We are all freedom seekers. But what is freedom? Some people might choose a qualified freedom or others, an unrestricted one. Are you still free if it’s the former? Is it really freedom if it’s the latter? If we were all completely free, none of us would be; my freedom to enjoy a quiet park afternoon would be restricted by the freedom of my neighbour to play grime at full volume. John Stuart Mill, one of the fathers of liberalism, argued that one man’s freedom to swing his arms ended at another man’s nose. But intuitively, we think freedom has to mean exactly that, unfettered, unrestricted, absolute freedom; it feels like almost an oxymoron to say ‘restricted freedom.’ This is interesting because it is the friction between these positions that forms the liberal world view and the realist one. It’s in the skirmishes of this battle that conservatives and reformers draw their lines. This is where people feel it’s acceptable to ban abortion or the burkha or to legalise drugs. One argues that freedom has to mean exactly that. The other argues that true freedom allows for the restriction of others. But to me, this last idea allows for totalitarianism, arrogance and suffering. At the same time, I don’t think I want to live in a chaotic ‘anything goes’ sort of world.
We could answer this conundrum with this: a true freedom seeker is one who also wants freedom for others and it’s the union of my and their freedom with this desire that equals true freedom. So yeah, I might have to make sacrifices and give up a bit of freedom but if that means we are all freer, it’s better than if I have complete freedom. This is the key bit though: it has to be me that decides, not someone else. It’s not the other way round: YOU have to give up some of your freedom so we are all free. Why not? Because if someone is telling me to do it, I’m not free. If I choose, then I am.
But what about people who choose incorrectly or don’t choose at all? What then? Well, conservatives or realists, let’s call them ‘the negatives’, this is what they jump on when they say “Ah, you see, we have to force people to be free.” I disagree. You see, the negatives are scared. They are coming from a position of fear. They are scared of chaos, the organic, the freedom. They’re impatient. I’m not. I trust people enough to let it all sort itself out. We have to wait for people to realise. We have to put up with a bit of what we don’t like, until we all catch up. We have to focus on education, helping people to do this. We can maximise freedom, even if we can’t have it in a ‘pure’ sense. We have to all sort it out together, we have to unite against this other, negative side. We have to freely free them.
This is tolerance and it is supposed to be the mark of a developed, enlightened society. Tolerance is not just freely allowing, it’s not acquiescence. Tolerance has to have an element of strong disagreement for it to be tolerance. So I actually have to disagree with the racist, even to hate him, but I also have to let him have his views. I have to have an alternative view to the racist and yet I also have to let him scream out horrible things for it to be tolerance. However, this sits uneasily with liberals too and it’s this puzzle that has people who you might think should know better authorising war in Syria, for example. But, if you are being a true liberal, you have to let it be. Ok, but what if we tolerate a group in our society that is hell bent and committed to destroying the society; if we tolerate intolerant people we will allow them to take over and create an intolerant society? So I can’t just let it be, I have to have a line, a line over which I move from tolerance to action. Perhaps Trump and what is going on in the world today is that line? Sometimes, maybe, we do have to restrict people’s freedom then?
Can you see a problem with my argument? I said that ‘we have to.’ Oops! I just restricted freedom to restrict freedom to create freedom. Doesn’t sound very free to me. Two wrongs don’t make a right, after all. What if I said, ‘we should’? It’s a bit better, but now I’m implicitly pointing at some version of truth, some absolute, ‘out there.’ This is dangerous ground in ethics. Should? Can you show me the book of life that has this information in it? ‘Should’ normally comes in an ‘if – then’ statement. If I want clean teeth, then I should brush my teeth. But this one is more problematic: ‘If you want to be free, then you should do what you like.’ It’s problematic (or invalid as we might say in philosophy) because this would also be free: ‘If you want to be free, then you should restrict freedom.’ See the problem. We can’t get to a normative (i.e. you should do x) system this way. There’s too many holes. It also fails the naturalistic fallacy: how can an observation about the world ever translate into a direction for behaviour. Just because I can see that life likes to live, to jump from that to say murder is wrong doesn’t work logically.
But why is it that we intuitively do feel that there is a right and a wrong way? It should be seen as significant because if everything was random, completely random, there would be no agreement. But there is. We all (mostly) agree that torturing babies is wrong (I’ll come back to psychopaths in a bit!). So where is this coming from? The usual, culturally relative, answer is ‘well, cannibals ate people, you know, so there can’t be a right or wrong way, it’s an illusion.’ But, they’re not quite right. Cannibals did eat people, and yes, they did think this was ok, but they still followed rules, it wasn’t chaos. The eating of people was bound up in strict norms of engagement, often ritualised; it was used to deal with grief for example. They wouldn’t have accepted anyone eating anyone when they fancied a snack. They didn’t think killing people was ok, they thought dealing with grief in this way was ok. Those are very different things. So even they had an intuitive sense that there is a right and wrong.
So where does this right and wrong come from? I can hear a voice inside me softly call out the word ‘conscience.’ ‘With knowledge’, that’s what it means. That I do have an innate knowledge that there is a right and a wrong, even if we disagree about what those look like, and that this is your conscience, that’s the answer. But, if materialists are right, I cannot have any innate knowledge. How can I, a baby is born empty, a blank slate, everything, logically has to be learned. There is no soul. Evolutionary theorists respond that millions of years of evolution has given us this sense, if there is innate knowledge, it’s no different to how a cat instinctively knows how to catch mice and is the result of natural selection and ‘best fit.’ Psychologists like Freud might say it comes from childhood and your parents. But if they were right there would have to be a society somewhere that had no concept of right and wrong. If the evolutionists were right there would have to be some mutants out there that had no knowledge of this spectrum.
Spectrum? Well, that’s what it is. Right and wrong, or better or worse, is linear. On the one hand I have right and on the other I have wrong. But this is indeed universal. Every society and every being has this spectrum inside them. It’s why a baby likes drinking milk and cries when it’s hungry. It’s why a dog likes walks and not being left at home alone. So it would appear that this spectrum of right and wrong is hardwired into us and all of us. Many people would stop here and say, ok, then it’s just a brute fact, it’s just a result of preference which is a result of survival. But that doesn’t work with me. I refuse to ever stop asking ‘why?’ And if you’re like me, there has to be a better answer. If it’s just the result of survival, why wouldn’t there be alternatives? Why does the toast always land butter side up? On the one hand they say it’s all random but on the other they argue for order.
I have a better approach, I think. It’s called the Theory of Recurrence (TOR) and it’s the only lens to understand the world through. You see, if I want to see what is, all I have to do is see what recurs. This also works for the question “what is ‘should’?” It’s actually what’s at the root of the scientific method (you know, gravity is only true if your apple and my apple always falls to the ground when we drop it). So since right and wrong recurs so much, it is. Now I have to answer why it is. TOR can help us here too. Which ‘why’ recurs? The answer to this is that there is something else inside me. That is the biggest response after all, historically, that there is innate knowledge and that this comes from my soul or perhaps some platonic formal world or whatever. It comes from a non-material basis, these responses drown out the materialists or sceptics.
I also know that this is what many of you readers will be thinking too. So, yeah it really recurs. Therefore, whether I want to believe it or not, I have to agree that there is a soul. Why isn’t it the evolutionists or the psychologist’s answer? Because not only do those people arguing against the soul not agree, much of the world doesn’t either. I don’t like to hear I’m meaningless, that I’m just the result of other things. And this not liking to hear that, that is more evidence for my idea. Why should we not like that? Why does that recur? Again, I think, it’s because we are meaningful and that this stems from a non-material basis. Ok, I’ll come back to TOR in another article; there’s a lot more to it and I don’t have the space to settle all those logical alarm bells going off in some reader’s minds.
For now, what have we seen? We are actually non-material beings who have a pre-existing knowledge of right and wrong and that there is a right and wrong and that this is what recurs the most and therefore has to be true. The link to freedom? Well, if this true, we can help, we can guide people, we should do this, and we don’t have to live in a nihilistic post-truth society. Trump is wrong (told you I’d come back to psychopaths!). We should let everyone be free but we should also unite and form a line. We do have to educate, we do have to be free together. Those who would restrict your freedom have formed a line ages ago, now it’s our turn!
On a final note, we can’t talk about freedom without a look at free will and determinism. The truth is, if everything started with the Big Bang, and if from that first cause came all the other effects and causes, you and me and all of us are stuck in an intricate web of determined existence, we literally cannot be free, even if we think we are. Yeah, I could jump out of that window at any time, it gives an illusion of freedom, but in truth, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to do that because I’m scared of hurting myself and I’m scared of hurting myself because I didn’t like it when I was growing up and I didn’t like it when I was growing up because I was born in the first place and I was born because of my parents and they were born because of theirs and so on and on and on. I’m only here because of what came before and I can only go from the point of where I’ve been. So, we are all restricted anyway. It also proves my first point, that true freedom is restricted freedom, that’s what recurs the most. In that case, maximising freedom is a higher purpose, it’s the real divinely given free will. Why? Because if we are all restricted anyway and that is our base position, it is a mark of improvement if we can move above this base. Since better or worse is a key part of reality, we have to aim for improvement. So yeah, seeking freedom isn’t just nice, you have to do it!
BEHIND THE BLOG post
Born and raised in London, currently in Auckland; Andrew Yiallouros has traveled the world and lived a very rich and varied life. He has followed a journey of spiritual discovery, living as a monk on Mount Athos, spending 6 months as a Muslim, meditating as a Buddhist and Yogi, seeking out holy people, ideas and lots more. He is also a trained healer.
He went to Highgate School, completed his BA at Sussex University, his MA at Manchester University and his PGCE at the Institute of Education and all this whilst struggling with dyslexia and related conditions. A celebrated teacher, he teaches philosophy, religious studies and ethics amongst other subjects online and more traditionally. In his earlier career, he spent time in the hospitality world, worked in finance, marketing, was an actor and model, managed holistic centers, was an artist, photographer, chef and creative director and worked in music festivals & events! He also runs a successful YouTube channel as "The Good Greek"!
He enjoys learning, life and all that there is to know.
He now focuses on writing, runs a website (www.commonsensible.org) and is currently working on the sequel to "The Dragon and The Princess."
He's been called "inspiring", "a great talent with lots to say" and he is "someone who should be heard!"