After the most recent EU summit in Brussels it seems the history has come full circle and democracy just died in the land where it was born. Greeks voted for anti-austerity government. Said government put to vote austerity measures that were suggested by the EU. After those were clearly rejected in a binding referendum, the Greek PM accepted terms harsher than the ones rejected just under a week before. And that there were no good solutions. And that Greek banks had no money and they really could use some. And that Angela is quite scary. But what about… what about the freedom?
Have you ever asked yourself if you are free? As in: do you have freedom? Not freedom of speech or to leave or enter a country but a general, overarching and overwhelming freedom. If you live, as I do, in a Western democracy, you are probably inclined to say yes. I mean how could you say ‘no’? Every single month we hear about another country, be it Ukraine, Libya or Sudan whose citizens are fighting to defeat those in power. To gain their freedom.
In this way freedom is often defined by what’s missing. People lack freedom when they are not able to say what they think, to choose who makes laws of their country, or to leave the country they were born in. In this context the answer seems to be simple. We compare our situation to what is experienced by people in North Korea or Cuba, and we arrive at rather obvious conclusion – they are truly screwed, and we’re all right.
For a moment though let’s forget about all of those suffering in Syria, repressed in Russia or tortured in Iran. Let’s focus on a definition. How do you define freedom? Ability to do, say, think whatever you want, to behave in the way you want – I guess this would be the first thing that comes to mind. The Source of All Knowledge (read: Wikipedia) defines it as power or right to do as one wants. Can you though? Can you ‘do as you want’? I certainly can’t. In theory nothing stops me, I theoretically can do anything. Practically I am restricted by money, laws, cultural norms, social pressures, time obligations… (runs out of breath)… and innate abilities and probably some more obstacles that just did not happen to come to my mind this very minute.
All right then, we may not have total freedom, but why would we? It would probably not be too good for us anyway. So let’s be more specific; what is quite often understood as freedom is political liberty – democracy and the ability to choose who rules the country we live in, and, in this way to make our own laws. There is no denying that those of us lucky enough to be born in the West do live in democratic societies. Is democracy what we imagine it to be though? Is it really the rule of the demos – the people? Or is it a mirage; an illusiomn making us think that we are in charge, when the real power lies somewhere else?
With the eyes of my imagination I see Socrates circling the streets of Athens as he did 25 centuries ago. Walking around, starting conversation with strangers. As I write, he stops a random person, looks her or him in the eye and asks: ‘So, now my friend, tell me – are you free?’ Are you?