Everyone thinks they want to be free but aside from a pet preference here and there they don’t, really.
Not in comparison to their desire for material comfort, social approval and above all else, safety.
In the West, few of us wanted our rights enough to fight for them. Others fought on our behalf. The nobles fought the King, the petty bourgeoisie fought the aristocracy, a few union rabble rousers fought the capitalists, a tiny minority of feminists fought the patriarchy. Much of the battle for racial equality was fought on behalf of others.
Most Americans in the Thirteen Colonies did not fight in the War of Independence and it is unclear what percentage of them supported it. Most women never campaigned for equal rights. Most ordinary, landless men did nothing personally to further their case to receive the vote or gain individual freedoms.
For that matter, the slaves of the British Empire and the United States did not fight to free themselves. They, to, were emancipated by others.
It was all thrust upon us unbidden.
Sure, most will vote for freedom when it’s all organized for us and there’s an option on the ballot. That’s about the extent of the average person’s dedication, though.
We welcomed freedom, of course, but it may not have made us content.
There’s plenty of research showing that women were happier before their increased freedom to pursue careers. Some ethnic minorities seem more aggrieved now than ever before.
One wonders if the average man is happier today than a medieval peasant. Serfs were poor and oppressed but enjoyed close bonds of family, class, church and nation that are weak today. Theirs was a life of tradition and routine. Children did not worry about what they should be when they grew up. Adults did not ponder which type of peanut butter to buy. Each did what he had to do as the season demanded and ate what he grew.
If you or I were sent back there we’d probably be very unhappy but from their limited perspective it would have been different. Their Earthly struggle was a temporary one whose piety and righteousness would be rewarded.
Now we have more choices than we know what to do with. There are many careers, places to go, potential partners, lifestyle choices, religions, sexualities, genders. Plus too many types of peanut butter to choose from.
Much effort must be put into these choices. Every day brings yet more things to decide. We fall into ruts of consumer inertia to lighten our mental load, thus negating the utility of our freedom.
Many, many people were not unhappy to be forced to stay home, placed under curfew, compelled to wear a mask and other restrictions which were the most extreme in modern history.
There was no outcry. Not a loud one, anyway.
Was this really because everyone was terrified of a virus whose infection fatality rate in developed countries is around 1%?
That we really are so stupid or cowardly is a possibility so let’s leave it on the whiteboard as a contributing factor.
However, I reckon a lot of it is because people liked being locked down.
They liked staying home from all the office politics, commuting, choking ties, makeup routines and packed lunches. They enjoyed doing Zoom meetings in their pajama pants while sipping a mug of Irish coffee.
They liked the feeling of challenge and drama – we’re all in this together! – as they bravely faced down the virus by binge-watching Breaking Bad.
They enjoyed having choice taken away from them.
People liked having nothing to do. No social choices to make, nothing to decide, just stay home and relax. It was a holiday for the brain. No wonder they got so angry with those who questioned the science. Shut up! You’ll ruin it!
Supposedly trans people noted that with their audience taken away, they weren’t really any special gender in particular, just themselves, and it didn’t matter. Rates of suggestible teenage girls seeking treatment to become boys diminished.
In addition, people liked the fact that others were locked up. Many get uncomfortable at the thought of humans wandering around like Brown’s cows and are much relieved when they are properly organized or controlled by some central authority, be it Church or State.
That’s the psychological bait of the Nuremberg Rally. To see massive crowds marching in lockstep gives one an overwhelming sense of collective power. Our will, united, is almost invincible. This is why many desire a firm government to shove us all in the same direction.
The average person feels safer when he and his fellows are kept on a tight leash. It gives the impression that someone strong is in charge and that everything will be okay. This was true when we were children and it has been true for most of human history.
Men leaving prison or the army, or those brought up too strictly, can become overwhelmed by freedom. Perhaps this is true of most people, though to a lesser extent – being bound by a strict code makes life easier.
In our environment of evolutionary adaptation, the concept of freedom would have barely made sense. Hunter-gatherer bands had to work to eat, cooperate to survive. ‘Liberty’ probably became a word only after the invention of agriculture and captive labour.
Freedom, for most, is dangerous and unnecessary. While they cannot psychologically realize it, they’d be happier if we went back to having one Church, two sexes with clearly defined roles, a simple family structure and predictable work.
They never asked for the Enlightenment model of individualism. Nor did they demand the Nietzschean ideal of self-actualization that he never intended for everyone, anyway.
Personally I hate lockdowns, travel restrictions, curfews and all the other ways my freedom has been curtailed. It’s more severe than when I lived in the North Korea of Africa. One of my first posts on this blog was about achieving freedom and it’s been a running theme ever since, hence my disappointment that all freedom was abolished the moment I was on the cusp.
Most of you don’t like the new restrictions either, going by your comments.
However, a lot of people do like it. They prefer the New Normal and they don’t want to go back. By popular assent, rolling lockdowns and travel restrictions will be with us for decades to come in some places. The new strict Woke religion is also welcome by many for the same reasons. Witness the pious delight of the faithful when Bad People are cancelled.
People want to be told what to do and what to think, and want all others to be so told, and they don’t care who does the telling. It could be a priest or a fat black lady from HR. The main thing is that someone is in charge and that easy, compulsory answers to life’s unanswerable questions are available.
Moving through the stages of grief at losing my old life, I’m getting closer to accepting this fact.
We formerly addressed our differing appetites for freedom through class – nobles had more choices but also more responsibilities while the commoners did what they were told and no more. This was obviously an imperfect system.
Today we need to find a new system. At the moment it looks a lot like the old one – elites are able to ignore restrictions and do as they please while we ordinary folk must follow rules to the letter. More on this in a future post.
A better way of managing differences in freedom would be geographic. As with so many of our problems, separation into different countries seems a perfect solution to one side but intolerable to the other which simply cannot stand the fact that people in Florida, Sweden or wherever might be choosing their own approach.
If I ever get an opportunity, I’ll try to settle permanently in a jurisdiction which is tolerable to my sensibilities.
As Seneca said, a man who puts a high value on freedom must put a low value on everything else. I’m prepared to brave the cold of Siberia or the cartels of Mexico in order to live free.
But I’ll hang out a while longer for Korea. Against my expectations, they’ve been moderate so far. Let’s see.