On Freedom

Or Why We Choose to be Chained

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“close up photo of chain” by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

Scarcity refers to the fundamental economic problem of the gap between limited resources and theoretically limitless wants. The mismatch between the supply and demand wobbles the delicate equilibrium, and the market rearranges the terms to achieve once again the desired balance. It succeeds in doing so by raising the price.

In simple words, the scarcer the product, the higher its value.

Now, if we examine social rights under the prism of economic science and consider them as abstract goods, we can easily distinguish the most valuable ones. I believe we will agree that freedom and the right to self-determination stand at the top of the ladder.

Fortunately, according to recent demographics and surveys, we are experiencing the most peaceful period in human history ever and the number of free, democratic countries keeps on rising. Yes, the numbers fluctuate a bit from time to time, but no one can deny the fact that there is an overall upward trend.

So, since liberty is no longer a scarce product and, in comparison to past regimes, exists in abundance, then I can’t help but wonder.

Why is it still considered the most valuable of all goods, so precious in fact that people are willing to even die in the name of freedom?

A hypothesis

Perhaps, the reason being is that freedom is not our birthright, as we all falsely believe, but a privilege that can be taken away at any given moment; because it is something fragile and fleeting and irreplaceable.

On the other hand, maybe it’s because freedom is indeed rare and scarce; because freedom is so much more than not having an oppressor dictating your life with fear and violence, with hot lashes on your back and heavy chains around your feet.

Freedom always comes from within. There have been men, imprisoned in strict and dirty confinements, that run freely in green meadows with the power of their imagination or were carried away by a vibrant tune playing in their minds; and there have been men that have never been in a cell, that lived in democratic societies, but worked for countless of hours behind a desk with stacked towers of paperwork to pay bills and taxes and get nothing in return.

So who is free?

What we experience as freedom today is just a delusion, a misleading gambit, a fabrication of reality, a figment of a troubled mind’s imagination.

Our chains

Sadly, the older I get, the more certain I am that throughout human history in its entirety there must not have been a single individual who conducted himself in a completely free manner.

You are chained to the memory of an old love, an archetype that defines every next lover and the recollection of them, popping randomly without warning, holds you back and prevents you from finding happiness in the warm embrace of someone new.

You are chained to foolish superstitions, traditions, and prejudices that pass on from generation to generation and were conceived solely thanks to silliness and lack of education, and the only reason these superstitions persist is that they have worked their way to our subconscious level through constant repetition and time, like a habit. It only takes a moment of clear thinking and honest questioning, unbiased from tradition’s blinders, to see how irrational and riddled with holes they are. “Don’t rattle the keys; it brings bad news… Don’t get out of the house, unless forty days have passed since you gave birth… Use the same entrance when you leave to keep your good luck… Don’t put the bread upside down; it’s disrespectful to God…” I could fill dozens of pages with this kind of crap. Occupying your mind with meaningless trivialities means you don’t get the chance to consider what really matters and give solutions to actual problems.

You are chained to an unfounded belief to one religion, only one from the thousands that have existed throughout centuries, and the sole reason for that is you were taught to do so during your childhood by your parents, as theirs had taught them. You are chained to a religion that nurtures your fears, your insecurities, that restricts your nature, that makes you feel bad about your thoughts, that amplifies your faults, but insists on feeding you with bullshit, that you are made in the image of God. Their logic is so idiotic; they don’t even see something like that would mean either that God is defective as well, or that he shouldn’t expect us to be perfect since he created us this way.

You are chained to what other people think of you. You were raised and brainwashed to conduct yourself based on what others would think. You organize your life around other people’s opinions. Your goals aren’t your own, your dreams aren’t your own, your expectations aren’t your own. In the end, the life you are living isn’t your own.

You are chained to fashion, this superficial, shallow, meaningless trend; a piece of gold that turns out to be just the wrapping of a cheap chocolate coin. You are like the hamster that runs out of breath sprinting on the wheel without going anywhere. That’s you, trying to keep up with what fashion commands. And for what? To look like everyone else, a copy that will become outdated in a year.

You are chained to consumerism, to a way of living that always wants more and more and more. A Gargantua with an unstoppable and greedy appetite for objects and comforts, which never rests or gets satisfied. Your life orbits around your collection of electronic devices, a new set of porcelain, a big oak dining table. You belong to your belongings and serve them as your master. Your God is in the shape of money, lifeless paper rectangles. You fling yourself with a massive hunt for cash to satisfy inflated needs that are not even real, to begin with. We gather money, we save, we set up a plan of retirement to start enjoying our lives when we get sixty-five as if anything can reassure us we will get that old. If you think about it, it sounds a bit like the organized church’s promises for life after death.

You are chained to a political direction that instructs you what to think, what to say and what motion to support. A political ideology that tilts conveniently towards its selfish interests and thus every day stands for something else, but you are expected to follow and, now that you have become a hypocrite, restructure once again your beliefs. Don’t waste time on people that always start a conversation by asking where you stand politically. You are more than just a good/evil leftist or a good/evil rightist. The only reason I condone to answer such a question — if I am left or right that is — is to clarify where my manhood rests for my tailor to make the correct adjustments to my trousers. Don’t define yourself with words other people use to state where their penis points to.

You are chained to personal fears, irrational or not isn’t really the case, since, either way, the strength to overcome them resides in you. But you will only be able to do so after you break free from the rest of your bonds. You are chained to the fear of failure, fear of death, loneliness and the unknown. There is only one way to conquer these fears for real and not just suppress them or sweep them under the rag for them to come back stronger later. That is to confront them, to look them in the eyes and measure them as you would do with your opponent in a boxing fight. The only weapons in your battle I know that bring result is philosophy, science, and art.

You are chained to the fake image you maintain on social media, trying to convince strangers you have the time of your life. You are a whore paid with likes. You upload trending songs, even though they are not of your taste, you write posts that don’t reflect your stance, you pose for hours and have a Ph.D. on how to take professional photos that look natural and effortless. You are living a lie. You crave for self-validation, but you won’t find any going on like this. The emptiness you feel inside is precisely that. A stressful competition to prove who’s living the best life, but no one is really living, and that’s why you are not free.

“You have broken your chains” you say; but the dog who after long efforts has broken his, still in its flight drags a long part of it connected to its neck” — Persius

A man may have relieved himself from many oppressors, but no one has ever lived entirely free, fully discharged from fears, hopes, and unfounded beliefs.

Michelle de Montaigne on his beautiful essay “On Solitude” cited the fine and insightful words of Persius to add in his turn: “We carry our chains with us. Our freedom is not total.”

I will go a bit further and claim that not only we carry our chains with us, but we are the ones that put them around our necks in the first place. We alone whip our backs. We alone build our prisons. Rousseau was right. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” What he was not right about is that we can’t help it.

When the primitive man saw his reflection on the calm surface of a lake and recognized himself, that was the first fall of the hammer that forged our bonds.

Self-awareness is the root of all evil. It is the root of grief and sorrow; the root of the unsatisfying. It is the starting point for all these questions that attempt, if they get answered, to justify our existence and soak it with purpose and meaning.

That’s why human nature is one of the most tragic cosmic accidents. On the one hand, we search for something that doesn’t exist outside ourselves, meaning. On the other hand, our passing through this world is so rapid that we are doomed to die with our biggest questions still unanswered.

Maybe that’s why we choose to keep our minds busy. We would rather occupy ourselves with fashion, social media, work, sports, superficial relationships, wealth, fame and posthumousness than face our mortality and the absurdity of our existence. We need our chains, we desire our restrictions, because, unlike infinity, they provide us with reference points that orient us and give us something to hold on. It is the same feeling as if you stand somewhere high and you look at the vastness of the sky. You feel dizzy and disoriented. It is scary. You think you are going to fall. You look for something to grab. It is a coping mechanism, a way to divert our minds.

Thus, finally, you are chained to a constant state of not thinking. You are terrified of the strenuous philosophical concerns, the inconceivable existential agony and the mental struggle of a life lived ontologically. Once more you choose the easy way out. You prefer a numb life, limited in the familiar where you feel comfortable.

Those who taught you, though, that “blessed are the poor in spirit” and that it’s impossible for intelligent people to feel content are wrong.

At first, yes, this journey is indeed painful and takes a while, but it won’t be like that for long. When your great worries start one by one to get resolved; when your fears calm down, disperse like smoke and perish; when your agonizing questions get something more than comforting lies and fairytales, that is satisfying and truthful answers, then you will experience a renewed, unfathomable happiness. It will almost feel like you breathe clean air for the first time in your life, and for the first time in your life, you will realize that you have no boundaries; and the same applies to your happiness.

Because to be happy is to be free.

Written by

The more I learn, the more I realise I know nothing.

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