FREEDOM is self-determinance; it is the condition of minimal constraint. Naturally, in a society or community, there has to be some constraints — the burglar cannot have the freedom to steal, the thug cannot have the freedom to mug, and the businessman cannot have the freedom to excessively pollute and pay no taxes. But get the balance between personal freedom, social order and ecological integrity right, and the vast majority of citizens can live happily with moderate personal freedom and minimal constraints.
Our freedom and constraints are formalized by a very long written agreement between individuals (or legal entities such as companies) and between individuals and the society of which he, she or it is a part. This formal agreement, called the law or legal system, is a constantly evolving and changing as new situations and circumstances arise. (Parts of this legal system, usually those dealing with human rights, are deliberately less changeable and are sometimes called constitutions.) So our freedom (and lack of) is defined by the legal systems, and different legal systems give us different levels of freedom depending upon which one we stand under.
A common fallacy regarding freedom is to automatically assume that it is a byproduct of modern democracy. In fact, the "only" freedom that a democracy bestows practically on its members is that they have the right, every few years, to vote for one of a set group of representatives who will run the country on their behalf. Whilst modern democracy is an indispensable foundation for free societies, it does not guarantee freedom. That job falls to the legal system, which is not so readily influenced by our periodic voting. (Which is why freedom campaigns often involve legal challenges.)
Democracy can only be an agent of freedom if it gives people meaningful voting choices (not just a choice of 2 or 3 parties with only cosmetic differences), and if it ensures that the people have the unbiased and undistorted information necessary to make a choice that is in their interest (which can only happen with a mass media and educational system free from undue government and corporate influence). Of course, sometimes the majority may want to use their democratic rights to restrict freedom (for example in the areas of gun ownership, stem cell research, GM foods, pedophilia, the "war against terror" or fox hunting). This is because different freedoms often conflict with each other.
For example, the freedom to have clean air requires restriction of the freedom for factory owners to produce cheap goods by not having to clean up the pollution generated as a by-product. So the freedom for us all to have clean air conflicts with both the freedom of the factory owner to make larger profits (by having to clean up) and the freedom we all have to buy cheap goods. So freedoms do not necessarily conflict between different groups of people, but often with the same group of people. So the support for freedom is always a balancing act, usually between our collective long-term interests and the short-term interests of not only society, as a whole, but also of particular groups of people (which includes corporations and political groups).
Another example of this conflict might be in raising a green tax on large 4x4 vehicles to off-set their greater ecological impact. Many of us, especially 4x4 drivers, consider this an affront to our personal freedom to drive our own choice of car, and yet such a tax is likely to be in the interest of future generations, including the very children of those 4x4 drivers. Which freedom is more important? That should be obvious to anybody, but because so many decision makers are taking short-term and selfish perspectives, long-term public interests are not being respected and freedoms are not being chosen wisely.
We live today in democracies that are increasingly hostile to long-term interests and collective freedom. Our choice of political party at election time is quite restrictive (and becoming increasingly cosmetic), with politicians focused almost exclusively on their own political and financial interests rather than the long-term interests of the country as a whole. Better to promise tax-breaks today to get into power, then austerity to try to lessen the burden on our children. And when politicans are done in public office, they almost invariably move to the boards of the large corporations whose agendas they promoted when they had political power. (Politics and big business have a symbiotic relationship with each other, a symbiosis that is most certainly not in our collective interest.)
And because the mass media is entirely corporately-owned and largely dependent upon corporate advertising, it has become the propaganda machine for corporate interests, significantly under-reporting stories that might wake the people up into realizing that their freedom to have happy, healthy and fulfilling lives, not only for themselves but also for their children, seriously conflicts with the freedom of the corporate world to maximize profits by enslaving us financially (by careful control of the money supply) and selling us goods and services which we largely do not need.
As a consequence, we have become slaves to the corporate interest, where the freedom to make high profits has come to dominate all other freedoms. And this collective enslavement is dressed up by the mass media as freedom, so that anyone who critises, for example, the Federal Reserve for enslaving America soon finds themselves accused of being "Anti-American" or a "Communist". After all, how can the people be slaves when they live in the "Land of the Free". It is all media propaganda.
This corporate control of the mass media means that the mind of the people is being strongly manipulated to make voting choices that are not actually in their best interest, but in the short-term interest of corporations and politicians.
Something else that manipulates the mind of the people into undervaluing freedom is the fact that adults spend the bulk of their waking hours toiling in the corporate environment. Are corporations democratic organisations? Of course not! They are authoritarian organisations — dictatorships — with a strict hierarchy of control. This means that most adults in democratic societies spend most of their time in dictatorships, and this skews their psychology and their values so that social freedom is much easier to pry out of their hands. (Sheep mentality is reinforced at every level.) And it is Commercial Law that is increasingly dictating the terms of that slavery.
The two main legal systems in most Western democracies are: Common or Civil Law (also called Law of the Land); and Commercial Law (Maritime Admiralty, Banking Law, or the Law of the Sea).
Common or Civil Law is what normal people think of as law — an accumulating body of formalized rules made by judges in court mostly regarding our behaviour towards others in the interest of keeping society civil. The judges use common sense and previous court decisions (legal precedence) to reach their decisions. This law tends to be country-specific, and all people in that country are automatically obliged, whether they consent or not, to follow those laws, or pay a penalty such as a jail term or fine if they choose not to.
Commercial Law, on the other hand, deals with commercial agreements between two consenting parties; it is the law of business transactions. If you do not consent to standing under this legal system in any situation, then it has no legal hold over you and you cannot be legally penalized for non-conformity. That said, our birth certificates automatically bind us into a commercial agreement with the State and the banks that control the State; so our parents basically signed us away at birth into bondage to Commercial Law.
Whereas Civil Law is largely concerned with the issue of fairness in society, Commercial Law is used to bind (enslave) people into legal contracts with organisations that have their own interests at heart (invariably profit and control). It is under Commercial Law that the banks have ended up controlling almost every aspect of society, and it is under Commercial Law that we slave away in order to pay the rent or mortgage.
Commercial Law also drives the international political agendas that are rapidly eroding individual freedoms, and what is most concerning is that these agendas are immune to the people's choice of political party. Organisations (actually corporations) taking control of the world using Commercial Law include the United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organisation, World Health Organisation, World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the European Parliament… all of which "the people" have little influence over.
The only way to counter these agendas is either through the courts (by appealing to Common or Civil Law), by knowing enough about Commercial Law so that we do not consent to it in the first place, through mass consumer choice, and through public protest and disobedience (although any form of violence is strongly discouraged as it is counterproductive).
What is concerning, however, is that with their massive lobbying power and money, corporations are now able to disproportionately influence legislative procedure, which results in a society increasingly bound by Commercial Law and the freedoms of corporations to persue their business (world-domination) agendas with minimal government and legal interference. This destroys the very fabric of human society. And people are so hoodwinked by the propaganda flowing from the mainstream media, that they honestly believe that supporting corporate freedom has something to do with their own freedom, democracy and interests! That is the consequence of very successful propaganda!
In light of these threats, it is important that we unite to defend encroaches on collective freedom by the "pseudo-freedoms" of special interest groups such as corporations. We need to have public debate about which freedoms are in the collective long-term interest and which are not, and which individual freedoms we are not prepared to surrender. After 9-11, for example, is it really in the collective interest to introduce the Patriot act? Short-term, that is debatable; but long-term, definitely not. After 9/11 we saw shameful intolerance within the US to anybody who opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq, even though Iraq had ostensibly played no part in 9/11, posed no threat to any of the invaders, and had no weapons of mass destruction. In the "land of the free", you would think that people would respect each other's right, indeed duty, to voice disapproval of misguided government policy, but that is not what happened… patriotism reared its ugly head and sheep-mentality prevailed.
Public freedom and civil rights are seriously compromised by fervent patriotism. In the words of Leo Tolstoy, "The subjection of men to government will always continue as long as patriotism exists, for every ruling power rests on patriotism — on the readiness of men to submit to power." Judging by the staggering number of "freedom" organisations and sites that are plastered with national flags and emblems, there is widespread confusion between patriotism and freedom. Patriotism serves only to pervert government accountability, allowing reprehensible behaviour to go unchallenged, even where that behaviour is directed at the people themselves. This is why governments waste no opportunity to stir up patriotism… it gets them off the hook and back in control.
Finally, it is important to remember that the freedom that so many of us now take for granted didn't just come about because everybody agreed that it was a "good idea". Previous generations literally risked their lives for freedom — that is how much they valued it. Those in authority generally don't give up that authority willingly; freedom needs to be taken from them (preferably, as Gandhi did, by peaceful means).
We are now the generation that has become the custodians of freedom. Will we allow it to languish because we have more important things to do like watching TV and shopping, or will we take up the responsibility, as our forebears did, and fight for freedom and civil liberties so that the world is a better place for ourselves and our children?
But to do that effectively we have to make choices between conflicting freedoms. We will need to favour certain freedoms over others, so the fight for freedom includes the restriction of freedom as well. This is the paradox and there is no simple formula or easy solution to this balancing act. But be warned: if you do not consciously make that choice yourself, it is unconsciously being made for you as you sit each evening in front of your propaganda screen (TV). Remember that there are many different organisations out there spending large amounts of money influencing that decision because the freedom balance has huge financial consequences.
We are either awake, making choices that are in the collective long-term interest and that of our children, or we are asleep, drifting with the rest of the sheeple towards enslavement — in the name of freedom of course!