We are animals, contrary to our pretensions. Our economics and therefore our politics are, like the lives of most animals, little more than competition to consume nature in order to sustain and secure ourselves and our offspring. We are bound to nature.
But we do have the capacity for more. In the overall picture our lives may be reduced to biological explanations, but on the finer-grained level of conscious experience we have some power to determine ourselves with a degree of independence from the constraints of biological determinants.
For example, I could be starving yet resist the urge to eat because I have chosen to conduct a hunger strike. If another animal refused to eat we would likely diagnose it as sick or depressed. But to the human animal we attribute the power to act on principles beyond the straightforward biological imperatives of sustenance and security. We are capable of creating values above and beyond those given to us by nature and of acting in accordance with these self-created determinants instead of biological imperatives.
Of course, we ultimately remain bound to biological determinants. Choosing not to eat on principle cannot prevent me from starving to death nor from being nourished by food introduced into my body against my will.
This limited power of creating our own determinants is freedom. I do not mean the crude sense of freedom meaning the ability to do whatever one feels like doing, which could apply as well to a loose dog as a person (in fact, it applies better to a loose dog than many people). I mean creative freedom, the ability to create new values rather than merely pursue those already determined for us.
We apply this creative power not only to biological determinants given to us by nature but as well to social determinants given to us by each other. These received values originate as newly created values in defiance of biological determination, but through socialization they become constraints determining our actions analogous to biological imperatives. As with biological constraints, we can never be fully free from our social context, but we can exercise critical freedom, the ability to create values in rejection of, or at least distinction from, received values.
Whether this power to exercise creative freedom in relation to received determinants is unique to humans I do not know, but it is nonetheless an essential attribute of the human experience. Some may say it makes us more than mere animals. We might even say it makes us divine. Whatever we are, it makes us ourselves.
But critique may not make us happy. It creates the frustrating dynamic of wanting things to be other than they are. We humans are blessed and cursed with the capacity to dream. There is some ironic consolation in this insight. The frustration I feel about the discrepancy between the determinate world and my creative will is, alas, an expression of my biologically and socially determined nature.
Moreover, the world humans have shaped by creating new values has, by operation of this value-creation, become all the more full of determinants with which we must contend in order to exercise some degree of freedom in our lives today. Yet we have neglected the attributes of critique and creativity, throughout history but especially in our modern, over-determined world.
We must foster our freedom. How? Of course, education is crucial, providing the tools and structure for stimulating critical and creative thinking. Education and the resulting discourse must be free from censorship, coercion, and unequal access — and lifelong, never stultified by drudgery. But even more fundamentally, we need to ensure that people enjoy security in meeting biological needs that otherwise dominate the will and preclude freedom. In other words, everyone must be guaranteed access to quality housing, health care, environment, and nutrition — regardless of whether they do work that has been determined valuable by others. When the only instances of hunger are chosen on principle, we will have become truly human.