Monday, May 30, 2011

Free doom?

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free." 
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

The following post was inspired by two similar events, even though the topic itself has been intriguing me for quite a while. Questions like 'what is freedom?' and 'how do you know that you are free?' can sound a bit too philosophical. But in the end, is freedom the same as living in democracy and peace? I don't think so.

In his masterpiece “Escape from freedom”, Erich Fromm points out that freedom is the opportunity to have and express your own opinion – the one that is based on your own critical estimate of the social and political environment you live in[*]. What this means is being able to ask yourself what is it that YOU want and whether you really want it, or only think you want it because it is “normal” and expected for you to want it. I wonder how many people actually stop themselves on the way to achieving “wealth and success” or starting a family and ask themselves the question: Do I really want this and will it make me happy?

People are usually surprised if you ask them what it is that they want in life. They tend to give you this confused look, as if this is the first time they’ve ever heard of such a question. Most of the time, they will just shrug it off and admit that they aren't sure. On the other hand, expectations are high and the paths are laid; we walk them with great certitude while never asking ourselves where it is that we are actually going. I don't know about you, but the pressure of finishing an education to get a job with the purpose of making money so you can buy a flat and start a family doesn't sounds all that appealing to me.

And I can imagine after going through all of that and finally achieving the goals set, that you can easily end up feeling quite empty and exhausted, possibly even cheated. Especially if you find yourself stuck in a job you hate, but need to keep in order to pay off the loan for a flat you share with a spouse with whom you're with solely “for the sake of the children”. And all of that before you’ve even had the chance to discover who you are and what is it that you want to do?

To go back to the two events that I mentioned at the beginning: both have something in common. The common thread is me breaking the law while biking; the first time riding on the wrong side of the road and the second time riding on the pedestrian sidewalk. Both times strangers attempted to push me off the bike, and it was no accident. After recovering from the initial shock, I started wondering what could possibly have filled them with so much anger? I was in no way endangering anyone else and there was more than enough room for everyone. Only later did I realize that it was not about me endangering others but about me breaking THE RULES. They are put there for everyone and I certainly shouldn't be so presumptive as to take advantage of the situation and do whatever I please. Rules are there to be respected. Even if they make you suffer.

In the end freedom seems to be quite a slippery ground to tread. It doesn't matter how fast we're running, if we don't know where we're headed. There might be many ways on how to get there. Following the rules however, is not one of them.

Excluding expressing fascist, racist, nationalist beliefs and other kinds of hate speech.