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On Freedom

Reflection on what it means to be free in society and interpersonal relationships.

Published March 2019 in Bilkent News.

In thinking about freedom, one thinks about violence. To be given freedom is to be able to act as one pleases within communal constraints: to go where and eat what and speak to whom one desires, provided these things do not violate the unifying boundaries that each community contractually creates. Unless one is in an unusual society of no regulation, or entirely alone, his idea of freedom will be limited by legal and moral perceptions. If there is something beyond this primary framework that restricts him from acting as he wishes, this becomes a violation of his will, which we perceive as loss of freedom.

The most practical of these violations concerns one’s time. To live in our industrial society, it is necessary to contribute to the system by which people grow old and die: the common path of birth, education, consumption, illness and death must progress with the help of others, such as doctors, teachers, creditors, engineers and undertakers. Each person is made to buy their time of leisure, called “free time” in the recognition that the rest of one’s life is spent on the system’s health. If one does not support the system through productive work, he is deprived of the freedom to eat, rest and be healthy, because all of these – even though they are fundamental needs and not free choices – are obtained using the system’s currency, which is money. For the unemployed on government aid, there are violations in addition to those pertaining to their time as such, which restrict what they can do in that time; agreements to remain within the country’s borders and to permit searches of one’s home violate one’s mobility and privacy. Therefore all people living in our model of society experience some loss of freedom, although the degree depends on social privilege and education, as the more educated are likelier to earn more and so attain control over their time and movement sooner, as well as to earn this money in professions of their choice, so that they enjoy the process of earning money and consequently do not feel that their time is wasted. It nevertheless seems that such communities deprive people of more freedom than is implied by a social contract, and that this loss is difficult to remedy through a means other than higher education, revolution or abandonment of society. Apart from all these external freedoms is an inner quality without which the ability to act as one pleases has no importance, because what one pleases is not known. To be aware of one’s desire requires that one is aware of fear, indifference, vulnerability and risk, a process often forgone in favor of substitute desires: fame, wealth and sophistication, placeholders for the more fundamental need to be loved, admired and free. Once these objectives are recognized, one may choose between seeking their aspects in society – the substitute desires mentioned above, which cease to be substitutes if thus chosen – or addressing the histories behind each component of reluctance: one’s history of violence. The two ends of this choice are not mutually exclusive: one would have an easier time achieving social liberation and validation if, inside, he were able to look at his emotional responses and tie them neutrally to past violations of himself – times when he met indifference, or was hurt, and then forced himself to be indifferent to avoid damage or humiliation – while still recognizing his depth and validity of emotion, he would attain a clarity and flexibility that would make him more productive and, from the start, more free. This is because the way we usually handle emotional experiences is to either justify or categorize them until they are presentable, ignorable or mute, which simply destroys a great deal of data regarding our abilities, our responses of fear. The more one watches these experiences with neutrality – honestly, gently and carefully – the more familiar one is with oneself, and therefore the less likely to cling to any one doctrine, habit or lifestyle, which narrows one’s ability to experience: even in the time that we buy, most of us fit into comfortable grooves in which there is no light or change. To be uncomfortable in transformation and squint into the sun makes us aware that we exist, and are able to grow and be molded as a liquid, primitive, wonderful thing, which listens to everything it is and was and will be and is therefore as natural as life permits. This brings neutrality and openness toward others, focusing more on beauty than separation, and so makes one pliant and not brittle, not easy to hurt or break, but instead able to care for oneself – free of other life, free to change, without internal restrictions. There is fear, but it is known. I fear to change, but I will know. This flexibility enables our acts of love. To ignore oneself is violence.

To prevent people from following the direction of their desire – to express themselves, to experience the unfamiliar, to reinvent a self – is a violence to space: the space in which one grows and understands the world around him, the space in which all is processed, transformed, observed and known. This restriction, often made in the name of protection of the subject, or of moral concerns, or a certain order, or one’s own sensibilities, is the most insidious of all. It is usually accompanied by some crippling threat, either emotional (abandonment, abuse) or practical (disownment, loss of security). It is perpetrated almost exclusively by close acquaintances. The one way to combat it is to know: knowledge of the self that exists and the self as it will continue to exist, as it will change and become again unknown, frees people from accusing certain parts of themselves of being unwise or inopportune; once it is known that one will change and that one in some way resists change or touch or solitude, through an experience, or a fear, one is together with everything inside him, and so can begin to look outside as whole and incomplete, seeking that which makes him feel and think. Just as knowledge in the system frees us partly from our dependence on money, our knowledge of self lightens self-blame, and allows us to exist as fully as possible until we save our space from violence.

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