Janis Joplin: Me & Bobby McGee
Chorus: ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don’t mean nothing if it ain’t free.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee’ –
(I’ve put a clip at the bottom if you want to listen to it-it is a shortened version; I hope it works).
So, ‘Freedom’ –
There’s ‘freedom’ from, ‘freedom’ to, freedom of, fear of ‘freedom’ – and many more no doubt.
Freedom sounds so great and it is great – freedom from bondage and slavery for example. Here in South Africa we fought for political freedom and equality of all races to have the freedom to vote, to inter-marry between races inter alia; we have freedom of expression in myriad forms e.g. art, speech, film-making, mostly in Western countries; we have freedom of choice; we have free will; we have the freedom to marry same sex partners; we try to free ourselves from parental conditioning in our striving for maturity and autonomy and so on …
We’ve fought hard for our freedom. In South Africa, our past president Mr.Nelson Mandela broke the yoke of oppression; there’s Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, Golda Meir, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rosa Parks who defended her right not to go to the back of the bus to mention but a few who risked their lives against oppressive injustice and in the name of freedom.
But, how free are we really, we who accept freedom as our right to express ourselves in any which way, free to make choices, free to do as we see fit, hopefully for the benefit of all?
Freedom from the boundaries of Paradise – and free will – was the great gift bestowed on us when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden; yet paradoxically, freedom has great limitations.
Which is how it should be. Without limits, freedom for the strong means slavery for the poor. Freedom has a partner – responsibility. Which means restraint in our enactment of freedom, to ensure that no-one is harmed intentionally or unintentionally in our utilisation of the gift of free will. And this is where it gets tricky. Many of the decisions that we make are based on motives that are unconscious and not honestly considered, and lead us to making less than ideal choices.
Erich Fromm posits our ‘fear of freedom’ – when we come to realise that we are each responsible for our own fate, we become afraid ..
How free are we from the forces of the media who say we will feel better if we buy this or that; or this car will win you admirers; or this cream will take years off your face; or this diet will make you lose weight? Too many of us are slaves to the media hype and make decisions based on it. We do NOT make conscious choices. We believe the hype and continue to ‘allow’ the media the freedom to influence our decisions. It makes us dizzy. Are we making the best wide awake choices for our children or are we still sleeping towards enslavement – in the name of freedom.
I like Kierkegaard’s definition of anxiety: ‘the dizziness of freedom’.