I’ve been thinking about freedom. I’ve been thinking about individuality. I don’t think it’d be much of an overstatement to say that all of us count freedom and individuality as high goods to be upheld. That’s not suprising because our media tells us the same, that what we are doing in this culture is ‘individual’ and ‘free’ and that these are both good things. So in that regard, culture and counterculture seem to be in accord.
But I’m going to suggest that we don’t really know much of anything about freedom, or individuality, by and large. What we know by those names is actually better described as lawfulness and selectivity.
Oh really? Yes really. The western democracies are a legacy of the rational enlightenment, of the renaissance, of the glorification and love of the free human being, of the ability to make free choices, supposedly. These are written as law in fact.
But let me ask you something: how is it that laws make you free? Of course they can’t. At best they afford protection for our freedoms from those who might take them from us. Freedom cannot, must not, originate from the law. Some documents state our freedom, our choices come from god. Some might say that our freedom comes from within. In any case, since god is notoriously silent on these matters, in practice the only source of your freedom is you. The law is supposed to protect that. The global society we live in is supposed to be founded on these principles.
So doesn’t it seem perverse to identify our inherent freedom, our ability to make choices, with our society? These things do not originate from cops and soldiers and politicians, with dusty pieces of paper, however much the media might like to make you think so. But really, chances are, that’s all you’ve been raised to think about. our laws make us free, and our public servants are supposed to protect and serve the laws which make us free, and the society founded on those laws.
What do I know about freedom? I know what I’ve been told. I know what I’m allowed to do or not. I know what others are allowed to do or not. I know the consequences of breaking the law. I know the system, mostly, seems to work on that basis. But there’s absolutely nothing in there about me being free. Nobody ever told me I was free. They told me I was a child, then a student, then a citizen, then an employee. Nobody ever told me the laws were arrived at by a consensus of free beings to protect the rights and freedoms of those beings to make choices. It raises the question who those beings were, and who are their inheritors?
So all I can conclude is that I was never taught anything about freedom. I was never taught to make choices. I was taught to examine options. I was told that I had so many options, and my freedom came from all those options and how much protection I had to explore those options. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted different options. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted a different menu, or no menu at all. Why on earth would I want a different menu? The menu makes me free after all and heaven forbid you reject your freedom.
and I look at these people who seem to be able to do whatever they like, and when they get caught, we’re told that these people are criminals, that they are the aberrations. But the more you look, the more you see that the aberrations are quite common amongst those who have the resources to manipulate the law. Society tells that these are exceptions, that these people violate the spirit of our society’s principles. But that’s not true at all. These are the real individuals. These are the ones who make real choices. These are the ones who get to have a different menu. And they do all that because they are the ones who are, in practice, free. These are the ones our societies were made to protect, and if at any time the laws constrain them it is understood as a real mistake and an aberration. They, and their children, are taught the truth: that the society exists to serve them, while the rest of us continue to wallow in the idea that we are supposed to serve the society, because the society makes us free.
Society functions on consensus, and laws function based on threat of deviating from that consensus. To immunise one’s self from threat removes one from the consensus or at least renders it irrelevant.