To be free. Three words that are likely the most cherished to speak and perhaps more, to truly believe. In Canada, most of us would readily claim freedom as a quality or state of being that describes our lives. Still, like every word, when cast in a finer nuanced light, it reveals a few of the more jagged edges of the word—the restraints of our most hallowed freedom. So, how free are we?
However simple the word, freedom possesses a boundless depth of meaning. When we find it in the dictionary, the various definitions revolve around not being “restricted,” “controlled,” and “constrained.” Other explanations note how we are somehow “not being subject to” or “affected by” something or someone. It seems simple.
For many of us, to be free is a way of being that is thoroughly ingrained in us. It is virtually sacrosanct. In other words, not only is it sacred, it is something we feel should never be taken away from us.
Although, whenever we think of the many freedoms we enjoy, there is often a “yes, but” that follows in its wake. For many of us, this is an expected understanding of our freedoms, the invariable caveats. So, many of us are indeed free to wander along the streets and byways that traverse our various towns and cities. We are not deterred by the dangers that prevent many around the world from doing likewise. “Yes, but,” you may say.
True. Our freedom to roam is indeed sometimes contingent on the fact we do so in places where the dangers of crime are less apparent. Often times, there may be certain regions within a city more prone to such dangers and we feel less free to simply take a walk. Otherwise, in certain locations, with nightfall, people may feel more restricted by the fear of crime. They accept that yoke on their freedom.
Likewise, we are largely free to listen to whatever music catches our fancy, again provided we do so in a manner that considers others. Would others like this type of music? Would it be offensive to someone listening? Periodically, we do encounter restrictions. These often take the form of censorship, of which there are countless examples around the world.
But overall, any notion of freedom must just work in harmony with our ethics, morals, and values. Fundamentally, they act as the crucial lodestars guiding our lives and our freedoms. If something we are free to do fails to be in accord with our values or morals, we feel less inclined to continue. For instance, many vegetarians, less so vegans, may follow a diet free of meat and other meat-based products primarily due to its health benefits. Still, there is a large group who do so based largely on their personal ethics and morals.
Taking this into account, we are left with the difficult question. Our ethics, morals, and values may function in close concert with our freedoms. But who’s ethics, morals, and values?
This is where more recent restrictions to our freedom come to the fore. In recent years, many have faced the censorship imposed by social media outlets such as Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram. Facebook, for one, works in coordination with the United States government to guide what is being shared on the platform. As an example, freedoms to post are guided by beliefs that must follow the accepted line regarding such things like treatments, recoveries, or deaths related to covid.
Meanwhile, Youtube has prevented people from watching videos that supported treatments for Covid that included ivermectin and monoclonal antibodies rather than strictly through vaccination. Undoubtedly, our freedoms are being impeded, guided as they are by a set of ethics determined not by ourselves, but by organisations such as Facebook and Youtube.
Sometimes, we may even be encouraged to accept those restrictions given the efforts to ensure some other element of our safety is maintained or improved—our health or our online security. Maybe so. However, it is in our best interests to scrutinise such claims with a keen eye to our personal ethics, morals and values.
So, in general, how free are we? Perhaps it’s best to understand freedom as being somewhere on a sliding scale wherein on one side lies total freedom and on the other, complete restrictions. Ideally, most of the time, we’re somewhere in the middle.
Throughout our lives, we may experience efforts to nudge us onward or unreservedly thrust us toward further restrictions of our freedom. But freedom is something we must all hold very close to our hearts. After all, we must remember, to accept even the smallest constraints to our freedom can be a consent that is ultimately difficult to rescind.