Freedom cannot ever be completely controlled

by The Editor

ARTICLE: We should righlty fear control. Its limiting effect on freedom is, ultimately, a limiting effect on our unique nature and character as individuals. Its only purpose should be to safegaurd freedom itself, so that it might be best used and expressed. At our core, we are all free. It is true the nature of that freedom might be limited, even severly, but outside of death no constraint on freedom can ever be absolute and that is a glorious thing.

Freedom cannot ever be completely controlled

By: Gareth van Onselen

24 August 2012

What is the relationship between freedom and its counterpoint, control?

It is an association best illustrated by looking at each idea in its extreme form: absolute freedom and absolute control. And the first question that flows from such a consideration is whether or not each exists absolutely at all. Is there, in fact, such a thing as complete control? With regards to the affairs of man, is it possible to exert over another human being a total influence?

Physically, the answer is yes. And the ultimate expression of complete physical control over another is to take from them their life. There can be no exercise of power more final. Mentally, however, the answer is no; because the precise nature of our thoughts and feelings is never fully known, even to ourselves. That is not to say our thoughts are beyond influence or manipulation, they are not, only that they cannot be controlled absolutely.

For those that would argue otherwise, consider the answer to this question: Is it possible definitively to determine the nature of a person’s next thought? It is not. One might guess or enforce its general form but its intensity, its relationship to one’s emotion, the experiences and memories it instantly brings to the fore, the particular internal language it expresses itself in, these things all happen in an instant and are so complex, even when not under duress, to accurately articulate them all is impossible. One might get close but, ultimately, each thought is unique to the individual experiencing it. Our inner psyche is a safe haven where freedom holds sway; and what a precious thing that is – the very essence of human nature.

Surprisingly for many people this fact is interpreted as a threat. Convention offers the security of the known and so, very often, moralisers act directly and indirectly to try and enforce its parameters. The effect of that is to suppress freedom and to outlaw difference in turn. That is to the detriment of any society; for with it comes the requirement that someone determine what is acceptable and what is not the behalf of others; not just generally but down to every particular detail. And that is to augment authoritarianism.

Why is it that people seek out and take pleasure from control? Principled control – that is, control in line with the harm principle and designed to safeguard people from the actions of others – is necessary, but often abused. It is used as an excuse to extend control into those areas it has no rightful place. Why is that? In part, it has to do with a fear of the unknown. In contrast, while those concerned with enhancing freedom might well share a fear of the unknown, they fear even more the prospect of not being able to explore it.

What are the consequences of all of this? For one, it means control over another can never be complete and that control can only be properly defined in reference to freedom; whereas, in the other direction, it is possible to define freedom without reference to control. That might seem counter-intuitive, but that well established distinction, between freedom from something (which necessitates a reference to control) and freedom to something (which does not), holds within it the answer: Freedom from fear opposed to freedom without fear.

We can take much solace from the fact that, at our core, we are free. To protect and extend that freedom to the world we share with others requires that control be used sparingly and always to facilitate as much freedom as possible, rather than to constrain it. Where that freedom is unfairly limited or constrained, we have a duty to enhance it; for it is as much an assualt on the freedom on others as it is our own.

The moment that emphasis is reversed, we lose not only the ability to express ourselves in an authentic and open manner but our inner-self is encroached upon and that is to subvert one’s very identity.

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