Freedom as Sensation

The yearning for freedom, it has been said, is universal. The sensation of being free can be intoxicating and there are very few people who proclaim themselves to be against freedom.

Yet, there’s very little agreement on what freedom truly is. The language of freedom is used by the liberal, the conservative and the socialist all in equal measure. All these differing conceptions of freedom still somehow connecting to their own constituencies in the same way. When we look back at the past and see the the Spartans who lived under Oligarchy celebrating their own freedom, Social democratic nations of Western Europe and the much more libertarian United States all exist in their own conception of freedom. These contradicting notions of freedom all seem to inspire the same feeling of freedom within those who hold to any one particular notion.

The freedom that we all strive for is not some fully formed concept. It’s not simply ideological. It’s a sensation that a plurality of ideologies can inspire. Tides of historical desire shift our aesthetic tastes that lead to this sensation of being free. Even within a single temporal space, there’s a dizzying mix of ways to gain this feeling in a way beyond politics. Some people take drugs and feel great sensations of freedom, others have casual sex and gain the very same sensation.

Freedom being understood solely in ideological terms and not as a sensation has been an impediment to understanding the growth of ‘liberation politics’. The standard to which most liberal, conservative and socialist thinkers use to judge liberation politics is by holding it to an ideological standard that calls to the legality of certain actions, the high unlikelihood of violence made against you or the idea that sufficient wealth is enough to make one free. However, what does this really mean to someone whose daily life is one when they don’t feel freedom? A woman who walks down a city street late and night certainly doesn’t feel free. No talk of the unlikelihood of violence generally or the fact that a woman may be somewhat affluent will change the fear of entering into a lift with a single sketchy looking man. The black man who feels the stare of a security guard at his back whilst he shops doesn’t feel free. The sensation of freedom for people in these positions is meaningfully inhibited by the world they live in. In understanding liberation politics as not purely abstracted ideology, but as a response to divergent sensations of freedom that occur because of cultural landscape there can be more meaningful conversations and discussion.

If we view freedom merely as a sensation, then can’t it betray a more formal and meaningful form of freedom. It’s possible to feel free whilst in a prison, yet there are very few people who would call an individual in prison free. The sensation itself should not be taken as a good. We can fall on ourselves and writhe in our sensations of freedom without achieving anything but our own brief hedonistic glee until we wake up from our moment of mania and discover ourselves still in a cage. We can chase after this sensation of freedom like a heroin user for their next hit and all we will find is a broken life behind us. We must let the sensation of freedom blind us from a system that produces good outcomes and that fits in with a plurality of other sensations that lead to a well lived life. However, we must also recognise that ‘freedom’ is not simply some rationalist ideological idea for the purposes of discussion, it’s also a feeling.

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