What is Freedom?

By William Markiewicz

A friend recently said to me: "The problem is that we are not free. 'They' don't want us to know that we can be free and not submitted to 'their' purposes." The haunting magic of this belief in an occult power from 'above' pervades the spirit of countless people. We are burdened with the heritage of a not so remote past when rivers of blood and mountains of corpses marked the pathways of innumerable liberation struggles. We constantly try to find an explanation for why new oppressions and new miseries grew from victorious revolutions. It has always been somebody's fault and so liberation dreams and struggles went on and on.

Usually, a real liberation starts automatically on the day to day level when dependency on others stops. For instance, self employment is the first step towards freedom. And self employment becomes common with the arrival of technology. The technicians who created taxis, sewing machines, etc. did more for freedom than philosophers and revolutionaries.

It was a long way from prehistory to self employment. In archaic times the tribal system was a must for survival and tribe means structure which means hierarchy. Rivalries, power struggles, were the impetus for a vertical society. When the tribes grew into nations competing with other nations, the chieftains became kings, the warriors -- an army. Politics, wars, began to shape history. Society naturally divided into the armed ones who fought and the defenceless who worked. Of course the hierarchy came about automatically. With overpopulation the misery grew because manpower was too abundant to be valuable. The explosive conditions for revolt and repression continued.

As we humans are creatures of concepts and dreams, so philosophies, religions, headed by big brothers and gurus emerged along with more bloody confrontations among the well intentioned.

Is our Western democracy a result of the French Revolution? Perhaps, but the Athenians didn't need a preceding revolution to initiate their democracy. Anyway, Athenian democracy was a model, a beautiful flower that couldn't survive the thunders to come. The technology hadn't yet arrived.

We needed centuries, even millenniums, of trial and error until the machine started to replace slaves, serfs and labourers. With new techniques, production of goods galloped, prices had to go down and small scale self employment workshops and social facilities mushroomed: social security, unemployment benefits, welfare ... The futility of revolutions was spotlighted.

A few concrete examples: In Spain when the formerly unemployed hungry peasants started to return from working abroad -- in France, Germany -- with enough money to open small businesses, the holders of old money suddenly were no longer extravagantly rich in relation to the rest of the population. The 'masses' were no longer a potential threat to them; they didn't fight the rich, they didn't hate or envy them anymore, they simply ignored them. Automatically the oppressive system relaxed and democracy came on the scene as if it had always been there. If health is the absence of sickness, freedom is the absence of oppression. If you don't feel oppression it means you are free. In Spain, Fascism sank because it was ignored. The German expression for this is: "Todtschweigen" -- silenced to death.

Another example comes from Moscow during the not-so-distant Communist putsch attempt. Tanks advancing on the Kremlin were stopped by ... street traffic, especially by the feisty Muscovite taxi drivers who would not let tanks keep them from doing business. It was the victory of the economy over politics.

In the more remote past, Che Guevara was denounced by an old shepherd because crossfire put his goat in danger. Che Guevara was a brilliant dreamer, philosopher, idealist, but he didn't know what this illiterate peasant knew; that history is a matter of goats not philosophers.

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