Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Feels like Freedom

As I said yesterday, tokens of privilege granted by superior powers can often feel like freedom. Having a "better" job, having money, having prestige and title. Having a certain range of action with relative impunity compared to those who, were they to do same, would not be tolerated. All these might be said to be more like freedom than other positions and levels of privilege. We can debate whether or not they are freedom itself, based on whether freedom is an absolute for us or if we see it as a range or spectrum.

All that is to say that feeling free can be illusory, and we should simply be careful here. Freedom is used to sell everything from handguns to cigarettes to alcoholism, and while I believe in freedom to partake of weaponry and intoxicants alike, I would not say that either necessarily guarantee freedom.

So I don't say I'm free in an absolute sense. I acknowledge my privilege, acknowledge that it is unearned, acknowledge that it is granted by society and the state. I try to distinguish that from my real, individual powers, because I want to accept but combat the former while building on the latter. After all, personal power is the wellspring from which all good things must flow.

I try not to beat myself up for not raising my own livestock or, at present, growing my own produce. I know and admit that by buying food at a supermarket or even most farmer's markets, I am participating in a large enterprise maintained by iniquity and coercion. (My mind flashes back to seeds dipped in pink fertilizer bought from a country store for the farm we kept when I was a child. Even then, I marveled at the depth of the artificial around me.) And yet, at this point in my development, I try to take what power I can. I do as much of the work as I can to feed my family. I season, I cook, I mix, I stew, I take bad cuts of meat and find a way to make them as good as they can be. I may not have cut out the machines of the plantation--not yet, anyway--but I can try not to endorse wage slavery at any number of eateries.

This doesn't make me better. I know I'm still at a trough, and I know I'm still living in the middle class even as I'm acutely aware of how steadily we're losing money while I wait for new employment to clear some bureaucratic hurdles. I don't really have it rough, and I understand others who may not have the time to work on food as I do presently, just as I understand the urban paupers who cannot take to the field as Karl so admirably has.

But I will say that anyone can take back some amount of power in their lives. I've seen it when people have nothing but themselves and they want to crawl back to the abuse or the bottle or whatever hellhole of pain and punishment that beckons--tyranny always waits, should you be willing to pay its price--and they take the basic power of self-authorship, of telling their own story. That's real power. And it's available to everyone. Of how many things can you say that?

And maybe, as I said yesterday, you find that you go from depending on a power millions of miles away to depending on your neighbors. Maybe you figure, as I did, that you were sick of other people's stories and wanted to tell your own, so you wrote on your own, and that was good, but you also met with friends and told stories together, made stories that were maybe more awkwardly plotted than the precision pieces produced by the well-paid and the audience-tested but that were all the more enriching because they came from your own hearts and experiences and soul.

There is always something more that we can do.* It's not a cudgel to use to beat ourselves or others. It's something that brings me both humility and cheer.

*Of course, this does not apply to all things. And as I have dealt with personal illness and illness of my younger child this past weekend and week to date, it has hardened me to believe that personal authority can't be all of the answer, but it is a damn good bit of it.

1 comment:

  1. I think anyone can radically simplify. Q is about wants, really. Since our Glorious Nation is collapsing, I think it's just smart human thinking to prepare for what's inevitable, and my response is premised on laziness of will, which makes me practice self-denial. I guess there's something quasi-monastic in it, but I'm not religious. I just enjoy minimizing as a personal challenge; it's the only external (sorta) discipline I can tolerate.