The Relative Nature of the Concept “Freedom”
“slave screams he thinks he knows what he wants
slave screams thinks he has something to say
slave screams he hears but doesn’t want to listen
slave screams he’s being beat into submission
“don’t open your eyes you won’t like what you see
the devils of truth steal the souls of the free
don’t open your eyes take it from me
I have found
you can find
happiness in slavery
“slave screams he spends his life learning conformity
slave screams he claims he has his own identity
slave screams he’s going to cause the system to fall
slave screams but he’s glad to be chained to that wall
“don’t open your eyes you won’t like what you see
the blind have been blessed with security
don’t open your eyes take it from me
I have found
you can find
happiness in slavery
“I don’t know what I am I don’t know where I’ve been
human junk just words and so much skin
stick my hands through the cage of this endless routine
just some flesh caught in this big broken machine.”
~”Happiness in Slavery” Nine Inch Nails
In another post, I discussed how “freedom” is subjective… it is a relative state of mind. There is no such thing as “freedom”, no absolute that you can describe, nothing you can point to as freedom, nothing you can hold in your hand. “Freedom” means something different to everyone, and generally we tend to focus not on the relative “freedom” we have, instead we focus on the freedom we lack.
GI Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic and philosopher, suggests that we all exist in a kind of prison. As the character Morpheus describes this prison, it is a “prison for your mind”. We sense the restrictions placed upon us, we experience the limitations both within ourselves and externally built around us. But, since it is a prison for your mind… since it is a prison largely dependent on your own feeling of being limited, is it a place you need to be?
“Need” is yet another subjective term, though less subjective than “freedom”. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist made famous for his theory regarding need; the Hierarchy of Need. Maslow’s Hierarchy breaks the human condition into several basic categories of need which man strives to fulfill. He also suggests that these needs must be prioritized and met moving from one successive tier to the next. With the fulfillment of one tier, other tiers become easier to fulfill.
The lowest rung on Maslow’s Hierarchy is Physiological; the basic things our bodies require to remain functional: food, water, air, sex (the physical act of), sleep, homeostasis, and excretion. This is common-sense… if you are unable to fulfill many of these basic needs, you die. If you are dead, then the pursuit of all other needs is moot. In regard to “freedom”, these basic needs represent fundamental limitations that are a part of our condition… we cannot be free of them and remain “human” in the manner we are most familiar with.
These basic needs are, under what I would consider normal conditions, relatively easy to fulfill and free to all. While the limitations discussed above represent “real” restrictions, there are another set of restrictions related to this tier. Artificial restrictions are those restrictions we either place upon ourselves, or are placed upon us by society (which we have a hand in to one extent or another). Food, for example, is used as a means of social control. First, a value system is established limiting what qualifies as food to a very narrow part of the over-all edible possibilities. Then, the means of producing or acquiring the “acceptable” food sources are regulated and limited, requiring us to engage in the system in order to eat.
People often forget that “freedom” includes not only the pursuit of one’s bliss, but also the possibility of starvation.
The next tier on Maslow’s Hierarchy is Safety; security of the body, security of resources (often through employment), the security of laws and rules, of health and welfare, of the family, and of personal property. “Freedom” in this regard is a two-way street. If you are restricted by government, it means that certain obligations must be met in order to be considered under that governments protection; you must obey the rules and meet minimum requirements. While restrictive, it also means (generally) that you are less apt to have someone of sounder mind or body take from you any of the things on this tier for fear of repercussions from the authority to which you are beholden.
“Freedom” from government means freedom to have whatever you consider yours taken from you by force from whoever has the means and desire to do so. There is nothing civil about civilization. Despite our assumed higher-culture, without the threat of repercussions from a superior force, the only thing between yourself and someone who wants what you have would be your wits and physical prowess.
And, there is always someone bigger and smarter than you ready to take what you cannot defend.
When that tier is fulfilled, Maslow suggests that we can then work toward fulfilling a Sense of Belonging; family, friends, romantic relationships, etc. This tier is more defined by cultural value structures than the previous two. Certain social standards exist which define a “family” and how a family is supposed to interact. The same is true in regards to friends and relationships. These value structures are semi-fluid, changing with time becoming either more or less inclusive. 50 years ago, a “family” was one man, one woman, and a 2.3 children. 30 years prior to that, the number of children in an average family was significantly higher, largely owing to the expectation that children were a method to fulfilling the first two tiers. Today, a family unit can consist of any number of parents regardless of gender combinations. Non-traditional families are not yet fully embraced by the culture, but the shift is in place. The definition of acceptable friends and relationships are also in transition.
Due to their transitional nature, the value structures applicable to this tier are used as a lever to guide the masses into the parameters set by the society for greater control. When the traditional values were the norm, living outside of that value structure openly made you a social pariah, subject to the derision and disdain of your peers and potentially the loss of rights because of your “perverted lifestyle”. Today, failure to recognize and embrace the changes in our value structure achieves relatively the same result, suggesting that you are biased, antiquated in your thinking, negating your opinion and voice in the public forum.
In either case, you only have the freedom to live as you see fit within the established acceptable parameters. Choosing to live outside those parameters means accepting the pariah-status and the consequences involved; predominantly continuous pressure to conform. A relatively greater freedom would be not only to live in the manner and by the values that you see fit, but the inherent ability to allow others to do the same, even if you disagree with the values they live by. The social enforcement of a value structure is the primary method for artificial restrictions of freedom, allowing for the restrictions placed in the lower, or more basic, tiers.
Esteem is the next tier; including self-esteem, confidence, a sense of achievement or the ability to achieve and progress, the respect and admiration of others, and the ability to respect and admire others. Like “freedom”, these are largely relative and internal concepts, but are artificially influenced by external pressures. You are encouraged to be proud of yourself and your accomplishments, but only within a narrow-band of acceptable achievements. What is worthy of pride should be self-determined, instead it is determined by others. The paradox in this is that while you may experience a sense of accomplishment and self-worth in any endeavor, we are taught that when others do not share in our assessments, the value of our achievements is diminished. Thus, we learn to chase external validation and shackle ourselves by the chain of public admiration.
This does not mean, however, that social acceptance is not rewarding. Indeed, social acceptability can be very fulfilling, but it must be understood for what it is; fleeting and secondary to your own personal sense of accomplishment. Again, this requires a shift in our personal value structures. Externally, we are encouraged to chase the validation of others, the proverbial carrot tied to the end of a stick.
The risk of not chasing the carrot is getting nothing but stick.
The final tier in Maslow’s Hierarchy is Self-Actualization. Here is where we develop our morality, our ability to accept the facts of our condition, where we develop the expression of our creativity, and so-on. These higher aspirations are almost entirely internal, and thus have been perverted into either something artificially external (such as morality), or largely dissuaded by external pressures (creativity and acknowledgements of facts). The limitation we experience relative to this tier is in its de-prioritization. Morality is either an absolute externally enforced or is to be ignored completely; a naturally evolved morality is shunned or considered naive. Creativity and an acceptance of facts are devalued, with those energies directed toward frivolity.
Indeed, this tier is largely ignored altogether, leading to a failure to complete Maslow’s progression and what he would views as stunted development in most people. Our external and artificial value system has lead to the priority being given in our society to the Esteem tier; we chase after validation to the near exclusion of all else; family, friends, relationships… even personal health and welfare.
When we are internally directionless, we are given direction by others.
“Freedom”, being relative, is a matter of personal value structure, either self-determined or determined by others. This represents a scale; your value structure is either more self-determined or more determined by others. “Freedom” is the internal sense that your value structure is self-determined, even if by way of self-determination you choose the same values as would have been given to you if determined by external pressures… it is purely a matter of personal perspective. “Freedom” is also the inherent ease by which a value structure can be pursued; a self-determined value structure that is outside the acceptable parameters established by the herd meets with friction… what we call “oppression”. Just like “freedom”, “oppression” is simply a matter of perspective; we either experience it based on our value structures or we do not.
The system either works for you, or you work for it.
At least, this seems to be the way of the world. We seem, however, to be discovering a third option; the route of the Slyman. The Slyman recognizes precisely what we have been discussing here; “freedom” is relative, based on your own perceptions and your value structures. These things are self-determined, unless you lack personal direction, in which case they are then determined for you. Most people are not aware of there even being an option for self-determination, so the vast majority feel “oppression” in a very general way, and tend to favor their “minimal oppression” to the greater risk of “freedom”. The system which governs these people is itself restricted by a particular set of parameters and works through a particular set of processes which are in slow but continuous transition. The greater your opposition to that system, the greater the external pressure to conform.
If those parameters and processes are understood, and the transitions predicted, the system can be used by the Slyman to make his existence outside those parameters easier, reducing the “oppression” he experiences in his pursuits and increasing his relative sense of “freedom”. Through comprehension and awareness of the system, that system can be manipulated for our own benefit… even changed.
Happiness can be found in slavery. The Slyman understands this, which is why he prefers to let those who’s eyes are closed remain closed. He lives by a self-determined value structure… his eyes are open. His task now is comprehension. Can he continue his self-determination while understanding the nuances of the system that seeks to consume him? Can he safely navigate the thin line between pariah and slave, not only in open view of the forces that demand conformity but also within his own mind? Does he have the awareness to recognize that the parameters set about him are in his mind, are his to manipulate, and can either act as a cage keeping him in, or a barrier to keep others out?
If we are aware… if our eyes are open, our first step is rightly defined by Mr. TC Downey. To resist the pressures and currents that ebb and flow about us, we must develop a self-determined direction; what he describes as a “Calling“. We must live deliberately. In that deliberate effort, we must recognize that if we are oppressed, it is because we choose in our minds to be oppressed. If we are to be free, we must convince ourselves of our freedom.