Absolute freedom, absolute imprisonment

Absolute freedom is an illusion, but so is absolute imprisonment. For proof, consider these contrary examples.

A homeless man who owns nothing and owes no-one may be devoid of obligation and demands upon his time, but he must still cater to certain biological needs. He requires sleep, he requires food, he requires water, and he requires a baseline of physiological and psychological stimuli to keep from going insane. 

A billionaire can owe nothing and own everything he desires. He can retire early and sink his time, energy and attention into whatever pursuits he sees fit. Like the homeless man, he is still beholden to basic biology, but he must also manage his considerable assets. Even if he delegates the task of asset management to someone else, he still has to maintain a relationship with and monitor the chosen manager. 

So, neither a homeless person nor a billionaire can attain absolute freedom. But what about absolute imprisonment? Not possible either.

A concentration camp inmate is degraded beyond the bounds of our imagination. Solitude is impossible. Dignity is torn away. Cleanliness is unattainable. Work is endless, agonising, and completely meaningless. There is no safe space. Death can come at the whim of a camp officer, or via a betrayal courtesy of a fellow prisoner. Yet. In such a hell-on-earth, where a person’s very humanity is denied and suffering is the standard state of existence, there remains within each prisoner an inextinguishable candle of resistance that no external force or circumstance can snuff out. No matter the degradation, the pain, the humiliation, officers cannot force consent from the mind of an inmate. Nothing they do can compel a prisoner to accept the rightness of their treatment.

Imagine it as a spectrum, a sliding scale whose extremes can only be approached, never arrived at. Except, perhaps, in death.