This week: On FreedomEdited by: Kittiara
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How free are you, truly? Do you feel free to post whatever you like on social media, for example, or do you censor yourself?
This week's Drama Newsletter is all about what it means to be free.
Are you a free human being? I think that most of us would say that we are. But exactly how free are we?
A question like this can be seen as insensitive. After all, slavery was a terrible thing, a truly dark mark on our history. Even in this day and age forms of slavery exist. These forms may wear a slightly different face, but for those suffering it is all too real. To compare our lives, then, to those who have lived and who are living under these horrific conditions is, no doubt, wrong and ignorant. This newsletter, then, does not aim to do so.
My aim here is to discuss what freedom is and if any human being can ever be completely free. Most of us have a great amount of freedom in our lives. We are free to go about our daily business, within the constraints of the law. We have freedom of association. We are free to love who we love. We are free to choose our careers, according to our talents and skill sets. We have the freedom to vote, once we have reached voting age. We have the freedom of our hobbies and creative pursuits. Rather than talking about freedom as “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved” I am talking about “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants” (definition from the Oxford Dictionary).
The freedoms that I have mentioned seem fair enough. I think that we can agree that we do need some laws to live by, as it wouldn’t be pleasant to live in a society where violence or theft (to name a couple of examples) are seen as acceptable. For the majority of us, not being able to commit such actions is no big deal – we wouldn’t want to do these things anyway. I do believe, however, that many people – and perhaps an increasing number of us – are living their lives according to false choices. People who have a job that they severely dislike, and that has a negative impact on their mental and/or physical health, because there’s not much else available and without that job they wouldn’t be able to have a roof over their head or food on the table. People who have a medical condition that they cannot get treatment for because they cannot afford to, so they try to manage it themselves. People who are uncomfortable with the increasing amount of surveillance out there, but the alternative is staying indoors, permanently, and anyway, there’s Internet surveillance, too.
I am currently studying Michel Foucault, who was a French philosopher. Foucault wrote about the internalisation of control. It’s quite a fascinating subject. He mentioned the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon – a prison designed in such a way that the prisoners can never tell whether or not they are being watched. This, Bentham thought, would ultimately lead the inmates to behave as though they are being watched at all times.
With data being collected about us whatever we do and wherever we go (pretty much), we can begin to show the same kind of behaviour. Speeding cameras may or may not be active, but when you see one, you are bound to check your speed and slow down if needs be, just in case. This may be seen as a good thing, but have you ever censored yourself online? Not said something on social media, not posted a picture, because employers may be watching, or even the police? Here in the UK, people have had the police knock on their door for rather unpredictable reasons. Recently, a man was contacted by the police for clicking “like” on a limerick...
If I think about it like that, yes, I do self-censor. Sometimes, for my studies, I have to research subjects such as violence, and torture, and extremism, and I wonder what my search patterns say about me. When I made use of social media, I’d sometimes think twice about posting something. I am certainly very conscious about sharing my data.
There was a time when those musings sounded paranoid. To some, they still may. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear and all that, except I would like to think that that is increasingly being disproven, for example by the limerick example above. I have read the limerick. It wasn’t well-written, but it wasn’t illegal. So, whilst we can think as we want, how free to act and speak are we? Not fully. Not if we don’t want to face consequences that may be disproportionate to our actions.
And that is something that we can use, as writers. When we set our stories in the modern age, technology is as inescapable for our characters as it is for us. How does that affect them? Does it alter their behaviour? If so, in what way?
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