Freedom to be ourselves, to thrive, and to change the world. An introduction to the Freedom series on The Good Life.
I’m about as free as anyone could be to choose the work he does. It’s notoriously difficult to have a profession in the arts. I’m from a working class family who expected I would learn to do something useful in college, like draw up legal contracts or perform heart surgery. My last regular job was in a natural foods co-op. Fulfilling stereotypes, many of us had college educations, and felt privileged to have a better job than most.
The Freedom series that ran on The Good Life has been full of hard truths and apparent contradictions, raising more questions about the nature of reality and subjectivity than about finding reconciliation and satisfying answers. The call for submissions in honor of Juneteenth and US Independence Day recognized that freedom can become something else, and vice versa, slowly and without changing its name, so that slaves only gradually become free, and the free can become enslaved by degrees, necessitating an examination of what we think we already know. The Chinese are not free, and Americans are; or is it the reverse?
I have already mentioned how free I feel I am in my work. I make editorial decisions on The Good Life with very little interference from my editor-in-chief or my publisher. When I decided to run not just one, but three separate posts concerning the culturally conservative firebrand Jack Donovan, it made my editor-in-chief finally ask me to explain my decision. In his writings and in our interview, Donovan makes profoundly masculist assertions that Noah Brand felt would alienate egalitarian and feminist readers. Here on The Good Men Project, where the subject is the good man in the 21st century, I felt that Donovan’s main ideas—that there is a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man, and that men admire the latter a great deal more than the former—were exactly what we should be talking about.
I began an open thread on Freedom on the Good Feed Blog by talking about The Handmaid’s Tale. There are two kinds of freedom, Margaret Atwood writes in her feminist dystopian fairy tale, freedom to and freedom from. In another totalitarian dystopia, Brave New World, although most people seem to be having more fun, all of the people are similarly cosseted and unfree. Within the confines of these dystopic and totalitarian societies, everyone is promised safety, the security of a position in society. But as Donovan says, if you outsource the tactical aspect, wherein you decide what you will do with your life, you can’t really be safe. Small choices—who to work for or with, what to consume, lead us, through our collective choices, to that most revolutionary freedom, the freedom to change our society.
Freedom from is otherwise known as security. It’s the freedom from want: for want of health care, or healthy food, or a job. The other freedom, the one that Donovan concerns himself with, is the libertarian freedom to: the freedom to build or burn or grow whatever you want. It doesn’t come with guarantees of bailouts, safety nets, or even neighbors bearing casseroles. Freedom to, with no freedom from, is stressful and dangerous. It is harsh and unforgiving. And so is the other extreme. The only difference between the dystopia of Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale and Ayn Rand’s libertarian touchstone novel, Atlas Shrugged, is whether the violence to individuals comes from the power of the state or from powerful individuals.
What is necessary for happiness must be some balance of justice to make freedom tolerable. When I look closely at living systems, from human bodies to ecosystems to local politics, I find atavistic forces warring, and that neither force can be removed without destroying the whole. The ancient Zoroastrians believed that our physical plane was the battlefield of Good and Evil, with Evil triumphing in a local battle being the explanation for when bad things happen. It is notable that their vision of life was one of constant conflict, and that their idea of the end of the world was the final triumph of Good over Evil.
It is possible that if all of our resources and talents were distributed that the effect would be like that of absolute zero: no motion in the particles, no energy, no change, only stasis—not life. When there is only chaos and no order, it is just as dead. The sweet spot is in the middle, balancing the passions of both those who want freedom and those who want justice, those who are nurturing and those who will fight, the warriors and the priests.
The Freedom Series on The Good Life
Freedom To and Freedom From
Freedom to Make Our Own World
Freedom to Be Ourselves
Freedom to Die
Freedom From Social Media
Freedom From Want
Freedom From Your Job
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