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Gandhi Said Freedom Is Connected to Equality, and is Crucial to Humane Life

If I think of another person as having true and legitimate freedom, being equal with me in having freedom,
then, Gandhi believed, I may not like how they choose to use their freedom,
but we stand together in a space of mutual respect.
That to Gandhi is equality.

That’s a much higher standard than the way freedom is usually perceived in the USA today, often the hyper-capitalist longing for freedom to do WHATEVER one wants with the resources one, at least temporarily, has control over.

This respect includes responsibility.

It “desires and if appropriate helps provide for that other person the room and tools necessary for them to grow and develop as a human being. It’s not that we all have the same things, or the same opportunity to buy the same quantities of stuff. It’s that we all have the opportunity to grow and develop as humans.

Humans desire to grow as humans.  As progressive and reflective beings, individuals “grew from truth to truth and strove to enrich, deepen, and reconstitute their being.” 1

Equality consisted in all alike being able to do so. It did not mean that I should get what others get, but rather that I should get what I need for my development as a human.

“What I need for my development … “ Whatever that is, it would be truly a basic human right, a most crucial freedom.

“What I Need For My Development.”

Like what?  I think that would clearly be things like

  • Bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy(physical needs met, security and sustenance)
  • Basic freedom for self-development, freedom of self-direction;
  • A sense, or teaching – or having been taught – the value of one’s own development;
  • Some guidanceso one has a good idea how to proceed;
  • Some exampleswithin one’s field of vision or awareness – what’s it like, where does it go, and how?
  • A context, or society, where such pursuit is honored – thus we all need for this to be a priority value in our respective societies;
  • Self-respect.

That’s a serious list!  And Gandhi assumes that this need – these needs – for personal development are a basic reality, and a priority value.  Society needs it.

Equality consisted in all alike being able … It did not mean that I should get what others get, but rather that I should get what I need for my development.

Giving TOP priority to this freedom for individuals to grow does not mean we establish a chaotic social environment of wildly unrestrained freedom.  Defenders of extreme capitalism (the contemporary American obsession) seem to promote and very much desire such lack of restraint for themselves, and for the superbly wealthy.

But that is not the freedom that ALL of us need.

Those capitalists’ intensely-desired freedom of greed and power-lust, for themselves or a small elite, is in fact very destructive of this much more humane freedom that all of us need – and that we as a society need.

It Would Require …

This true and humane freedom requires a working together

  1. to come to honor this as a top value, and
  2. to establish, or preserve, a social frameworkwith enough structure, and enough flexibility, enough space, so this can and does happen.

I tend to believe our American Constitutional structure would be effective as an outline for a structure for such deep freedom and equality.

There are problems:

  1. Many of us do not value that humane development as a standard for our life together..
  2. Many of us see our Constitutional tradition as a hindrance to their self-aggrandizement via wealth and power.

Still, I think it’s possible to develop our present situation and resources in this more healthy direction.

We need

  1. broad social acceptance of this value, and of this definition of human being and human responsibility;
  2. and a legal and moral practice that would honor and protect it.

This kind of freedom is an actual, life-giving freedom.

If personal freedom and equality are utterly “Crucial to Humane Life” then this is not just some wild-eyed liberal fantasy.  It’s a universal human reality. It shows up in those famous old words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  It’s what America is supposed to be about.
This post is an edited version of one published earlier.
1 The quotations and paraphrases are from Bhikhu Parekh, A Very Short Introduction to Gandhi  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pages 117-118.

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