Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Freedom Fallacy

The modern world has come to value freedom as a prominent virtue. When discussing how the world today shows a great improvement over previous generations it is fairly commonplace to extol the plethora of freedoms which modern society can take for granted but were generally lacking even a few hundred years ago. Freedom of expression and the freedom of opportunity are common ideals to the modern thinker. However, does the modern description of freedom really resemble the basic definition of the word?

To truly act in a free manner one must not have any restrictions. Indeed all proponents of freedom feel that they are breaking the shackles of the past restrictions, and empowering future generations with the ability to act in complete abandon. When analyzed critically, however, a logical flaw can be discovered in the modern rally for freedom. Before trying to mitigate restrictions, it is important to have an understanding of their cause. If there is a physical restriction or a divine decree that hampers human experiences, it is very logical to claim a gain in freedom from the removal of such obstacles. However, the picture becomes a lot less clear if one individual human's restrictions are brought about through another human. In this situation both people are exercising their own levels of freedom. In order to have freedom from restrictions in a world shared by many people it is also necessary for one individual to have the freedom to restrict another individual's freedom. To use an extreme example, even the harmless act of eating an apple can be thought of as restricting the freedom of everyone else from ever eating that particular apple. If human freedom by its very nature must cause human made restriction, the removal of human restriction cannot be considered a net increase in freedom for society.

Probing further, it becomes quite clear that the modern notion of additional freedom is a fallacy. If one person's freedom is another person's restriction, a rally for further freedoms must also be viewed as a rally for further restrictions. The rally itself is promoting what it claims to be avoiding. This idea becomes clearer when one notices that all freedoms are eventually earned by adding additional "laws" to the law books. A law is nothing more than a restriction. At most, the rally for freedom is a rally for the redistribution of freedom. Of course since the law makers are themselves exercising their own freedom by making the new rules, it cannot be claimed that they are necessarily adding net restrictions either. However, the claim that modern society has more freedom because it has more laws is a logical fallacy.