IF4: Freedom of Movement

Last week I went to a Seder. This is a the Jewish holiday that includes a ritual dinner where amongst other activities we retell the Biblical story of the Exodus of Jews from ancient Egypt. All my readings of laws and policies on intellectual freedom topics this week made me think about the relationship of the two kind of freedom: movement ad intellectual.First I was playing with the idea whether the various kinds of freedoms (speech, religious, movement, to bear arms, gathering, to privacy…) can be organized similarly to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But I discarded the notion. Technically it is possible to live without any of these, while the same cannot be said about Maslow’s basic needs. The hierarchy of the various freedoms is highly dependent on one’s value system. Some is more important than others, but there is no general, value-free way of deciding their hierarchical relationships.

Another train of my thoughts was directed towards the US Constitution, because I’ve been reading it this week. This country according to its (history based) myth was founded by puritan. The story goes that they fled the Old World because o religious persecution. In other words they valued their religious freedom (or lack of) so much that they were ready to move to the end of the world. Literally. But this also implies that they had the freedom to do so. It might not have been their first choice and financially it must have been hard, but legally they had this option (albeit probably not many others. Somebody correct me if I don’t know history correctly.) Therefore I found it strange that, as far as I can tell, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the freedom of movement. It was essential in the birth of the country a few centuries before. I suspect the reason for this omission is that in this vast new land it was no longer an issue. If you didn’t like somebody or something you could just move elsewhere, often to uncharted territory. Hence the westward expansion. Freedom of movement did not have to be guaranteed, because it was given. But not to everybody. The indigenous people were restricted to reservations. The slaves brought over from Africa had even less freedoms.

Thinking about the freedom of movement meme brought back another set of memories. In 1980 I was denied visa to leave Hungary. (Yes, at the time we had to have two kinds of visas for traveling: one for leaving Hungary, issued by the Hungarian authorities and another for the target country, issued by theirs.) My father emigrated from Hungary for political reasons a few years prior to that. This time we wanted to meet in a neighboring country but the government still didn’t like him and therefore prevented me to meet him. At least I think that was their motivation, I never got direct confirmation of the reason for the denial. This is the reason this topic, freedom of movement, is important for me. It is personal. (Side note: Hungary, being a small country was still better off, than the Soviet Union. There you even had to have passport to travel in within the country.)

I believe Intellectual Freedom and Freedom of Movement are closely related. If you are not allowed to move around and you know it that surely influences the way you think. The Stockholm syndrome, the prisoner’s dilemma, the gulag mentality are just the most extreme examples for this. On the other hand if you don’t have intellectual freedom but you can travel you will surely do so, just like the puritans did.

Egypt in Biblical Hebrew is referred to as “Mitzrayim” which technically means a “narrow place.” The Hebrews fought for their freedom to leave this restricted place and after the worst of the ten plagues they did. This Seder, like at many other we celebrated their hard-won freedom of movement. We ended the evening with the traditional song: “Next year in Jerusalem.” This is partly to ensure the perpetuation of this right.

This entry is part of my Intellectual Freedom series.

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