It’s a lovely day out and I’m stuck here, staring out behind grilled windows at the perfect azure sky. Wistful sighs and thoughts of being out in the open, feeling the sun on one’s back and the wind in one’s face. But that’s not quite to be as one quickly realises that it’s the four walls of the flat that I’m going to be facing for another three days till this dreaded quarantine runs its course. Do I yearn for freedom? Of course I do! But one also realises that this longing has to be put into perspective – my quarantine is but for 7 days. What is that to others who face a much longer time in house arrest or similar situations? Why do we yearn for freedom so?
I remember writing about freedom over 10 years ago, making an argument that sometimes we get so trapped in our yearning to be free from something that this very yearning blinds us to other types of freedom that we may have. My case in point – I yearn for the greener pastures of life outside the flat but at the same time, I forget the almost limitless freedom that the internet allows me. I’m free but only to the extent that I’m willing to allow my fingers to fly across the keyboard to send bits and bytes across cyberspace. The quarantine’s definitely been made much more bearable as a result of this but the yearning remains.
I’ve been drawn to the writing of Isaiah Berlin of late because he’s a thinker of note in two fields that I’m very interested in – political theory and the history of ideas. One of the things that he’s very well known for is his theorising about there being two concepts of liberty – positive and negative. Negative liberty is often described as being the lack of constraints or restrictions on the person whereas positive liberty is all about self-determination and the freedom to do what one wants to do. Berlin argues that the latter is often used to justify abuse of power by anyone as one is never quite sure when one’s liberty ends and someone else’s begins.
Strictly speaking my quarantine at home isn’t a huge curtailment of liberty but one does chafe at the inability to be out where one wants to be and one does feel that I’m a little short of both at the moment. However, one does need to put things into perspective by recognising the fact that my curtailment of negative liberty allows for more liberty of others to move around virus free. More or less. In fairly simplistic terms, my giving up of some liberties allows society to function a little more smoothly because people are free to exercise their positive liberty. Well, that argument just makes me feel a little better about things.
Before anyone catches me out for complaining about my pseudo-incarceration allow me to state that I’m not complaining about being stuck at home. I recognise why I’m here and though I’m not the happiest at not being able to be out, I’ve decided to be, well, philosophical about it and make the most of facing these walls (which I must add, are still a pleasing shade of lilac). My to-do list has shrunk considerably as the days go by and I do believe that my enforced break from classes will make me get back to it with renewed vigour. Or so one hopes.
The view from…here.