Jorge Luis Borges once made a point about the way people organize their thoughts introducing an alleged Chinese encyclopedia in which animals are classified as:
(i) those that belong to the Emperor; (ii) embalmed ones; (iii) those that are trained; (iv) suckling pigs; (v) mermaids; (vi) fabulous ones; (vii) stray dogs; (viii) those included in the present classification; (ix) those that tremble as if they were mad; (x) innumerable ones; (xi) those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush; (xii) others; (xiii) those that have just broken a flower vase; and (xiv) those that from a long way off look like flies.Though some of the categories mentioned are poorly defined* even the ones whose membership is clear are pretty useless. Even worse, dividing animals into “those that tremble as if they were mad” and those who don’t will make it difficult to think clearly exactly because it’s not a useful category.
I can see the value in the conservative definition of freedom as “absence of coercion” (negative liberty) though I prefer the liberal tradition of freedom as “having a wide range of appealing options” ( positive liberty). But I’m having trouble seeing the value of defining freedom as “absence of government coercion”. It doesn’t seem to describe a useful category.
To keep things simple I’ll refer to “absence of government coercion” as Freedomg.
Freedomg make it harder to think because it deprives us of the more useful definitions of freedom (Freedom- and Freedom+). Without those definitions we have to make decisions on the moral equivalent of the pre-Copernican gears-within-gears model of the solar system. Sure it gets us the right answer; it’s just harder than it has to be.
So let’s analyze the depravity of Evey’s imprisonment in “V is for Vendetta”. Using Freedomg you can’t make much progress without knowing 1) Whether her captor is really a government official 2) How much you personally value freedom vs. efficiency. Using Freedom+ and Freedom- the answer is clear: It doesn't matter who is confining Evey, her curcumstances are equally poor either way. End of story.
Or lets take an example with “animals that tremble as if they were mad” (Animalst). Here’s some advice: If you’re walking in a forest and a wild Animalt confronts you, play dead. Also, if an Animal not t confronts you, figure out if its dangerous and then act accordingly. Of course, it all depends on how dangerous you feel Animalst are visa-vi Animalsnot t.
Oh wait, I just put you all to sleep. Splash some cold twater on your face and try to think about it.
*How do we distinguish between fabulous and non-fabulous animals now that Liberace is dead?