“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and accepting the end of the unconscious paradise of childhood, where finitude and mortality are only dimly comprehended. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality (it means acting to please God, in the ancient language).”
― Jordan B. Peterson
It’s hard to deny Peterson’s logic above. Stand up straight with your shoulders back and get to work. Accept willingly the responsibility that being alive implies and get to work. Beautiful advice.
Peterson’s argument tells us that society’s ‘badness’ can be traced back all the way down to the individual. If the individual does nothing but destroy himself, be it by eating junk food or by committing a crime, the entire society will be affected by the repercussions of his actions. In the same way, if the individual manages to do ‘good’, getting up and making up his bed (for example), likewise, society will be affected by the repercussions of his actions. So get up, make up your bed, and get to work on yourself, that’s the best you can do.
This line of reasoning reminds me of the following quote from Epictetus:
“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”― Epictetus
Up until this point, it seems that the answer to how we are supposed to live our lives is settled. Focus on the things that you can control (basically yourself), work on them, and you’ll have more of what is good in life. Along with everybody else because of your actions.
Freedom is a superb goal to have.
Without freedom, there is no space for the flourishment of the individual, nor the flourishment of societies. Like a plant or a forest, an individual or a society, cannot flourish in confinement. Freedom is the space that the individuals need to grow and to live. Consider it its vital space for life. Just like a plant will die and rot without the rays of the sun, so does the individual slowly dies without the rays of freedom.
Generally speaking though, it looks like we loathe freedom. And in its place, we prefer security and dependency.
“The cry “Give me television and hamburgers, but don’t bother me with the responsibilities of liberty.”” — Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited
Disgusting individual, isn’t he? Just wanting to be entertained and fed.
It’s hard to blame a person in that situation.
Most likely, the person that eats the hamburger and sees television, is a person that works. Most likely, he works so hard, that by the end of the day, he does not have any energy to do other anything other than watch television and eat his goddamn hamburger (he earned it!). And you know why he prefers this ‘hamburger’ situation?
Have you ever been poor? Have you ever felt the crushing boot of despair? Not being able to provide to your family? Having the landlord on your back every freaking day?
It’s a tough situation to be in. The man in despair will take the hamburger and the television every time he’s offered it.
But what about freedom? What about that space for creativity and flourishment? Freedom is lacking in bought scenarios. Either you’re overworked and timeless, or in despair and hungry. No freedom in any case.
But, you’re talking about types of freedom that don’t really matter, Richard, tell me better about the Stoic freedom, tell me better about true freedom.
I have another quote for you.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor E. Frankl
This truth cannot be argued. Do you think the despair of poverty, or the tiredness of endless work, is in any way comparable to the horrors of the Holocaust?
True freedom lies in the choice to be free where it matters, inside. This freedom is the seed of higher freedom, from which greater levels of freedom can begin to happen. This is where it all begins. As Peterson would say, ‘stand up straight with your shoulders back’. Focus on what you can control. This is the first part. But it doesn’t end there.
Peterson and Zizek
Jordan Peterson had a debate with Slavoj Zizek. People paid thousands of dollars to see a philosophical debate (how crazy is that in our era). Bought are famous modern thinkers. If you don’t know them, finish reading this and go and see them. Here is the debate.
Jordan Peterson believes in the power of the individual. He attracts a lot of alt-right folks. Zizek, on the other side, declares himself a communist. On one part of the debate, Zizek makes a rather funny remark. He says, in his particular manner of speaking, something in the lines of: “Ok, yes (touching his nose continuously), I understand what you mean with the power of the person as an individual. Set your house in order, that’s just logical. But go and tell that to a person in North Korea and see what he thinks about it, haha”.
“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.” — Epictetus
Epictetus is right. Logically, you can only do so much in your life. Focus on that. But, this point is crucial, don’t let the individual philosophy function as an excuse for inaction in the bigger spheres of freedom.
Viktor Frankl, was a free man, within himself, as all men ought to be. But he was a free man within a shit system. Ask him where he’d preferred to live, and he’ll obviously answer that in the world where he can be the freest.
Freedom is a seed. Remember that a seed is destined to grow into a tree, and then into a forest.
I agree with Peterson in the sense that the individual is the one that constructs the foundations of freedom. I agree with Zizek as well in the sense that freedom is a space that we all share, and that we construct together.
Be an individual, but never forget that you live within a society.
Ask yourself this question. Are you free, within yourself, first? If you’re not, work on that first.
But if you already are, what about the outside? Do you have time to flourish in your life? Or are you always busy and drunk? Do you feel you have space? Do you feel those around you have that space?
Wouldn’t you want more space for yourself and for others?
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
― Albert Camus
Thanks for reading,
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