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O Liberty, how sweet is thy dream-scented illusion! Within time, unlimited freedom is an impossibility. It is the same as non-existence: death. For within space, to be is to be constrained. Not only is being human a particularly limited function and a limiting event, the continuity of life necessarily chains man to fixed relationships in nature and to others around us. Man is crafted, breathed and driven by irresistible laws and limits of reality. Add never-ending social demands; and you compound the prisons of man. Man was born unfree and will forever be unfree. Those who preach unlimited freedoms (in a reality of limits in physics, chemistry, biology, etc.,) preach nonsense and should not be taken seriously.
What then is freedom? Freedom surely cannot be the “absence of constraints” or the right to do what one pleases for we are constrained by our needs and the needs of others around us. Freedom can be described simply as a number of pleasures. The more opportunities a person has for pleasures, the greater is said to be his freedoms. So far, so good. The problem is that different men have different pursuits and varied pleasures. The pleasure of a fool could be the sale of his heart. Yet, when every man has the right to pursue his pleasures who is to say that one man’s pleasure is abhorrent?
The constitutions of many nations and the bill of rights adopted by almost every nation guarantee a list of freedoms to persons. These freedoms are described as rights. In almost every nation, we do find such laws as the right: to move, to speak, to assemble, to worship, to vote, to own property and so on and so forth. No doubt, the justifications for these rights are the equality of man and the realization that these rights are the foundations for individual, institutional and national development.
What is remarkable about constitutional freedoms or the bill of rights is that they do not include the right to be wise or the right to choose the best options available. The guarantees of freedoms from every jurisdiction in the world assume -but they do not guarantee- intelligence or wisdom of the person. The equality of man assumes the equality of wisdom. Whether all persons equal before the law are equally endowed with wisdom is not the business of the law. The right to choose includes the right to choose wisely or foolishly. Foolish people have the right to choose foolishly. This freedom to injure oneself in an ever-widening market of poisonous addictions and of destructive pursuits, is and will be the basis for the future enslavement of man by man in democratic and free societies.
The right to choose can be harmful unless it is founded on the right to be wise. Yet where people are foolish, wisdom would require the imposition of limits on their choices. This can be very dangerous because under the pretext of assisting people to make the right choices, the rights of people can be abused or even denied. On the other hand, options create desires, regardless of their consequences. As pleasure-options such as “toys”, syndicates, intoxicants etc., increase, the “foolishly-free” will in complete disregard of consequences, choose dangerously.
Some people will sell their gold and diamonds for pennies. Others will choose a life of helpless addiction or even suicide vests. When faced with a moral question as to what to do about the phenomena of foreseeable self-harm of a great number of people, smarter legal minds will point to the equality of man and the right to choose as justifying a laissez-faire attitude towards the sick and the dying. In a free society, every man chooses and must be enabled to choose his path: wherever that may lead. The problem is that if your path leads you to hell, how would you meet those whose paths lead them to the heavens? Add freedoms to foolishness and you get double f (ff) on life’s examinations. In the world of dangerous options, the freedom to choose is a license to perish, for fools. Shall we plead freedoms; and more freedoms and let people perish or shall be plead wisdom and save the foolish? How do we balance rights against wisdom? Who is foolish and who is wise? Who cares? Why?
Source: Dr Nana Oppong
The Writer is the President of the Distinguished Scholars of Africa