Before reading through this note, ask a few people you respect to define "freedom" and say what it means to them. Like most fundamental concepts we've covered so far - trust, value, meaning, money and speech - the answers to this basic inquiry are often shallow or insufficient.
Freedom is only the ability to be conscious of the constraints within which you live.
This definition via complementary opposites should be familiar by now. Buddhists call it "the freedom of no escape". There is nowhere to be but here. Truly accepting this fact and submitting to reality as it is, rather than how you wish it to be, is the beginning of liberation.
Q: To be free means to be conscious of what?
A: The constraints within which you live.
The struggle in our day and age is not collective; it is individual. This is not to say there are no collective issues worth fighting for: basic needs (land, shelter, water, food, and sanitation), equal opportunity, and just institutions are all necessary. As Graeber showed: this is the same revolutionary program from antiquity: "Forgive debt and redistribute the land." What is required - in addition to this - is "every single soul taking every single step" so that we can figure out together how to create what was old community in future form.
Freedom will not be found in some idealized future where we all enjoy sovereignty, universal suffrage, basic income, and any other transient goal cooked up by the current zeitgeist. Again, these projects are necessary - they build human capacity and ability - but they will not set us free.
Freedom is the simple combination of awareness and acceptance. It is here and now, or not at all. We are limited, flawed beings: there is no escaping this simple fact of experience. It is not by denying our boundaries, but by embracing them, that real liberation can become a daily experience, rather than a concept to be realized once some external project has come to fruition.
Q: A life free from self-concern combines what two qualities?
A: Awareness and acceptance.
How does this apply to trust and value? Well, value is generated from trust in clearly shared truths, and modern trust is an emergent property of protocols that define and encode what it means to cheat so that it may be prevented without human interpretation or enforcement.
Freedom is our conscious ability to decide which shared truths to trust based on how well defined and encoded the concept of "cheating" is that created those truths. Meaning, we have the freedom to define what boundaries we choose. It is not possible, though, to operate efficiently with no boundaries at all. Which is why the practice of freedom includes an acceptance that it is not possible to exist without limitation.
Lived freedom is the conscious navigation of responsibility. You are free to the extent you take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, because "freedom is not for the ego, it is from the ego."
This is a critical point: the products we create should not promote "sovereignty" - that way lies false marketing campaigns and disappointment. Our products should be conscious of, and communicate clearly, how they constrain the people who use them. In doing so, they create the environment for people to become aware of the trade-offs they themselves are making, which is the only kind of freedom we can trust to generate sustainable value.
Q: Freedom fundamentally has to do with being what?
We have discussed two kinds of freedom: the freedom from egotistic ways of being which do not place grateful reciprocity first, and the freedom to be aware and conscious of our own constraints. However, how are we to understand and enact this practically, as builders of a better web?
Happily, we have great historical precedent on which to learn and from which to learn. One of the root documents of the free software movement is the GNU Manifesto, written by Richard Stallman in 1985. Rather than summarizing it here, we wish simply to note three fascinating sentences which we feel inform the underlying ideals of this document, and the many people inspired by it.
I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it.
So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free.
By working on and using GNU rather than proprietary programs, we can be hospitable to everyone and obey the law.
Freedom has many different meanings to many people, and shifts from context to context. However, we feel that Stallman highlights here three essential features of the phenomenon (which is both economic, and beyond the economic): sharing, honor, and hospitality.
Sharing has to do with collective management of common resources and helps us understand wealth not as something we own, but as "having enough to share". Hospitality has to do with how we manage, and where we locate, our home. Both these features have a material aspect, though when material is given its rightful place, its inner meaning is set free. Honor is expressed by the meaning we intend to enact in the world, and we gain it to the extent we are willing to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
The GNU manifesto grounds this understanding of freedom in a particular set of historical incidents and it is no mistake that the second, third, and fourth paragraphs are particularly technical, or that Stallman writes sentences like:
I'm looking for people for whom building community spirit is as important as making money.
The features of essential freedom are always the same; its specific application differs from age to age. Inspired by such examples, we must now figure out together what honorable actions will most appropriately express our collective gratitude for the life we have been given and allow us to accommodate ever more diversity.
No matter your situation, you are free to act honorably; you are free to remember that this life is a gift; and you are free to welcome it (and anyone around you) with an open heart. This is the freedom that has always mattered.
In the long run, making programs free is a step toward the post scarcity world.