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Concept of Freedom Yesterday and TodayEssay

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¶ … Philosophies

Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents

Man is said to have been meant not to live alone. He is designed to be a social being. He must live in harmony and cooperation with other individuals. The agreement to band together of the majority of individuals in a common place led to the establishment of rules or laws and habits, collectively known as culture. As a solidified group, it opposed single individuals who were not among them and whom they considered rebels. Freud describes this banding together as also leading to a giving up of certain individual liberties or freedoms. They believed that this unanimous sacrifice of certain individual prerogatives was for the good of all as well as every other individual member of this group called society. The strength of the majority or society was construed or believed as right as opposed to unrestrained individual assertions as brute force and the substitution of the will of the majority for certain individual options as civilization (Freud, 1929).

Individuals, by nature, were indeed meant to live in harmony as guided by reason rather than force or antipathy. The stifling or curtailing of individual impulses is beneficial not only to the community or society as a whole but also to the individual. In times of need, an individual needs others for help. Social relationships cannot be eliminated. Camaraderie is needed to emotional health. Common welfare and reason must prevail over individual or personal selfish motives.

Freud also discusses society's need to assign roles to men and women for the survival of the race and to establish institutions, which will serve the goals of society (Freud, 1929). Marriage and family, schools, and church or worship are among these. The strictness with which these assigned roles to men and women demanded a lot from women. Their inferior status and routine involvement deprived them almost their entire autonomy as individuals. They almost had no freedom to speak of or even a distinct personality. They were not allowed to decide for themselves and were treated almost as non-entities. They did not know what freedom meant (Freud).

In addition to their low status and almost-invisible personhood, women were expected to be extremely chaste. They could not discuss, refuse, demand for or enjoy intimacy even in marriage. They could earn praises and dignity only if they were not interested in sex, their own fulfillment or opinion.

John Stuart Mill:"On Liberty"

Mill argues in the opposite. He places greater emphasis and importance on individual interests, rights and liberties than the rights and privileges of the majority or the government (Mill, 1998). He sees the majority or government as tending to become tyrannical more than democratic. The overwhelming feel of power may be behind this weak human tendency. He thus perceives it necessary to control that tendency to abuse power by establishing necessary citizens' rights and effective constitutional checks by a representative body, directly chosen by the community. This representative body should embody and lobby for the genuine interests and sentiments of the community. It should also provide the community with constant feedback on its representation and lobbying. Mill reasonably explains that the autocratic or dictatorial form of government was adopted in the early stages of society's development in order to curb recurring turbulent conditions. It was understandable that a master had to be chosen to deal with such conditions. But he correctly contends that men progressively learned to rule themselves from experience and reason so that the dictatorial or autocratic form need not be retained. If his two suggestions were to be met and implemented effectively, he surmised that tyranny would no longer be a problem. But history shows that his suggestions have not been effectively met or implemented. He himself admits that despite the robust influence of the Enlightenment, his democratic ideals were not satisfactorily fulfilled. He attributes the failure to a constant change of character of the rulers and the threat of tyranny of the majority of a given period over the minority. Rights, duties, privileges and liberties are supposed to be equal among all men in a democracy, whether in the majority or in the minority. But again correctly views the tyranny of the majority as more damaging that the tyranny or abuses of government. The majority can be tyrannical or abusive with its biases and preferences and that this is more dangerous. We can all see or imagine that what the greater number decides -- whether reasonable or not -- is what prevails. Laws and rules of conduct emanate from the strength of number alone and from mere biases and preferences. These popular sentiments or biases may or may not be reasonable or correct but they prevail, nonetheless, as the sad consequence of democracy. His conclusion was an acceptable proposal of a single standard for the best form of government and in defense of freedom. He proposed that a member of the community be restricted or deprived of his personal liberties when he harms others or about to harm others. His search for individual fulfillment does not allow him to pursue it at the expense of other people's welfare. He ends his essay with the three kinds of freedom that he upholds. These are the freedom of thought and emotion -- which includes speech -- freedom of personal preferences and tastes -- even those considered immoral but not at the expense of anybody else's welfare, and the freedom of assembly, as long as those gathering together are of mature age, not done out of coercion or inflicting harm or inconvenience on others. It is agreeable that these freedoms and their derivatives should be sustained in most societies and conditions as long as harm in others does not result (Mill). They should be abridged only in specific cases of undue harm on others, as already explained.

Foucault: "Fearless Speech"

Foucault deals singly on the freedom of speech. He refers to it as parrhesia, which is courageous or fearless for its basic attributes. In earlier days, this kind of freedom could be and was imposed on people because of the strictness of autocratic or dictatorial regimes. The attributes, which made the freedom of speech fearless, were frankness, truth or truthfulness, the condition or presence of danger or risk, the threat of criticism, and duty (Foucault, 2001). In Foucault's view, the freedom of speech obligates the speaker to be frank and to tell everything he knows (Foucault). Everything he knows must be limited to everything he knows about the matter about which he is speaking. This is acceptable but he has to substantiate what he says. Otherwise, the information he reveals may not be credible or reliable. It is desirable to do so but, in actual situations, it may not be feasible. Presenting credentials for claims is not always easy. It can also lead to contention or lawsuits of slander. The second attribute is truthfulness, which hinges on the first attribute. Evidence will support the truthfulness or factuality of a verbal claim. Any speaker can swear to the veracity of his revelations but qualified evidence is always required, especially for serious allegations. And as the case is with the first attribute, verbal statements can be a basis for lawsuits of slander. People are not free to just say anything about or against others without uncontestable evidence. It can harm the reputation of those against whom the statement is made, unless it is for the good of all and the evidence of guilt is strong. The offended party, however, can refute it in court. The third attribute is the presence or threat of risk or danger. This proceeds from the first two attributes. A speaker reveals something about someone whose reputation may be injured but the speaker does so for the welfare of the community. If the person exposed is a government official accused of malversation of public funds, the speaker must present incontrovertible evidence to support his expose. He turns into a whistleblower. He must be ready to be charged in court by the person he is exposing. If he is a government official, he is likely to possess greater powers and other resources to disprove the claim and even bring trouble to the whistleblower. The risk of exercising this freedom is great for the whistleblower but it is also praiseworthy if proven correct and done without selfish motivations. The next attribute is the threat of criticism. The fearless speaker must also be ready to be subjected to merciless criticism by the person he exposes. His entire life will be targeted in order to prove him un-trustworthy and a liar. And the last attribute is duty. It is every citizen's duty to speak out against any injustice, whether to them personally or any other person or group. It is everyone's collective duty to protect the community fearlessly. Foucault's description of this freedom and its attributes are correct but idealistic. Nonetheless, they should be the goal of a democratic society.

PART II Own Viewpoint and Freedom in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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