Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Freedom (6) Basic Freedoms

In their book called The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow give a different description of freedom. They suggest that in primitive societies, three basic freedoms were important.

  • freedom to move
  • freedom to disobey
  • freedom to create or transform social relationships.
They described these freedoms in this way.
The freedom to abandon one’s community, knowing one will be welcomed in faraway lands; the freedom to shift back and forth between social structures depending on the time of year; the freedom to disobey authorities without consequence – all appear to have been simply assumed among our distant ancestors, even if most people find them inconceivable today (p 132).
The English word “free” ultimately derives from a Germanic term meaning ‘friend’ – since, unlike free people, slaves cannot have friends because they cannot make commitments or promises. The freedom to make promises is about the most basic and minimal element of our third freedom, much as physically running away from a difficult situation is the most basic element of the first.

One might ask, how could that most basic element of all human freedoms, the freedom to make promises and commitments and thus build relationships, be turned into its very opposite: into peonage, serfdom or permanent slavery? It happens, we’d suggest precisely because promises become impersonal, transferable – in a nutshell, bureaucratized (p. 426).

The freedom to ignore people who want to control others was basic.
The real puzzle is not when chiefs, or even kings and queens, first appeared, but rather when it was no longer possible simply to laugh them out of court (p.133).
In contrast, the moral basis of a nation like the United States is largely formal freedoms, mostly defined in relation to the state.
American citizens have the right to travel wherever they like - provided, of course, they have the money for transport and accommodation. They are free from ever having to obey the arbitrary orders of superiors-unless, of course, they have to get a job (p.131).

These thre basic freedoms are worth pondering.

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