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Relational Liberty

“Relational liberty is freedom through interdependence.”


For the rest of the day, the passengers spent time alone in their cabins, chatting in small groups about personal matters, taking pictures, helping with trimming the sails and steering Kalea, stretching, exercising or sunbathing on deck, and listening to international news on the shortwave radio. At one point, Jack asked if he could use the snorkeling equipment and get towed behind Kalea to get a fish-eye view of any marine life and the assortment of odd inanimate, semi-buoyant objects that could be seen suspended in the water column close to the surface.


Bob replied,


“Fine by me, so long as you don’t mind being trolled as shark bait.”


Sure enough, intrepid Jack spent the next several hours with mask, fins, and snorkel in the smooth water between Kalea’s twin wakes — no doubt a most enticing live lure for any large ocean predator. Fortunately for Jack, there were no curious sharks along Kalea’s path that afternoon, though he did get bonked on the head when he wasn’t looking by a semi-submerged orange-ish plastic bucket with the letters ‘… om … epot’ on the side slowly drifting and bobbing its way across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.



The conversation earlier in the day made me think of how we are emerging from a centuries-long emancipation quest of the mind and spirit that has succeeded in producing the grand illusion of human mastery over Nature. Ironically, one of the civilizational game-changing products of this newfound intellectual freedom — the Scientific Method — is itself now starkly revealing how we have overstepped Nature’s boundaries. Nevertheless, our hard-won intellectual agency surges onward. But our growth-oriented capitalist market economy, indebted to a liberal justice model that champions the emancipation of individual agency, conveniently leaves out stewardship of the environment and the economy’s creation of damaging externalities. And so we are where we are today.


Clearly, liberty must be redefined in the context of a responsible and just human-Nature relationship. Individual agency and responsible self-direction must be guided by ecological awareness. Self-directing ecological citizens who blend their hard-won freedom and agency with a deep sense of ecological trusteeship and responsibility — this is the democratic hope of the future. Privatized economic selves who only concern themselves with who gets what and how much need to be reoriented to become larger minded deliberative democratic citizens who are attentive to the common good and to obligations of trusteeship for the health of the planet. Our personal flourishing is, after all, inextricably linked to the flourishing of others and to the flourishing of the Living Earth — our fragile lifeboat in the cosmos.


In this new century, liberty must be more clearly understood as relational liberty — freedom through interdependence.


Relational liberty internalizes the freedom and well-being of all (both human and non-human) into the freedom and well-being of each. It means living life in one’s own way, but only after embedding that way of life in a tradition, a civic life of shared purpose, and rooting that life in a sense of ecological place and in a sensibility of care for Earth’s life support systems. It rejects the exclusive privileging of individualistic values over communal ones. It re-elevates Nature far above its economic role as merely as source of ‘natural capital.’ It celebrates artistry, craftsmanship, and the beauty of natural forms. It emphasizes participation, engagement, and creativity. It recognizes a socially and naturally interconnected and interdependent world. And it aspires to just and sustainable well-being for all.


American democracy was founded on the idea of maximizing individual liberty and rights as long as those rights do not interfere with the freedom and well-being of others. But in today’s crowded, full-world reality, more and more of the actions of affluent individuals and societies do interfere with the freedom and well-being of others. And we have rightly expanded our definition of ‘others’ considerably since then.


Others used to mean that only other privileged white European men were deserving of these protections in America. Then women, African Americans, and other ‘minorities’ were included. Now we are once again broadening that definition even wider to include other (future) generations and other species on the planet. Clearly, much has changed since the idea of individual liberty took hold in America. Perhaps it is time for an upgrade. Relational liberty recognizes, respects, and values all living beings — present and future. Liberty 2.0.

The Islander Knows

Sleepwalking Into Despair >

​© 2021 Rich 'Rico' Leon