I spend a hell of a lot of time inside my head trying make sense of a several concepts with which I battle.
One such concept is the idea of freedom, or specifically, how much freedom and control do I have over my own life.
Freedom took pole position in my psyche after a rowsing speech on the matter from out tour guide in the Sahara. Freedom is so etched into Berber culture it is symbolized through the Yaz on their flag.
I loved hearing the passion with which our guide spoke about his people’s love for freedom and how they fought and protested to keep it so many times.
The desire to actualise ourselves through our freedom seems universally sacred, which fascinates me.
The concept of freedom is something I’ve wrestled with for most of my adult life.
Though my life may look like a great, free spirited adventure, I find myself constantly frustrated by a lingering feeling that I’m not, nor have I ever truly had freedom and I devote a great deal of my time pondering why.
The dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.”
Part of the solution I’ve reached as to why I constantly wrestle with feelings of oppression, is that these three rights (action, speech and thought) are both linked and hierarchical and without one the other two are impossible.
The lowest level of freedom, I believe, is freedom of speech but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We all have the ability to speak freely should we choose, however speech does little to change the world around you without action and so I think it’s contribution to actual freedom is minimal.
Even without the freedom to voice it, we can still have the freedom of an opinion, we just can’t share that opinion with anyone else, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean we can’t act on those opinions, depending on our care for the consequences.
Which leads us to the second level of freedom, action.
Freedom of action exists, however it is limited by laws, social norms and socially determined morals and ethics. This means complete freedom of action can only exist if we choose to ignore the consequences should our actions go against what is deemed “right” within the social groups we live and associate with.
One could also argue that freedom of action is also limited by our basic human needs for survival. For instance we must eat for energy to perform various actions, so our freedom of action is limited by our need to eat to fuel those actions and go on surviving. Furthermore, human beings are social creatures by design. In ancient times being part of a group meant a better chance of survival, so belonging is a survival need and as such not adhering to the standards of the social groups with which we seek to belong may (or should) cause us distress as it is jeopardizing one of our most primal survival needs.
You could also argue that these pressures to act in a certain way for the sake of survival don’t actually inhibit us from performing the actions we want, they may just deter us and thus we must still have freedom of action. However if we act in such a way that may cause us harm (physically, psychologically or socially) then we are technically increasing our chances of dying, which (all theories of the afterlife aside) is the ultimate form of oppression as when we die, so too does any freedom we ever had – which is an incredible oxymoron. Why would we use freedom of action if it may rob us of our ongoing freedom across all facets of life? Is one particular type of momentary freedom worth that kind of sacrifice? (I actually don’t know I’m just riffing).
Moronic as deathly actions may seem, their potential consequences still don’t mean we can’t act freely, even to the potential detriment of our survival, so freedom of action can still be argued as being achievable, regardless of it’s consequences.
Given there are valid arguments for both sides regarding freedom of action it seems that there must be a higher level of functioning which influences the free nature of such actions.
Which brings us to the third and final right of freedom.
I believe freedom of thought is impossible and I believe it is this understanding that causes me (and probably many others) so much internal distress.
Yes, we can think anything at any time and for any duration of time, we have that freedom.
But do we
But without complete control of our thoughts how much freedom do they really have.
Perhaps spending much of my life dealing with an assortment of mental ailments and devoting a great deal of time and energy to strengthening my self-awareness so I can hone in on when my thoughts are real and rational or obtrusive and irrational, products of the quirks in my mind, has given me an appreciation of the volume and power unwanted and uncontrolled thoughts can have in our daily lives.
We may have the freedom of thought, but we do not necessarily have freedom to think.
Obviously you could argue that we can conjure up any thought we want consciously when prompted. Say for example if I said think of a bear you can immediately picture a bear.
But how truly bear-like is your thought and how much control do you have over your thought bear. Where are you drawing your thought bear from? A memory? If so your thought truly your own is it a product of visual stimulus you had no control over seeing and thus selected to be projected into our conscious by a means beyond our control.
Without the memory of “bear” we cannot think of “bear” so our thought is controlled in part by memory, over which we have some control, but not complete.
Also what does that mean for unconscious thoughts? Can we control our desires and urges that exist simmering below the surface of our conscious mind?
A married man who sees a woman that isn’t his wife he is attracted to can control his actions and choose not to try and sleep with her.
However how much control does he have over his attraction to her?
He cant, he has a billion events that have shaped his idea of beauty and as such when he sees someone that fits those criteria he will automatically think they are attractive.
So how free does that make our minds?
I honestly don’t know how to answer that question. Obviously we can influence the way we think and advances in neuroscience show us that we can even physiologically alter our brain and thus change our capacity to think.
But does that give us the freedom to control our thoughts, even if we can influence the bandwidth on which they can come and go? Our minds work like a billion song iPod on shuffle, you can choose which songs may appear when you listen to it, but have no control over which songs come on. Sure you can potentially delete a few songs or add some more, maybe even narrow the songs down into playlists (like schemas we create to respond to certain events in our minds) making it more likely you will hear the one you want to when you hit play. However an algorithm far too complicated to control at will ultimately dictate when and what we hear.
Therefore I posit freedom of thought cannot exist and as such neither can freedom of action or speech below it.
If we have no complete control of ALL our thoughts are not therefore free to think on command, then we also can’t act or speak on command. We may only act and speak as prompted by our thoughts, which may be selected freely, but may also occur by means of something beyond our control.
So what the fuck does that mean for those who fight so passionately for freedom if TRUE freedom (as per it’s definition) doesn’t exist.
Perhaps another linguistic concept with a more concrete physical attainability is a better pursuit?
The amount of control we have to exercise our full spectrum of acceptable actions, speech and thought seems worthy of fighting for.
But that opens an entire new can of worms in what is an acceptable amount of control to have in life to be happy.
Which is another reason I think I struggle so much with feelings of oppression. I’ve never felt in complete control of my thoughts and being aware of that lack of control has meant I constantly feel oppressed by my mind and given the hierarchy outlined above, oppressed in general.
I have no idea how to un-know this awareness of the impossibility of complete control of our lives, so does that mean life just becomes an exercise in acceptance?
In our quest for self actualization and an identity as a functionin
I guess so?
But I honestly don’t think I know…
Fuck I’m weird