The Freedom to be Me
Freedom: what is it, and how does it link to happiness.
If I might just illustrate this important point a little, with help from a friend of mine, Juan Elegido, who was putting together an academic research paper on ethics principles as applied to truthfulness in business communication, particularly financial reporting. He describes how, for example, when somebody lies, “they become a little more inclined to lie again in the future. Next time that person finds themselves in a tight corner they will experience a greater tendency to lie. And so, if they give in, the lie, of itself, will always tend to erode the integrity of the liar. As has been observed, it is easy to tell a lie, but hard to tell only one. It often becomes necessary to tell a second lie to protect the first, and then a third one to shore up the second. It is only a small step before the person becomes unreliable and untrustworthy.” A similar case could be put for any moral choice.
Unfortunately, the common conception of freedom hinges greatly on its external manifestations and is oriented towards external (even if noble) goals. Thus, the aspect of the deeper side to freedom is glossed over. "External" freedom is of little use in the final analysis, without the preceding and accompanying internal liberation.
In Fela, for example, the crucial connection between external liberty and the important internal complementary predecessor (true “internal” freedom) is missed; as is also the compulsory orientation of these towards the objective reality of things. Had Fela made that link, I posit that his music and message would have had even more force and zest than they did. The fact that many outstanding talents tend to live similarly bohemian lifestyles does not contradict the point. Indeed, their lifestyles are often an anarchistic reaction to events around (or within) them, to which they have no adequate response or answer. With a little more internal consistency to buttress their external ability, their expression of their talents could have been even more distinguished.
And so, freedom does have a purpose. It is not, as we have noted, the power to do "what I like". It is rather, the power to become fully myself, to realize fully my potentials as the person I am. It is, the freedom to be me. Each person has been endowed with it in order to be able to choose well, to choose what would result in the good or better outcome.
Yet freedom by itself isn’t enough, it is not an absolute value. Rather it is meant to enable the taking up of noble values and ideals so as to work towards them, personally and collectively, in different human settings and societies.
As Femi Osofisan observes in Fela’s case, "In the end there are perhaps more fundamental reasons why the Fela myth could only end in a cul-de-sac. Protest, like all fires must die out in time unless it is channeled into some kind of positive action. So, with the Fela phenomenon, all his numerous confrontations with the establishment are testimonies of protest and anger, but they lead to no solid ideology, to no concrete proposal about how to re-structure our societies."
"Sexual freedom" was often referred to as one of Fela's most prized “freedoms". One of his former managers remarked that Fela "has always loved women - at least since I knew him in 1963... He was a brave man who loved adventure, and if he wanted any woman, nothing could stop him."
"Sexual freedom" in Fela is a misnomer. By that system, the most sexually free beings would be not humans, but animals, since these give unfettered rein to their sexual passions. But animals precisely do not possess freedom; they cannot but act as dictated by their instincts. And so, we could say that a person who acts according to what he "feels like" is underdeveloped as regards freedom. There is little difference between that form of behavior and that of the lower animals. These act moved entirely by their comfort, instinct and passions. Whereas the human being is free to the extent to which he is master of himself. Which means to the extent to which he controls his instincts, comfort and passions, and not they control him. A person who does things simply because others do them, or will not carry out a certain duty when he ought because he doesn't feel like it, or will not control his passions of anger, lust, or avarice because "that is the way I am", shows little manliness of character, principally because he shows little freedom. Thus the paradox that he who acts the way he "feels like", without regard for etiquette or sense of duty or virtue, is the one who is less free. He is, instead, in bondage and is slave to his own very passions, comfort and instinct.
If freedom, then, as in Fela (his misconceptions, notwithstanding) and in Mandela, is that conscious and self-determined option for a particular course, rather than the sheepish emulation of the crowd, there remains still another pivotal component: the motive propelling one's action. In other words, freedom for what?
That is not an extraneous question; freedom is rarely looked at from this angle. As in Fela and Mandela, it is more common to consider freedom from the perspective of freedom from something. Still, when for example, a despotic ruler unjustly employs his offices we speak, not of use, but of abuse of power; even though if he hadn't the power he could not employ it, anyway. The same with freedom. The robber and corrupt official choose to be such, as a result of possessing free will. Yet, that would not be termed the use of their freedom, but the abuse of it.
Still, why freedom?
One writer, Josemaria Escriva, put it rather concisely: "My freedom! My freedom!", they cry. They have their freedom but they don't use it. They look at it, they set it up, a clay idol for their minds to worship. Is this freedom? What use is this treasure to them if there is no commitment guiding their whole lives? They are left aimless, with no clear path to guide their footsteps. Their freedom turns out to be barren. A person who does not choose, with complete freedom, an upright code of conduct, sooner or later ends up being manipulated by others. [They] lack character, courage and honesty.”
Ultimately, freedom is an internal property. Strictly speaking, it is a state that arises from the exercise of one's free will, which is a faculty peculiar to human persons. True, expressions like "freedom of speech", “freedom to practice one’s religion”, "freedom to live where one chooses", and so on, are valid, as opposed to, say, the lack of freedom that prison life imposes. But these, properly speaking, are (external) manifestations of freedom, and not the embodiment of it. The human being is free to the extent to which he is master of himself. That degree of freedom would depend on the orientation guiding the choices he makes, or their lack of it. Put another way, my character is shaped by the choices I make.