So now let’s go back to our original question. What is freedom in the abstract?
Two key factors involve space and time. There is plenty of both.
This was beautifully expressed by John Muir:
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom . . .”
So what definition covers all the bases? I finally boiled it down to the following:
“Freedom consists of depth and breadth of available choices.”
In order to clarify what is meant by “depth”, I submit that all choices are not created equal.
Physical freedom and freedom from serious obligations are much more fundamental, having more depth than freedom from trivial obligations. If I am physically paralyzed or responsible for a disabled dependent, my freedom is much more curtailed than if I am obligated to pay consumer debt. Still most of us imagine our freedom is most limited by financial considerations. In this I think we are mistaken. It is much more likely that we are lacking mental or emotional freedom, inhibited by what William Blake calls “mind-forged manacles.”
Once we have a grip on these fundamental “deep” freedoms, we can focus on breadth of choices. Let’s take my RV idea for example. A friend disabused me of the notion that the European vacationers I had been watching with such envy had a great deal more freedom than I did. Sure they didn’t have the expense or hassle of staying at hotels and eating at restaurants but they were extremely limited in where they could take an RV and the nice RV parks were far from cheap. Generally, in order to visit the sites in local cities, they would have to unhook the car and travel miles in heavy traffic to fight the crowds and spend the day without any of the conveniences of the comfortable RV, then return, tired and hungry, fighting traffic on the way back to the park where they would face cleaning up and getting dinner. As a backpacker staying at hostels which were generally located near the train station, I had none of these worries.
This is when I started thinking about stealth camping in a van. A normal cargo van could easily be tricked out with a fan vent, comfortable bed, and a desk and still accommodate camping equipment and supplies. It could be taken to an RV park for tent camping or provide a safe place to sleep whenever conditions seemed unsafe or prohibitively expensive. Classified as a vehicle, a van could go anywhere a car could go and, due to the high wheel base, it could often go further off grid to places where neither an RV or car could be driven safely. Parked at a Casino or a Walmart it would look like any other white Chevy Express working cargo van. The purchase also wasn’t a huge commitment since a working cargo van holds its value and is easily sold when compared to an RV or boat. If not used for camping, it could be used as normal transportation or as a mobile office.
I chose a current year lightly used Chevy Express with a V6 engine, paying cash. I didn’t see any reason to take the depreciation hit on a new van or any reason to finance and pay interest when I didn’t have to. Insurance and the extended warranty were expensive but not as much as it would have been for a heavy truck and trailer combined.
At this point, I considered my breadth of choices with the van camper idea. I could still drive the van to somewhere with long-term parking and take a cruise, or catch a plane or train and return at my leisure. I could still stay at a hostel, B&B, or hotel if I chose to do so. I could shop for groceries and cook at a campsite or rest stop or eat at a restaurant.
About the only limitation I could imagine involved going to places so rugged and off grid that a V8 engine and four-wheel drive would be required. While there was certainly a possibility that the “future me” would wish to visit such places, it seemed unlikely since I had never fantasized about roughing it to that extent, at least not alone.
At this point I felt that I had managed to maximize choices for my future self. Now I only had to get my present self healthy again in order for the adventure to continue.