Political freedom is a scale from seven to one, where seven is North Korea and one is the US, France or Sweden. At least according to the Washington based NGO Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org). Here’s the deal: There is one score for political rights and one for civil liberties. And when a country gets to one in both scores – it is free. But is that all there is to it? Is that the endpoint of human freedom?
“Nothing can be alive or created or sustained without the use of power. A human body consists of organic matter under violent control: killed, chewed, swallowed, digested, broken down and reorganized.”
The research, monitoring and lobbying undertaken by this kind of NGO:s are exceedingly important. No doubt about it. Democracy is better than dictatorship. Upholding human rights is better than violating human rights. Freedom of speech is really, really important for the individuation and integration processes that constitute the flowering of life and the release from suffering and degradation.
Looks Like We’ve Hit a Plateau!
But of course, human rights aren’t ontologically grounded realties like laws of nature. They are social constructs, deals if you like, struck between human beings in their exercise of power over themselves and one another. Power is the producer of reality. Nothing can be alive or created or sustained without the use of power. A human body consists of organic matter under violent control: killed, chewed, swallowed, digested, broken down and reorganized. All states consist at a minimum of a monopoly of violence, its subjects controlled, digested, broken down and reorganized – or killed, in the last instance. It is a political-philosophical question, an ethical question, which exercise of power should be used to create what.
Power, Love and Freedom
But power is not the ground of reality. Love is. Beyond the crude reality of power, is that sublime quality of Existence, that wordless relationship called love. Power, for all its grim, carnal materiality, is only that: a shadow reflection of the beauty of it all. It works to create, to sustain, to protect, to evolve, to give birth, to expand, to include, to understand, to love.
Human rights too, are created by productive violence, by the exercise of power. And by power’s intricate ways of refining itself, finding new balances, new equilibria, it creates states of being. Mental states of being in a sentient being (a biological creature), or political or cultural states of being in societies. A state or equilibrium is a relatively stable plateau – scientifically you can find this idea pretty much across the scale: Nash equilibrium, Alberoni’s “Movement and Institution”, all over economics, ecological balance, Kegan’s stages of personal development and so on. But states can shift. They can collapse into lower states, or they can evolve to new ones that can arguably be called higher, deeper or just more complex ones.
“But really, what to do with all that freedom? Just keep it and put it on a shelf next to your DVD collection?”
One such equilibrium achieved is the 1/1 score on the Freedom House rating. Things reinforce one another and a kind of stable, free democracy emerges. Yep, you can go about your day anyway you like, write pretentious blogs and tell your boss to **** off, score political good-guy points off your wretched government in the paper, cast votes, form parties, desecrate holy symbols and still get a job, a nice house and get laid. Bingo. But really, what to do with all that freedom? Just keep it and put it on a shelf next to your DVD collection (hopefully not including Buffy The Vampire Slayer – full series)? Nah, I want more.
Have we reached ultimate freedom?
I don’t know about you, but the idea that emancipation in any real, political sense is over, finito, by the time a society becomes like a current Western country seems … boring. And highly unlikely. If I don’t like reality because I think it’s boring I need just deal with it. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about showing that the idea that Sweden, US and similar countries are “free”, is a crappy analysis that does little justice to the struggle for political freedom. We are free, but only in a relative sense. We can have more negative freedoms (from oppression, from constraints) and more positive freedoms (security, fulfillment, meaning making).
Nevertheless, this is where we are. Nowhere to go. Looks like we’ve hit a plateau.
The Transpersonal Perspective
There are many possible explanations for the persistence of this rather absurd plateau (electoral democracy with market economy and social welfare, Freedom House rating 1). One possible explanation is that our conception of freedom is based on a limited unit of analysis: the individual human being and his or her rights. The individual human being is considered to have free will, to have a sacred individuality, to be autonomous and thus as being the fundamental addressee of all human rights. Individual is Latin. The word atomis Greek for the same thing. Atom, a fundamental building block. In the very idea of individual human rights is the idea that the individual is a the unit of analysis, that it fundamentally constitutes social reality. But the problem is of course, that at the subatomic level, we can study phenomena that go way beyond the constrains of individual atoms. But the individual, phenomenologically speaking, is just an idea, a habit pattern of thought. At the subindividual level, that is if we pick this mystical, sacred entity apart, we find: guess what, guess what – units of analysis that go way beyond the individual. When freedom is attributed to these refined units instead of to the primitive intellectual idea of the individual (and his or her ‘personality’, which is social-psychologically speaking just a mask), the nature of conceivable freedom changes. Radically.
“…the nature of conceivable freedom changes. Radically.”
We might speak with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who described the dividual contrasted to the individual. But let’s take a somewhat more systematized approach: integral theory.
Following the integral model proposed by Ken Wilber, we can exchange this mystified “sacred” individual human being with the notion of all sentient beingsexpressing themselves as consciousness, behavior, culture and system. Another way of saying this is, we look at the freedom of consciousness itself to express itself in the manifest world. Any restraint to this expression, and any power exercised to the oppression of this same expression, is in fact a lack of political freedom.
Ouch. But that would mean that…
Yep, you got it sister. That would mean that we live in a horribly oppressed state of being from birth until death! Good news, in fact, because it means that the game for political emancipation is on!
So here’s the new deal: instead of defending a half-measure intellectual excuse for Existence, the individual, we defend the rights of Spirit or consciousness manifesting its highest potential for love and bliss.
A four-dimensional freedom
Let us speak about another kind of freedom; one that begins in chains, slavery and fear, in the wailing tears the billion years’ history of life – and ends as a democratic, inclusive dance of spontaneous becoming.
* In consciousness itself: by removing constraints to relate sanely and freely to phenomenal reality. By making unconscious processes conscious, by removing constraints for evolving into harmonious states of bliss and being-in-the-world. Anyone not being completely smitten by orgasmic love of Existence is oppressed, because that is the only sane way of relating to reality.
“Anyone not being completely smitten by orgasmic love of Existence is oppressed, because that is the only sane way of relating to reality.”
* Behavior: by removing de facto constraints to agency: opportunity, inability, pressure, insecurity, habit, fear. Any behavior steered at least partly by a lacking-need, lacking-want or fear is unfree, oppressed. Only an act that is propelled by creative, loving joy is actually free. Make education so generic and boosting of individual choice and autonomy that the maximal possible choice of behavior becomes open. This does not mean primitive libertarianism (‘No state shall tell us how much to smoke! etc.), but acting politically by a double move of creating contexts where fear, lacking-wants and lacking-needs do not arise, and qualifying individuals and groups to being able to act on their highest possible impulse – which for some strange reason always seems to involve affirmation of Self in service of the Other. The vision of a so-called Listening Society is to create a psycho-social environment that is so secure that virtue spontaneously arises, without indoctrination. The vision of a so-called Economy of Happiness is the transferring of as much activity as possible to the realm of being-driven needs, where lack and fear are not in control, not the propelling force.
* Culture: by consciously redesigning language, customs and relationships to become an open, reflexive field of expression. Any context not continuously openly and calmly reinterpreting reality and the symbols used to relate to it – is oppressed. Consciousness always expresses itself through some kind of cultural context. When culture is locked down, unquestioned, taken for granted, it is oppressed. Culture is alive, essentially. Not as an individual person or sentient being, but as a living expression of consciousness. Are norms created through conscious, open, deliberate and deliberative processes? If not, culture is oppressed.
* System: by eliminating the restraints of the system to manifest itself through its inherent dialectic. When equality of opportunity is systematically unjustly distributed in a system that explicitly strives to establish universal rights, the system is oppressed. When the individual does not feel in control of his or her political reality and the system runs by blind processes and logics other than the highest aims of the system (political and economic), the system is oppressed. This one is especially hard to get one’s head around if one is stuck in the atomistic paradigm of individual rights, as we are used to think of the system as the potential oppressor of the poor, innocent individual.
This perspective is based on a transpersonal paradigm, where no trouble, virtue or vice is reified and explained away as it being a mere function of this or that specific individual. Nor is it a collectivist perspective, a label that would fit traditionalist or Marxist interpretations.
Why would we ask anything less of ourselves? Why would we limit our own horizons? We should demand of life and Existence what is offered and no less: Another kind of freedom. And we should consciously and deliberately work towards that end.
Summa summarum: we have more degrees of freedom available. Looks like there’s a long road to go to freedom from this plateau we happen to be standing on. Freedom House is OK, but at rating 1/1 is where the real emancipatory fun starts – not where it ends! There’s no such thing as freedom rating 1.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.