What are the three most important things for human life? The first is fuel, an umbrella term for the food water and oxygen, without which we soon perish. Cut off the oxygen, and we are dead within minutes, cut off food and water, and we are dead within days or weeks. The second, Dr No suggests, is shelter. We are the naked ape, and without shelter, we soon find ourselves in harms way. Without shelter, we are at the mercy of the sun’s burning rays and winter’s icy blasts, and again, sooner or later, we will perish. We need shelter to sleep, and to recuperate from illness and injury. These two things, fuel and shelter, are tangible external things, that we get from our environment, and give us our physical health. The third most important thing could not be more different. It is, in its pure form, intangible and utterly abstract, and in this form, uniquely human, because we alone of all the species on earth have a name for it. It is called freedom.
This freedom is not the upper case freedom seen on the marching banners, even though there are times when that has its place, but the lower case everyday freedom to be who we are. It is the freedom to associate, or not to associate, to work, or not to work, to take part in the arts and the sports, or not to take part. It is the freedom to decide what we eat and drink, and whether we accept or reject medical treatment. It is the freedom to choose what we want to say, just as it is the freedom choose not to hear what we do not want to hear. It is the freedom to practise religion as it is the freedom to be materialistic. It is freedom that allows us to be not just alive, but fully alive, to be human; without freedom, we cease to be fully human. It is no accident that the severest form of punishment in countries without the death penalty, and second most severe in those with the death penalty, is deprivation of freedom. In jail, you have fuel, and shelter, but not freedom.
Being lower case, nor is it an Absolute Freedom to do Absolutely Anything. The ordinary human equipped with a good enough moral compass knows full well that lower case freedom does not include the freedom to harm others, whether that harm comes from an individual discharging bullets into a crowd, or a corporation discharging raw sewage into the environment. The ordinary human with a good enough moral compass recognises there are some humans without a good enough moral compass, and so recognises the need for laws to prevent those harmful behaviours. The ordinary human with a good enough moral compass knows that just as there are some absolute freedoms that must forever be curtailed, there are also other essential everyday freedoms that must never be curtailed.
In its everyday form, lower case freedom is about recognising and respecting the autonomy of others. In the vernacular, we live and let live. Every human society that has not recognised and respected this fundamental principle has come crashing down, and, to the extent that essential everyday freedoms are curtailed in a society, the greater and more terrible the fall and crash when it comes. That is the indisputable lesson of history: the society that curtails the essential everyday freedoms of its citizens is, as it does so, also signing its own death warrant. Those lower case essential everyday freedoms are not some idle luxury to be trifled with, they are an essential part of survival. When we remove them, we bring about a famine of the soul, and the society that does so will soon disintegrate and die. That is the indisputable lesson from history.
That is why we must strain every sinew to resist any measure that curtails any everyday freedom, with the sole exception of measures weighted with unequivocal evidence of effectiveness against a common harm. It is not good enough to say that this measure or that measure might work, because the flipside of the introduction of these measures that might, or might not, work, is certain, unequivocal curtailment of essential freedoms. As Dr No writes this, there are foolish democracies both in Europe and the Antipodes that have even in short order forgotten the indisputable lesson from history: that the society that curtails the essential everyday freedoms of its citizens signs its own death warrant.
And so today abideth food, shelter and freedom, these three. The clergymen who wrote the King James Bible — a freedom defining act itself, because it gave the common man the freedom to access the scriptures his native language — could only ever write as they did under the guardianship of essential everyday freedoms. Without those essential everyday freedoms, we would not have the King James Bible. And now abideth food, shelter and freedom, these three; but the greatest of these is freedom, because without freedom, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.