When you say freedom, what do you mean?

Story: I was involved in local water politics about 10 years ago. Because our aquifer is in serious overdraft, the county board of supervisors wanted to monitor how much water large private wells were pumping. The outrage provoked by this notion was such that supervisors were forced to close the meeting discussing it, and be escorted to safety by police, to protect them from the mob. Apparently there is an unshakeable belief that the water pumped from a private well is “owned”, as if each landowner has a discrete source of water beneath his property unconnected to anyone else’s, and that the Government is trying to Regulate Private Property. The proposal was never brought up again.

I have been puzzling over this for a long time. Conservatives seem to place an enormous importance on what they call “freedom”, but I have never figured out what they mean by it.

I am sincere, here. If you asked me what I understand “freedom” to mean, as a broad value, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. It seems to me that once you have a relationship with anyone, whether as child, parent, member of a tribe, neighborhood, town, country, or if you even own a pet goldfish, your “freedom” to do just exactly as you wish is going to be impeded by your obligations and responsibilities. Rules, regulations, and laws being mere codifications of such things.

When I think of “freedom” I mostly think of the freedom to say what I wish (freedom of speech, freedom of the press), and move where I like, and the freedom from needing to protect myself personally from being robbed, raped, shot, or eaten by cannibals (related to freedom of movement).

But to conservatives, it seems it is a word that stands for a whole lot more than the above. It’s used in sentences in which you could substitute “Ultimate Goodness”, yet in reality freedom is very limited for those who don’t live as hermits in completely uninhabited regions. It is odd because most of the right wing people I know are at least as enmeshed in and dedicated to their relationships as any liberal, if not more so. They tend to be very civic minded and neighborly people, in my experience.

It would be easy to say, well duh they’re just stupid and/or evil, but that has not been my usual experience on an individual basis. Maybe on message boards, but not personally.

The conservative understanding of freedom includes all of those things, but also views a concept of private property and economic freedom as an essential part. If the ability to freely buy and sell, make changes to one’s own property, employ and be employed is taken over or reduced by the government, then the government has leverage with which to boss everyone around. The notion you suggest, that everyone except hermits is involved in relationships with countless other people is entirely true, and it’s for precisely that reason that we need protection of private property. As my buddy Chesterton put it:

For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter. He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes. I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point. If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them. But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure. It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks. The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to. When a man spends every night staggering from bar to bar or from music-hall to music-hall, we say that he is living an irregular life. But he is not; he is living a highly regular life, under the dull, and often oppressive, laws of such places. Some times he is not allowed even to sit down in the bars; and frequently he is not allowed to sing in the music-halls. Hotels may be defined as places where you are forced to dress; and theaters may be defined as places where you are forbidden to smoke. A man can only picnic at home.Public schools, museums, high-speed trains, and other institutions that most liberals want to spend money on may have their advantages, buy they do no create freedom. Participating in them naturally involves limitations, since they’re places where many people come together, and such togetherness means abiding by rules. Home is the only place where we can truly make our own rules.

Any definition will be self-serving and contradictory.

When conservatives talk about freedom, are they advocating that we throw out all the laws? Or just laws that keep them from making as much more money as they want?

Home is not the only “free” place. This is craziness. I can’t set up a business out of my home–and for good reason. I can’t have sex with anyone who comes strolling past my front porch–and for good reason. I can’t buy anything I want from home–and for good reason. I can’t dump anything I want to down the kitchen sink or in my backyard–and for good reason. I can’t treat my children any kind of way at home–and for good reason. Walking around naked is just about the only thing I can do at home that I can’t do outside, and even then I better keep my shades drawn.

Unless conservatives want to kick their moral qualms to the side and suddenly take on a “everything goes” philosophy, then all their huffin’ and puffin’ about freedom and liberty is just useless rhetoric.

To conservatives freedom is the unbridled ability to get trampled by private corporations where you have a voice, rather than by the government in which you do.

Well…any definition will be controversial in the details, anyway.

Think about “Your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” Who could disagree? Except…what if I position my nose right in front of where you would like to swing your arm? What if I hire forty guys to surround you with their noses? You can’t swing your arm at all.

Ulfreida’s original example resonates! Where I live, a big horse ranch drilled VERY DEEP wells, and is pulling up lots and lots of water (horses need a lot of water!) This is causing neighbors’ wells to dry up. The horse ranch’s wells are much deeper than neighboring wells, even those at a lower elevation. This has led to an “arms race” of well-drilling, as everyone bores hell-bent-for-China.

It is inescapable: your actions affect me. My actions affect other people.

Civilization entails compromises. I don’t have the right to perfect silence; the neighbors get to play their radios, even when I would like to sleep. I get to barbecue hamburgers in my back yard, even though my neighbor finds the odor nauseating. (Meanwhile, he gets to burn incense in his house, and I find the odor nauseating.) But we are both limited to small amounts of burning: I’m not zoned for a large-scale meat-producing factory.

♫ Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. ♫

Freedom is being left the hell alone.

Lack of responsibility and external oversight.

I of course meant where you have no voice. :smack:

Yes, they do. Freedom isn’t just the government’s permission to do things; it’s the ability. Someone who grows up illiterate because public schools are abolished is going to be less free than someone who got a basic education.

Your interpretation is correct. Any decent human being weighs their desire for freedom against the responsibilities that come with it.

For example, we as a group have decided that there should be a law against robbing people. This is an affront to the robber’s freedom, because in a free world he would be able to rob people whenever he pleased. Yet this liberates the rest of us, because now we have the freedom to pursue our wishes without having to worry about whether we are going to be robbed. When law works at its best, it grants freedom rather than deprives us of it. (How often it actually accomplishes this lofty goal is an entirely different subject…)

As multiple examples above demonstrate, most of the conflict we experience in government and civil arenas surrounds what freedoms we are willing to sacrifice (the freedom to rob people) when weighed against the freedoms we gain (the freedom to go about without being robbed).

The idea that “freedom” means you can do as you wish without limitations, pursuing only your self-interest without regard to anyone else’s well-being, is a corrupt and hideous morality floated primarily by Ayn Rand and other narcissists.

One of the biggest problems facing our society today is the belief in “freedom from consequence.” We have evolved an idea that “Freedom” means “I can do as I please without ever having to face the consequences of my decision.”

The example you give (water rights) demonstrates an area where people have not yet had to face the consequences of their actions. As long as water is abundant, they will continue to argue for their freedom. When the well starts to run dry they will realize that their short and long term freedoms are not compatible.

As in, hermit on an otherwise uninhabited island? Because otherwise, there is no alone. Everything you do affects someone else to some extent, including those who aren’t yet born.

I wonder if it is fair to say, the conservative idea of freedom is the (apparently) cherished illusion that we are alone. Which has as a corollary the idea that you can’t trust anybody you don’t know. The more official power those strangers have, the less they should be trusted (because of the damage they can do to you).

That would be suspicion and fear, not freedom. That wouldn’t naturally lead to running with your arms outspread through a field of wildflowers, but to stockpiling food and arms to protect yourself against the hostile world.

Feels a lot more like that anyway.

Who in the world guaranteed that you would have “freedom” in the first place?

On the other hand, there are times when government gets the notion that it has the job of promoting a social viewpoint that isn’t necessarily accepted by the people being governed.

??? Who in the hell ever said that anyone believed that anyone ever guaranteed freedom? We all know better than that: freedom is far from guaranteed. It’s an ideal, like peace, prosperity, good health, or a nice job. NOBODY guarantees such things; we just have a tendency to favor leaders and policies that edge us a little in the right direction.

It’s a huge spectrum, with slavery and serfdom at one end, and a pretty nice situation, if not actually edenic, at the other. The modern industrialized nations are pretty much free, certainly way ahead of where they were 500 years ago. And, with odd setbacks and bumps in the road, we’re generally getting more free.

Look at the progress of Gay Rights in just the last fifty years. There is that one subset of the population that is MUCH more free today. We can keep making progress.

Trinopus’ horse ranch issue is an excellent example of what gets lost in the arguments over liberty. If I own property, I ought to be able to do with it as I will, no? But realistic physical parameters are not taken into account. A section is about enough land, I would think, to naturally support two or three horses, but I have twenty horses on a quarter section, and I feel I should be able to use that land to support those horses, even if it means draining the aquifer. If the county comes in and tells me I may not drain the aquifer (meaning I must buy water by truck or pipe), or perhaps that 20 horses on a quarter section is too many, well, that is an unfair imposition.

Because, you see, “freedom” is what it is, in its hermetic box. Responsibility and pragmatism are just what I criticize other people for not having/adhering to, but those things cannot be allowed to impinge on my freedom.

Pretty much this. When politicians talk about “freedom”, they’re thinking about someone “oppressing” them that they don’t want oppressing them anymore. For conservatives, they think the government is the oppressor, but are blind to how corporations oppress them. Liberals think of corporations, the rich, social inequities et al. as the oppressor and want the government involved in every thing, not realizing how the regulations created oppress them.

At the end of the day, we all like being able to do what we want, but there are always limits. Those limits are determined by what society views as reasonable. You get freedom of speech - up to the point you want to incite a riot or shout “fire” in a crowded theatre.

Uhhh, no. There might be a liberal somewhere who wants government involved in EVERYTHING, but I’ve never met one. Every liberal I know, including scads of them online, only want reasonable regulations to curb corporate abuses, and no more. That is only even a “liberal” idea in this country because Republicans have dragged the dialogue to such an insane far right. In reality, progressives want a balanced government that allows free market capitalism without abusing the consumers, and what you just said is a straw man straight out of Rush Limbaugh or Free Republic rhetoric.

The point, I think, would have been better made saying “more things” rather than “everything,” just as we know of no conservatives who want the government excluded from everything. (A handful of preposterous anarchists, and we don’t pay any attention to them.) Nothing more than a slightly infelicitous choice of words; otherwise, I think it was a reasonable analysis.

The major philosophical groups are not in agreement with where the oppression of our liberties originates, and differ as to the best approach to a remedy.

That’s what elections are for…

Freedoms can be self-contradictory, and in the current environment are necessarily so.

Take health insurance, for example. Government-run healthcare may, from one viewpoint, take away a person’s right to choose what sort of healthcare they receive. On the other hand, it provides freedom in that the person does not need to worry about healthcare beyond paying the appropriate taxes each year. This is particularly illustrated when you compare it to, say, employer-based healthcare, where there is a distinct lack of freedom or at least an impediment to such, in that it becomes difficult, sometimes impossibly so, to choose to work for another company.

Speaking personally, I want to be free to move. I’d like to sell my house in one state, quit my job, and move to another state, where I can be assured I will be able to transition to a similar life. That sort of freedom requires some restrictions in other areas, generally in the taxation area where there needs to be funds available to help support a person or family in such a transition.

Speaking generally/stereotypically, conservatives want freedom from taxation. Their ideal freedom is financial; they want to be able to spend their money according to their own desires. Liberals want social freedoms, like freedom of travel and freedom from disease and freedom to learn. Socializing these burdens to free the individual of them requires taxation, which is directly at odds with the conservative’s idea of freedom.