What is ‘Freedom?’

January 16, 2007

I have surprised myself recently by coming to the conclusion that television needs to be censored, controlled or, with current innovations available, entirely changed as a medium.

I despise the concept of state-controlled censorship. I grew up in South Africa, a country with a government so out of it’s mind at the time that ‘Black Beauty’, a book about a horse, was banned on the name (promoting anything black as good) alone. So I like, for instance, that in the USA even having your film rated for age is voluntary. But all our anti-censorship laws around the world have been set up to protect us from exploitation from the state. No censorship laws have been set up to protect us from expoitation by each other or by companies.

TV has always been accepted as a ‘learning medium’ as well as an ‘entertainment medium’. We have school and university education classes broadcast across our nations. We always hoped that the teachers that mad it on to TV would have more personality, charm and appeal than the ones we got in the classroom. our dreams were rarely fulfilled. We also have documentary and increasingly optimistically named ‘news’ programs to tune into.

Recent debate, sparked by new scientific advances, on the idea of ‘free will’ has swung toward the probability that it is just a mental illusion. That we really are just incredibly complex computing systems.

This does not mean that we do not think, just that what we think and what we decide is inevitable based on a combination of our genetic predispositions and life experiences. This does not make us, as humans, any less remarkable in terms of evolution and the animal kingdom.

What it does do is put greater pressure on us in terms of how we raise the next generation of humans. If free will is an illusion then the liberal beardies have always been correct. Society is, at least partially, to blame for the crime it has and the actions of the criminals. And not just the previous generation in the society, either, but the one before that and the one before that all the way back. Recognising this, if it turns out to be true and we accept it, could give us great power rather than, as many people (including me) instinctively react, take power away from us.

The difference between brainwashing and education has always been ‘free will.’ You are, in theory, able to choose whether to accept things you learn in school or off the television as opposed to when you are being brainwashed by, say, the CIA or aliens. With ‘free will’ gone, all education and entertainment could potentially be called brainwashing too. But who out there is the most interested in influencing, educating or brainwashing you?

No-one spends more on learning how to manipulate us than the advertising industry. They spent an estimated $404 billion on influencing you (well, me too, and a few other people) in 1995. That, to make the point, is $404,000,000,000,000 (ref#1, British article so I assume British or European billion). The much lampooned advertising industry does know it’s business and the brains least equipped from experience to resist or even recognise when it is being influenced are young minds. It is no coincidence that we are surrounded by the most label-conscious youth generation in memory.

At the same time most of our western education systems have been moving away from teaching ‘critical evaluation’ and more toward ‘information absorption.’* A study performed in the UK every 10 years showed that the ‘evidence-conclusion’ abilities of 8-year-olds has decreased, not increased, in the last 40 years. (lost article reference, sorry)

In recent studies of happiness around the world the richest countries didn’t rate at the top. These are the countries that have most successfully sold the ‘wealth and happiness’ story. It is a very easy story to sell. Any basic critical evaluation will logically make a connection between financial well-being and happiness. Except that the evidence points away from it being a successful aim for a society. Those who do make it to the top of the wealth pile find there is plenty of fun and enjoyment but that happiness itself has to be found through other means. The people who buy the story but don’t make it to be wealthy get disaffected thinking they have missed out on happiness instead of looking for it elsewhere.

The happiest countries had a few things in common. Most notably: many were poor, the countries have low crime rates and they were, for the most part, not english speaking. Make of that what you will.

So, what is ‘freedom’ without free will? Perhaps is it to be given the best chance at finding happiness with as little influence from those who would take advantage of your evolutionary predispositions to security, love, friendship, self-esteem, and respect (from Maslow’s Heirachy of needs. Ref#2). That would mean tighter control of the most broadly influencial medium ever created, television.

Who, of course, do you give the control to? Ultimately, we do not yet have a ‘best plan’ for raising children so we rely on the biological model, we rely on the parents. That way you get a broad selection of methods, some good and some bad. I think television as a ‘push media’ is massively unhealthy whereas the internet, as a ‘pull media’, is far healthier. The technology is now available to turn TV entirely into a ‘pull media’ with people deciding their own scheduling and viewing habits allowing parents some control, at least while the parents are at home. You would also, with ‘pull media’ be able to censor advertising for products aimed at under 21s before, say, 8 or 9pm.

I think of myself as very independently minded but often find myself sucked into fantasies of how good life could be if I had one of these or some of that or a bit of the other. Would it be easier to meet someone special if I had those clothes, lived there or had that car/ aeroplane/ pornstar’s huge member? I have to remind myself daily that all the evidence around me indicates that my own personal hell lies in that direction.

A loss of the concept of free will means that honing the ability of critical evaluation in youngsters as much as possible is crucial to them having anything that could be regarded freedom of choice. And if a substantial portion of people having good critical evaluation skills turn to crime that must raise intriguing questions about either the human genome or the state of the society.

*South Africa, thankfully, is trying to move in the opposite direction with it’s ‘outcomes based’ education system.

ref#1: http://www.myadbase.com/cgi-bin/newsletter_archive.cgi?issue=44
ref#2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs


12 Responses to “What is ‘Freedom?’”

  1. Solnushka Says:

    I never understood free will, actually. I mean, if decisions we make are not based on who we are, our past experiences and the way the wind is blowing at the precise moment of deciding, then what are they based on? Seemed terribly arbitary and random to me, with notjing to do with ‘will’ at all.

    Many is the argument I’ve had about this and I’m so pleased to now discover people seem to be coming round to my point of view. I’d given up, I think.

    I’d also got so caught up in the basic argument, that I don’t think I’d given any thought to the implications for society/ indiciduals outside a philosophy textbook. This little series you’ve got going here is very interesting.

  2. max Says:

    Interesting post. You are bound to get into all kinds of trouble implying parents should perhaps teach their children to think and rationalize rather than to just obey and parrot. That is a radical concept these days.

  3. Dear Solnushka,

    We are all coming around to the way you think. Especially men who have finally caved in and now realise that it is true: women are right absolutely all of the time.

    Thank you for your guidance and help.


  4. Dear Max,

    I spend my life in trouble, often with parents. I think it is a response to withdrawal after I got too old to be in trouble with my own any more- there is a point at which they simply give up being annoyed as a lost cause.

    Thanks for the comment, it is nice to know that, on occasion, someone reads my dodgy musings besides a jester and a couple of friends of ill repute.

    I made a point of going and having a look at your weblog. Your ‘about’ bio was a great, sharp, tight read. Very much my style of entertainment.



  5. max Says:

    Thanks, Jester. I see you also visit Trenchdoc’s digs. Trench is one of my favorite posters too.

  6. Solnushka Says:

    Not sure about women being right all the time. Frankly, I thought it was just me.

    Saving your prescence, of course, Max.

  7. Dear Solnushka

    Ah, that is where the joy for men comes in: two absolutely, unequivocally correct women having an argument. I am sure it’s where the famous phrase “two rights always make a wrong” comes from…

    On the same subject I am, whilst wearing my behavioural analysis hat, convinced that is why certain women either (a) prefer to talk about trivial things (we men ignorantly call them airheads but they are really just avoiding world war III)* or (b) have mostly male friends where such conflicts need not arise.


    *- This may just be wishful thinking- but I am a big fan of wishful thinking. It beats pessimism, Freudian thinking or violence. The three known male alternatives.

  8. max Says:

    Tragically, I am not right all the time.

  9. Dear Max,

    With this rash of not being correct all the time I suggest analysis of any supplements supplied by your personal trainer. I am sure traces of testosterone will be found. I went through a stage of being, to my great shock, consistently right and even winning arguments with women. A friend, an expert on government conspiracies, told me they had been putting oestrogen in the water supplies to try and decrease societal violence. I changed to bottled water and have been blissfully incorrect, if also non-violent, ever since.


  10. max Says:

    Hmm. More water, less Diet Coke?

    No way. I love my Diet Coke.

  11. Solnushka Says:

    It’s ok – you can ignore him. He’s a man and therefore wrong.

  12. max Says:

    Oh. Good point.

    [You crack me up Solnushka.]

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