TUMBY BAY - My wife, Sue, and I own our home and we have a retirement income that is sufficient for our daily and longer term needs.
Without the need to work we are, in theory at least, able to enjoy the freedom to do pretty much as we please.
But are we really free?
If we fail to pay our council rates, we could potentially forfeit our home. If the government needs the land on which our house stands, it can resume it.
If we default on any of the payments for the utilities like electricity and water we use, our income could be in jeopardy.
If we lose our income, we can’t buy basics like food and we haven’t got a garden of sufficient size to grow our own produce.
So, in an economic sense, we are far from free. We are, in fact, bound into a system dictated by forces well beyond our control.
In the sense that a wild animal is free we are poor losers.
That lack of freedom is the price we pay to live in an ordered and relatively safe society. If everyone was as free as a wild animal we would be living in a state of anarchy.
We shouldn’t complain however. Even in subsistence economies, like those found in rural Papua New Guinea, people are still bound by societal norms that, if broken, can have severe consequences.
In that sense those of us living in modern Australia are not far removed from those living in a rural subsistence setting. Neither of us is truly free.
As a species, humans lost the bulk of their freedoms when they decided to settle down and grow crops instead of simply hunting and gathering.
But even those early hunters and gatherers discovered that group cooperation made life easier and sacrificed freedoms to live that way.
As did many wild animals who hunt in cooperative packs or congregate in herds for safety under the direction of an alpha leader.
So what are those people who revolt against the machine and demand their freedom on about?
Freedom is essentially a case of perception. If you don’t feel free you are probably not free.
If you see other people who seem freer than you, that is, they seem to have fewer constraints on their lives, no matter what those constraints might be, you will feel less free.
If you live under an autocratic regime you will feel less free because you know there are other more democratic systems in existence in other countries.
If you live in a democratic country but find yourself bogged down in poverty while watching rich people enjoying care free lives you will not feel free.
Even if it was possible to create a completely utopian society I’ve no doubt that you would still find individuals claiming to be less free than others.
Even if it was possible to create a completely equitable economic model there would be people who would claim to be less well-off and consequently less free than others.
There is perhaps only one place where humans might claim to be free and that is in their minds.
But are people really free to think what they want?
Probably not, given all the external influences, ranging from socialisation to education to manipulative communication, that determine how we think. Or how we think we think.
Like every other organic entity on the planet we are programmed to act in certain ways. That programming explicitly excludes freedom.
If we were totally free we probably wouldn’t exist.
At best, all we can really aspire to is a kind of lesser freedom that makes life as comfortable and fear-free as possible.