Limits to Freedom

What I’ve learned from Covid-19 and Climate Change

Marjan Krebelj

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Freedom currently seems to be the foremost value or “right” in the Global North. In the name of freedom, we are literally putting people to graves by methods of Guns, Germs, and Steel. To maximize our freedom, we took down protective masks, let everybody mingle in the middle of a respiratory epidemic(s), we drop bombs on brown people, and emitted billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — all for the individual freedom or rather the illusion of it.

The reason I wasn’t aware of it all is because right up to the pandemic, I was among the lucky ones. An educated young white man, not exactly in the epicenter, but definitely in the outskirts of the White Empire, basically a member of the global privileged class. It was only when the virus stroke that I became marginalized by the misfortune of being a caretaker of my mother. Then I began to notice the incredible force by which the narrative of personal freedom trumps every other value or right we ought to have.

I don’t know why that is. Perhaps people have been brainwashed by the political propaganda of the 20th century, like that documentary The Century of Self argues (definitely recommended watching), or maybe it is just that the material abundance of the last 70 years built this illusion on its own. When there is enough stuff to go around, individual differences are rendered less.

An elder tree pie. Photo by author.

Think of a cake; if the cake is big enough, say, infinitely big, it doesn’t matter how much a grabby people take for themselves; it will still be something left over for everyone else. Hopefully enough. But if the cake shrinks, it can all turn into a game of musical chairs.

We are quite aware that some values or valuables of our society are like metaphorical cake. Like water in times of drought. Or land in densely packed areas. We accept that we need to be mindful of our use, and we also understand the immorality of washing cars or watering lawns.

But we (almost) never understand the value of individual freedom in the same terms, don’t we? We never think of freedom as something that is both communal and limited, like water in times of drought. We perceive it as completely individual, infinite, and indivisible.

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Marjan Krebelj

Once an architect, now a freelance photographer/filmmaker with passion for words.