Freedom – what does it really mean?

Mon 6 – Sun 12 Sept 2021

‘Freedom’ is a word we hear a lot. Feels like this more than ever but I’m not sure that it so. There has always been talk of it. Such as the supposed economic freedom that came the 1980s as well as the political freedom of the West over the Soviet bloc before the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Remember how Mrs Thatcher talked about there being no such thing as society as some kind of perverse positive symbol of freedom.

But, in the week that marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, freedom has featured as a word massively since that event. The freedom of the West compared to the restrictions of Islamic extremism. And then the freedom of the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and the Afghans from the Taliban. Followed by the freedom that Trump and Brexiteers talked about as well as the freedom that is now claimed by the anti-vaxxers.

Freedom needs to be reclaimed by sensible people

There is a definite trend of the concept of freedom being hijacked by right-wing extremists and other assorted crazy people. Indeed, we know have the situation of one person’s freedom not to have the Covid vaccine condemning other people to death. What is the difference between that freedom and the freedom of the fanatics to bomb the Twin Towers and kill people?

We need to reclaim the concept of freedom for sensible people. Where freedom does not create damage and pain. Yes the freedom to roam and to express opinion. But not the freedom as demonstrated in Nomadland. Where people travel around in mobile homes but only because they have no choice being bankrupt and are left without health care whilst relying on crap, temporary employment. Read about my blog reviewing the Nomadland book here.

So I am going to analyse the week just gone in terms of freedom. How we can all be more free but without hurting others. I’m not talking people’s hurt feelings. Freedom of speech means people will get upset and if someone verbally attacks you then attack them back. What I am talking about is physical hurt which cannot be tolerated though again if your are under threat of attack or are attacked then I have no problem in fighting back. I am no pacifist.

Sustainability is about freedom

Choices I have made in my life

There is no right to destroy the environment for financial gain. Freedom to do that is false freedom that is simply stealing from future generations. We all have the freedom to choose whether to damage the environment or not. I have chosen not to have children or a car. I’m doing the world good and I feel more freer for these choices though inevitably there are negatives. No joy of bringing up a family or having kids to look after you in old age. And reliance on public transport.

Freedom from objects

I continue to offload the stuff I hoarded to give me a sense of security. Freedom from objects means acknowledging that owning objects is not the way to make us happy. That materialism and greed cause damage; greed is never good. Plus trips to the charity shop and endorsement of the secondhand / circular economy that will help free us from the threat of severe climate change.

Pride in my window boxes

One of the big things I like doing to help the environment is to look after and add to my indoor house plant collection. And I have been gradually improving my window boxes. Dave is tidying up his beautiful balconies that give freedom to local wildlife particularly insects and birds – not many mammals reach the fourth floor. We often argue about this as I advocate leaving things as they are. But I am taking some of the plants he feels are finished and putting them on my window sill in the hope they will not die.

Is weight about freedom?

I think this is really difficult to call. People shouldn’t be made to feel bad about being over-weight. This is true of self-hate and prejudice from comes from the views of others. But we all know being over-weight is bad for you. And no-one wants to be enslaved to food. Or any other type of addiction. There is a clearly a thing about the need to have freedom from various different types of addiction.

All my life I have worried about my weight. I am over-weight now and I want to lose weight for the sake of my health. But it’s based on addiction to food and bad eating habits. I am trying to have my freedom from these two things. So I continue my periods of semi-starvation. Primarily on my non-work days when I have temporary freedom from everyday work stress. But there have been some days when it hasn’t been easy and I have comfort eaten or simply over-eaten. Result is no weight loss but no gain either. You can find details on my fluctuating weight here.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Henry Ford

Head and body health

Mental health is good

We all have the right to freedom from pain and suffering whether that be mental or physical. My mental health is quite good at the moment simply because I have given up on worrying about stuff so much. As I get older I just can’t be bothered to worry about the crap there is in everyday life. There is a Japanese saying (apparently): ‘Tomorrow’s wind blows tomorrow’. This means worry about tomorrow’s stuff tomorrow. Indeed – do nothing, don’t fret, and it might get sorted anyway.

Physical health is OK…

…though I would love to be doing more exercise – jog-runs, gym, and swimming. But it’s that trade off on time. At the moment I work such that I haven’t got the time, energy and freedom to do as much exercise as I used to. But it will change one day. Still doing my long walks as my main exercise.

I was definitely inspired by the brilliant Raducanu vs Fernandez match even though I don’t particularly like tennis. Be interesting to see how long it is before the press turns on this brilliant young woman, one of the migrants they so often demonise.

Staying free of Covid

Did a Covid test on Thurs to double check I had not picked anything up the week before with going into the office, travelling on public transport, and attending the party in Watford featured in last week’s blog (read it here). Easy to do a home test and pleased to say it was negative.

But it is still worrying how prevalent the virus is. And the new norm is here of c.8000 in hospital as well as c.200 dying per day. Although if most of these have chosen to not get the vaccine then sod em – that’s their freedom.

Freedom to die of Covid

My infected finger, taking a gamble

Also weirdly fun last week in that I cut my finger and it got infected – painful, swollen, and pussing. As with most health matters, the main thing is to see how they develop. Indeed, it is quite fun to have the freedom to make your own decision. So I decided to wait and see – would the germs multiply or die off? Pretty sure it’s linked to my love of a gamble. Well they did the former for about two days and then went into decline. Glad to say things are almost back to normal.

Work is challenging but going well

Theoretically we all have the freedom to do the job we want to and even not to work at all. But this is a false freedom. How many of us are really able to do the job we really want to do? My problem is that I can’t work out what this is. Plus who really has the freedom not to work if they don’t want to? The freedom to live in poverty is not freedom at all.

Learning in my work makes me happy

Glad to say that I am enjoying my new job and learning so much from it. Indeed, in last week’s blog (read it here) I laid out some of the mutual learning I have identified for the private and not-for-profit sectors. And I am pretty sure I am getting such job fulfilment because of the ongoing learning. Some of the things last week were around how to put together good teams for digital projects.

The importance of useful feedback

As well I think I am learning how to give feedback in as good and positive a manner as possible. The latter was to the organisations that didn’t get one of our pro-bono projects. All great projects and difficult but important to talk to them abut the minor things that didn’t get them over the line. Hope the recipients found it a useful experience. Treat others as you would be treated – a lesson I have learnt after being made redundant and being rejected for jobs with no feedback.

But time grows more important than money in my life

I have written before about how at this stage in my life, time is more important than money. I suspect over the coming years that will strengthen and mean working less as I get closer towards my official retirement. Though I may well be one of those people who never really stops work. If work is fun then why eliminate it entirely?

This is where freedom is important. I have my small savings which gives me some financial freedom to work less. Indeed, reading more about social care in the week of the government’s unfair NI increase suggests to me that it’s not a good idea to have too much in savings. As one friend said to me, if you are very poor someone will look after you and if you are very rich then you can look after yourself. If you are in the middle then you are fucked.

The importance of learning, education, and personal development to give freedom

There are many reasons to be angry about the resurgence of the Taliban, not least the wasted lives and money. But I think one of the key reasons we are all so upset is because of the loss of freedom for women. That the rights to education they obtained and the freedom of opportunity that brings will be stolen from them. That young girls will instead be forced into marriage and a life just of pregnancy and childcare.

Girls just wanna have fun/ding for scientific research

I love learning and I am so grateful to have the freedom to do this. Though nearly all of us have this freedom, it’s about if we have the motivation to take it. As I have said above, I am learning so much in my current paid role albeit not in an accredited manner. But I also carry on with the day to day exercise on Duolingo to improve my Spanish and German. As well as Pytton via the Mimo app.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

No banned books

One of the worst attacks on freedom is when books are banned or burnt. Think of places like Nazi Germany, East Germany, and China. It is wonderful to live in a place where literature is not censured and anything can be published even things we vehemently find offensive. Two books read by me last week and a brilliant new one started.

‘Hotel Du Lac’ by Anita Brookner

A modern classic that I think I may have read before but a long time ago. It’s an award winner though of its time – the mid-1980s. Frightfully bourgeois but a short and deceptively clever novel. A woman who has jilted her groom goes to Switzerland to ponder on life and her married lover. Meanwhile she comes across various characters. Big questions are raised about how we deal with not getting what we want in life and deciding how we will live with that. Beautiful writing.

‘Doctor Who Short Trips #7: Life Science’

Back to the comfort of Dr Who, a lifetime companion of mine. And a point of reassurance in strange times. This is another collection of stories by various writers. The theme is ‘life’ which is wonderfully vague. And it’s a very eclectic anthology including stories of people turned into trees and others raised from the dead. But all are enjoyable particularly when they develop the characters of the Doctor and his companions as these are stories that have never appeared on TV nor on audio.

‘The Mirror and The Light’ by Hilary Mantel

Having read the first two huge volumes of this trilogy, I have finally ventured into this mammoth book. Indeed, its size has always intimidated me. But it is brilliant. We are so lucky to have such a brilliant writer as Hilary Mantel, she’s a genius. The book swirls with court intrigue centred around Thomas Cromwell. It’s going to take me at least a fortnight to finish it but totally enjoyable and makes me want to go back and re-read the other two.

Family and friends

Mum and Dave

Mum continues to be well though with the moans of old people. Comes to us all I suppose. And I spent time with Dave my partner including a few nice meals out. The freedom that has come with the withdrawal of certain pandemic restrictions has enabled us to have some nice meals out. Though interesting that the restaurants still don’t feel as busy as the old days. And I definitely don’t feel confident enough to go to a club though Dave did at the weekend but didn’t have a great time disliking the venue.

Jo, Kat, and Philip

Great to meet up with old friend and colleague Jo on Thurs. With lockdown and me being made redundant, we haven’t caught up with each other for about 18 months. Jo works in the field of social investment – an area I helped Comic Relief to develop a presence in. And she, like me, seeks career freedom in both working part-time and doing stuff we love not just because we seek money.

Also good to do a random coffee connection arranged between Tech for Good enthusiasts. Great general catch-up with Kat from the brilliant developers NeonTribe. I’ve worked with them many times but never met Kat before. And it’s been so bloody difficult to make new random connections during the lockdown when you can only do it via zoom and everything has to be pre-arranged.

Meanwhile, Philip / Phyllis is in London and still in quarantine. Which is driving him crazy. A long chat on the phone to catch-up and great that we should be meeting for lunch next week.

Art and Culture: Return to theatre

Artistic freedom is one of the key features of a civilised nation. Note the restrictions in places like Russia, China, Iran and Saudi. The point of art and culture is to be able to challenge evil and the banalities that surround it.

I’m not a big theatre fan unlike Dave. But last week we went with our mate Pierce to the lovely little Waterloo East Theatre to see a rehearsal of a play called ‘Screaming Queens’ about the friendship between the two greats Kenneth Williams and Fenella Fielding. Good fun and testament to the power of long-term friendships that can last decades. Please do support your local theatres – they keep freedom alive.

The Week Ahead

  • My work colleague is on a well deserved break. So it’s Billy ‘home alone’ at work which is quite exciting.
  • Responsible Tech Summit on Wed though timing is a bit awkward with the American time difference so 3.30 – 10 pm GMT (that means a clash with Coronation St…)
  • Catch-up with my fellow Tech for Good enthusiast Joe
  • Hopefully my lunch appointment with Phyllis will go ahead
  • Got some stuff to take to the Notting Hill Exchange; more offloading and freedom from the materialism of objects
  • Carry on trying to lose weight and stay healthy both mentally and physically
  • So looking forward to carrying on with the Hilary Mantel book and my daily bursts of personal development. If you stop learning then what is the point of carrying on?
  • Fingers crossed for QPR’s unbeaten run to continue

And Finally…

When people raised irrational fears about electricity the way anti-vaxxers are doing about the vaccine now

When people wanted freedom from the dangers of electricity

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