Freedom is the only worthy goal — Epictetus
It is said that slaves come to love their chains. Just like in Shawshank Redemption, when Brooksy hangs himself because he cannot handle life without his chains, he doesn’t understand it, so he decides to leave.
Freedom is a heavy load for many, but at the same time, it is what gives wings to fly high in the sky to many others. What’s the difference?
The universe is deterministic, up to a point. Something happens, that makes some other things happen, and so on right? Cause and effect, cause, and effect. That is until the chain of events encounters itself with a human mind. Up to this point, two things can happen, that particular human mind will either practice agency or it will not. In other words, it will add its special spice to the unending chain of events that met him and contribute in making it something different, something embedded with his freedom to decide a tiny bit of how things are going to be when they pass through him. Succinctly, this is your freedom.
The decision to practice your agency.
Agency: action or intervention, especially such as to produce a particular effect.
What makes freedom heavy?
The other thing that can happen, is that you don’t practice your agency. You simply let the chain of events pass through you with as little intervention from your side as possible.
But that is impossible. There is no way you cannot intervene in the chain of events of the universe, for the simple reason that you are part of that very chain. There is no “not participating” in this. Making the choice of not participating, is still making a choice.
Now, what happens when we deny our agency? When we become fatalists? When we deny our power, even if tiny, to spice up the universal chain of events?
What happens is that you become as close as you can be to an animal. What differentiate us from animals is our capacity to be agents, to intervene with our rationality on life itself. But when you don’t practice this, instinct kicks in. Think about the last time you were drunk, like, really drunk. The only things that go through your mind are more booze, crappy, greasy food, and bad decisions. Mostly related to sex and fighting for mostly sex. When you wake up the next day, the first thing you ask yourself is: What the bloody hell was I thinking? But you were not really thinking, were you?
Not accepting freedom and responsibility for it is pessimistic as well. For denying that you are responsible for your existence leaves you powerless. Thinking in this way is what makes you powerless.
This is when freedom becomes a burden instead of wings.
The Lighter Freedom
Freedom is light when it is liberating. When the fatality of existence is realized. When you realize that you are here, and that’s that. Existence itself is asking you a question:
So, what are you going to do about it?
And for this question, one can only answer in two ways, yes and no. We already saw what the no answer entails. It tends to go towards destruction.
But what about the yes answer? The yes answer is the acceptance of freedom. It embeds the acceptor with power, the power to act within the chain of events he got himself to live in. Just by knowing this, and accepting this, he can participate in the universe itself. He will not die for he will be forever present in the form of the actions that came subsequently from his volition. Every smile he gives, every single action he takes, if consciously chosen, is his act in existence. Knowing that he is partaking a role in infinity and also free to do so, is magnificently liberating.
This gives you wings.
How to be free? You are already here and you have no say in that. What you have a say in, is in accepting responsibility for your agency or not. That is, for your capacity to intervene in the chain of events that meet you in your life. Yes or no. Yes is always better. I’ll leave you with the following:
“If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial” or “irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation be “understood,” i.e. approved. Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.”
― Erich Fromm
Thanks for reading,
Subscribe and receive the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism.
Connect with Stoic Answers
Special thanks to my Patreons:
You can become a Patreon as well and access exclusive content and a peek on what’s going on in Stoic Answers. Click below and check it out.