Words by c.z.robertson

On Freedom

2006-09-19 16:46:07 GMT/BST

Tom Hodgkinson's Stop the world, I want to get off (extracted from his book, How To Be Free) contained the occasional nugget of wisdom, but most of it was nonsense. "I can surely do better," I thought. Here, then, are some of my thoughts on achieving freedom.

  1. Learn about economics. The first lesson of economics is that everything has both costs and benefits. Understanding that, and examining the costs and benefits of all the options available to you, provides a valuable practical lesson about the nature of freedom. A lot of people use phrases like "I have to do X", but there's really very little that you're absolutely forced to do. Most things we can choose to either do or not do depending on the costs and benefits and on those of the alternatives. And choice, of course, is freedom.

  2. Make your choices explicit. I maintain a comprehensive set of todo lists, essentially following the GTD model. These lists contain pretty much everything that I would like to do. When I talk to a lot of people about todo lists they say that they avoid keeping comprehensive lists because they use "I forgot" as their mechanism for determining which things don't get done. But this isn't an effective way of running your life and it doesn't give you freedom. Freedom comes from making choices. Forgetting about things in order to avoid doing them is precisely the opposite of making a choice. Instead you should do your best to be aware of all the things you're choosing not to do. Then, when you say "screw all the things on my list -- I'm going to the park", you'll know the real value of that time in the park.

  3. Pay into a pension. (Or save and invest some other way. The mechanics are less important than the principle.) Saving money now means having money in future. Think of it as deferred freedom. And no, I'm not being glib there. Your choices now affect the degree of freedom that you have in the future.

  4. There is no absolute freedom. You are not free to sprout wings and fly. Physics is against you there. Furthermore, I will not allow you to be free to punch me in the face. Morality and my own freedom are against you similarly. And economics too: If you don't pay into a pension, you won't have any money when you stop working. Now, you're free not to pay into a pension but you're also free to starve. Don't ask for an unrealistic freedom. You're not going to get it.