I just thought of reiterating what is probably a very popular topic: illusions in our daily life, or of life in general. Specifically for this purpose I hoped to share some of what might be my thoughts on the (double/twin) illusions of freedom and control.
Disclaimer: I make no claims (see what I did there) that all this content is completely originally mine. In fact, I said ‘reiterating’, meaning I just find these concepts rather interesting.
First, freedom. Everyone seems to have a great idea of what freedom is like, especially freedom from those torturous burdens of life that weigh us down. All these burdens and chains are to some extent common to all, and to some extent private to different people. We yearn for freedom of speech (i.e. freedom from silence and other grave concepts), freedom from the ‘establishments’, freedom from human systems, even freedom from the law. All these can indeed be ambiguous and interpreted differently by different people, whether it is because of personal experience or socio-historical context. Regardless, if you will notice, I phrased everything as ‘freedom from X’.
We can say that most of our perceptions of freedom is to be free from the control of something. The control of systems, establishments, laws, powers that be, and et cetera. That’s what makes everyone yearn from freedom, from the raging teenager wanting freedom from the old man’s control, to the anti-establishment activists placard-ing all day.
But I think, we don’t see the pursuit of freedom as an escape: however that is pictured in our mind. Breaking free from the prisons of life; taking a leap of faith off the highest skyscrapers and spreading great wings; sailing across oceans to greener forests and vast lands. Whatever the case, we escape from somewhere, but do we know where we are going to? We pause for a while and say perhaps Yes, we do know: we want that freedom of choice, we want to escape to an uninhabited land stretching further than we can see, doing as we please and with no more of that old master.
As I see it, that’s where our illusions lie. By integrating all the modern pursuits of freedom we get the pursuit of the freedom of choice: the distilled essence of these escapades. Is there really freedom of choice? When we are free from the control of human systems we think we are left with a life free of imposed restrictions. But how do we survive? Away from the city, on the island, systems have to be formed for the sake of survival. It is unwise to wait for fruits to drop and animals to die; effort is put in to ensure basic necessities are met. Even water could require purification from water bodies: work must be done. So your own systems are put in; order is found so that the fruits are properly grown. Analogy as it is, what I’m trying to drive at is that ‘from’ necessarily entails ‘to’. Unless the freedom you seek is beyond the contexts of this life.
So I’m not saying freedom is completely an illusion. What I am saying is that there is no absolute freedom from everything. By escaping control of a certain unit X and gaining freedom from X, one falls into control, whether forced or chosen, of another unit Y. But then this means the real freedom of choice is the ability to choose what one wants to be controlled by. The freedom of choice is at a level higher than other freedoms: it is the ability of choosing which freedoms, and necessarily what controllers and restrictions, one wishes to have. This, I think, is the myth unfolded where appropriate. I know of several authors who have touched, whether directly or indirectly, on the nature of the freedom of love, which I think is a very apt illustration of the misconception: people want to be able to love whoever they please, or as their heart inclines with a resounding throb – the falling into helpless love. But what we cannot see is the state we land ourselves in when we fall. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Finding the ability to truly love freely is also finding the control this choice has on your life: you may not realise it because this state of control was chosen by you, so initially you willingly subject yourself to this restraint placed on your ‘heart’. It only fully impacts us when (yes, when, not if) your heart is ‘wrung and possibly broken’: when you see your likely dreams of a beautiful relationship have little hiccups and strains, tears; when your love is tested, there the control suddenly bears down on you more than the freedom lifted you up. The shattering of your illusion is, however, important, if you want to enjoy this apparent paradox of the freedom to love.
I think I’ll actually touch on control another time.