Freedom: We all want it and assume we know what it is. But do we really?

by |July 6, 2017

The Freedom Trap by Dr. Craig Hassed
Guest post by Dr. Craig Hassed

We seem to be confronting a modern paradox in most of the world’s affluent democracies. On the one hand we have more wealth, comfort, healthcare, security and individual liberty than at any time in our history, but at the same time we have escalating levels of mental health problems, chronic lifestyle-related illnesses, addictions, broken families, social isolation and inequality in the distribution of wealth. Such problems are complex and doubtless have many contributing factors, but they are surely not the signs of an increasingly free, just, cohesive and happy society.

Freedom – as with other universal goods like happiness, love and justice – is universally desired. We all want it and assume that we know what it is. But just as people can have widely divergent ideas about what constitutes happiness and where it comes from – happiness as pleasure, relationship, contentment, fulfillment, or as a spiritual state – so too do we have widely divergent ideas about what constitutes freedom.

Freedom – as with other universal goods like happiness, love and justice – is universally desired. We all want it and assume that we know what it is.

Is it, for example, merely an outer state where the individual has few if any external social, legal or moral limits placed upon them, or is it at heart an inner state independent of external circumstances? Can true freedom be found, as many libertarians maintain, through giving license to individual desires, or is it found, as many wisdom traditions maintain, through discipline, self-mastery and knowing where to set limits? Is humanity, as it were, left up to its own devices and free to make up our own laws, or are we bound by natural laws that need to be acknowledged and which give a template for the social, legal and moral limits that a free, just, stable and happy society should set? Is true freedom whatever the individual and society thinks it is, or can the individual and society be wrong about what constitutes true freedom, like mistaking fools’ gold for real gold? Is freedom a worldly state, a mental state, or a spiritual state? How could we tell?

The Freedom Trap by Dr. Craig Hassed

If we misunderstand what true freedom really is then, individually and collectively, we may be producing the exact opposite of what we desire even with the best intentions in the world. Though the allure of some forms of freedom may be sweet and seductive, we may find ourselves in a trap we did not see coming – a trap into which many an individual and civilisation has fallen.

The Freedom Trap is an exploration of what freedom means from many different perspectives – social, political, psychological, legal, ethical and philosophical. The aim of the book is not to provide dogmatic answers to complex modern issues but rather to ask simple questions that will make us think again and challenge widely held but rarely questioned assumptions. Hopefully it can foster respectful and thoughtful debate and discussion and in so doing raise possibilities as to how we can foster it in our own life and in society at large. Perhaps, in the process, we might stay free of those traps into which we might otherwise fall.

Dr Craig Hassed's books

About Dr. Craig Hassed
Associate Professor Craig Hassed works at the Department of General Practice and is coordinator of mindfulness programs at Monash University. His teaching, research and clinical interests include mindfulness-based stress management, mind–body medicine, meditation, health promotion, integrative medicine and medical ethics.

Craig is regularly invited to speak and run courses in Australia and overseas in health, professional and educational contexts. He was the founding president of the Australian Teachers of Meditation Association and is a regular media commentator. He writes regularly for medical journals and has published eleven books, as well as featuring in the documentary The Connection. Craig has a long-term interest in philosophy and the world’s great wisdom traditions.

The Freedom Trapby Craig Hassed

The Freedom Trap

Reclaiming Liberty and Wellbeing

by Craig Hassed

The Freedom Trap is an inspiring call for clear thinking and a fresh appraisal of what our freedoms mean and can become.

In this challenging, confronting and eye-opening look at what freedom actually is - examined from philosophical, psychological, political, social, legal, ethical, scientific, historical and neurological perspectives - mindfulness expert Associate Professor Craig Hassed explores how we can alleviate our burdens (our worries, regrets and material desires) and find a life of peace, happiness and harmony - true freedom...

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