by Raymond Fenech

You can’t say that you’re advancing freedom when you use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind, not to lose. (G. K. Chesterton)

Truth be told if you examine the definition of freedom by the Oxford Dictionary every one of these statements are arguably subject to debate.

Take the first (a): Do we have the right to act, speak or think as we want?

A foreigner was filmed by a mobile phone from a passing car on one of the most popular promenades walking stark naked. He didn’t walk very far before a police car came up with him, sirens and all and arrested him for indecent exposure.

b) Can you actually speak your mind? A lot of Europeans in Italy, Malta, Sicily, England, France, and Hungary are all worried about the influx of refugees that are crossing their borders, or arriving clandestinely by boats to their shores. When politicians try to make a stand against this, human rights societies, several churches from different religious denominations, and activists immediately claim these people are racists, Fascists, Nazis, heartless, uncharitable even anti-democratic.

Maybe you can think whatever you like, but thinking and actually putting your thoughts into action can be dangerous. An investigative journalist has proof the government of her country is hand in glove with organized crime. He is in league with the Italian and Russian Mafia, has a secret account in Panama and that her country has become a tax haven for money gaming companies, money launderers, and drug and human trafficking. There is all sorts of evidence to put this Prime Minister and his cronies behind bars. So she writes her thoughts on her personal blog.

At first, she is riddled with libel actions, but as more proof becomes more intense and further investigations continue to portray the government for what he really is, the investigative journalist, one fine day leaves her home on an errand, climbs into her car which explodes into a ball of fire. She was killed on the spot. This is a true incident that took place over a year ago in my country, Malta. Perhaps now you are wondering how this can happen in a country that is member of the EU? More food for thought – how is it that over a year has passed since this gruesome assassination and the persons who hired the killers are still at large? Perhaps you might be asking yourselves what has the EU done about this since its investigative delegation that visited Malta soon after the incident came to the conclusion that the Rule of Law and freedom of expression in Malta are under serious threat? Well apart from all the drivel I heard in the EU parliament, no concrete action has been taken against the Maltese government so far. 

b) What is fate? If we consider personal experiences, does anyone of you actually know what is round the corner? My late father used to tell me when I was still a little boy: Life is full of twists and turns. No one can ever know what lies behind each corner we turn. Forget that fate is often thought of something supernatural, that it is something we have no control over. But is it really a supernatural power that keeps us guessing to the end what will become of us? Or is it really the fact this is part of the natural process of things?

The will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are, or events to happen as they do: destiny … fate sometimes deals a straight flush … he had no idea that he would become the right man in the right place at the right time … – June Goodfield.

c) The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. Aren’t we enslaved by our own conventionalism, the laws of our own countries, even the laws imposed on us by society itself? Can you for example refuse to pay your taxes without harsh consequences? Can you decide not to pay your fines for over-speeding, parking your car where there is a no parking sign? Aren’t we imprisoned by our own stereo-typed lives?

Freedom comes from our perceptions. We may have grown up in what others consider to be an oppressive regime, but if we have never experienced or heard of any other way, then we may think we are experiencing freedom.

Freedom as we experience it is dictated within a range of permitted choices within whatever society we live in. Being social animals, we will relinquish certain rights to some freedoms to remain part of that society, sometimes this means that we relinquish freedoms that we know we should be allowed to practice. We compromise.

The controllers of our societies attempt to control our freedoms. This can range from the implementation of law in more liberal societies, to severely brutal enforcement of restrictions in oppressive societies.

The problem with the freedom we experience is that it is not a naturally evolving thing. It is an artificial freedom based on the will and actions of those in power. Even in a society that is considered democratic, those in power will impose their own views and wishes on the population under the guise of it being for the greater good. (Freedom – Is Freedom an illusion? – By the Order of Truth 2013).

D) The state of being unrestricted and able to move easily. Is this possible at all? How many times do we feel compelled to break away from routine and come up with a camping idea for the weekend? Ask yourselves how many times these sudden impulsive cravings have actually been put into action and you managed to get a good group of friends prepared to remove the chains, which bind them to the everyday boring routine to join you on this impulsive adventure enabling you to move easily into the direction of that momentary dream? But most will all find some sort of excuse, perhaps these excuses for not being able to do what they want will be described as ‘other commitments’

E) Unrestricted use of something (force and violence in this case). Perhaps some of you have watched the film, Purge. Well this is a futuristic story when the US government tries to decimate the population by declaring a night whereby all and everyone had the legal right to perform anything they wished, from rape, murder, burglaries, armed robberies, muggings anything that would be considered criminal and severally punished in any law abiding country. Has this ever happened in any law-abiding country? How horrified were you if you watched the film? Doesn’t this somehow transmit the subtle message that clearly states: God forbid something like this ever happened. So, in other words you want freedom, but not too such an extent, right?

F) Freedom from the state of not being subject to or affected by (something undesirable). Can this actually be put into practice? How can a decent, law-abiding citizen of any country live within a system and actually be free to choose what is always best for him only.

I am a writer and recently had the opportunity of a job I have always dreamt about, an associate editorship with a leading literary magazine. But I needed to move from Malta to be able to be closer to work and couldn’t because my brother in-law being handicapped is totally dependent on my wife and myself. The law here states that since his sister is the closest and only blood relative, she is legally duty-bound to see to his financial maintenance. Despite the fact I am not legally bound to fork out money for his upkeep, especially when I know he brought this situation upon himself, I love my wife too dearly to abandon her. So am I really free to think about myself? Had I been single, maybe, but then perhaps some other relative within my own family would have needed my help. Is it an easy choice to abandon someone in need when he needs you most?  

There is no such thing as a condition of complete freedom, unless we can speak of a condition of nonentity.  What we call freedom is always and of necessity simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another. (G.K Chesterton)

At the present moment, my country has been taken over by building developers. They are all close friends of the government because he has given them the green light to build anything, anywhere, at any cost. So, if you happen to have been unfortunate enough to have invested your life-savings in a bungalow, or a terraced house in an area where no high-rise buildings could be built, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by such high-rise apartments blocking your views, the sunlight and creating the most horrible claustrophobic environment one can imagine. Not only, your privacy has been robbed from you because these minute apartments all have windows overlooking your garden, where in summer you used to enjoy sunbathing.

Before, in your street, you could park your car right outside your door, especially when you come loaded with shopping. Now that is no longer possible because the whole street, which used to have 100 houses, now is a street which has 800 houses as a result of which cars have a problem where to park. This is not to mention, the dust, noise and diesel fumes caused by excessive traffic, building machinery and equipment which creates serious health problems for the residents that suffer from asthma or hay fever. He who governs in a dictatorship has the power to dictate by use of force. In this case, it is actually money dictating to political clowns in exchange for ‘little favours’, such as pledging their financial support during the election campaigns to the government in power. Corruption is everywhere and there isn’t a single institution, whether governmental or private that is not controlled by the privileged few.

A man can be free of government in the case that there is no government, but he will not be free from man altogether. The abolition of government still leaves social rules to dictate the actions of man. Let’s say a man lives in an anarcho-syndicalist society and they have just freed themselves of the shackles of government. Any rules that the society puts forth, as just as they may be, limit the man. For instance that man would not be free to take things from another’s possession without permission. There will always be rules of some sort, even if that society is rid of religion there will be laws of the land to keep peace and prosperity. (Philosophy, The Politics of writing – Is Freedom an Illusion? June 20, 2015).

There can be no freedom until men remain subject to society’s conventionalism, slaves to stereo-typed life styles, materialism, without leaving space for spontaneity and for imagination, that mental faculty which can work freely within us, spurn us on to look at life from a different perspective, seek pastures new when the old ones have become like chains, keeping us imprisoned in our own self-created glass houses. Feeling safe here is an illusion, it’s the only way we dig our heads deep into this space so we cannot see outside this space, thus finding it much easier in convincing ourselves that within it is actually the limit. In fact, there is nothing more untruthful, more frustrating because outside this space there is true freedom. The whole point is whether we have the courage to emerge from within our limitations and dare go beyond, where no one, or few have ever dared venture.

Let me ask you a question: Do you live a life of freedom or bondage? Before you disregard my question, let me explain… It’s possible to choose bondage in a culture of freedom.

I was born and raised in a communist country and I personally experienced not being able to do what I wanted, dress how I wanted or buy what I wanted. When communism fell, I saw many struggle to keep up with the changes and handle their newly gained freedom.

Some jumped on new opportunities, opened new businesses, left the country or changed careers. Others gave in to their anger and confusion. The country was free, but sadly, some people’s minds were still held captive.

Even though I live in a free country now, I see a lot of the same stuff around me every day. People THINK they’re free, but in reality, they don’t even understand freedom. They’re trying to cope with it by heading in the opposite direction. (Silvia Pencak)

Men have to break free from the bonds of everyday life, the eight hour or more work mania that has enslaved them for centuries. Humans’ quality of life is wasted considering the fact that modern technological advantages have not been used in their favour, so they could work less and enjoy life more, without effecting their standard of living. Instead, the advantages have all gone in favour of the rich entrepreneur who has made himself and his pockets fatter by exploiting science and making men more productive without their realizing. The EU is even trying to extend retirement age to 65. So far it is voluntary whether you choose to continue working so far or not, but does this make sense at all when people’s life expectancy has increased dramatically? What about the aftermath of such a law? Did the bureaucrats even take into consideration that when people retire they make space for the young people to take their place thus creating vacancies for those who want to start shaping up their careers and their lives? Who can predict that 65-year olds will actually remain healthy to the point they can produce the same quality work as when they were younger? Does it make sense that with all the technological advances, people should at all spend three quarters of their lives slaving away and working until basically they are ready to collapse? Was men really born to work until he falls dead only? Doesn’t men have a sacrosanct right to have enough of their years on this short journey to be free to enjoy what’s left of their lives?

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were broken down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased. (G.K. Chesterton – Orthodoxy,153).

Where is your freedom if you have to work a certain amount of hours to receive a financial remuneration? Where is your freedom if you have to wear a uniform, your break is at a set time and you cannot take leave in certain months? Where is your freedom if you cannot leave your office during working hours – sometimes not even when this is necessitated by things outside your control – your son fell ill at school, your closest relative is on his death bed in hospital? 

It is enough for you to look around and ask yourself a simple question: Where is all that time which modern technology was supposed to have gained for us gone? On the contrary life seems forever increasing its pace. There is more stress and most common illness, heart attacks, strokes and several psychiatric problems such as a break downs are caused by the speed of life which humans are failing to keep up with. And we travel with cars, trains, airplanes. We have smart phones, computers, tablets – yet the high quality, quantity and accurate work that these help us produce is never enough for our employers. They want more and more and aren’t happy with all this progress!

Yet this is not the worse part of men’s exploitation by those who dictate, either because they are financially or politically powerful. The worse is that leaders have managed to steal our identity, our very soul. Who can deny that we are just a number on an identity card, a passport, or a license?

Italian psychiatrist, Professor Mazzullo, a special guest on an Italian TV show once said to a woman who was arguing that she had chosen to be a career woman, but still wanted to have a family and children as follows: Life is full of choices, but you have to remember that when you make up your mind and make your choice, as soon as you do, you are immediately renouncing to another, or even more than one choice.

If I had freedom of choice in mind, it immediately went out of the window. Simply because in the real world, there is no freedom of choice, because humans have the capability of being multi-tasked. But in some cases this would mean that one of those tasks suffers neglect, or not enough attention, simply because there is only so much one can do.

The point this woman wanted to make was that she was sure she could be a professional but at the same time have a husband and children and be able to do both. The truth is that as we have so often experienced ourselves, you cannot, because each human being has his limitations. In other words, as the common saying goes: Something has got to give. So freedom, as long as we live within the self-erected walls, the laws, the rules, all the conventional behavior, the stereo-type way of living, the expectations, ours and those of our relatives and friends is in fact an illusion.

Maybe we have restricted our own freedom, because we expect so much out of life that we are not aware that the more one has, or achieves requires certain responsibilities and these same responsibilities limit our freedom. We find ourselves imprisoned in our own self-created harnesses that prohibit anything outside what we get so used to, we end starting to accept as normal life. Is it?

Men must not forget that they were made of body and soul and that in the end only the Soul survives. Perhaps only through death men can actually achieve their real freedom.

There is no such thing as a condition of complete freedom, unless we can speak of a condition of nonentity.  What we call freedom is always and of necessity simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another. (G. K. Chesterton).

The End

About the Author:

Raymond Fenech

Raymond Fenech embarked on his writing career as a freelance journalist at 18 and worked for the leading newspapers, The Times and Sunday Times of Malta. He edited two nation-wide distributed magazines and his poems, articles, essays and short stories have been featured in several publications in 12 countries. His research on ghosts has appeared in The International Directory of the Most Haunted Places, published by Penguin Books, USA.