Professor watches cell phones transform life throughout PNG
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Phil’s latest novel examines whether freedom means happiness

Happiness-and-freedomPHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Freedom is the state of having free will and living without undue or unjust constraints. It is an idea closely related to the narrower concept of liberty.

Our leaders say that our presence in a democratic and sophisticated society provides us with freedom.

This is a perverse sort of logic because, in the developed world, the individual is tied to the state from the moment of their conception right through to the day that they die. That is hardly freedom.

The more democratic and sophisticated the society in which we live the less we are free. If you doubt this fact try not paying your taxes or registering your car for a couple of years.

Freedom is a concept that relies heavily on its relationship to other factors.

Conservatives believe that freedom is about a minimal level of outside influence, particularly from government and its laws and regulations.

For others freedom has a more utopian aspect, whereby everything unpleasant and undesired is eliminated from life.

The success of any society almost always demands involvement, commitment and obeisance from its members.

If you are entrenched in a society in this way it is very near impossible to escape from it.

I’m working on a novel at the moment that explores the idea of whether this bond can be broken and whether that break will result in a truly free and happy life.

I’ve taken the central character in my novel off to a remote and marginalised community where modern conveniences don’t exist to see how he copes and whether he ends up happy.

My thesis is that the less technologically and organisationally sophisticated a society is the more freedom it enjoys.

To some people this idea might sound counterintuitive. How can it not be freer to live in a world of smart phones, supermarkets, fast food and other 21st century trappings?

If you suggest that these things actually rule their lives and represent external coercion and control rather than freedom they have trouble understanding.

They do not realise that they are being manipulated in much the same way that trendy non-conformists don’t realise they all look and act the same.

So far my central character is having a hard time of it. Not so much because of the environment in which he finds himself but rather because of the bonds of his earlier life that he just can’t seem to shake off.

The novel is set in Australia but I originally had in mind a Papua New Guinean setting because there are still very remote communities there that have very little to do with the outside world.

Moreover, they are largely unencumbered by ties to government and mainstream society. Rather than facilitating the drawing of these communities into its orbit the Papua New Guinean government seems to be pushing them further and further away.

The way it does this is to fail to extend infrastructure and services into their areas. It also fails to maintain existing infrastructure and services and is thus creating new isolated communities.

Whether this is a good or bad thing for those communities is difficult to tell. On the one hand they probably enjoy a lot of unencumbered freedoms but on the other hand they are missing out on some very useful services like health and education.

What is happening in Papua New Guinea is very peculiar. As Port Moresby and many other towns embrace the 21st century in all its shining glory, large parts of the country are regressing into the last century.

Of those two contrasting worlds it will be interesting to see which one ends up the freest and happiest.

If I were to suggest to a neo-conservative or a far left utopian that if they want to live in a place with minimal government interference in their lives they should go to live in a remote Papua New Guinean village, I wonder what sort of response I would get.

Comments

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J Campbell

If you are born into the society of a remote community, you most likely will have much less individual freedom than one would think.

As an outsider (especially male and with a means of self-sustainment), one could possibly live on the fringes and opt out of much of the society, but when one is born into the society, there are all the cultural taboos and gender role constraints and opting out of those are nearly impossible.

At least in "modern countries", there is a chance you can get a small, semi-remote piece of land; live as simply and roughly if you wish; pay your taxes; and not be interfered with (because rule of law mostly works), while still having access to "civilization" (medical help, stores and such) if you desire.

However, if you wish to be a part of any community, I think participation will always come at the expense of personal autonomy.

Should be an interesting novel.

Bernard Corden

Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for those who think differently - Rosa Luxemburg

Paul Oates

In my experience and as a generalization, millionaires are often the most unhappiest people alive whereas those who have the least are often happier.

Still, those of us who aren't millionaires could always appreciate a helping hand at times.

Philip Fitzpatrick

A combination of the two things is the conclusion that I'm coming to Paul.

The difficulty is that the undesired elements of the two things have a nasty habit of impinging where they are not wanted.

Lindsay F Bond

Awe Stray-ons are a mix-up lot
whose game is flirt and see
and sleep and eat and walk about
then brag incessantly
until a child just nine miss stands
reminds remands of past
historic claims now not of chains
awed stray-ons flag to mast.

Paul Oates

At the risk of opening up a storm of vitriol from those who populate a certain coloured part of the political spectrum, perhaps the answer Phil should be to combine both worlds and someone vainly trying to cope with the alternative to a life they experienced when they grew up.

Actually, that loosely describes many of my generation.

The so called X and Y generations now look at the Baby Boomers and can't imagine how they could possibly survive without their smart phones and immediate access to a plethora of information at the flick of a screen.

The vast majority of those who suggest we should go back to nature are those who imagine what it's like but have never actually tried it.

When you sit around a campfire at night and trade stories without any mobile phone coverage you start to understand why many long for this sort of life. Yet the obverse is true when the access to modern medicine and communications allow so much more to be learnt.

The truth is to juggle the balance between the two worlds. Maybe at the end of your book you arrange for both adventurers to meet up in some way and compare notes?

Happiness is without doubt, always in the eye of the beholder and cannot be truly assessed by degree without experiencing the alternative.

Lindsay F Bond

Hap.haz.ard.ness -- what it seems where rascals raid, and where voting's rigged, and where forests are ruined, and where medication supply is routed...until thinking connects...then it is clear that haphazard may not be random. Happy the router, hazed the loser, hard the trouble, 'ness' is the mess that continues until people enough join the dots...elect representatives who can and will bring on a more widely enjoyable sense of happiness and freedom.

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