While the individual definitions of these three words, freedom, choice and knowledge don’t necessarily depend on each other, it is not uncommon to interpret them as a family of words that often go hand in hand. Knowledge gives us freedom, When you are free you have a choice and When you can chose, you want to chose freedom and also wisely. Yes, perhaps knowledge should appear chronologically before the other two words. The associations with these three words that we have and often want to create are, nonetheless, positive, beneficial and, in a deeper sense, important for the soul.
I say ‘Give the people freedom, give the people knowledge, give the people choice and the people will take care of all the rest, and it will be beautiful.‘, and you’d vote for me, right? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps freedom, choice and knowledge are not meant to be granted to every one you say, at least not without regulated limitations and restrictions. I’d agree. You certainly don’t grant that to any living beeing, do you? What about human beeings? Would you like to endorse or let any group strive for the freedom, choice and knowledge of every one, independent of sex, ethnicity, religion, age, profession, political orientation and the such… Would you give a child molester who has served his time in prison the freedom to live in your street? Would you share your knowledge about a potential discovery or invention with the public, thus rendering all potential financial profits to the public as well?
As a parent you might want to say that you give/gave your child the freedom to become whatever it wanted. But a child doesn’t know what it wants, so a little guidance is given. This guidance is also evident when it comes to allowing a choice or providing knowledge. This is, however, not only true when it comes to kids, can’t we always find a tangible argument for creating some sort of guidelines, limitations and moral code when it comes to freedom, choice and knowledge.
Yes, we can and we do. We do this for other people though, what about ourselves? Is there a benefit for creating restrictions for ourselves when it comes to personal freedom, choice and knowledge. Like for anything else, we either think about this at least once, or never at all. For some it is a question like: How much money is enough, a sort of rhetorical question, something that is not worth thinking too long about. You might be even laughing at this question, but what about: ‘How much freedom is enough, How much knowledge is enough?’.
Indeed, when is too much knowledge not useful, too much freedom restrictive, too much choice limiting?
Life is all about balance, you say, too much of anything is unfavorable. For most of us, balance is, however, not the norm, it is a dream state, a desirable state, very often a state that once achieved we like to redefine, and while balance or equilibrium is about contentment and happiness, too many lives and human characteristics are determined by the extrema states above and below this point or higher dimension of balance. You can always dream, right? What’s wrong with seeking more knowledge?
I’ve heard a quote :”Knowledge has a beginning but no end.” Confucius said: “Real knowledge is to know one’s own ignorance“, and Maurice Maeterlinck: “All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than animals that know nothing.“
This is interesting, three quotes that all question the rationale for acquiring too much knowledge, without quantifying the level or degree of ‘too much’. What words does Maeterlinck have about freedom and choice in this regard. I don’t know but animals certainly have substantially less freedom and choice than human beings. We can chose to live almost anywhere on this planet, most of us live in countries where we all have the freedom to live and have a family, not just the strongest, the best adapted specimen, but all of us.
I’d like for you to think about these three words and consider that perhaps there are as many negative attributions to freedom, choice and knowledge in respect of living a happy life as there are positive ones. The emancipation of women is a good example, albeit an emotional and perhaps controversial topic, because it is historically a recent achievement, certainly not completed, where unfair or unequal restrictions in terms of freedom and choice, and often in terms of the freedom to acquire knowledge, have been decreased or removed. To me, there is no arguing when a woman asks to have comparably the same legal rights or same opportunities in education or profession as a man, she should be given the same freedom, choice and for that matter knowledge. But are you certain that granting same rights improves the contentment of all women? I wouldn’t want to answer that question, even if I knew the answer.
Moreover, when you can, don’t you, as aforementioned, impose guidance and restrictions where you see fit. You wouldn’t grant a child the same freedom as a grown up, you wouldn’t give a man the same choice as a women when it comes to abortion. On the contrary, for every argument, which might even be reasonable, for restrictions of freedom, choice and knowledge there is a contra-argument for fairness, equality and virtue. How do you feel about a 14 year old girl who wants the same rights as a grown up female?, being allowed to vote, drink alcohol, drive a car or get married, for example. Again, we are inclined to argue for restrictions in terms of freedom, and guidance in terms of choices due to age, but surely, there must be 14 year old girls who could gain personally and whose life would gain from such liberation. Why do we have negative associations with a 14 year old girl drinking, driving a car, voting or marrying? Finding a balance is a difficult and often lifetime achievement for us, there is no guarantee that it becomes easier with increased age. The argument of age is thus flawed, why age, why not sex?
A 14 year old girl is apparently not equal to an 18 year old woman, but an adult woman is equal to an adult man, or the whole thing vice versa? There is a compromise here, which we can accept, but is there any sense in this?
The point here is that we accept, often quietly, ask and argue for restrictions and guidance in freedom, choice and knowledge, but when we speak aloud, often for other people – who never asked us to speak for them, these people are often in other countries, with other cultures and traditions – about these terms, we ask for absolute transparency and fairness, as if we have gained an empirical moral high ground and as if more freedom, more choice, more knowledge is an optimum condition for a (modern) society. But do we consider any implications or ask ourselves, whether the removal of restrictions will increase the life of all people affected by it. What do we do when we find out that removing some restrictions made the quality of lives worse? Are we able to acknowledge this and most importantly, can we admit it and go backwards, so that we can go forwards?
Think about your own life, your family, don’t we expect others to be more knowledgeable than us, to guide us, our human race, our country, our society, even guide certain aspects of our personal lives, to build our cars, to build our homes, to bring energy to us, to, ultimately, put food on our plates, to defend us, we ask others to decide on some choices of our own and, in essence, we ask them to limit our freedom, our choices and our level of knowledge. However, we do so quietly. We seem to be aware of the magnitude and associated dangers of limitless personal knowledge, personal choice and personal freedom in regards of a collective of people, a society, to live happy lives. We create internal, psychological boundaries, we create some of our own limits and ask for those governing us to create even more. Perhaps most of us even have an internal ‘sensor’, giving us subconsciously feedback and hence defining our personal upper limits.
I like to give examples about the lives of people that I know, people who I initially admired for their greater freedom, choice and knowledge, respectively. While my admiration is not of the kind where one seeks to change lives with another person, today, I wonder whether their lives would be more enjoyable if they had less freedom, choice and knowledge.
My friend a) is very handsome, charming, the kind of guy who knows where all the cool happenings are, who is always fun to be with, who doesn’t need to show off, he is a womanizer, with a killing smile, great dance moves, top class wardrobe, a guy who has all the new hip gadgets and luxuries. When he was 30 he already had more girlfriends and sexual encounters than other men had sex throughout their entire life. He gets free invitations to gigs, parties and other happenings, and over the years, he picked up a certain nick, a way of getting the girl without trying to get her, if you know what I mean. And to my astonishment, almost any girl! Knowing him means realizing that he has a substantially greater freedom to chose which girl he wants to have sex with, or be with. I admire him for that but wonder whether a man like him can ever be only with one woman. It is not that he doesn’t try, you see, he falls in love like the rest of us, he has long-time partners, he even got married once, but no matter how deeply he was in love, no matter how often he said: “This is the one. You don’t get it man, she is the one, I’m so happy, I have never been this happy.”, the relationships always ended rather quickly and in an abrupt and harsh fashion, burning all bridges. To my surprise he actually believes in monogamy, in being with only one partner. Like the rest of us he would state on facebook how deeply hurt he is, how difficult a breakup is when love was involved, but in contrast to the rest of us, he’d be in love like never before in less than a month.
Looking at the facebook life of some of my old school friends, some of whom I used to bully because I saw them as fat, ugly or stupid, people who certainly didn’t seem to have much freedom to chose from the female ‘pool’, I tend to see that they are married with children and apparently happy. Perhaps it is easier to compromise with a partner who you love, if you think that your choices in love are limited. I would hate to see my friend a) as an old playboy, either not believing in love anymore or, falling in love over and over again, but essentially being alone.
My friend b) never had good grades at school, he smoked dope at school, teachers didn’t like his attitude and gave him worse marks than he deserved. He wasn’t an eager student and left prematurely. His parents were not happy with his decision and told him that he is limiting choices for the future. He picked up work, while I was still at school getting my As and thinking that my good marks will be important for my professional life, he worked on construction sites, in a bakery, in a car washing complex. Later, he took up the trade of a baker, doing his apprenticeship for three years. I recall him having a car and other luxuries that he purchased on his own, while I was still in school getting an allowance from my parents.
Honestly, I didn’t admire my friend b) for getting wages and purchasing things, after all, he would never go to university, he would never have the freedom to choose a well-paying, rewarding profession, something that people would be proud of. You know, like a lawyer, a professor, a doctor. By dropping out of school he didn’t only limit is future freedom and level of choice, he also limited his opportunity for knowledge. That’s what I thought anyway. Today, he still owns a bakery, as he says due to mostly romantic reasons, and has a successful franchise for a sandwich and salad restaurant chain. According to him, he worked very hard, he finished his apprenticeship and worked for 5 years as a baker, then the bakery was up for sale and with a mortgage from the bank he was able to purchase it. Once the business was clearly profitable, he invested into his idea of a sandwich and salad fast-food restaurant, with a fresh and healthy theme and today he is a financially wealthy man, managing his restaurants and he is also a very proud man. Proud in a good sense, he knows how he got where he is now, through hard work and dedication, he is a self-made man as he says, not a privileged man.
My friend c) was always under the impression that education is the key to primarily a happy life and secondarily financial success. That education and academic titles lead to good jobs that are actually easy, and that knowledge in form of education frees our minds and allows us to think and move into mental or physical states which most people never acquire or reach. We studied chemistry together and although I didn’t have the feeling that he was chasing the money or a job which is associated with lots of money, he was nonetheless, extremely focused on his studies. I admired is capacity for knowledge, the fact that he would pick things up, theoretical or practical, much quicker than me. He never showed up at any lectures, instead he went to the library and read and studied chemistry, physics, mathematics and philosophy books. He also wouldn’t forget anything, to me, he truly understood the topics we were taught at university, while I kind of got the picture, enough to work with a certain theory or experiment, enough to pass an exam with an A. He is a truly remarkable, thinking man and while we all like to think of ourselves as intelligent or at least not stupid, it is a privilege to actually see people who have a great capacity, or talent for education. He finished his studies in record time, he had the freedom to chose from a variety of high-esteemed international scholarships, and all the different research facilities would have been glad to take him on as a post-graduate student. He finished his doctoral studies in record time, obtaining the highest possible mark for a doctorate, his research was published and the scientific community certainly acknowledged his achievements.
Okay, he was a bit weird, but when he chose to go back home and live with his mom after the doctorate, living off the social benefit, he wasn’t only a bit weird, but I thought he was mad or at least mentally mispositioned. He never explained his choice to me, he never got back to his peers, mentors and international collaborators. For years I thought that he needs help, that he has obtained all this knowledge and that not using it renders it useless and all his hard work and studying as well.
Today, I realize that maybe, my friend c) who had the freedom, the choice and the knowledge, that so many people seek but never obtain, never had a problem, never needed help. He probably has his own saying about knowledge. He actually was in the position, he was free enough to make a choice based on the knowledge he acquired, and still is in such a position. While many would question his choice, saying that if they were in his position, they would have (insert whatever you think you would do with doctorate in chemistry), but the remarkable thing here is that HE had acquired the knowledge, the freedom and chose not to pursue it further due to the rules, regulations and restrictions imposed on him by academia and society.
I’m neither a), b) or c), but I, too, seem to have many choices and sometimes wonder whether this degree of freedom and knowledge that I have makes me walk in circles instead of in a certain direction.
For this article, I looked up the definitions of knowledge, freedom and choice, and was surprised to find out that in archaic terms, according to Oxford dictionaries, knowledge meant sexual intercourse. That gives another meaning to ‘he was a knowledgeable man’, doesn’t it?
I don’t come to any conclusion, but this is certainly not the point of this article and hopefully you don’t expect a wise conclusion from me in the first place. The point here is that next time when you address someone with the terms freedom, choice and knowledge, that you perhaps also contemplate that it might be more important to be happy than to be free, knowledgeable and in a position to chose.
After all, perhaps dreaming is the only way you access true freedom, since there are no rules or limitations in dreams. Perhaps, you can only feel free if you run without any destination.