Is Freedom Real?

Thucydides – whose name I wouldn’t try to pronounce in front a self-respecting crowd – was a revered Greek historian who once said that the great secret to happiness was freedom. He also added that freedom is only conquerable through courage. Courage has various manifestations and goals, and it hasn’t eluded many great leaders and thinkers. But these people were still never happy, not in the truest sense of the word. That’s because, even though they were courageous, like all of mankind, they were never utterly and completely free.

Freedom, or free will, is a word tossed around like a piece of trivia to satisfy the littlest of uncertainties, while the real concept is almost never mentioned. Either because most are afraid of it or do not understand it. Freedom is the act of total independence; be it from society, governments or religions. It doesn’t mean to never be influenced, but choosing not to be, not without knowledge or consent. Even though we rarely recognise it, all our choices are made by our environments. Long before popstars have to tell us, we go with the flow. We conform.

The opposite of freedom is slavery, and the opposite of a free man a slave. I talked this over with a friend who works as an accountant for one of the private banks in the country. She doesn’t like her job; she considers it a nuisance. She repeatedly mentions that anyone else could do it, and in her own admission, concurs that accounting is not much more than “counting other people’s money”. And yet she didn’t believe me when I argued that she was more a slave than a free person.

She counteracted by saying that a slave is someone who is forced to work for another. I couldn’t agree more, even though I draw a different opinion. Is there a person in the world that doesn’t have to work for someone else? Except maybe autonomous kings of lore! Even heads of state, a President or Prime Minister, work for the country whose people elected them to office, or at least they say they do. And an owner of any enterprise works to serve the appetites of the customers just as those under him/her serve that company’s desires.

But she retorted by implying that none of these people are forced to do what they do; they could quit at any time. True, they could quit, and never get any other job. But then what? Live on government welfare or the compassion of relatives or parents? Isn’t this what the economists call Dependence, the perfect antitheses to freedom? If a person gives money to another, without any services rendered, then that person expects something in return, usually loyalty and unfaltering respect.

One way or another, even though people are not forced to work exactly the same way a slave is, if not directly, they are obliged to do so by the indirect dictates of capitalism and social life. Our materialistic world does allow a slight difference to slip through between a slave and a supposedly ‘free man’ – the latter is paid considerably more for his services and less despised by his bosses.

Right about now, I was starting to sound like a cynic, so I had to remedy the situation. Yes, jobs are like prisons that every adult would be confined to until maybe retirement. But it does not always have to be so; sometimes a job is a salvation, an escape from the dullness of life. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw this documentary called Crumb, about the famous cartoonist Robert Crumb, and how his work, his art, saved his life. We get to see the lives of both his brothers – both seemingly smarter than him, but completely depressed and miserable. Robert, like his brothers, is socially awkward and physically unattractive, but unlike them, mostly because he was courageous to be what he most wanted to be, leads a much happier life.

It takes more than a satisfying job to be free of course. Everyone – some more than others – is more than a product of their jobs. There are our surroundings to consider.

When I told that accountant friend of mine all of this, she replied, “then in that case, no one will ever be happy”. Anyone who is courageous enough could have the job they love to do, but unless all of those things I mentioned are evacuated, and their influences swept away from the conscious and unconscious mind, true happiness will remain a figment of the imagination. Hilariously enough, for any one person in the world to be free, and by extension happy, everyone else in the world has to be free too. Yes, having a fulfilling job, a loving spouse and children, true friends and a democratic country all help someone become freer than most, but none of it means anything if one still has to live on Earth.

I guess what I was trying to tell the girl was that, if heaven was such a great place, then why did Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit? Better yet, when one day after the Creator comes back to Earth and takes us all to heaven again, what is to say we do not do it again? I am not trying to put a religious spin on things; just implying that the problem maybe so deeply imbedded in us, it is a part of us. To be completely free and totally happy, all of us have to be flawless and pitch perfect. But the term ‘perfect human’ is an oxymoron, there is no such thing. For millennia, mankind has wondered what it is that makes us humans, and maybe the simple ironic answer is our lack of freedom. Unlike other animals, we are intellectual beings, and for that reason we will always look for a way to be free. And exactly because of that reason, because we are too self-aware, too conscious, too intellectual, we will never actually be free. Thank God we have a sense of humour then!

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian tesfaye is a film reviewer whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at christian.Tesfaye@yahoo.Com

Published on Jul 26,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 847]



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