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Freedom is a valuable paradox

Even a kid has a clue about what freedom is, but to understand all its aspects at once is impossible.
The concept of freedom is abstract and to understand what it is, you can best compare freedom to a "hole", in the wall. A hole in itself is nothing, but it is determined by its surroundings. If there were nothing around the hole, there wouldn't even be a hole. So a hole is determined by what it is not.
Something similar applies to freedom.
This article interprets freedom as a paradox and playfully links it to other concepts. Beware: freedom is not a paradox by definition, but interpreting it that way leads to surprising insights. We use these insights to reflect on our relationship with animals in a moral and juridical sense.



Lao Tse (on emptiness)

Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole (empty space) we may use the wheel.
Clay is molded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
Walls are built around a hearth;
Because of the doors we may use the house.
Thus distinctions seem to contain,
But their use is to transform.
Therefore: Being gives possession, Non-being gives usefulness.

A paradox is a tough, but interesting, concept, meaning something that holds a seeming contradiction.
There are many sayings with a paradoxical character, and accepting this and its (im)possibilities in turn offers new freedom.
  A well known paradox is: "be spontaneous". If you follow this recommendation, your behavior can no longer be called spontaneous. If you spontaneously decide to do nothing, you are not spontaneous either. In this case it doesn't matter what you do, you're always doing it either wrong or right. Whether it actually is right or wrong cannot be determined.

In the case of freedom as a paradox the contradiction is that freedom cannot exist without its counterpart: non-freedom. This non-freedom may mean:

  • that you are forced to make choices, otherwise you cannot go further
  • that you have to limit others, otherwise they will affect your freedom
  • that what freedom is, can sometimes only be explained by what it is not
  Fortunately, everyone is "bound" to this non-freedom. This in itself offers freedom to the individual. The association with non-freedom also makes that someone can be dualistic about freedom. If you find it difficult to bear the responsibility, you might opt for a non-free life with fewer responsibilities.

"Life has no meaning".

This conclusion may be depressing, you can also regard it as a basis for a very positive follow-up: you can give your life any meaning you want; it's your own choice, it's your own responsibility. You may make mistakes, but the only one you can blame is yourself. Meaninglessness as a possibility for assigning meaning is the paradox.
The positive explanation offers equality: no-one is favored in life because he possesses a trait that may be more or less valuable in light of a certain meaning of life. This equality goes for people amongst themselves (man versus woman, white versus black, poor versus rich, ill versus healthy, young versus old, etc.), but also for man and animal. The life of one person cannot be objectively determined as being more valuable or more meaningful (than that of another person or an animal).


"Death makes life valuable".

Imagine being immortal, that - whatever you do - you cannot die. It would offer many possibilities, which we would all like to try for a while, but if you were imprisoned or if you got ill, and this imprisonment or illness would last forever, you would be facing a very unattractive prospect. The fact that life is finite makes it bearable for many and ensures that we do our best to give meaning to our lives and that we act carefully. Hopefully, that's what we all try, so that we may all benefit from it.

"Whether God does or does not exist" is a matter of faith. His (or her or its) existence cannot be proven. If you were able to prove it (with mathematical reasoning), a lot of freedom in life would immediately be lost. There are believers who think that freedom is a gift from God to give life meaning.
Every individual may choose what to accept as truth. You are not ignorant if you do not accept God's existence as truth. Intelligence has nothing to do with faith, but it does offer possibilities of realizing your potential.
  "If you have nothing to lose, you are very rich". The more we amass in life, the more we have to lose. This is not a plea for poverty, but if you don't really need it and it doesn't make you happier, why would you amass things, status, money etc. around you? The Bible said it: "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" and (although it was meant as a parody) Monty Python in The Life of Brian: "you came from nothing en you end as nothing, what did you lose? Nothing!"
Of course we amass things during our lives to make our lives as pleasant as possible, but owning them should not give us cause to worry about tomorrow. It shouldn't affect our freedom.
We could continue like this with many other paradoxes, but we return now to the relationship with animals.
Freedom also extends to animals and nature. In their culture, people are trying to overcome nature (to free themselves from the limits of nature), but the outdoors for example will always attract.
Animals do not worry about paradoxes, about the question whether life has meaning, whether there is a god, and only collect matter in the form of food or nesting materials to survive.
Many people deny animals their rights because they think that man is superior to animals. In itself, a higher rank is no argument to deny others their rights. Maybe animals even have properties that people find enviable: loyalty, naturalness, freedom from worry. An animal doesn't lie, is not arrogant.
  Freedom in nature exists as long as animals stay fit enough to keep ahead of their attackers. This circumstance keeps nature sharp and together with the mutation of genes it is the driving force of evolution: the fittest and most suited to adapt to changes in the environment persevere the longest and multiply. Animals that are too slow or get sick, don't have to suffer long, they will soon die and serve as food for other animals.
When nature can evolve uninterruptedly man can find a certain beauty in it and nature can be a source of spiritual experience. It is precisely in this unspoiled creation that people experience the touch of a higher being. It is important to conclude from this and from what was mentioned earlier that freedom is such a central theme in creation.
Freedom does not relate well to duty. But the duty to respect the freedom of others is not an inner contradiction but a paradoxical characteristic of freedom. We see no reason to exempt animals from the right to freedom and its consequences, but only justice.
More on paradoxes on the Internet:
  UK:   USA: Canada:

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

by Barry Schwartz

Author: Bert Stoop
This page describes one aspect of the influence that man has on the quality of life of an animal.
Other pages on this site describe other aspects that contribute to the growth of global awareness that freedom is important for an animal too.The quality of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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