It felt good to read fiction again. It has been too long. 🙂 And it felt good to read Heinlein again. I went through a stage where I read a ton of his stuff, but his is one (I think) I missed.
This story has been mentioned as a classic for libetarian politics. Not much to say beyond that, and only a couple of quotes:
- I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free becuase I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
- Where do you start explaining when a man’s words show there isn’t anything he understands about a subject, instead is loaded with preconceptions that don’t fit facts and doesn’teven know he has?
For the 1st quote, I have been comparing that to “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Janis Joplin)
Even after all these years and all the repetitions of the lyric “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, I find this phrase to be one of the most deliciously enigmatic there is.
Why do I say that? Well, let’s examine it. When you hear “nothing left to lose” what is your emotional reaction to it? It is a phrase of some desperation, an indication that a person has reached the end of his luck, has nothing but luck left. And what about “freedom”? For Americans, it is one of our loftiest principles, an ideal that we will die for.
This lyric takes these two emotionally-charged phrases and juxtaposes them and thus calls our understanding of each into question. It creates a constant conversation between the two phrases, a resonance. Or like two magnets with their opposite poles facing each other, a constant motion. The negative emotion of “nothing left to lose” swirls around the word “freedom” and each phrase takes on different emotional meanings by virtue of its proximity to the other.
You find yourself responding to “nothing left to lose” and then wondering “well maybe freedom’s not so great after all”. It is like the premise of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It is only when we have something left to lose that life has meaning; when we have someone’s love, when we are anchored to earth by the people that we love that our “being” takes on some weight, that it loses its “unbearable lightness”.
Or, on the other hand, responding emotionally to “freedom” and wondering if maybe it’s best to let go of your attachment to everything so that you can be truly free. And isn’t this one of the basic tenets of most religions, that we should not be attached to our worldly possessions?
And so the conversation between the two phrases continues and the question remains unresolved, do I want freedom?
There is a distinction that needs to be made at the outset of any discussion of freedom. “Freedom to” describes one’s ability to carry out desired actions unhindered by authority of any kind. “Freedom from” is emerging from the yoke of responsibility or perhaps better stated as being free from compulsions usually dictated by social conventions. Often these are referred to as positive and negative freedom respectively. Both the Kristofferson line and the post are referring to the latter freedom. ‘
“Nothing left to lose” is said in a social context, whereas the individual in the post has withdrawn from all social context by claiming that he sets the standard for morality since he answers to no one. That is not being free because there is nothing to be free from. Now the Kristofferson line has always meant true freedom to me because set within the social context, he has no material or spiritual baggage to lose. The true iconic “homeless” man with nothing is free from all social convention and has actually created a morality that could be said to affect no one since no one can affect him.
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