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There are 2 Kinds of Freedom
The difference between 'freedom to', 'freedom from' and why you need both.
I was going back and forth with an old friend recently, and we got onto the subject of voices in our head and what each of us perceives as freedom—ya know, as friends do.
In discussing the latter, we were surprised to find ourselves at a crossroads in thinking. Having brought up the subject with a few more peers after this initial conversation, leading them as well to this same crossroad, I discovered that there was a near even split in preference between the two types of freedom I’m about to discuss.
I ended up Googling a bit to see if this dichotomy we’d discovered in conversation was original and was all but slightly disappointed to find out that it was not. I did however read up on the subject enough to feel that the idea was worth amplifying, so enjoy that signal below.
Freedom from, sometimes referred to as Negative Freedom, is the ability to take action without external agents preventing you from doing what you choose. If you lean towards pursuing freedom from things, you may be someone who doesn’t want to be controlled by economic factors, regulations, supply chains and the like.
Someone preferring negative freedom may be willing to sacrifice their positive freedom to maximize their negative freedom. This looks like living more frugally so they don’t need to rely on a job, growing their own food so that they don’t need to rely on grocery stores, etc.
Freedom From’ers want independence from outside factors.
Freedom to, referred to opposite the above as Positive Freedom, is the ability to act in a direction of your choosing. If you lean towards freedom to do things, you may be someone who wants to be able to pursue your hopes and desires on a moment’s notice, without interference.
Someone preferring positive freedom may be willing to sacrifice their negative freedom to have a broader array of possible choices to act upon. This might look like working more hours to have greater flexibility within the ones that aren’t being worked, or sacrificing sovereignty of resources in order to have more time to act in alignment with your preferences.
Freedom To’ers want to be able to act in any direction.
Sacrificing to Yourself
While you may find yourself leaning towards one or the other of the above descriptions, it’s important to note that these values are not mutually exclusive. The key that I see for finding the balance between positive and negative freedom is learning to sacrifice to yourself.
In the case of positive freedom, if you are maximizing for this value but marching to the beat of someone else’s drum, then you’re a slave working for a master in exchange for fleeting freedom. For the case of negative freedom, the example is a little more nuanced, but at some point I believe that if you don’t sacrifice your sovereignty to pursue your own desires, then you will find yourself as having lived up to only fraction of your potential.
In both cases, sacrificing to yourself offers a path to unified freedom. I encourage any freedom from’ers reading this to sacrifice a bit of their autonomy and become a willing slave to an ambitious vision of themselves. In contrast, I encourage any freedom to’ers reading this to transition the sacrifices that enable their range freedom to being self sacrifices.
Ending with a little writer’s note—Talking about dichotomies is repetitive when covering both sides, so rather than arbitrarily use differing verbiage and sentence structure throughout, I decided to lean into that pattern in the hope that it read a bit more symmetrical. Just a thought, maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t. This is where I think out loud anyways.
If you liked the high level overview of these ideas, this was my favorite article I found on the subject before riffing this out.
Next week, I’m going to talk about my experience at an unconference with the goal of growing a new internet.
Don’t give up, unless it’s to yourself.