Welcome to Part two of the 'Freedom for Us, Them, and Everyone' series. In Part one, I discussed how our perceptions influence everything we believe and everything we do. I discussed how are perceptions are influenced and how our perceptions lead to different types of behaviour ranging from helping others to trying to harm them.
In Part 2, I want to discuss how using our freedom to pursue our goals can impinge on others freedom, which can prevent them from fully pursuing their goals. With the use of examples, the post elaborates on how people may impinge on other people’s freedom, possible reasons for these impingements, as well as the perceived cost of these impingements.
Impingements on our pursuit of freedom
To gain a broader understanding of freedom, we should consider it from different perspectives. There is freedom from our own perspective. There is freedom from the perspective of those around us. There is freedom from the perspective of the broader community. There is freedom from the perspective of non-human sentient beings. Total freedom for all is not possible. The exercising of one person’s freedom could impinge on someone else’s freedom; this could be intentional or unintentional. These impingements occur when people’s desires and actions are conflicting. Below are several examples of several types of conflicts, which may lead to people impinging on each other’s freedom.
- Desire for control
The reasons for conflicts could be predominantly the same for all people involved or they may differ depending on people’s goals and ambitions. For example, one person’s desire for opulence may negatively affect another person’s desire to improve his or her quality of life.
We need to understand the nature of the impingements as well as the conflicts that are causing the impingements. Below are several questions, which can be used to improve our understanding.
- How tolerable is the impingement?
- Is the conflict easy to resolve?
- Is the conflict easy to prevent?
- How are different people affected by the impingements they face?
- Is the conflict escalating in nature?
Let us address the above questions using two examples. The first example relates to scarcity of a resource. This example is to demonstrate that we may impinge on other people’s freedom out of need rather than deliberately preventing someone else’s freedom. The second example relates to the desire to control other people. This example is to demonstrate that we may deliberately impinge on other people’s freedom instead of out of necessity.
The above questions have been tailored for each example.
Example of a Scarce Resource
Imagine there is a resource that everyone desires or needs. However, there is not a sufficient quantity of this resource for everyone to obtain his or her desired quantity of it. Therefore, at least some people will receive less than what they desire. The conflict is the competition to obtain the resource. The impingement causes some people to be deprived of the resource by other people’s usage of that resource.
How tolerable is having less?
Having less is not desirable and in some cases could be intolerable. The ability to tolerate less largely depends on necessity. For example, in extreme cases, having less of a resource could result in death or serious illness. Necessity is affected by several factors. These factors could include the availability of alternative resources, individual circumstances, or individual perspectives and perceptions.
The ability to switch easily to a close alternative reduces the necessity of access to the originally desired resource. However, the close alternative might not be available to everyone and might not be considered a close alternative for everyone; this depends on what needs the resource was addressing for them.
Different people face different circumstances. A person living in a very cold country will require energy for heating. A person with a medical condition will require resources linked to their medication and/or treatments. Circumstances can change; therefore, extent of necessity can change (for better or worse).
People’s perspectives and perceptions can vary considerably. A person may deem something an important necessity based on his or her lifestyle, dependence or addiction, or because of the influence of other people. Necessity does not need to be based on logic.
Could the effects of the shortage be easily resolved?
People who have an excess of a resource might be willing to help people who have an insufficient amount of it. People who have an insufficient amount of a resource might be able to find a way to acquire more so that they are no longer significantly negatively affected by their shortage. People could acquire more by taking a large portion of what already exists or they could acquire more by increasing what is available to everyone.
Acquiring more from the existing sources increases competition and hence conflict amongst people. Resolving one person’s shortages only worsens other people’s shortages (shifting of the impingement to other people). Instead, if the resource could be increased in total, a person could increase his or her quantity of the resource without reducing anyone else’s quantity. It may even be possible to increase other people’s quantities as well. This could also be achieved if some needs could be met using alternative resources.
Could the effects of shortage be easily avoided?
Shortages occur because of increases in demand, decreases in supply, or both. There are many reasons demand could increase or supply could decrease. Demand could increase because of population growth, changes in people’s circumstances, or new uses for the resource. Supply could decrease because of supply chain failures, depletion of the resource, law or regulation changes, or increases in costs (e.g. transport, extraction, or production). Shortages occur when there is a net increase in demand over supply.
If changes in demand and supply can be predicted, adjustments might be able to be made before shortages occur. Some of these adjustments could have an overall positive affect on reducing shortages. For example, the resource could be used more efficiently so that less is required to meet the same needs. Some of these adjustments could have an overall negative affect on reducing shortages. For example, people could hoard the resource in anticipation of shortages; this would hasten and worsen the shortages and likely lead to wastage.
How are different people affected by the scarcity of this resource?
Scarcity of a resource affects different people differently. People who are most negatively affected would have a greater desire to acquire the resource than people who are less affected. This desire can provide motivation to acquire the resource to an extent that the negative effects become tolerable.
Is the scarcity of the resource increasing or decreasing?
People will respond differently depending on how they perceive the scarcity of the resource to continue. If a resource is becoming less scarce and shortages are not expected to persist for long, people are less likely to rush to acquire it. People strongly affected by the shortage of the resource will still need it urgently. However, the lack of urgency from other people will make it easier for them to acquire it. It is possible that some people will still have the perception that shortages will continue even if they are decreasing; therefore, they will still urgently want to acquire the resource.
If a resource is becoming more scarce and shortages are expected to continue and likely worsen, more people are likely to rush to acquire it. This will likely cause a spiraling effect of increasing shortages. This will continue until there is a change in perception regarding the shortages. This might not occur until there is an increase in supply or a close alternative resource can be made available to most people.
Example of Control (freedom to control vs. freedom not to be controlled)
This example may appear contradictory as we discuss freedom in the context of taking away other people’s freedom. I believe it is relevant as taking away freedom is a possible use of freedom even though it reduces it. Freedom should not be confused with liberty, which advocates the use of freedom but not to the extent that it restricts the freedom of others.
Imagine we live in a society where some people have the strong desire to control other people. These people want to exercise their freedom in a way that reduces the freedom of other people. They believe they are more entitled to exercise their freedom than the people they are controlling. Their desire could be based purely on the having power over other people or it could be linked to other desires such as wealth, fame, ego, or laziness. Attempting to control people or a person who does not wish to be controlled creates conflict between the people desiring control and the people they desire to control. Exerting control impinges on the freedom of the people being controlled. Preventing or breaking free from the controller impinges on the freedom of the controller. There is an inevitable trade-off in freedom.
How tolerable is having less?
If someone has a strong desire to control other people or just another person, it is possible that losing the ability to control them could feel intolerable to him or her. The person being controlled experiences a loss of freedom, it is possible that this loss of freedom is intolerable or becomes intolerable over time. The extent of how intolerable either situation is depends on individual people’s perceptions of what they value and want.
Is the conflict between those who desire control and those who desire not to be controlled easy to resolve?
The ease in which conflicts regarding control can be resolved depends on several factors. These factors could include:
- The extent of the desire to control other people
- The number of people desired to be controlled
- The type and extent of the ability and power to control other people
- The extent of resistance to being controlled by other people
- The availability of external intervention to break control
If a person or a group of people have a strong desire to control others, they will exert it heavily and will not want to relinquish that control. Few people would be willing to tolerant being controlled excessively. Therefore, this conflict will be more difficult to resolve and the impingement on the freedom of the people being controlled will be greater.
If a person desires to control a small group of people or even just one other person, it might be possible for him or her to find other people or another person who is more willing to be controlled. If a person desires control over a large group, for example, community leaders, cult leaders or gang leaders, regaining control, once it is lost, will be very difficult to achieve.
People can gain power to control other people throw various means. These could include physical threats, emotional threats, financial threats, manipulation, or legitimisation. Control through force and threats is more likely to be met with resistance than control that is obtained through acceptance (e.g. manipulation or legitimisation). However, if people realise they have been deceived, conflicts can be expected to grow and become more difficult to resolve.
Strong resistance from people who are being controlled or are under threat of being controlled will increase the conflict between the controlling and the controlled. However, strong resistance could resolve the conflict faster if the controlling parties are forced to relinquish their power. Those who desire control could arguably claim that those who refuse to accept being controlled have impinged on their freedom to control them.
External intervention could be used to stop people from exerting control over others. However, the intervening group could become an even more powerful source of control. If the intervening group are able to legitimise themselves, they may face minimal resistance. Therefore, the conflict could be considered resolved. If the intervening group are unable to legitimise themselves, the conflict will be more difficult to resolve than prior to the intervention. If the intervening group do not desire any permanent status and dissolve once the conflict is resolved, the threat from them is minimised.
Is the conflict between those who desire control and those who desire not to be controlled easy to prevent?
Conflicts between those who desire to control others and those who do not wish to be controlled will always exist. A cultural shift towards respecting each other’s wishes and freedom would reduce the number and extent of conflicts but we can never guarantee that everyone will have these values; we all have the freedom to choose.
The creation of rules, which restrict freedoms that threaten other people’s freedoms, may prevent some conflicts occurring. The extent of rule-making and strictness of these rules is difficult to determine. If they are excessive or they are applied aggressively, they could result in more conflicts than they resolve.
The creation of a powerful authority, which controls everyone, may prevent any resistance to it as nobody has the ability, and for some, the desire to resist it. For such an authority to exist it would need to be sufficiently legitimised to a significant portion of the population to give it such strength. This can be seen with powerful dictatorships. The North Korean leadership is a good example of an authoritarian regime that has successful prevented resistance.
How are different people affected by the loss of control or loss of freedom?
People’s perceptions regarding their own needs can vary significantly. Some people strongly desire to control other people. Some people strongly desire to be free of all control. Some people are willing to accept some forms of control and not others. Some people enjoy being controlled and find comfort or safety in it. Some people may even find themselves in the situation where they are controlling other people while being controlled themselves.
The extent of conflicts and the extent people are affected by them depends on how people’s perceptions align with the society they are in. A person who strongly desires to be free of control, will be strongly adversely affected if he or she lives in a society where strong authoritarianism is considered legitimised.
Is the divide between those who desire control and those who desire not to be controlled escalating in nature?
The conflicts between the controllers and the controlled will escalate if there is greater divergence in perceptions. Conflicts will escalate, if those who desire control, desire more control and those that desire to break away from control desire more freedom. Conflicts will deescalate, if those who desire control are willing to relinquish some of their control, or if more people are willing to be controlled.
My Final Thoughts
I am a strong believer in freedom. However, I do not believe it can be absolute. People will try either to restrict the freedom of others for their own benefit or for the protection of others. Instead of striving for absolute freedom, we should focus on how we can work together so we can pursue our goals with minimal negative impact on others. We should value our freedom and we should respect how other people use their freedom. If we can build a strong culture of supporting each other’s freedoms, we can achieve much more for our communities and even our planet.
If you want to read any of my other posts, you can click on the links below. These links will lead you to posts containing my collection of works. These 'Collection of Works' posts have been updated to contain links to the Hive versions of my posts.