This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about freedom and free agency, and I seriously doubt it will be the last, but I believe quite strongly in the principle and spend a good amount of time pondering it and things related to it.
On that note, I was thinking about agency the other day, and about whether or not we really have agency, and to what degree we are truly free…and I came to a realization:
Without wealth, it is virtually impossible to be truly free.
Unless you want to become a hermit…which I must admit, sounds appealing some days 🙂
Now there may be exceptions to this statement, depending on the desires of the individual, but I would say for the majority of humanity it is a fairly accurate observation.
How so? Well, think of it this way. The world is full of many incredible things; homes, cars, clothes, gadgets, places to see, things to eat, people to meet, things to do. The vast, vast majority of these things cost money, and some of them require a tremendous amount of money.
Therefore, if someone desires to have a nice home and an exotic car in the garage, or to take a trip to Paris and a tour of the best restaurants there, or even to take a year or two to travel the world helping people to leverage technology to improve their quality of life…well, they can’t simply exercise their agency and poof, have or do what they want. In fact, no matter what they do, they may never be able to have that thing or experience that they really want.
Therefore, the use of agency is limited by one’s financial means
I would postulate that to truly be free requires that one be able to go anywhere, at almost any time, and do or buy almost anything. Again, this definition is going to vary depending on the desires of the individual, but it is technically correct. If you can’t do that, then there are limitations on the use of your agency, restrictions, boundaries. In effect, a lack of wealth leaves one in a state of bondage, a form of imprisonment. Alas, happiness and imprisonment rarely if ever go hand in hand.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that money buys happiness, but it absolutely buys freedom. If you view money as the means to an end that it is, and have a clear idea of how you want to use that freedom, then it would be incredibly difficult to be truly free and not also truly happy.
My 2 cents, for what it’s worth. Thoughts? Comments?
A couple of thoughts…
“Free agency” is not the same as “being free.” Even slaves have free agency. Free agency is simply one’s ability to make a decision of their own free will. This is why I can never make you dance against your will. Even if I point a gun in your face and say, “Dance or I’ll blow your head off!” It is still you that controls whether you actually dance or not. Until I have the powers of Prof. Xavier, you will always have your free agency 🙂
Second, total freedom in the sense that you describe it requires that you be a god. I want to visit the Alpha Centauri star system, but I cannot, and no amount of wealth will ever allow me to do so (at least not in my lifetime).
I’m pretty sure that I get where you’re coming from though. Wealth can’t buy happiness, but it can definitely rent it. In other words, the happiness money gets you is temporary at best, but unfortunately does nothing for a clinically depressed person.
Money can help you achieve things that you hope to achieve (a higher education at Oxford University for example). But my experience and observation seems to indicate that happiness is a choice. That, too, is a matter of free agency. We are free to choose to be happy with the circumstances we are currently in, or choose otherwise.
In short, money can obtain certain things for you that you want, but whether you want or don’t want certain things… well, that’s a matter of exercising your free agency.
The book “Bonds That Make Us Free” has helped me see these truths more clearly. I highly recommend it.
Stu, you are correct, Wealth and Freedom would probably have been a better title for the post. My thought process though was this: there are many things I want to do in life, have, experience, etc. Alas, the financial requirements effectively prevent, or at the very least delay, my doing or having many of those things.
Therefore, the lack of finances serves as a functional form of bondage, preventing me from doing things that would augment my happiness. Not provide happiness, but increase it. Because I would have or do those things immediately were it within my power to do so, thus I feel like the use of my agency is fundamentally stifled.
You’re also correct that some desires, like visiting Alpha Centauri, would fall outside the scope of my postulation…thus the caveat about individual desires 🙂
For me, I want the financial freedom to spend my time split between learning, teaching, and traveling, perhaps all three at once. I detest having to spend so much time focused on making money instead of spending that time with my family or doing the things that I truly love to do.
I’ll give that book a read.
I thought that may have been where you were going with it. That I can completely agree with you on!
I guess you could say that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure makes being happy a lot less stressful 🙂
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