5 Ways To Celebrate Your Freedom

image of handcuffs

Man is by his nature free.

To all you determinists out there, feel free to disagree. But the way I see it, for all practical purposes, we are in charge of the decisions we make and must take responsibility for our actions.

So, on today, the 4th of July, I thought it might be appropriate to give 5 ways you can celebrate your freedom, no matter where you live.

Many thanks to Ryan at The “Why?” Blog for helping me put this together.


1. Take Responsibility For Your Actions.

This is the essence of freedom.

If you believe that you are free, then you must deal with the consequences of your own actions, whether they are good or bad.

So if you’ve been working out intensely in order to sculpt a perfect body, feel free to be proud of yourself. But conversely, if you have been a couch potato and are unhealthy, that’s your problem.

There are many things that are out of your control.

While it may not be your fault that you get stricken by an illness, you must still take responsibility for taking care of yourself.

Acts of God are not someone else’s fault. It sucks that it happened, but it’s your job to fix it.

And if you stumble upon a massive inheritance, you don’t owe any of it to someone else.

Sure, you didn’t “earn” it, but neither did anyone else, and it’s yours.

So do with it as you please.


2. Accept The Freedom Of Others.

Remember, man is inherently free.

That means ALL men, not just some.

Don’t expect other people to pay for your things.

Gifts are fine. But so many people these days have this feeling of entitlement.

It’s not just that they deserve the things that others have, but that they are actually owed these things.

If someone else wins the lottery, it is their money to dispose of as they see fit.

Just because they didn’t earn it doesn’t mean you are entitled to some of it.

If someone else wins the genetic lottery and has better health than you, it doesn’t mean they should help you when you are sick.

And please stop being a nanny to everyone.

Even if you think you know what’s best for someone else, it is their call whether they accept your advice or not.

So for today at least, let other people live their lives the way they want to.


3. Don’t Repeat Platitudes.

“Love it or leave it.” “Time heals all wounds.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Freedom isn’t free.” “Someone please think of the children!”

Platitudes are generally used when someone needs a generic, meaningless response to something they don’t understand. Perhaps I’m being too harsh here, because people usually mean well when they spout off these phrases.

But if you want to celebrate your freedom, don’t simply parrot the things that other people have said about some topic.

Find out for yourself what the answer is to a particular problem. Think for yourself about these issues.

Platitudes are designed to sound good, not to have substance.

When you use one of these platitudes without a full understanding of what it means, you are most likely just promoting somebody else’s agenda.


4. Educate Yourself.

This is a corollary to the previous point.

Most people are more than willing to offer up an opinion on just about any issue.

And the majority of these people have never once put an ounce of rational thought into their arguments.

If you really want to celebrate your freedom, you’ll educate yourself on topics relevant to it. And when you aren’t informed about a particular issue, it’s not just acceptable but ideal to simply say “I don’t know”.

For example, to the people who so enjoy saying “love it or leave it”, perhaps you haven’t heard of the ex-patriot act. Even for some people who want to leave, they will be penalized.

Believe me, there is plenty more than just this one act that makes it a much more complicated issue than a soundbite will allow.

It’s possible to love an entity without loving it’s rules, like a child who loves his parents but doesn’t like getting punished. Should this child just find a new family?

From the Declaration of Independence: “…Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Does it sound like Thomas Jefferson would tell someone who is against a certain law that they should just move to Canada?

This passage in fact says that we should abolish government if it is not supported by the people. Heck, it sounds like he wants us all to say a collective “love us or leave us” to the government if it doesn’t respect our wishes!

Rant over.


5. Be Proud Of Collective Accomplishments.

Despite everything I have just said, we can still be proud of the fact that we have accomplished a lot collectively.

I think it’s safe to say that freedom across the world has increased over the past 250 years, and we should be proud of this.

And we should certainly be proud of your Olympic team when we do well (despite not personally contributing anything, of course), and us Americans should always be proud of our hero Joey Chestnut.


I’m sure many of you wouldn’t agree with me on this post, and I would love to hear what you have to say.

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  1. I just want to share a little personal tidbit related to point #4. I was at a BBQ once with my dad’s friends and they were talking about politics. Everyone, like most people do, was giving unwarranted assumptions as facts and, when asked my opinion, I said to them: “I don’t know anything about the issue, so I don’t have an opinion.” And my father’s friends were absolutely blown away by this. “You won’t give an opinion?” they said. I will never forget this — relying on one’s rationality and better judgment surprised a group of adults? It’s sad and troubling that opinions in political discourse, and not facts, are the norm.

    • Mikey D says:

      That’s an interesting story. It’s really sad that people would expect you to have an opinion even when you specify that you don’t understand the issue. It’s not like it is necessary to have an opinion. I just don’t get it.

      It’s possible someone might have an argument in favor of stating a baseless opinion, but I haven’t heard a convincing one yet.

  2. That is interesting. One might have a first impression on an issue based on their experience with related issues. But it does seem appropriate as you did to state truthfully when you don’t know enough to give an informed decision. In theory, that should make you one more credible when they do have an opinion on issues for which they have done their research.

    • Mikey D says:

      That is a good point that I hadn’t thought of. Admitting ignorance of an issue for which you actually are ignorant does raise your credibility on other issues. Thanks!

  3. On the determinism discussion, here’s an oldie but goodie: Luck Swallows Everything at http://www.naturalism.org/strawson.htm. The “short” version:

    The debate is likely to continue for as long as human beings can think, as the argument that we can’t possibly have strong free will keeps bumping into the fact that we can’t help believing that we do.

    One’s radical responsibility seems to stem simply from the fact that one is fully conscious of one’s situation, and knows that one can choose, and believes that one action is morally better than the other. This seems to be immediately enough to confer full and ultimate responsibility. And yet it cannot really do so, according to the Pessimists. For whatever one actually does, one will do what one does because of the way one is, and the way one is is something for which one neither is nor can be responsible, however self-consciously aware of one’s situation one is.

    (A) One is the way one is, initially, as a result of heredity and early experience. (B) These are clearly things for which one cannot be held to be in any way responsible (this might not be true if there were reincarnation, but this would just shift the problem backwards). (C) One cannot at any later stage of one’s life hope to accede to ultimate responsibility for the way one is by trying to change the way one already is as a result of heredity and experience. For one may well try to change oneself, but (D) both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one’s success in one’s attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and experience. And (E) any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous experience. (F) This may not be the whole story, for it may be that some changes in the way one is are traceable to the influence of indeterministic or random factors. But (G) it is absurd to suppose that indeterministic or random factors, for which one is ex hypothesi in no way responsible, can in themselves contribute to one’s being truly or ultimately responsible for how one is.

    While no punishment or reward is ever ultimately just or fair in this understanding, it may still be “useful or otherwise humanly appropriate.”

    • Mikey D says:

      To be honest, my intention was not to get into a discussion on determinism vs. free will, since this is a topic that, again to be honest, I don’t know that much of. That being said, and in complete defiance of my point within this post, I will give my 2 cents.

      In the paper you sent: “…it makes sense to propose that it could be just to punish some of us with torment in hell and reward others with bliss in heaven. It makes sense because what we do is absolutely up to us.”

      When I think of the ultimate responsibility that free will implies, I think more of the worldly concern of how people should respond to their action. So lets say a man steals something. The Pessimist says he is not morally responsible for what he does. I would say that because of his theft, he is now responsible for paying back what he stole plus applicable damages. That is what he is “morally responsible” to do, in my view. So I guess it’s a more legal type standpoint.

      According to the Pessimists, all agents are absolved of responsibility for their actions because a person’s nature is a matter of luck. Perhaps, but does that really say anything about the response to it? Maybe the murderer is the way he is by bad luck, but does that really imply that he shouldn’t be punished for his action? If we say that dogs don’t have the same type of free will that humans do, does that absolve them of the responsibility for their actions? A dog who bites lots of people doesn’t need to be “responsible” in that sense to get put down or locked up.

  4. The psychological phenomenon of free will is actually quite illusory in most cases. Social psychological research has shown that individual decisions can be influenced by tiny, seemingly insignificant factors. An experimenter leaving a dime for an unwitting research subject to find can cause them to help a stranger collect their things off the ground; the same stranger would not have helped them had they not found the dime. And yet that subject would see themselves as having acted freely.

    Transcranial magnetic stimulation can cause a research subject to move their head in a given direction by the application of magnetic waves to the brain. The experimenter controls what that patient does. And yet they will construct justifications for their actions that will allow them to preserve their belief that they were “just looking for their shoes over in the corner,” or whatever they decide it was that they were looking for.

    It’s proven that patients in long-term care facilities become sick and depressed if they feel that they have no control over their lot in life; they’ll recover from infection less quickly, report lower moods, and die more quickly. But give them control over small, insignificant details, like whether the doctor comes to their room at 1PM or 2PM, or allow them to choose between brussels sprouts or broccoli, and they will report less depression, heal more quickly, and live longer.

    Bruce Waller, a philosopher in favor of hard determinism and the abolition of moral responsibility, says that the illusion of free will is valuable evolutionarily because “it signals to us that the action we have initiated — the moving of our arm or hand — is our own behavior, that it comes from our own choices rather than the product of some outside force. If your arm moves because it is pulled by a rope (or even because of a sudden seizure), that is a very different experience from the experience of freely choosing to move your arm.” Thus, it seems that the experience of free will is an adaptation favored by natural selection because it helps us understand the causes of events in our body. The experience of free will thus does not entail that we actually act freely.

  5. Mikey D, be careful with your promotion of the utility of punishment as a ‘justification’ of sorts for moral responsibility. Suppose A murders B because A’s character and environment dispose him to act immorally. If we add in two more premises; that A had no control over his character and environment and that we should not be held responsible for the things that we do not have control over, it seems that we should not hold A morally responsible for the murder of B.

    Yet if we assert that it is nevertheless permissible to punish A for the crime to deter future murderers, it seems that we are essentially permitting that the rights of some can be violated to promote the safety of others. Is this so far away from a socialist/utilitarian ideal where we may steal money from some person who has a lot of it to provide for a person who doesn’t have as much? It seems that the same issue is at play in both cases: even though we admit that we must violate the rights of one, we can do it permissibly because it will provide utility for others. Yet if we think that rights are inviolable, we can’t say this. Even if punishing A for the murder that he is not morally responsible for or taxing some well-off people to provide for less-fortunate others provides a net social benefit (many think that it can, but that’s not the issue at hand), that does NOT entail that it is just from a moral standpoint to do it.

    • Mikey D says:

      First of all, those were really interesting experimental examples. I suppose the sort of goal that I have in mind would be to maintain that “illusion of free will” for practical purposes, whether or not it exists. For an individuals personal belief system, it seems to me that a belief in free will is far more useful.

      I’m far from a utilitarian personally. But I can’t quite reconcile how a belief in determinism and a belief in rights theory can be reconciled. If you can explain that to me, I would be very, very happy.

      But I do want to bring up one more thing: the premise that we should not be held responsible for things that we have no control over. I think that intuitively this sounds quite reasonable, but I’m not sure that we should assume it so easily. Certainly it seems ludicrous to suggest that if A murders B, then C should be held responsible. But what about random, external events? Let’s say a tree falls down on my car, destroying it. This is nobody’s fault, and it is not a moral question. Nobody has “moral responsibility” over the event. That being said, it is still my practical responsibility, because the event happened. Through extension of my ownership of the car, I am “responsible” for what happens to it by random chance.

      So, let’s take a person who was brought up (without control over character and environment) in such a way that they necessarily became a thief. Let’s also assume that people have rights (which stem from self-ownership). Then, since the thief “owns” himself and by extension his actions, he must be responsible for those actions of stealing, whether or not they are pre-determined.

      Perhaps I just answered my own objection, I don’t really know. Certainly the above argument was not philosophically rigorous. I would actually love a way to reconcile rights and determinism, so if you can help me out with that it would be great!

  6. Reading your response to my “Luck” article makes me think you took from it that the argument is no one should be held accountable. Not so. As the last line states:

    “While no punishment or reward is ever ultimately just or fair in this understanding, it may still be ‘useful or otherwise humanly appropriate.'”

    One area of emphasis here is on the word “ultimately” — as the article states, in the “buck stopping” heaven and hell context. It’s perfectly reasonable, however, to state that on Earth, locking up a murderer may prevent future violence by that same person or other now-deterred individuals. If in a deterministic world we can worry about the rights of criminals, clearly we can also take actions to protect the rights / safety of non-criminals.

    Precisely because environment matters so much to the actions people take, appropriate societal incentives — such as to work hard, not steal, help others — that you mention above, become all the more important.

  7. As far as self-ownership goes as a ground for moral rights, I’m completely on board. Yet I think your argument smuggles in an unstated premise that is far from obviously true; specifically, I think you assume that someone must be held responsible when there is a moral wrong done. It’s certainly intuitively plausible, but as you said with my claim, it may not stand up to scrutiny. When a tree falls on your car, you are responsible for fixing it, insofar as it is your car — you are responsible for your possessions. Yet, as you admit, there is nobody who is morally responsible. Here’s the kicker then : if you’re a hard determinist determinist, then all individuals are like that falling tree, acting only based on their deterministic history, with no free will. You admit that it’s crazy to morally blame the tree for your car’s damage — it couldn’t have done otherwise. Why, then, would we blame a person, if they could not have done otherwise? If you accept the deterministic worldview (where all events are the sum of all events that have come before them), then it seems like the person’s actions are exactly the same in kind as the tree’s ‘action.’ Why, then, assume that someone has to be blamed? If A commits a murder, why think that we need to blame anyone? It’s certainly easiest to blame A, but why assume, if it can be shown that A couldn’t have done otherwise, that A should be morally blamed? Psychologically, humans are programmed to ‘strike back’ when they are wronged, but that doesn’t show that the retributive impulse is morally justified. Maybe it’s the case that nobody should be blamed for anything, even if they did the action in question. Perhaps this is wrong, but your argument assumes that someone must be blamed for every morally wrong action, and that premise is certainly not clearly true; it definitely needs further justification.

    And in answer to your other question, I think the answer might arise from my comments here: it’s possible to denote an action as morally wrong without holding anyone responsible. It’s just obvious that we can say that A’s homicidal action is “morally wrong,” in that it violates individual rights and the self-ownership of the murdered agent. We can then disentangle responsibility from moral judgement very simply by adding in the deterministic/naturalistic premise: even though A committed a morally wrong action, A could not have done anything otherwise based on his character and environment, which he did not cause. Therefore, we should not hold A responsible for the action, even though it was morally wrong.

    • Mikey D says:

      I can understand a separation of blame and moral wrongness. That makes sense to me. For example, on the basis of self-ownership I would say that it is morally wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family. That being said, it is very hard to blame someone who would make that decision, and I feel like most people would even have sympathy for his situation. In fact, I believe that I would commit that morally wrong action under those circumstances.

      That example doesn’t involve determinism/free will in any way. In the murder example, however, a determinist would believe the murderer to be equally as blameless as the starving bread thief. What I’m wondering, then, is what are the implications of this? On what basis is punishment decided for either of these cases, or is there no punishment? I’m not trying to make a point here, I’m just trying to understand.

  8. Joel, nobody’s disputing that a penal system might deter crime. But if you think that only criminals who are responsible for the crimes that they actually did commit should be punished, which I’m sure that you do, it should follow that if a person cannot be held culpable for their crime, then they should not be punished for it. If you’re a hard determinist in the sense that’s assumed in all of our comments, you don’t think that anyone is morally responsible — in the relevant sense — for their actions. Thus, if you still think that it’s OK to incarcerate criminals who are not morally responsible in the ultimate sense we’re concerned with, you think that it’s OK to violate the rights of some for the benefit of others. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in that belief; 99% of people would probably agree. Yet it’s unavoidable that the criminal’s rights are violated, if you admit that they’re not morally responsible. That much I think is ironclad.

  9. Calling it ‘punishment,’ in my mind, presumes moral responsibility. We punish because we think that moral wrongdoing entails a desert for blame. We can ‘punish’ a wrongdoer by making every possible attempt to reform them, teach them why the thing that they did was morally wrong, and help them to get themselves to a point where they will not do the action again (keep in mind that a reformer is just as much a part of an individual’s environment and character as their parents and physical situation). Yet in doing so, we may allow them to understand that they are NOT morally responsible in the relevant sense for their crimes. Indeed, this may be a part of their rehabilitation, by allowing them to understand how the little things in their upbringing and environment dispose them toward a life of crime. So, in a penal system without any ascriptions of moral responsibility, we might still incarcerate, but we would do so ONLY with an intent on reforming and with ZERO intent on punishing, in the sense of making it clear to that person that they are not to blame for doing the morally wrong thing. Additionally, this institution may qualify as deterrence for other would-be wrongdoers; the penal system is an extended part of the individual’s environment. On at least some level, this incarceration would probably constitute a violation of rights, but that’s an issue that I don’t even want to touch!

    • Mikey D says:

      In my view, the criminal justice system should focus more on restitution rather than punishment. So, for example, if A steals $1000 from B, their punishment is to pay for the cost of apprehending them as well as the $1000 plus interest, etc. I suppose theoretically that could be congruent with your deterministic view of reform.

  10. This reminds me of the article here http://www.naturalism.org/fatalism.htm#How%20Determinists titled “How Determinists Cross the Street,” which contrasts that author’s view of determinism and fatalism. It applies well, I think, to the criminal law context too. The article states:


    Similarly, because environmental factors matter, if violent crimes went unpunished, there would likely be more violent crimes. The victims of those crimes are clearly not less innocent in a deterministic world than the criminals. And having more violence would make the world a worse place to live. Logic, then, is to punish the murderers, not for retribution but instead to keep people from hurting again. In a deterministic world, this tends to keep murder levels down. There’s no sense giving those causing harm MORE rights than those who would be victims of it.

    This works too in the civil context. The tree falls on your car. It was “destined” to happen. Maybe you even did everything right like not parking under a tree during a storm. A freak tornado picked up the tree and dumped it on your car. It’s not your fault. But it’s clearly not your neighbor’s fault either. If on a societal level each bad thing that happened was up to “society” to fix instead of on the individual level, it obviously would not work out well. Life will be better as a whole when individuals generally must take responsibility for their own little slices of this Earth.

    Getting back to Mike’s original article (way back when), individuals taking responsibility generally makes the world a better place. If enough people come to believe in such tenets (possibly through the environmental stimuli of reading articles like his), it can positively impact the lives of all us automatons. In which case I’d be grateful for that destiny.

    • Mikey D says:

      Why thank you, Joel! And I appreciate the tie-in to the original intent of the article, which was not to get into a philosophical debate but rather to highlight the importance of individual responsibility.

  11. Sorry, the quote I tried to copy above after my first paragraph didn’t come out. It read:

    The upshot is that although whether one gets across the street safely or not is indeed determined, the choice to walk across eyes open, motivated by the desire to get across safely, plays a pivotal role in determining the outcome. The ordinary, widespread desire to live matters greatly in how people cross the street … This desire combines with the knowledge that cars sometimes intersect with careless pedestrians (with deadly consequences) to generate the eyes-open approach to street crossing. If living another day matters to you, then keeping your eyes open matters too.

  12. I think it’s very concurrent with my view. The purpose of punishment should not be to ruin the criminal’s life but to allow all of the people affected by the crime to get past the crime and continue with their lives. Perhaps restitution is an effective way to do that.

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