Freedom is a philosophical concept that politicians and lay-people like myself would do well to tread warily around. Wild animals are not “free”, they are wild. They concern themselves with the basics of living – feeding, sleeping and reproducing.
When it comes down to it, most people would like the freedom to concern themselves mainly with these things, too. They certainly do not flourish in a society that denies them time to eat, time to rest and time to nurture relationships.
We must stop conflating freedom with privilege; privilege does not respect the freedoms of others.
I believe what we generally mean when we talk about “freedom” is actually self-determination; agency over our own lives. The wealthy have an enormously privileged position in the world, and wealth gives you the security to explore your individual potential. To dream, to experiment, to create. To take risks, and act irresponsibly.
But the security that allows individuals to do these things comes ultimately from belonging to a stable society, based on trust. Unstable societies breed insecurity, fear and hate. Destroy the trust, de-stabilise society, and you lose your freedom. All your wealth goes on security and defence against the hostile forces surrounding you. The un-governed engine runs out of control until it tears itself to pieces.
Self-determination, or ‘agency’, is recognised as a fundamental requisite for human wellbeing, but so too is a sense of belonging. We are not isolated individuals. We are social animals, who depend on each other. The security that gives individuals freedom of self-determination comes not from amassing wealth, but from nurturing a caring, compassionate society that respects the worth of each individual human being purely because they are a human being – not because of what they contribute to the economy.
Compassion is not a soft, optional extra; it is an essential survival trait. Unfortunately, it’s one the wealthiest sector of British society – the ones with a natural path into positions of power and authority – systemically undermine in their children by severing family links at an early age and placing their offspring in the care of educational institutions frequently modelled on militaristic lines. They are taught to base their sense of self-worth in an arrogant self-belief that they spend their lives striving to live up to. It makes them terrified of facing the truth. Of being found out. They have to live the lie.
This concept of self-determination and belonging applies not only to our identity as individuals, but also to our collective identity; our nationality.
Both Brexit and Scottish Independence are arguments about the right to national self-determination; but while the SNP have embraced the global concept of Wellbeing as a unifying message to shape the Scottish identity, the Brexiteers have clung to worn-out, Imperialistic notions of national identity. Deluded by the myth of the ‘self-made man’ and the dangerous concept of national exceptionalism (the same myth that underpinned the Third Reich) they have gone down the road of isolationism. There is no future in isolationism; it is fed purely by a desperate desire to ringfence the status quo. The system that has got us into this mess in the first place.
The future of political decision-making needs to be localised, humanised, and optimised for survival on planet Earth. But the systemic social and environmental threats to our civilisation are global. We tackle them together, equitably, or we won’t tackle them at all. Survival is not compulsory.