nowhere allows an unconstrained freedom of speech eg we may not shout ‘fire’ in a crowded room when there is none. The wide proliferation of lies is very dangerous
  • Only a few people have the freedom to buy anything that they want. For most of us it is constrained by a lack of sufficient money.
  • Freedom of travel is constrained by national boundaries and by social convention. China’s social credit system, many countries restrict visa access, COVID has reduced it dramatically this year.
  • We are all constrained by social mores – try running around naked in your local park! (Actually, don’t try that!)

I guess the question is ‘How much freedom do want your neighbour to have, and what are we prepared to do to protect it?’

Hastings Humanist discussion Feb 2021