How To Be Free In An Unfree World

“In such epochs where the highest values of life — our peace, our independence, our basic rights, all that makes our existence more pure, more beautiful, all that justifies it — are sacrificed to the demon inhabiting a dozen fanatics and ideologues, all the problems of the man who fears for his humanity come down to the same question: how to remain free?”

Stefan Zweig, Montaigne

So, I think we can agree on the absolute importance of freedom. Without freedom, you cannot have the things that make life worth living — our peace, our independence, our basic rights. You cannot have anything of these if you are not free first, so yes, freedom is fundamentally important.

Current Freedom Narratives

The current state of affairs provides us with what seems to be two narratives.

The first one tells you to trust your government, because, at the end of all things, they just want the general well-being and everything they do, they do it because of this reason, to preserve law and order.

To be fair, this sounds amazing, doesn’t it? No problem guys! The government knows what they’re doing, it’s OK!

But, is it OK, really?

Was it OK when Irak was invaded because of WMDs and no WMD were found anywhere, while tearing up the entire country? Is the war on drugs really achieving anything other than death?

I live close to the US border and I constantly and sadly hear from people being killed every day in the news because of drug-related problems. But, more than anything of the things that I just said, is it ok to let other people choose for you what is wrong and what is bad? Like an effin kid?

“The increasing dependence on the State is anything but a healthy symptom, it means that the whole nation is in a fair way to becoming a herd of sheep, constantly relying on a shepherd to drive them into good pastures. The shepherd’s staff soon becomes a rod of iron, and the shepherds turn into wolves. . . Any man who still possesses the instinct of self-preservation knows perfectly well that only a swindler would relieve him of responsibility. . .[those] who promise everything are sure to fulfil nothing, and everyone who promises too much is in danger of using evil means in order to carry out his promises. . .”

Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition

The second narrative tells you that you cannot be free unless certain things happen. Be it a change of attitude from your different race counterparts (which would still be racism, as in “treated especially” because you’re a minority) or a law reform and whatever to achieve freedom. That’s why you need to go out to the streets and protest and be heard and talk about what is happening.

I believe this is crucial. We’ve got to put these topics on the table.

To give you an example, here in Mexico we have a super interesting breed of racism. Ok, let me explain.

Photo by Dennis Schrader on Unsplash

So in the US, the lines between ethnicities are clear. At least at first sight. You either white, a Muslim, a Latino, or black. But here in Mexico, it’s hard to see who’s who, as in my case I’m brown but more inclined to “white” and it’s funny because the people that sell tacos in Mexico City call me “Guero” which is “Blondie”. I’m not a “Guero (blonde)” in the literal sense, but they use the word to denote a social stance between me and them, it’s a mild racism that mostly goes unnoticed. Even weirder, brown people mock browner people because they are browner than them. I’m seriously laughing right now, haha, it’s just ridiculous. But, as funny as that may be, the browner you are, the fewer chances you have of having a high-paying job and education. The scars of the conquest cast system are still open wounds that damage the entire country.

The point that I’m trying to make, is that it is of crucial importance to put these topics on the table. Racism is not fucking cool, just as paying virtually no taxes in comparison to what he makes isn’t either for Jeff Bezos. Do you think different, that’s amazing, let’s talk about it, as we do in democracies, nevertheless, the fact that we need to talk about our shit is crucial.

The second narrative, though, tells you that you cannot be free until something happens. I think that is wrong, you can be free right now. You can be free while you protest against injustice and you can be free after you’ve achieved law reform.

Freedom, Real Freedom

The third alternative is to be free right now.

It always comes back to Stoicism for me. Honestly, I always try to find new perspectives or anything that might discredit Stoicism, but it’s proven to be a hard-rock philosophy for me.

Anyways, the Stoics claimed that freedom is the only worthy goal in life. I agree, freedom gives you the opportunity to choose whatever you want to become, to choose your values, and to make the best out of what you have.

Epictetus wrote:

“Me in chains? You may fetter my leg but my will, not even Zeus himself can overpower”


It’s important to remember that Epictetus was a slave, and yet, what do you think of him when you read the phrase? He stands like a mountain, he stands at the same level as the god Zeus. The liberty of which Epictetus is talking about is the moral liberty or psychological freedom.

Psychological freedom is a cognitive state that entails the recognition that one’s government, or any other form of oppressor, can limit our ability to take certain physical actions, but they cannot rid us of our capacity to think for ourselves, to choose for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, and to whatever degree possible to act in accordance with our self-chosen beliefs. — Academy of Ideas

Psychological freedom is achieved from moment to moment. As it is stated above, it is a cognitive state, that is, an attitude. No one can take this from you, as Epictetus claimed, not even Zeus. No one can touch you on your inner citadel, there, you are the only ruler.

“Autonomy is an attribute of a person who engages with the world as an active, reasoning and conscious individual. The etymology of this word: autos (self) and nomos (rule of law) conveys the meaning of self-rule.”

Frank Furedi, On Tolerance

Why would you want to do anything other than what you choose and think is right? No one can take this from you, and this is where true freedom begins, inside.


“. . .autonomy provides the means through which people realize their potential and character as human beings. The opportunity to act and express oneself in accordance with one’s inclination, experience and reasoning allows people to develop their sense of self and to gain understanding of where they stand in relation to their fellow human beings. It is through the ability to pursue autonomous decision making that individuals learn to take responsibility for their actions, and develop the capacity to assume a measure of responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens.”

Frank Furedi, On Tolerance

Please, don’t wait for anything to begin to assert your autonomy, to become the independent human being that you are.

It begins with you asserting your freedom even against what seems to be unbreakable tyrannies and oppressors such as governments or economic injustices. Think about it this way, the hardest the tyranny and the situation, the greater and the mightier will your moral success be against the iron fist.

Read, create, talk, don’t be afraid of expressing yourself, on acting on what you believe is right and beautiful. Do this and you’ll be the spark that will light other’s the fire to begin living autonomous and courageous lives as well.

“The great events of world history are, at bottom, profoundly unimportant,” writes Jung. “In the last analysis the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations first take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals. In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.”

Carl Jung, The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man

How Do You Achieve Psychological Freedom?

As stated above, psychological freedom is a state of mind. Whenever you get an emotion about something, be it anger, fear, confusion, or whatever, the way we think that our mind works is that the external thing that happened, caused the emotion and the way we feel about it, but this is an erroneous conception.

In reality, what’s happening is that you are choosing, at least unconsciously, the most appropriate response (to your knowledge) to the situation you are found with. Fear is helpful if you encounter a Puma or if someone wants to rob you.

Nevertheless, you do have a choice to respond to what happens to you in the way that you best see fit, regardless of what happens. Exercising that power to choose is psychological freedom.

OK, so right now, let’s suppose that you go out protesting to the streets and something shamelessly wrong and scary happens, like the police beating an 80-year-old guy.

How would you react to this? With fear obviously, the first thing on your mind would be maybe to run from the police or to find a way to aid that poor guy.

Fear served its purpose, at least initially, but what about remaining scared after that? Whereas the response of fear at the moment of the incident was appropriate, the response you choose to take after the incident could be and should be better in order for yourself not to live an unfulfilling life under a rock. If you don’t choose a response for yourself, the tyranny will have achieved its purpose of dominating you even in your head.

Fear is a state of mind that you can switch to understanding and cunning. While they want you to remain scared so that you do as your told, the attitude you choose to take towards what happens, that’s on you. Sure, it’s hard, but that’s the nature of the greatness of the task, that’s the possible achievement of the greatness of the soul. In choosing to remain calmed and collected, you are asserting your psychological freedom.

You earn your autonomy by choosing your attitude towards life. Will you live in fear and discouragement provided to you for free by the media? Or will you live in courage and duty? Will you live like a brainless part of the mob, or will you live as an informed citizen that uses his power (however small it might be) to do informed change and the world a better place? Will you be a slave or a free man/woman?


Print this in your mind. Freedom isn’t something anyone gives you, that is impossible, freedom needs to be taken from existence, no questions asked, by yourself. No one is coming to give it to you, no one is coming to save you. A life of freedom and a life of slavery will depend entirely on your decision.

“Nobody can build the bridge for you to walk across the river of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would carry you across this river; but only at the cost of yourself; you would pawn yourself and lose.”

Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

Enjoyed this? Try next How To Actually Become Your Ideal Self

Until next time,


subscribe and receive the Askesis (practice) e-book for free to further develop your practice of stoicism.

Subscribe here


  1. Wow ,what powerful info,gives a
    Person a lot to think about ,you have fine writing skills–take care.

      1. Very insightful article. I especially liked the first two paragraphs of the section about achieving psychological freedom. Understanding our emotions and learning, unlearning and managing our reactions is a fundamental ability.

    1. Very insightful article. I especially liked the first two paragraphs of the section about achieving psychological freedom. Understanding our emotions and learning, unlearning and managing our reactions is a fundamental ability.

  2. Hi Ricardo, thank you for your offering on freedom.
    For myself, I like to think of freedom in two distinct ways. “Freedom to” and “ Freedom from”. In this way, it seems obvious to me that freedom is always a choice, as you mentioned. And both forms of freedom are under my control therefore worthy of achievement, as per stoic values.
    All the best to you.

Leave a Reply to RicardoGuaderrama Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s