“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you,” said French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. This is how majority of people live day to day without realization that they are. According to Webster’s dictionary freedom is defined as, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. “ We the people believe that we are “free” when, in fact, we are not entirely free. The freedom we possess does not exactly match the given definition; instead, it matches up with Sartre’s quote. We have altered the definition of freedom due to the society we live in.
Based off of how we live and what circumstances have been placed on us, we work around it and create our own version of freedom. Our lives are greatly affected around the rules placed by the government and the expected guidelines that society imposes on us to restrict true individual freedom and change our idea of freedom. Though our government, the Government of the United States of America, gives us many freedoms (freedom of speech, religion, press, etc), we are still not wholly free. Without laws and rules chaos would arise, however; with them we are not completely free to do as we please.
For instance, we do not have the freedom to drive a car as fast as we feel. We have laws and rules restricting how we can drive. But, if we think within our given restrictions, then we see ourselves as free. We can freely transport ourselves in our own vehicle when we want to where we want, but we must do so under the laws given. Another restriction the government has placed on driving is that a vehicle must have insurance on it to be driven legally. The freedom of choosing whether or not you want car insurance is out of the question.
Driving a car itself is limited only to those over the age of sixteen. Anything that requires a license is restricted by the government, for example, owning a weapon. Not everyone has the individual freedom to own a gun unless approved by the government. Age restrictions are also placed on the people, restricting what they can do. If one is younger than eighteen he or she cannot purchase or consume tobacco products. If one is under the age of 21 he or she cannot consume alcohol. For instance, I, an 18 year old, cannot legally walk into a store and purchase a bottle of liquor, yet drink one.
Individual freedom is restrained, for instance, no one can ingest certain drugs in his or her own body and no one can prostitute themselves. Some actions people choose to do with their own bodies are not tolerated. Money is also a restriction on what we can do. It may not be directly affected by the government, however, we are given money from the labor we put into society to spend as we choose, only under the restriction that we pay our taxes. The government has put laws on the citizens of its country that restrict many freedoms they have, if not obeyed than one is punished with fines or jail time; therefore we are not absolutely free.
Besides written laws, society places unwritten rules that hold us back from doing and saying what we want. We are expected to talk and act a certain way. Unofficial guidelines are pushed onto us, keeping us from being free. We are given “freedom of speech” but does that really give us the freedom to say whatever we like to whomever we like? We are expected to behave in a manner that does not let us be free. It is okay for a student to approach a teacher and scream at them? It is okay to harass someone? It is okay to cut in front of a line you have been waiting in for hours?
In the society we live in the answer to these questions are no. If a student chooses to disrespect their teacher he or she will be sent down to the principal’s office for punishment. Harassing another person could cause others to look down on you as an individual. Choosing to cut in front of another in a line would displease those having to wait longer causing disorder between all the people and the “cutter”. This is what happens in the society we live in and no one is happy with the results that come with these actions.
Children do as their parents tell them; students do as their teachers tell them; workers do as their bosses tell them, because in this society we all follow some sort of higher power, which is expected. Even if we may not want to do as our higher powers tell us, we still do so because we are not free to disobey without any penalty. We are not entirely free to do as we please due to the fact that negative consequences are presented if we disobey society’s “rules. ” The laws forced on us through the government and higher powers and expectations placed on us through the society we live in, hinder our true potential freedom.
We like to think of ourselves as “free people” and a “free nation,” when in fact, we are not really free. We do not realize how we are not truly free and follow what Sartre had said. We think of freedom as doing as we choose with what has already been done with us; laws, rules, regulations. These are all constraints on our actions which does not meet the definition of freedom. Whatever we do has some sort of restraint pulling us back from doing what we want. Just because we have some freedoms does not ultimately make us free individuals.