The conversation about what freedom really is (and whether we are free agents at all) has been fascinating, & is still going on - so feel free to jump in, if it interests you.
The interesting thing to me, whether you view "freedom" as merely being unhindered in following your own biology, or something more transcendent, is that we all DO value it. Take away your "right" to choose who you will marry (if you are a westerner), where you will live, what career path you will take... and there will be protests!
Imagine a world where an external authority dictates what you will wear, the style and colour scheme of your house and car, the food rations you may receive... It would be impossible to maintain. People would continue to find new and inventive ways of expressing individuality and pushing for freedom, and ultimately it would lead to revolution. We've seen it happen!
Even the very fact that we study the limitations of our own biology can be seen as a quest for freedom. We want to understand ourselves so that we can transcend our limitations. Some of this is common sense. Medicine allows us to overcome all kinds of natural limitations. Cognitive psychology has taught us that we can overcome dysfunctional behaviour patterns once we gain insight into them. However, WE seek, in various ways, to shape, and in some ways overcome, OURSELVES. Does this not seem paradoxical to you? Even Antonio Demasio, a neuroscientist concerned with understanding the physiological basis of the "self", mentions the possibility of "transcendence". By this, I think he means overcoming biological constraints, and enabling ourselves to be truly "free agents".
So... Now I'm going to take a more ideological/theological turn with all this. One of the biggest reasons that I have continued as a Christian, is that the more I look into the Biblical narrative, the more I see it as a narrative of freedom. The problem of freedom is addressed deeply, and finds a solution there that, to me, is very satisfying.
What on earth am I talking about? Well, freedom is problematic. We want it. But it hurts us. Choices have consequences - and not always pleasant ones. And think about it... in order for you to be free to make a positive choice, there must be negative options available. Sticky!!
Our drive for freedom means the perfect world that so many of us long for, where there is no pain, no war, no nastiness... would not be perfect at all. Because the only way to simply eliminate these things, is to eliminate freedom. I've noticed this theme in a few movies... in the original Matrix, it is explained that humans refused to accept a perfect virtual world, so in order to maintain their submission, the machines create a virtual world much like our own - complete with violence and disaster. Problem solved.
I had a great discussion with my friend Andrew - who is a practicing Buddhist, also along these lines. Think about it... without pain, we would not understand joy. Without the possibility of evil, how can we choose good? Demasio quotes Scott Fitzgerald as saying "he who invented consciousness would have a lot to be blamed for" - but adds that consciousness (which gives us our ability to choose) allows us to experience pain, but also joy, difficulties, but also love and creativity.
So we have a desire for a world without pain, but an innate drive to seek freedom. And this creates a problem for us. It would seem that we cannot have both at the same time. Or can we?
Forget, for a moment, (if you can) your preconceived notions of the Bible narrative, because I want to examine it from a different perspective - that of freedom.
At the beginning of our narrative, a perfect world is disrupted by... choice! Humanity chooses to eat from (think about this!) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sound like what we've been talking about?
The consequences are dire. They bring us, essentially, to where we find ourselves now; a world where we are free to choose, and to experience both good and bad. We have the gift of conscious minds. We have the ability to shape and direct ourselves to a very great degree. We can create. We can experience love and joy. However death, famine, war, tragedy, selfishness and greed all make their mark - very largely because of our ability to choose.
However the narrative turns this problem sideways, in a sense. Whilst the rule of law provides some limits and balance to freedom, it is in itself harsh, restrictive, and a source of pain. The story that Christians know as the "Gospel" cuts through the whole conundrum in a completely liberating way. It does not restrict consciousness and freedom. In fact, it extends these further, by insisting that our consciousness expand to include not only ourselves, but the "other". It insists on relationship, on knowing ourselves through the eyes of others, and knowing and valuing others as much as we know and value ourselves. In short - it. insists. on. love. And not just fuzzy-feel-good love, that includes your dear friends and people you like to be around. It insists on love that is big enough to include those outside your circle of comfort - even your enemies.
What happens when we become aware of the thoughts and feelings of another, and begin to value them? Our motivations change. We find ourselves listening. We find ourselves reconsidering things. And we find ourselves choosing freely, in a way that brings peace and reconciliation.
Does this sound like an answer to the problem of freedom? I think it does!
Image Credit: http://pastorjameshein.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/its-not-the-problem-im-the-problem/