A Fishy Freedom

People aren’t as free as we think, nor should we be as free as we would like.

This is not a welcome idea in today’s world, or in any world, for that matter. Autonomy and freedom in all areas, the right to choose among many options or to create an option that doesn’t yet exist is taken as the hallmark of human progress and evolution.

But for such an ideal to truly work would require a fundamental transformation of our nature.

Consider a fish.

The fish has significant freedom to swim in the ocean. Shallow or deep. North or south. Warm cold, fast, slow, in schools or in directed study.

But the fish’s freedoms and choices are nevertheless limited. Too shallow and the osprey will eat him. Too deep and the pressure will crush him. Too cold and the climate will kill him.

And if the fish feels that ocean culture constrains him, restricts his potential, denies his identity, and then ventures out to live on the land, his gills will scream for oxygen and he will flip and flop in futility until death proves the point.

We imagine that humans have overcome our limitations. We can, after all, go into the ocean and swim with fishes. But even then, the SCUBA diver should ascend only as quickly as his bubbles, and the ocean explorer must use a machine to avoid deadly pressures in the deep. The tools we use to expand our options only mask our limitations: we still can’t breathe water.

It isn’t a matter of having restrictions, then, but what restrictions we will have. It isn’t a matter of a multitude of choices, but the range of choices appropriate for our nature.

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