Thursday, January 20, 2011

Epistemology of Liberty

How do we know WHAT we know, and how do we KNOW that we know it? Obviously many nuggets of knowledge are formally learned, and others are experienced. Many of the things we know come from informal learning encounters such as overhearing our parents discuss something. There is another form of knowing or source of knowledge that is difficult to identify and define. Some call it innate knowledge while others describe it as instinctive. Others may describe it as God-given. I’m not discussing the will to survive because I would characterize that as more of a biological impulse that a knowledge-based action. The longing for liberty or the fight for freedom is something that I sense is greater than mere biological necessity, is manifested before formal or experiential learning begins, and yet, at some level, is present in everyone.
In last Saturday’s “Littlestuff Weekender” I linked to a song by the Gaither Vocal Band called “Freedom.” The lyrics in the opening stanza refer to a baby’s struggle to escape the womb as the early evidence of our desire for freedom. Fast forward a year or so and observe how toddlers resist any attempt to restrain their activities. The fact that their formal and experiential knowledge curve hasn’t grown enough for them to identify danger does not inhibit their desires to toddle through life unfettered. To my untrained eye they seem to be asserting that freedom is the ideal…and damn the consequences.
Other examples could include those who move “off the grid,” people who spend their entire lives challenging authority, and that legion of folks who defy convention and silly lawmaking through subtle non-compliance. True, many people do none of the above, but we have no concrete method for determining what ideas float across their minds or roam within their hearts. Again, my amateurish point of view leads me to speculate that much of what we describe as “resentment or envy” reflects an internal desire to be free…or as free as the object of the envy. In our society freedom and significant financial resources are often synonymous. Do prisoners have a greater envy for the rich or for those on the “outside?” Even though a convict may be serving time for attempting to steal money, when facing daily life in the 8x10 cage, the focus of envy shifts toward those who enjoy more freedom.
Other species yearn for freedom. Tigers prowl and pace around the cage seeking to discover an opening. Even chickens, stupid as they are, prefer the open range for digging and scratching versus the tiny space provided in a laying cage. Casual observation should convince the most hardened skeptic that the lust for liberty is not a learned behavior but resides within the mind, heart and soul of all. Yes, some choose to withdraw and never challenge their shackles, but we cannot know the limits of their fantasies and dreams. The thirst for freedom is more than an impulse among people. It is a rational but nearly unquenchable desire to cast off artificial restraints and flourish. We know that liberty is a preferred condition because we KNOW it. We didn’t learn it. We didn’t touch a hot stove and experience it. We’ve always known it. It’s in our DNA…designed by God.

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